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Real-Time Computer-Based Translation in Iraq 338

[TheBORG] writes "The U.S. military has been testing software on laptops that translate English to Arabic and Arabic to English to have conversations with Iraqis without the need to have a Arabic linguist on hand. 'This year the military's Joint Forces Command has been testing laptops with such software in Iraq. When someone speaks into a microphone attached to the computer, the machine translates it into Arabic and reads that translation aloud over the PC's speakers. The software then translates the Arabic speaker's response and utters it in English.'" (See this related story from last year about this daunting machine-translation task.)
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Real-Time Computer-Based Translation in Iraq

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  • by superlou ( 991322 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:01PM (#16418293)
    With some luck it will translate my banal whining into cutting social commentary.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      With some fuck it, it might transgender my anal whining into windy socialist communist chatter.
    • by doti ( 966971 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @12:24AM (#16418959) Homepage
      I will not buy this record, it is scratched.
    • by cluckshot ( 658931 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @06:42AM (#16421037)

      The mechanistic translation of Arabic into English will further blind US troups to the social and other conditions in Iraq. They will get back the techical translation but none of the meaning of the speakers. As such the failure to have good translators will be a serious problem. I suppose the best example of this is in a silly film "Mars Attacks". "Don't Panic, We are your friends." ---> Time to start panic.

      • by smittyoneeach ( 243267 ) * on Friday October 13, 2006 @06:59AM (#16421141) Homepage Journal
        Your assertion that US troops aren't going to bother to learn anything whatsoever about Iraq may hold true for a small minority.
        However, the gadget will likely have a catalytic effect: given something that can ease some of the basic communication challenges, the bulk of the troops will likely become somewhat conversational rather quickly.
        I base my remark on personal experiences of the US Navy in Japan and the Philippines--I wouldn't expect Iraq to be substantially different.
        Your point about the need for good translators is not without merit, but the pessimistic tone elicits a yawn, sir.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Xyrus ( 755017 )

      1. Find an article, any article, that's written in english.
      2. Go to babelfish or some other translation site and translate it into another language.
      3. Now, translate that back into english.
      4. Endless hours of fun, especially while drinking.

      This will either piss the Iraqis off more, or make thm laugh so hard that they'll stop bombing each other.

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <> on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:02PM (#16418299) Homepage Journal

    From the article:

    MASTOR's accuracy is not perfect, but "you can communicate a concept and you can elicit a response from someone"

    Given that "Al Qaeda" is Arabic for "The Base", and machine translation is notorious for its poor grasp of grammatical structure and homonyms, are soldiers going to have to deal with outputs like "AL YOUR QAEDA ARE BELONG TO US"?

  • Big worry (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Beryllium Sphere(tm) ( 193358 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:02PM (#16418301) Homepage Journal
    Arabic is even worse than most human languages for being contextual and ambiguous. It's superb for writing poetry but betting lives on translating it automatically?
    • Re:Big worry (Score:4, Insightful)

      by CHESTER COPPERPOT ( 864371 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:23PM (#16418473)
      Good point. And like the article states ... it hasn't been tested in a real setting yet. How's it going to go translating a screaming, aggressive arabic speaker? What about a stressed out, crying arabic speaker that has just had his family shot and/or blown up? Sounds like just another technological band aid to something that is better off solved with investing in real linguists.
      • Re:Big worry (Score:4, Insightful)

        by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @12:15AM (#16418879) Homepage Journal
        Yeah, sounds like more failure-prone technological solutions to the war on terror, like gait recognition, face recognition, headline scanning, which all are failure-prone, technological solutions to a human problem. What we really need is people skills, like actual fluent translators, experts with experience, covert agents, and inside guys.
      • Re:Big worry (Score:5, Interesting)

        by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @12:17AM (#16418895) Homepage
        What about a stressed out, crying arabic speaker that has just had his family shot and/or blown up?

        Not to mention a panicked, confused english speaker who just had his leg blown off by an IED.
        • Not to mention a panicked, confused english speaker who just had his leg blown off by an IED.

          Chances are such a victim will be in no state to even try to operate a device like this. If there are other people with him who can operate it, chances are they will be English speakers and so won't need a translator in order to communicate with him.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Sancho ( 17056 )
      So how do you translate "DO NOT RUN WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS" into Arabic?
      • by EugeneK ( 50783 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @12:04AM (#16418807) Homepage Journal
        How to do you translate "PLEASE GET THE FUCK OUT OF OUR COUNTRY RIGHT NOW" into English?

        Oh wait, that's already in English...

        • by glowworm ( 880177 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @12:27AM (#16418977) Journal
          How to do you translate "PLEASE GET THE FUCK OUT OF OUR COUNTRY RIGHT NOW"
          I'm not sure about the IBM solution but good old google gives a phrase that when retranslated back to English reads as "Hope of the exploited in our country right now"*. I don't see this being any real use except for the most basic translations, like which way to the mosque, or do you need a doctor. After all "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" :)

          * I would paste the google translated Arabic, but for some reason /. seems to delete arabic unicode from it's posts. Try it and see.
          • That's joke material there... Seems almost like a google prank! "Hope of the exploited" ? No wonder Bush "thinks" that he's doing good there, after all he can't be better at understanding them than google translator.
      • So how do you translate "DO NOT RUN WE ARE YOUR FRIENDS" into Arabic?

        "ACK ack ack ACK ACK"? []
  • by tetsu96 ( 790788 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:08PM (#16418337)
    ...It is not before one hapless American, searching for the nearest terrorist, blurts out to a startled passerby "Please fondle my buttocks"
    • ...It is not before one hapless American, searching for the nearest terrorist, blurts out to a startled passerby "Please fondle my buttocks"

      I'm sure we could always plead incompetence. Now drop your panties, Sir William, I cannot wait til lunchtime.

  • Subtitles (Score:5, Funny)

    by ( 463190 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:08PM (#16418341) Homepage
    Why don't the iraqis just use subtitles? []
  • by Ruvim ( 889012 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:12PM (#16418379)
    Reminds me of experiment I read about in old computer book... Program was created to translate from English to Russian and back. As a test, a phrase "Time flies like arrow" was translated to Russian and then back to English. It came back as "There are types of flies, called 'Time Flies' that enjoy eating arrows.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Or another that translated "Out of sight, out of mind" into "invisible, idiot".
    • Wrong (Score:4, Informative)

      by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @01:47AM (#16419473) Journal
      The phrase that was translated English->Russian->English was "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" and it came back as "The wine is good but the meat is rotten".

      The phrase "Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana." is a Groucho Marx quote. I'm not sure of the original context, but it is an example of how English (or any other natural language) is notoriously difficult to handle. For example, the sentence "Time flies like an arrow." may be justifiably interpreted in a variety of ways:
      • time moves quickly just like an arrow does;
      • measure the speed of flying insects like you would measure that of an arrow - i.e. You should time flies like you would time an arrow.;
      • measure the speed of flying insects like an arrow would - i.e. Time flies in the same way that an arrow would time them.;
      • measure the speed of flying insects that are like arrows - i.e. Time those flies that are like arrows;
      • a type of flying insect, "time-flies," enjoy arrows (compare Fruit flies like a banana.)

  • by snuf23 ( 182335 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:21PM (#16418447)
    My hovercraft is full of eels.

    I used to work for a translation company and I've seen how much confusion can arise from even human translation, it makes me wonder really how prone to error this will be.
    • I speak Arabic (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Plutonite ( 999141 )
      And you are right of course. This is more difficult than text-based translation, and will definitely not work. Last thing we need is more misunderstanding between our troops and the people over there.

      They'll have to learn the hard way.
  • by davidwr ( 791652 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:24PM (#16418483) Homepage Journal
    Soldier: Surrender now, we have you surrounded.
    Computer: #All your base are belong to us#
    Iraqis: [hysterical laughter]
  • IF anyone had doubts of bad software being harmless, think again: "What did he say!!?? He's going to do what!?? Smoke that foo'." ... That software better be good.
  • by Reality Master 201 ( 578873 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:25PM (#16418495) Journal
    You can probably have unbelievably simple conversations, like

    "Do you want to kill me?" "No."

    And for anything approximating a normal conversation, it's utterly fucking useless. Also, for the times when you actually need a very urgent, very good understanding of the language to prevent a lot of trouble, I bet it's beyond worthless.

    At present, and for the forseeable future, there's no adequate substitute for humans that speak the language. I realize we throw Arabic speakers out of the military because they're gay and all, but maybe we could make an exception because their skills are necessary at present. No computer translation system is adequate for usage in a live military operation.

    Oh, and IACL (I am A Computational Linguist).
    • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:47PM (#16418673)

      I realize we throw Arabic speakers out of the military because they're gay and all, but maybe we could make an exception because their skills are necessary at present.

      Do you really think there are enough a)Arabic-speaking b)openly c)gay soldiers in the military, to make a difference? I bet you could count them all on two hands.

      I think the military's policy is pretty stupid. However, I think if soldiers truly cared about "serving their country"(in quotes because I'm tired of "fighting in Iraq" = "defending freedom" in public discourse) above all else, they simply wouldn't tell the military they were gay. I'd also suspect that those that DO care about fighting for their country simply DO clam up and get the job done.

      • I bet you could count them all on two hands.

              You haven't seen his hands, have you?
      • by PChuck ( 1012975 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @04:41AM (#16420461) Journal
        Of the more than 11,000 service members who have been dismissed under the U.S. military's so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, about 800 had "critical abilities, including 300 with important language skills. Fifty-five (55) were proficient in Arabic." (Emphasis added). This information comes from the blog "Shakespeare's Sister," which can be found at y-dismisses-arabic-linguist-for.html []; this blog also has been quoted with approval by the nationally known non-profit group, Servicemembers' Legal Defense Network. See, e.g., [].

        The dismissal of this many Arabic-speaking military linguists *has* had an enormous impact on the military's ability to function efficiently in the Middle Eastern theatre. Believe it or not, the Army is now recruiting linguists on Craigslist with the following ad:

        Your primary responsibility will be to interpret Middle-Eastern languages into English to help with rebuilding efforts. On a day-to-day basis, you might:

        * Provide records of foreign language communications * Translate, transcribe or produce summaries of foreign language materials into English or target languages * Identify the language spoken in an assigned geographic area * Scan written foreign language material for key words and indicators * Translate written and interpret spoken foreign language material to and from English, while making sure to preserve the original meaning * Translate and transcribe Middle-Eastern language TV and radio broadcasts into English * Translate foreign books and articles describing foreign equipment and construction techniques


        The Army Translator Aide Program specializes in the following languages:


        * Algerian * Egyptian * Gulf-Iraqi * Jordanian * Lebanese * Libyan * Maghrebi * Modern Standard * Moroccan * Syrian * Sudanese * Tunisian * Yemeni


        * Pushtu-Afghan * Pushtu/Pashto/Pachto * Kurdish * Kurdish-Behdini (Kurmanji) * Kurdish-Sorani * Persian-Afghan (Dari) * Persian-Iranian (Farsi)

        I have also seen a classified ad from the Washington Post from the U.S. military, seeking Arabic linguists (among others) for training and employment. Clearly, discharging all those Arabic-speaking members of the military because of their sexual orientation was foolish, to say the least.

        As for the argument that these soldiers should just "clam up" and "not tell the military" they are gay, many LGBQ people would love to serve their country this way. However, you should go to the previously mentioned Servicemembers' Legal Defense Network website at [] to read about the everyday harassment, "witch hunts," and physical and emotional violence inflicted upon gay people by the military in violation of its own "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" rules. I think you would be extremely surprised to find out how many servicemen have been killed in the past five years by members of their own divisions/units; the Armed Forced do not exactly issue press releases every time something like this happens. The bottom line is that the vast majority of LGBQ soldiers are forced out against their will, as they try to be quiet and inconspicuous and to serve their country.

    • by rm999 ( 775449 )
      I dunno, I tried out google's beta arabic translator, and my arabic speaking friend said it works really well. It is not comparable to the crappy traditional translators people are used to because it uses statistical learning methods instead of hard-coded rules that are often difficult and unwieldy to maintain.

      Here's the arabic re-translation (translate from english->arabic->english, not the best test, but whatever) of the first paragraph of this comment:

      "Dondo, I tried to images to the interpreter of
  • "Tell me, how do you speak, Mr. Abu-son, when you have no mouth?"
  • Easy (Score:2, Funny)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 )
    Such a device would only need a hand-full of phrases to handle 99% of all use:

    * "I am a Canadian, not an American, so don't kill me."
    * "I voted for Kerry"
    * "Run!"
    * "Oh Shit!"
    * "I don't care how big her tits are, YOU frisk her this time."
    * "Cut and run? sounds like a great idea right now."
    * "Quick, help me find my lower intestine!"
  • I'm not saying that this isn't needed or it isn't beneficial to the troops. Considering how undermanned and under equipped the US Army is in Iraq, shouldn't those be higer priorities. Just my $0.02.
    • So giving them new equipment to help them get the job doen is not helping them get better equipment? Being that they are the best equiped army in the world I'd say we're just fine.

  • by BeeBeard ( 999187 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:50PM (#16418693)
    1. Inflection and emphasis of some words over others

    This is very important. Ever have somebody tell you "It's not what you say, it's how you say it"? It's true.

    2. Colloquial expressions and figures of speech.

    Right now, I'm looking at this book [] filled with conversational Arabic expressions I picked up in the U.A.E., most of which make absolutely no sense when translated into English. Do you know what "The son of a duck is a floater" means? Neither will U.S. troops or this device.

    3. Body language

    Many Arabic speakers in particular gesticulate while they speak. It is just part of their cultural identity and often, the body language is just as important as what is being said. U.S. troops in the field won't understand the importance of what they see, let alone what they hear, and this device certainly won't help them with that either.

    This is just what I could think of in a minute or so. I'm sure there are many more fundamental problems with using the translation device. Note that with a real live translator, most of these problems are avoided. If the U.S. military kept its Arabic translators in their ranks instead of firing them based on their sexual orientation [] then maybe they wouldn't have to resort to these ridiculous devices.
    • If the U.S. military kept its Arabic translators in their ranks instead of firing them based on their sexual orientation

      believe it or not, another part of arab culture is that they will in fact take a very dim view of your using a flaming gay translator to speak to them.
    • "Do you know what "The son of a duck is a floater" means? Neither will U.S. troops or this device."

      Okay, it was either a mod point or a reply, but I'm dying to know. What exactly does it mean?
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Sam Ritchie ( 842532 )
        From Egypt from an Egyptian's View Point []

        * Ibn El Wez Awwam:

        This proverb is usually said to indicate inherited intelligence and cleverness. The English equivalent is "The son of a duck is a floater". The literal translation is "The son the goose is a good swimmer".

    • by Chaffar ( 670874 )

      Do you know what "The son of a duck is a floater" means? Neither will U.S. troops or this device.

      I cannot emphasize this point enough. Even IF the machine is able to grasp the wildly varying pronounciation of most words from area to area (just see Lebanon, which has at least 20 different "accents" of Arabic), there are way too many sentences that won't mean anything when translated literally.

      A very common greeting in the Gulf countries is "Shlo'nak" (that's how they pronounce it, even though technically i

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by LS ( 57954 )
      Your points are well taken, but I think they are overstated. Let's look at them:

      1. Inflection and emphasis of some words over others

      This problem is mitigated by several factors. Speakers and listeners will likely be aware that the emphasis is lost, and will probably speak slowly and evenly, and listen more carefully to what is being said. Most anyone would not take offense or grossly misunderstand the translation unless it was in perfect Arabic or English. It won't be - it's going to sound like broken A
  • by chill ( 34294 )
    This could explain why "Arabic to English BETA" and "English to Arabic BETA" recently were added to Google's language tools page.
  • by Woldry ( 928749 ) on Thursday October 12, 2006 @11:55PM (#16418735) Journal
    ... who think that computers are anywhere near ready to do realistic translation are people who have no concept whatsoever how complex human language really is. We will never have a working, reliable computer translation while we are still unable to fully explain or describe the rules of our own languages. Language is remarkably fluid and idiosyncratic, and the rules change not only from language to language, and from dialect to dialect within each language, but from individual to individual, and from utterance to utterance with each individual. So far, we have yet to invent a computer complex enough for the pattern-recognition skills necessary even to parse a majority of sentences correctly, much less decode them and then reconstruct them in a different language altogether.

    None of this is to say that we can't ever do it, or that we shouldn't attempt. But the people who think it's possible with today's computer technology really don't understand the complexity of the problem.
  • There's no way this is going to work. Anyone who has worked in US government contracting knows as well as I do that this is someone's cash cow and that's about it.

    They'd be better off passing out books on Esperanto to the Iraqis and teaching it as a mandatory requirement for deployed forces. After all, the US will be in Iraq long enough for the entire population to learn the language. []
  • by demondawn ( 840015 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @12:07AM (#16418833) Journal
    As someone who has studied translation (Japanese/English) at the University level, I can tell you that interpreting in real-time in a heavily context-sensitive language like Japanese or Arabic is an incredible challenge for even people who have spoken both languages for -decades-. When tiny grammatical changes can affect the entire meaning of a sentence, and voice recognition is by no means perfect, and homonyms come into play, the entire process is incredibly difficult. On a -personal- level, as someone who studies languages and desires a career in either teaching or translation, I'm worried not so much that it's replacing the human element, but that people believe it can be used without human intervention. The difficulty of interpretation and translation (this would be the former, for the record) is related to the distance, in linguistic construction, between the two languages, and few languages are further apart than English and Arabic. The increases in accuracy of machine translation also grow logarithmically; the more development that comes out of it, the less benefit you get. What I do believe we should be doing is investing money in both language education AND language technology. I also have a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth regarding the fact that the U.S. military is discharging qualified linguists that happen to be homosexual, but then I say that as a homosexual language student that wanted to join the military when I graduated. Now I'm looking to move to Canada.
    • by Oswald ( 235719 )
      Look at it this way. The military was probably not going to have you doing any work that benefited the Japanese (nor, I'm afraid, any Americans), so maybe you're better off in the long run. I know if I were able to translate Arabic I would be very hesitant about doing it for the DoD. It's pretty hard to study a language in great depth without developing a sympathy for the people that speak it.

      Too bad Canada is weather hell. I still think about moving my family there sometimes. Or Costa Rica. Or New Zea

  • Ya but... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @12:10AM (#16418849)
    will it fit in my ear and does it come with chips []?
  • Compute the value of the following expression:

    Inaccuracy of speech recognition + inaccuracy of translation software + inaccuracy of text-to-speech software

    Where "Inaccuracy of speech recognition" is equal to "Dear aunt, let's set so double the killer delete select all".

    Where "Inaccuracy of translation software" is "Lost in Translation []".

    And where "Inaccuracy of text-to-speech software" is equal to "The occasional mispronunciation or wrongly-placed pause or accent or lack thereof."

    SOLUTION: Well wha

  • From the article:

    Wayne Richards, overseeing the project for Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., said the systems have been tested in quiet offices in Iraq, not the noisy war zone settings that can hinder computers' speech-recognition abilities. He expects it could be 2009 before real-time translation computers end up supporting the military in raids or other difficult scenarios.

    It's not like anyone's leaving Iraq before 2009, so why rush it?

  • Seriously if you speak English LOUDLY ENOUGH people all ove the world can understand you.

    damn i cant remember the actually funny thing i was going to say.....

    god damn lameness filter wont let me post this in all caps....
  • That the insurgents can kill. Great, this will really win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis. Get a computer to translate, because I'm sure it is difficult to recruit locals to do the tranlating. I guess it is better than nothing at all, but I really question its utility. As the article indicates, it will give the speaker a choice of words if it is uncertain. What if the speaker plays dumb and starts selecting nonsensical options? Will they then proceede to beat the subject, or will they have to get h
  • If the software is uncertain about what one party said, it presents choices on the computer screen for the speaker to choose.

    Abort, Retry, Ignore? [].

  • Hmm, great idea.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by necro2607 ( 771790 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @12:47AM (#16419113)
    OK, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who just thought of the inane results of translating things back and forth with Babel Fish [] .... This better be some DAMN good translation software.

    I can just imagine the "limitation of liability" portion of the end-use agreement from the company that developed the translation software...

    Even worse, what happens when some on-the-edge person pulls out a hidden weapon and injures/kills a soldier (or whoever) because of incorrect translation? Oh, is this just part of the "risk of the business"? ...
    • Couldn't RTFA -- "Sorry, the page you requested was not found."

      But, my limited experience is that this is combining two technologies that are decades away from being ready for prime time -- computer assisted translation and voice recognition -- and expecting the result to work.

      I use Bablefish occasionally and the results are generally entertaining, but not very useful --- especially with Japanese which someone points out elsewhere presents many of the same problems as Arabic.

      And I have never encounter

  • Let's also use these devices with the North Korean diplomacy!

    That way you could also fuck up two regions of the world simultaneously.
  • Colorless (Score:3, Funny)

    by hey ( 83763 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @01:00AM (#16419219) Journal
    Colorless green dreams sleep furiously.
  • A frightening idea (Score:2, Informative)

    by cohomology ( 111648 )
    The article starts:
    "One day, a U.S. soldier entering tense situations without the assistance of an Arabic interpreter might rely on two-way translation software in mobile computers."

    The idea of occupation forces in Iraq relying on machine translations is frightening. I don't believe it will work, but that is only the start of my concerns. We're not talking about translating technical conversations, or asking where the bathrooms are. We're talking about frighteed 19 year olds who are afraid of each other. Ho
  • Speechgear? (Score:2, Informative)

    by flattop100 ( 624647 )
    Another typical "news" story that has anything BUT news in it. The writer obviously has never heard of SpeechGear. []
  • This is great cuz (Score:2, Informative)

    by AnimeDTA ( 963237 )
    I don't speak your crazy moon language.
  • This technology is pretty simple: Soldier asks "Do you have a conceiled weapon?" Computer translates to "Please move head up and down". Iraqi does, soldier shoots, the terrorist-statistics go up again and Bush can claim the war against OMGTERRORISTS!!! is going smoothly but another investment of approx the BNP of Canada in the war is necessary.
  • I don't see how any part of this type of system would be considered truely real time, as the title suggests. There doesn't seem to be either a soft or hard real time constraint and I doubt they are investing in a real time computing platform.
  • If they actually got that thing to work reliably, I'd be very impressed.

    Arabic varies WIDELY from country to country. Learning Modern Standard Arabic and a regional dialect (I studied Egyptian) is almost like learning two different languages at once - words, verb conjugation, plural forms, grammar, etc. change between dialects and standard Arabic.

    I wonder if this computer translates Iraqi colloquial as well as Modern Standard, or requires the speaker of Arabic to speak Modern Standard (which would limit it
  • Why do I get the Iraqi word for "Childcare" when I say "Kidnapping"?
  • great ice breaker (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bobby1234 ( 860820 )
    the comic value of poor translation software may serve as a great ice break between the locals and the troops.
  • This assumes your subjects are literate, which I gather is true for the majority of Iraqis but not all of them. Here in my neighborhood in Japan we've got a rising foreigner population, at least some of whom are going to show up at the hospital on any given day complaining of chest pains, show up at a hotel and need a room, show up at a tourist site and want tickets for six. The hospital can afford a very pricey (per month and per minute) contract with a 24x7 multilingual medical emergency translation ser
  • Surely Monty Python has a patent on this?
  • by The Famous Druid ( 89404 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @04:00AM (#16420213)
    "My hovercraft is full of eels"

    and then poked me with the electric cattle prod again.

    I'd tell him what he wants to know, if only I could understand the question. :(
  • An example (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rbarreira ( 836272 ) on Friday October 13, 2006 @04:49AM (#16420509) Homepage
    Just to show you guys how good automatic translation is, here is the simplest sentence I've found so far which is translated very badly by google translation (systran, also used in altavista's babelfish):

    • "She's dead!" into Portuguese gives "Está inoperante!", into english again gives "It is inoperative!".
    • "She's dead!" into Italian gives "È guasto!", into english again gives "It is out of order!".
    • "She's dead!" into French gives "Elle est morte !", into english again gives "It died!".
    • "She's dead!" into Spanish gives "Ella es muerta!", into english again gives "She is dead!".
    • "She's dead!" into German gives "Sie ist tot!", into english again gives "It is dead!".
    • "She's dead!" into Arabic gives (something I can't paste here), into english again gives "Are dead!".
    • "She's dead!" into Japanese gives (something I can't paste here), into english again gives "She has died!".
    • "She's dead!" into Korean gives (something I can't paste here), into english again gives "Her it dies! where".
    • "She's dead!" into Chinese gives (something I can't paste here), into english again gives "She's dead!".

    Now, being generous while categorizing those results gives:

    Complete Success = 2 out of 9 = 22% (Spanish and Chinese)
    Almost successfull = 1 out of 9 = 11% (Japanese)
    Catastrophic failures = 3 out of 9 = 33% (Portuguese, Italian and Korean)
    Serious failures = 3 out of 9 = 33% (French, German and Arabic)

    How they get to sell software which fails more than half the times at translating such a simple sentence is truly beyond me...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by demondawn ( 840015 )
      That's because you make the mistake of assuming that "She's dead!" is a simple sentence. Not only does it imply precedent knowledge on someone's part, which is handled differently in different languages, but it also involves the use of the copula (is), which doesn't always work the same way as it does in English. For example, the French is "Elle est morte!" (subject) (copula) (verb past). On the other hand, Japanese has "kanojo wa shindeiru" (topic) (topic marker) (verb continuative). (As an aside, this is
    • The sentence you chose is vulnerable to a lot of factors that make translation difficult. It contains a contraction, for one thing. Worse, it contains a pronoun, so all at once it's subject to problems among languages with gendered pronouns versus those without -- that's why the gender gets thrown away in the German, Italian, Portuguese, and French versions. It also contains a past participle predicate, which is another construction that has analogues in many languages but different actual meanings (henc
  • Phew (Score:2, Funny)

    by kentrel ( 526003 )
    Thank goodness nobody said Universal Translator yet
  • Has anyone ever though that translation isn't something you should hand to an electronic device? Especially in an environment and language where you can easily choose the wrong way of translating something and twisting the meaning right by 180 degrees just by the use of an "inferior" word?

    I don't even want to go to the lengths to say that the software might have glitches akin to the old Monty Phyton joke mentioned in the subject line. But having something that should be translated as "Can I stay with you fo

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984