Language Engineering means applying scientific principles to the design, construction and maintenance of tools to help deal with information that has been expressed in natural languages (the languages that people use for communicating with one another). The underlying science is linguistics – the study of how languages work. The tools can be of varying kinds: many are computer systems to help with such tasks as translation, language teaching, abstracting and indexing, information extraction and so on, but language engineering also leads to more intangible “tools” such as dictionaries and thesauri, guidelines for authors, methods for teaching foreign languages.
Anything which involves applying the science of language to the solution of practical tasks is language engineering.
Machine translation and machine-aided translation form a particularly important application of this discipline, dealing with the production of computer systems for performing translation or for supporting a human translator and also considering the processes that a human translator performs in order to provide guidelines and methodologies to help them. There are numerous other applications, with computer-aided language learning becoming extremely significant.
In industry and professional life, the kind of work which can be considered part of language engineering may be done by a range of people with different expertise who may work together and complement each other. The production of effective tools to help with language-oriented tasks requires knowledge and expertise in a number of areas, such as
- detailed knowledge of individual languages
- understanding of general properties of language
- computational realisation of linguistic theories
- properties of real language, with all its ungrammatically and infelicity
Let’s consider the different profiles are required in the language industries. Some people like to concentrate on learning a foreign language, mastering it, being able to use it effectively in any situation. They learn about linguistics so as to be able to analyse their languages scientifically, and perhaps compare them. They may be interested in translation skills and theory, in writing, in communicating, in using computers to learn and process language. Other people are interested in learning about languages in general without gaining in-depth knowledge about any particular one; they learn about general linguistic principles and use technological tools to apply linguistic theories to a number of languages, or just one. Others are fascinated by manipulating and processing language by computer, and would like to have the technical and computational skills to develop applications which do that automatically as well as helping humans to do it. All of this knowledge and all these people are needed in language engineering.
This article first appeared in Studying Abroad magazine