Friday, September 07, 2007

On automatic translation by computer

I mentioned earlier that I've been commissioned to translate two pieces on Princess into English. Here's the first paragraph of one of them, as translated by Google:
Very harmoniously, nearly already idyllisch those work akkurat hung up einköpfigen Kakteen (O.T.) over the seat opportunities in the entrance hall of the conference center. With the oval Passepartouts and the greenish-yellow They would know background as a dwelling accessory the 60's-years apply. Also is in the sterile Lining up on the holzgetäfelten wall on to think a naturkundliche collection. Those Säulenkakteen became in the botanischen garden that Wilhelma, Stuttgart, photographed, them serve however not vordergründig as florales illustrative material. The light can deceive. The in new city Crying race born artist [Princess] would like in its similar photo work on the one hand form-giving structures and the sinnliche operational readiness level of Surface attractions catch, on the other hand one tries it with their dissecting view behind the outer skin into the inside to arrive the nature of the object. In often inflexibly and appearing stachelig meager and hides itself to aske tables desert plants soft, fleshy, juicy, vital interior life. The form vertically put on of these Kakteenart contained also the reference character on phallische Aspects; male power in their sexual Excludingness can tendentious hurting, penetrant and threateningly its. This threateningness, those appears likewise very aesthetic, becomes in that Work Pisa on the sea II ironically in Spieleri transported. A souvenir tower as landmarks of Pisa stands as symbolful with the Kakteen for that male principle. A pointing becomes with that photographed sperm obtained, in the phallischen Souvenir with largeporous openings is embedded. The work works by the photographic illustration much entrückt and becomes hermetic by the acrylic glass for the viewer seals.
Crap, isn't it? (Mind you, the German original is pretty damned obscure, I very much doubt that the average taxi driver could understand a word of it. A disappointingly high proportion of writers in German sees simplicity and comprehensibility as a sign of weakness and a betrayal of their expensive educations.)

Some of the difficulty that poor Google has with this text is due to the nature of German: as I commented to Lioness recently, it is perfectly legitimate to invent words on-the-fly by glueing concepts together as needed. The hybrid word that results is easily understandable by humans, who recognize the roots and read on with a chuckle, but to the computer it's either a typo or a brand-new word that it doesn't know, and in either case it cannot cope.

I think that non-automatic translation by human beings is going to be with us for a long time to come.

Today's Friday favourite—and my gods how quickly this week has gone by—is a quiet acoustic blues from the finest film of the year 2000. If you haven't already seen that film, then indulge yourselves with my blessings in a real treat this weekend: go and rent it. What the hell, even if you have already seen it, go and rent it and watch the film again. It's that good. Trust me.

Shabbat shalom, my dears.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous arboretum said...

One of my Russian friends uses a translation software which is pretty good. I was surprised when he told me he uses a programme now. Years ago he used to sent me handwritten letters in German. It took them two weeks to get here, if they arrived at all, and another two weeks until he had my answer (that is, if I answered him straight away).

September 8, 2007 at 12:25:00 AM GMT+2  
Blogger Pacian said...

I'm sure it varies from language to language, but I don't see how computers will ever translate things without understanding them.

Or maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part Re. Searle's Chinese room.

September 8, 2007 at 12:12:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Udge said...

I too am sure that different languages pose different kinds and levels of problems. A language like English with an enormously large but stable vocabulary is paradoxically easier to translate than a language like German where words can be invented on-the-fly.

Then there are the languages like Finnish (and Latin) where every word in a sentence is inflected to follow gender, tense and case.

True translation depends on understanding. The first true working AI will be a translator. (Place your bets here.)

September 8, 2007 at 2:39:00 PM GMT+2  
Blogger Udge said...

Hallo Arboretum, willkommen an Bord! Ich glaube, Du gibst heute zum ersten Mal Deinen Senf dazu?

September 8, 2007 at 2:39:00 PM GMT+2  

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