Tag Archives: Google translate

Translators past, present and future, a new Iliad, and Greek humor

Would a human or a machine be better at translating the above line from a song (should you wish do instant translation at a karaoke bar)? Are machine translators making human translators redundant?

No, according to the American Translators Association. It’s true there’s a wow factor in a point-and-shoot translator app like Word Lens or the statistical analysis approach of  Google Translate. Many of use these and other machine-based translators. But human translators are doing just fine too. At least that’s the word from ATA spokesman Kevin Hendzel. He told me the industry grew 15% in 2009 and 13% in 2010.  Not so surprising when you think about it: American troops are still in Afghanistan. The US government’s 17 intelligence agencies are still listening in to people all over the world. American businesses are still expanding into new global markets.

And some people even translate books. David Bellos does that. He has translated, among other novels, Georges Perec’s La Vie mode d’emploi   “Life: A User’s Manual”), a book once considered untranslatable.  Bellos is also the author of the recently published Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything.

Bellos’ book has been a hit with reviewers (see here, here and here). No wonder. With all those reasons (global marketing, espionage, immigration) why translators are needed now more than ever, it follows that we should question more closely what translation is, what it does, and what it misses. I don’t know if translations of novels and poems have improved over time, each translator shaving his or her own microsecond off some previous world record, but in one small way it’s a shame: it may discourage us from reading books in their original languages. But that’s a minor worry, certainly not an argument against good translations.

Related post/pod:  check out this earlier podcast on translating poetry.  For many poets, words are less prominent than sound and rhythm.  The translator must echo that.

Also in the pod, a discussion of just what exactly Madeline Miller’s new novel, The Song of Achilles owes to Homer’s The IliadThe Song of Achilles could be considered a translation only in the loosest sense of the word (more here on other Iliads, including the new translation by Stephen Mitchell). Miller’s novel draws from Homer’s plot. It also draws from other classical texts, and from Miller’s own imagination. Traditionalists may think she’s nicking the good bits from Homer, then sexing them up (which she does with gusto) for a modern audience. Others may view it as an illuminating re-imagination of an ancienct epic.

Finally this week, a mode of speech that’s always tough to translate: humor. Not only that. Under the spotlight here is Greek humor. And we’re not talking Aristophanes. This is modern-day Greek humor, based on Greece’s increasingly precarious economic situation. Greeks aren’t tickling too many foreigners’ funny bones at the moment. But judging by the jokes, the message to outsiders seems to be “If you think Greek politicians are double-crossing and corrupt, just try living in the same country with them.”

Listen via iTunes or here.


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Google’s humanoid translator, accent phobia, and misleading job titles

In this podcast, our monthly top-five roundup of language stories:

5. Why Google Translate rules (and why human translators shouldn’t feel threatened.)  Google, as we’ve come to expect by now, does things differently. And that includes translation. We tend to think of translators as human or robotic. Google Translate combines the best of both. Which is why its translations can be poetic — yes poetic — as well as accurate. Of course, it’s still not difficult to outwit Google Translate, and make it fail. But with each new iteration, it’s getting better. However, it’ll only continue to improve so long as humans keep translating stuff (because Google Translate uses online human translations as its source material). Also, one day, Google may need to clarify that its translation tool,  however ubiquitous and accurate it becomes,  is no substitute for learning a foreign language. Humans live and thrive — and love and make money — by communicating  with each other. And they do that most effectively with their mouths, tongues and vocal chords.

4. Over-egging the job title pudding. The BBC reported that a weight-loss company recently advertized for a Product Testing Associate.  This job would consist of eating an extra 400 calories a day, as well as popping a few of the company’s Proactol pills. That got a bunch of readers of the online BBC article to relate their own favorite misleading job titles:  modality manager (translation: nurse, not to be confused with mortality manager); coordinator of interpretative teaching (tour guide); welcoming agent and telephone intermediary (receptionist); and field force agent (tax collector).  All of a sudden, I’m thinking my job title — language podcast host — isn’t  grand or pretentious enough. So henceforth, I will be known as a digitized philology presentation practitioner.

3. Accent discrimination. As a native English speaker with Brit accent (it’s drifted into the Atlantic after 20+ years in the United States) I think I’ve experienced positive accent discrimination.  Many Americans have told me they’ll  believe anything a Brit tells them — a good, if dangerous, thing for a reporter to hear. However, there are plenty of examples of the other type of discrimination. The latest concerns a US-based native French speaker who’s a senior partner in a global consulting firm. She speaks of being dis-invited to meetings with American clients, because of the fear that her accent would put them off.

2. The rise of Hindi (and English). My Big Show colleague Rhitu Chatterjee told me about an old friend of hers. He was born and raised in New Dehli by a Marathi-speaking mother and a Telugu-speaking father.  Because of the language divide, the languages of the household were Hindi and English; Rhitu’s friend neither spoke nor understood the native tongues of either of his parents. That story writ large is the linguistic story of modern India — multilingual marriages, migration to big cities, a big generational shift to Hindi and English. English has now eclipsed Bengali as the the second-most popular language in India, according to recent census analysis, and Hindi continues to dominate.

1. New French words to replace English invaders. The Académie française (pictured) is the jealous protector of all things French: it determines what can and cannot be said and written, even if people often ignore its pronouncements.  Often, the Académie finds itself with no alternative but to make up new words, usually when the hoi polloi are using one of those nasty English words (like podcasting).  Some officially coined terms stick (logiciel, meaning software); others don’t (frimousse, meaning smiley). Authorities have now taken a new tack: they have turned to the people themselves. Citizens sent in their suggestions for words to replace Anglicisms such as buzz and newsletter. A committee decided which to adopt.

Listen in iTunes or here.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized