Beam Me Up…
communications that are lost in machine translation
While useful for communicating the basics, machine and online translation tools still can’t grasp the nuances of Language
Wednesday 25 September 2013 15.00 BST
My childhood memories of Star Trek might be hazy at best, but one image did stick in my mind. On some occasions when Captain Kirk met with an alien species he would communicate with them through a universal translation device.I can’t remember whether he flicked a switch or prodded at a device but there was definitely some interspecies communication going on. The pointy-eared or four-eyed alien would speak in his own language but Captain Kirkand the audience would hear him in English. I remember being fascinated by this as a concept.
Fast forward four or five decades since Star Trek was conceived and there are those who would argue that we are not far off that idea. No, we’re not communicating with little green men, but with the advent of online machine translation it is so much easier to at least attempt communication with people from our own planet. I have come across long-distance relationships, lovers cruelly divided by language as well as oceans, conducted entirely through Google Translate; language students swearing that they wouldn’t have passed exams without it. The tool was even said to have been used last year in a UK court when the court-appointed interpreter failed to arrive for the hearing – albeit just to inform the defendant that the hearing was being adjourned because the interpreter was absent.
This is good news if you need to know or communicate something quite basic or to just get the gist of a text. I recently came upon a blog and could not identify the language and just copying a few words into Google Translate did the trick (it was Swahili). It’s less good news if you have some serious stuff to translate and want your language to appear – human. Earlier this year, there was a kerfuffle in the Turkish press after an interview with Noam Chomsky went awry. The Turkish daily, Yeni Şafak, interviewed the political commentator about developments in Egypt over email in English and then translated his answers into Turkish. In a published transcript of Chomsky’s “original” replies, the following sentence appeared: “Contrary to what happens when everything that milk port, enters the work order, h b bl h ”
source = The Guardian
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