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Translation ambiguity in and out of context


We compare translations of single words, made by bilingual speakers in a laboratory setting, with contextualized translation choices of the same items, made by professional translators and extracted from parallel language corpora. The translation choices in both cases show moderate convergence, demonstrating that decontextualized translation probabilities partially reflect bilinguals’ life experience regarding the conditional distributions of alternative translations. Lexical attributes of the target word differ in their ability to predict translation probability: form similarity is a stronger predictor in decontextualized translation choice, whereas word frequency and semantic salience are stronger predictors for context-embedded translation choice. These findings establish the utility of parallel language corpora as important tools in psycholinguistic investigations of bilingual language processing.

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ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Anat Prior, Edmond J. Safra Brain Research Center for the Study of Learning Disabilities, University of Haifa, Room 276, Faculty of Education, Mount Carmel, Haifa, Israel. E-mail:
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Applied Psycholinguistics
  • ISSN: 0142-7164
  • EISSN: 1469-1817
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