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September 21, 2005

Machine Translation — 'Real soon now'


The funniest thing I've read so far today — but hey, the day is still young and my "to read" pile is plenty high — was appended to Kate Mackenzie's article in today's Financial Times headlined "Machines Conquer Language Barrier."


I thought that machine translation was still in beta, where it's been stuck since the 1960s.

And I was right: Mackenzie's story is about how Hewlett–Packard manages to do business in 170 countries and it focuses on how the company's various local offices manage to farm out their stuff to people to translate into the wide variety of native tongues employed.

Oh, well.

The funny part was when Mackenzie decided to test the state of machine translation art by having translation agency SDL's translation engine (at freetranslation.com) render the opening lines of Balzac's classic, "Le Cousin Pons," into English.

For comparison she also had Ben Hunt, Digital Business editor of the Financial Times, take a crack at it using his "C–grade schoolboy French," and finally she offered the 1968 translation by the late linguist Herbert Hunt (no relation), now available as a Penguin Classic.

    ■ Balzac

    Vers trois heures dans l’après-midi, dans le mois d’octobre de l’année 1844, un homme âgé d’une soixantaine d’années, mais à qui tout le monde eût donné plus que cet âge, allait le long du boulevard des Italiens, le nez à la piste, les lèvres papelardes, comme un négociant qui vient du conclure une excellente affaire ou comme un garçon content de lui-même au sortir d’un boudoir. C’est à Paris la plus grande expression connue de la personnelle chez l’homme.

    ■ Freetranslation.com

    About three hours in the afternoon, in the month of October of the year 1844, a man of age an about 60 of years, but has that everyone eût given more than this age, went alongside the boulevard of the Italians, the nose to the track, the smooth lips, as a négociant that the has just concluded an excellente matter or as a happy garcon of himself. This is at Paris more big expression known personal one with the man.

    ■ Ben Hunt

    At about three in the afternoon, on an October day in 1844, a man of about 60 years, but whom life had made look somewhat older, walked the length of the Boulevard des Italiens, his nose in the air, (les lèvres papelardes), like a diplomat coming to the end of a great negotiation or a young boy happy to be leaving his bedroom. In Paris that is the greatest personal expression of satisfaction a man can show.

    ■ Herbert Hunt

    About three o’clock in the afternoon, one day in October 1844, an old man of some 60 years (though anyone who saw him would have thought him older) was walking along the Boulevard des Italiens, with his nose thrust forward and a smug expression on his lips, like a merchant who has just made an excellent deal, or a bachelor emerging from a lady’s boudoir, pleased with his prowess – in Paris the expression of male self-satisfaction can go no further.

Chacun à son goût.

September 21, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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