LINGUIST List 32.831

Fri Mar 05 2021

Support: Applied Linguistics; Computational Linguistics; Pragmatics; Translation: PhD, University of Sheffield

Editor for this issue: Becca Morris <>

Date: 04-Mar-2021
From: Nicole Baumgarten <>
Subject: Applied Linguistics; Computational Linguistics; Pragmatics; Translation: PhD, University of Sheffield, UK
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Department: School of Langauges and Cultures
Web Address:

Level: PhD

Institution/Organization: University of Sheffield

Duties: Research

Specialty Areas: Applied Linguistics; Computational Linguistics; Pragmatics; Translation
Audiovisual Translation; Dubbing


PhD Project: Non-literal language use in machine and human translation for dubbing (3 years fully-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award between University of Sheffield, and Zoo Digital Group plc)

Project Summary:
The project is a collaboration between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield-based ZOO Digital Group plc, one of the industry leaders in media localisation. The project will investigate non-literal language use (such as idioms, metaphor, jokes, conventional indirectness, or conversational implicatures) in machine and human audiovisual translation for commercial lip-sync dubbing of films. By means of an innovative and original multi-methods approach, the project will close the gap between computational and humanistic approaches to translation and make use of their complementary strengths in the development of an integrated, industry-relevant human-machine translation system for dubbing that is able to handle implicit meaning in film.

PhD Project Description:
Non-literal language features in film are problematic for existing machine translation (MT) approaches, for example because they may have culture-specific implied meanings that MT systems cannot infer, they may be unique ideas originated by the speaker spontaneously (creative language use, linguistic innovation), or their intended meaning may rely on the extended linguistic or visual context in which the utterance is embedded. MT approaches, which rely on linguistic surface structures to identify language patterns, struggle with these kinds of non-compositional, pragmatic and context-dependent meanings, which, however, play a central role in film because they drive forward the story and are crucial to character development. Human dubbing translators, too, face challenges with non-literal language, albeit on the level of re-creating it in equivalent and lip-synchronous ways in the target language, and not on the level of recognising it in the original text.

The project will integrate the distinct qualities of MT and the human translator to identify linguistic, textual and visual characteristics of non-literal language in film, and express them as heuristics or algorithms a computer could interpret, so that it might be possible to improve MT, or at the very least identify areas where MT is expected to struggle to direct human translators’ effort.

The project taps into the grey area between two distinct views of translation, namely translation as a culture-based interpretive-creative process and translation as a computational-statistical procedure. As a consequence, research on human translation and MT have become increasingly uninformed by one another. The project aims to offer a solution to a specific pervasive problem identified in professional AVT practice by integrating humanistic and MT approaches to translation.

It is driven by three broad research questions, which can be shaped by the student candidate, for example with respect to the languages to be considered:
- How do MT systems and human translators handle non-literal language use in film?
- How can MT and human translation processes be integrated in AVT?
- How can MT systems be enhanced by formal descriptions of non-literal languageuse in film?

More information on the project, eligibility and the application process can be found at the application link provided below.

For questions about the project, please email Dr Nicole Baumgarten at the contact information below.

Web Address for Applications:

Contact Information:
        Dr Nicole Baumgarten

Page Updated: 05-Mar-2021