Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 143 / AUGUST 1992 / PAGE 110

Lexica. (Evaluation)

WordStar's Lexica describes itself as "a memory-resident, multilingual, translating thesaurus that can quickly translate words and phrases from one language to another." While Lexica won't exactly undo the curse of Babel, it may well make dealing with foreign languages easier--if you already know them.

Lexica's thesaurus contains a generous selection of words from English, Dutch, German, French, and Spanish (any or all of these languages may be loaded on your hard drive). The program may be called up from within a word processor or at the system prompt. To access Lexica from your word processor, you place the cursor on the word you want translated and press the hot keys. The memory-resident Lexica will take you to the Translation Screen, which consists of three main windows. The top window displays the word you want translated, as well as a sampling of its context. The lower left window contains your word in the primary language you're working in (called the Source Language); a list of its synonyms; and, in some cases, idiomatic phases in which the word typically occurs. The lower right window displays the Target Language translation, with the primary translation highlighted, along with a collection of the word's synonyms.

Even more information is available on the Concept Detail Screen. Here, you may highlight each of the Source Language synonyms in turn, and the Target Language Window will indicate the most appropriate primary and secondary translations for the word chose. Move the highlight to the translation you prefer and press Enter. If Lexica supports your word processor, it will erase the original word and substitute the translation. If Lexica doesn't support your word processor, the translation will be inserted, but you'll have to delete the original word itself.

Once in Lexica, you can easily switch from language to language to provide a multilingual sampling of translations. If you want to translate another word, you don't have to return to your text; Lexica allows you to type in a new word in any of the supported languages at any time. If the word contains international characters (accents or other diacritical marks) not on your keyboard, Lexica also provides a Compose Characters screen that shows you how to produce the character you need.

If you think you've finally happened across Star Trek's fabled Universal Translator--sorry. Lexica will be of limited use if you don't already know at least some of the basic grammer of your target language. Lexica doesn't, for example, conjugate verbs. If you ask it for, as an example, the French equivalent of the verb try, you'll get the infinitive forms: essayer, examiner, metre a l'essai, as well as many other synonymous verbs. But deciding on the person, number, and tense of the verb is up to whatever you've retained of high school or college language study. (Lexica does, however, helpfully indicate whether the verbs are transitive or intransitive.) Similarly, because words don't translate from one language to another with mathematical exactitude, you'll have to know a little about the connotations of the Target Language words and their appropriateness in the context of your writing--a basic requirement for the use of any thesaurus.

Lexica is quite easy to learn and use. Most of its functions can be performed either through functions keys or the handy pull-down menus, and the user's guide provides clear instructions in all five of the supported languages. Those who are cursed with slower PC systems may experience a wait of up to 30 seconds for Lexica to appear, but once you're in the system, it performs with gratifying speed. For people who frequently deal with other languages, Lexica is a wonderful remedy for those momentary bouts of aphasia.