Tuesday, March 03, 2015


I've known Dr. Tom Pittman for more than 20 years. Tom is slightly famous for his $5 TinyBasic Interpreter, which was used by computer hobbyists in the 1970s, and for his book on the The Art of Compiler Design, which has been used as a text book at colleges and universities. For the past 20 years, Tom has put a lot of thought and effort into solving the problem of speeding up the process of Bible translation.

Problem: There are roughly 1,500 languages in the world representing about 180 million people who have no Bible in their native tongue, not even one single verse! Bible translators map the concepts and meaning from the original source texts of the Bible into the target languages to create a readable translation. Doing a Bible translation into just one unreached language is a huge commitment, and it often consumes the majority of the working career of one or more Bible translators. Tom came up with a better way.

Watch the 2 minute video below for the quick summary. 

Solution: Bible translation is a unique translation problem because there is a single source text. Tom's insight is that we can do the difficult task of understanding that source text *once* by encoding the Greek concepts in a computer using the Louw & Nida Semantic Domain Lexicon, which is essentially a dictionary of all the concepts in the New Testament. Once this semantic encoding is done, we will be able to quickly produce first cut translations of the entire New Testament once the mapping of the grammar is done by a translator that knows the target language. You can learn more about this working technology at BibleTrans.info.

Details: Tom's approach uses a computer to do what it is good at doing (repetitive stuff) so translators can do what they are good at doing, which is thinking and interacting with other human beings in mapping meaning and concepts. We believe BibleTrans can take 1,000 years off the effort necessary for getting the Bible translated into all the remaining languages on Earth, and we have working software to prove the concept is viable.

BibleTrans significantly shortens the time it takes to get a first cut translation to the place where native speakers with minimal training can then fine tune it into a readable translation for languages that have no Scripture today. BibleTrans can do this with much better quality and accuracy than brute force manual efforts using large teams of minimally trained translators, and it can also fill the need for languages where finding more than a few competent translators is difficult. We believe this a project worth doing, but we need help getting the semantic database encoded.  

If you're interested in helping, please leave a comment. 

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