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10/28/08

Funny Spanish phrases

Just an example to see why word-for-word translation is not possible, and automatic translation is miles away from generating genuine human language:

"I have a friend that lives in the fifth pine, so we had remained in seeing us yesterday in a park, but I remained with two inches of noses because did not appear. This morning in class I asked him what had passed. Told me that had remained fried and that when awoke already was too late..."

This is of course an automatic translation of a few Spanish phrases carrying funny idioms: "Tengo un amigo que vive en el quinto pino, así que habíamos quedado en vernos ayer en un parque, pero me quedé con dos palmos de narices porque no apareció. Esta mañana en clase le pregunté qué había pasado. Me dijo que se había quedado frito y que cuando se despertó ya era demasiado tarde..."

The idioms explained:
- "Se había quedado frito" literally means "he had remained fried", but the actual meaning is just "he had fallen asleep."
- "Vive en el quinto pino" literally means "he lives in the fifth pine tree." The idiomatic meaning would be "he lives way far away."
- "Me quedé con dos palmos de narices" literally means "I remained with two inches of noses." Difficult to translate into an expression, but it generally means that someone was expecting something and almost taking it for granted, and then was very disappointed and surprised it didn't happen. Therefore, he obviously remained with two inches of noses. ;)

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10/10/06

Machine translation delights

Golden Age of Gobbledygook

. . . It was another science fiction writer, Douglas Adams, who gave the Babel fish its name, long before AltaVista brought us the translation service. Finding somewhat fishy the way aliens and extraterrestrials in sci-fi always seem to speak in perfect (usually British-accented) English, Adams introduced a strange character in his novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- a tiny linguistic deus ex machina in the form of a miraculous fish:

"The Babel fish is small, yellow and leechlike, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe," Adams wrote. "It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language."

That's the idea, anyway. In practice, the translation services inspired by the Babel fish sometimes give the impression of helping us misunderstand anything said in any one of a dozen languages. Elevators haven't quite been installed in the Tower of Babel yet. And some of us are rather grateful for that. It's a beautiful tower, even if it does look like a cross between a construction site and a ruin.

For those of us who see every error as a potential poem or joke, every new web service or handheld gizmo claiming to do translation strikes a chill in the heart . . .

Read more at Wired News...

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05/26/06

Permalink 02:28:52 pm, Categories: For translation buyers, Machine translation, 156 words  

Chess and translation

It is well known that computers have beaten some of the greatest chess masters in the world. On IBM's website you have a dedicated page to the first complete match of 6 games lost by a chess master (Garry Kasparov) to a computer system (Deep Blue in this case). This happened in 1997. The competition between man and computers on this front is ongoing, with alternate victories on each side. More information on this wikipedia page.

So computers can successfully challenge the very best human chess players in the world. When you think that no computer system has succeeded in translating languages in a way that could challenge even an ordinary human translator's performance, you should start wondering. Language is way more complex than chess is, as complex as the human consciousness. Translation involves two different languages, each one with its own intricate structure and unique characteristics, so it requires as much highly skilled human intervention as possible.

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05/13/06

Permalink 10:29:45 am, Categories: For translation buyers, Machine translation, 145 words  

Machine and human translation

You’re in a tight corner. You have a text to translate into Spanish by tomorrow and you also have significant budget constraints. What can you do to save money and get your translation on time? You struggle with the thought for some time until an idea comes to mind. A free online translator will do half the job, and then you’ll send it to a professional translator who will polish it in no time and at little cost! The perfect idea! Right?

Well, no.

If machine translators saved time and effort to professional human translators, we would use them all the time ourselves, which we don’t. It’s indeed less time-consuming for a translator to translate from the original text than trying to correct a machine translated text. As an English to Spanish translator, I understand English much better than mutilated Spanish!

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05/11/06

Permalink 09:01:04 am, Categories: For translation buyers, Machine translation, 102 words  

Life would be boring without MT

Machine translation is always there to lighten our days. I recently received a request to proofread a text which had been translated into Spanish by an online machine translation service. It dealt with healthy food. My preferred part was "Coma un puñado de tuercas cerca de 5 días a la semana" as translated from "Eat one handful of nuts about 5 days a week". "Tuerca" is indeed a possible translation for "nut". I grant you, this kind of nut is very rich in minerals. It’s the kind you use with bolts! The translated text also suggested eating Turkey, the Asian nation…

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