Monday, March 15, 2010


Lost in translation

Not surprisingly, machine translations are getting better, and will keep doing so. In a recent New York Times article about improvements to Google’s translator, we get a story of when Google co-founder Sergey Brin put some Korean into the translator they had available in 2004, and got out “The sliced raw fish shoes it wishes. Google green onion thing!” Yes, Google green onion thing; high praise, indeed.

This reminded me of something from 2005. A Korean who was trying to put together his own IMAP server was having a problem with it, and he posted a question to the imap-use mailing list. The message had obviously been machine-translated from Korean:

How are you?

It used sendmail + wu-imap in this time and it constructed the web mail. (It used Java mail API.)

But it will be a mail box where the file where the maildir is not is composed of one and sees, the mail box dosage will go over and only 3 mega that the loading which will hang the bedspread where the place hour which it does is caught too much long.

To after loading it is quick once, the bedspread.

Original like this probably slow bedspread?

Does not if not and there is a different option the case song which it does?Loading to be quick initially in only minimum information loading the case song where is not a possibility of doing?

It was clear that this was a real question, but it was also clear that there was no hope of deciphering it.

I sent a private note to the guy who posted the question, told him that the translation was unusable, and asked him to send me the question in Korean. He did, and I gave it to a Korean-American colleague, who provided me with a usable translation, which resulted in a good answer to the question.

Unfortunately, I didn’t keep the original Korean version, so I can’t put it back through a translator now, to see whether the result would be better.

We also never did figure out what Korean word kept getting turned into “bedspread”. The guy who ultimately translated it had no idea.

In a related story, a Taiwanese seller was once selling something on both American and German eBay (and probably in other countries, as well). The seller had put the English — which was itself somewhat spotty — through machine translation to get the German, and there were a few amusing things in it. The best was in the payment instructions: “Kein Kabeljau,” it said. “No codfish.” Or, as the original English had said, “No COD.”


The Ridger, FCD said...

I recall an early MT of a German call for papers (it was a test); it did fairly well until it hit Dr Karl-Ernst Whateverhisnamewas. Who became Dr. Karl-Seriously Whatever.

HRH said...

Google translator, seems to be at the Beta stage. I once tested a simple phrase in Persian-- "Please come to our house for dinner at 8 pm tonight" and the English translation was: "Please at 8 tonight for dinner to bring to our home online" :-)

Nathaniel Borenstein said...

For a good time, try

It will translate any phrase from English to Japanese and back again until it "converges" on a phrase that is the same in English after a round-trip through Japanese. Very amusing.