Translation semantic variability: How semantic relatedness affects learning of translation-ambiguous words

Jennifer Bracken, Tamar Degani, Chelsea Eddington, Natasha Tokowicz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Translations often do not align directly across languages, and indirect mappings reduce the accuracy of language learning. To facilitate examination of this issue, we developed a new continuous measure for quantifying the semantic relatedness of words with more than one translation (hereafter translation-ambiguous words). Participants rated the similarity of each translation to every other translation, yielding a Translation Semantic Variability (TSV) score, ranging from 1.00 (unrelated) to 7.00 (related). Then, we determined how relatedness between translations affects translation-ambiguous word learning from German to English. German words with low TSV scores were recognized as translations more slowly and less accurately than German words with high TSV scores. TSV explains unique variance beyond the previously-used dichotomous classification of words as form vs. meaning ambiguous. We propose that the relatedness of the translation alternatives influences learning because it affects the ease with which a one-to-one mapping can be established between form and meaning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)783-794
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Study 2 formed the basis of JB's Honors thesis; we thank Timothy Nokes-Malach and Tessa Warren for their comments on this work. We thank the Office of Experiential Learning at the University of Pittsburgh for providing funding for Study 2. We thank the PLUM Lab members for research assistance. During the writing of this manuscript, TD was supported by EU-FP7 grant CIG-322016 and NT was supported by NIH R01 HD075800.

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2016.


  • Translation Semantic Variability
  • Translation ambiguity
  • meaning similarity
  • translation recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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