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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Meaning, translation, perfection, and trying for the future

I have been as skeptic of machine translation. How can an algorithm do the job of a trained language expert? It is definitely not easy. Even experts have difficulties identifying the meaning of subtle language and cultural nuances. Language, after all, is part of culture. Being part of culture, language cannot be a neutral code. There is no such thing as just translating from one language to another without understanding the context and knowing the cultures involved.
But I feel humbled by http://translate.google.com. As a skeptic I have tried multiple texts to see if the Google algorithm can live up to expectations. Well, I am surprised. Not that a human expert eye and mind cannot do better but look at the following translation of a Wikipedia description of the Labyrinth of Solitude:
Spanish:
El laberinto de la soledad es un libro de Octavio Paz (ganador del premio Nobel a la literatura) publicado en 1950. Consta de nueve ensayos: "El pachuco y otros extremos", "Máscaras mexicanas", "Todos santos, día de muertos", "Los hijos de la Malinche" —donde expone su disertación sobre La Chingada—, "Conquista y Colonia", "De la Independencia a la Revolución", "La inteligencia mexicana", "Nuestros días" y como apéndice: "La dialéctica de la soledad". El Laberinto de la soledad parte de una opinión trágica e irrevocable: en el ser mexicano está presente, aún después de muchas generaciones, el hecho de que se trata de un pueblo surgido de una violación. Dice Octavio Paz: "En todas sus dimensiones, de frente y de perfil, en su pasado y en su presente, el mexicano resulta un ser cargado de tradición que, acaso sin darse cuenta, actúa obedeciendo a la voz de la raza..."
English:
The Labyrinth of Solitude is a book by Octavio Paz (Nobel Prize winner for literature) published in 1950. It consists of nine essays: "The Pachuco and other extreme", "Mexican Masks", "All Saints, Day of the Dead," The Sons of Malinche, "where he outlined his dissertation on The Chingada-Conquest and colonial" "From Independence to Revolution," "The Mexican intelligence," "Our days" and an appendix: "The dialectic of solitude."The Labyrinth of Solitude part of a tragic and irrevocable opinion: in being Mexican is present, even after many generations, the fact that this is a people come out of a violation. Octavio Paz says: "In all its dimensions, front and side views, in his past and his present, the Mexican is a being full of tradition, perhaps unwittingly, acting in obedience to the voice of the race ... "
I can only say that Google has done it again. While culture interpretation requires skillful resources and while machine translation is not perfect, Google is at the forefront of trying.

2 comments:

Woods said...

Thanks for sharing your insights of electronic translators. This post is helpful. Barbara from Iowa

atgtranslations said...

Hello Dr. Korzenny,

Interesting comment from an "outsider's" perspective. I've been working as a freelance translator since 2004, upon my arrival to the U.S. Since then I have not only learned the intricacies of my profession, but also of the industry. I try to keep up-to-date with all the new technologies that constantly emerge in my industry, being MT (Machine Translation) one of them. The only thing Google has done is integrating and automating the work of thousands of translators. To tell you the truth, it might seem pretty good, but at the expense of using our knowledge and hours of work for free through crowd-sourcing and techniques of the sort. If something has not been translated before or is not in the database, the computer will not be able to provide an accurate translation.
Just like yourself, I'm a strong believer in the fact that a proper translation cannot be performed without a minimal knowledge of the particular culture and/or target market.
If you are interested in this subject, please feel free to contact me. Looking forward to good conversation about this topic.

Silvina