The forgetting and rediscovery of soviet machine translation

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This paper takes three distinct passes through the history of Machine Translation (MT) in the Soviet Union, which is typically understood as concentrating in a single boom period that lasted from roughly 1955 to 1965. In both the Soviet Union and the United States-in explicit competition with each other-there was a tremendous wave of investment in adapting computers to nonnumerical tasks that has only recently drawn the attention of historians, primarily focusing on the American example. The Soviet Union, however, quickly came to assume prominence in the field both in terms of scale and diversity of approaches. At the same moment, Soviet linguists excavated a forgotten precursor, P. P. Smirnov-Troianskii, who had designed a translating machine in the early 1930s. Juxtaposing the multiple contexts in which Smirnov-Troianskii's machine was reconceptualized and reappropriated for various ends, the article demonstrates the fundamental embodying of the algorithm in the early days of MT and also how the proliferation of narratives about Soviet MT exposes fault lines in contemporary historiography.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)835-866
Number of pages32
JournalCritical Inquiry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • General Arts and Humanities


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