Posts Tagged ‘Google Translate’


Photo: Amherst College
Amherst College holds the original of the only currently authenticated photograph of poet Emily Dickinson, a daguerreotype.

A follower of this blog is Romanian and has a blog with a feature I hadn’t seen before. When you click on an individual post, you get a drop-down menu on the right for choosing any language you want the post translated into. I have used English, of course, but I’ve also tried French and Esperanto.

This got me thinking about Google Translate, a terrific service but imperfect. And I thought, What if we played a game of Telephone with Google Translate? You remember Telephone, I’m sure. A group of people sit in a circle, and the first person whispers a phrase in the ear of the second, the second whispers it in the ear of the third, and so on. When you get to the end, the phrase is usually mangled in an interesting way. and everybody laughs about what they thought they heard. (I had fun playing Telephone with an ESL class last year. You can just imagine!)

For my experiment, I decided to use a bit of poetry by Emily Dickinson and translate it into different languages and back into English between languages. I stopped when I got a translation that was kooky enough for my taste.

Let me know if you can think of other ways to play the Google Translate game.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all

“Esperanza” es la cosa con plumas –
Que se posa en el alma
Y canta la melodía sin las palabras –
Y nunca se detiene – en absoluto (Spanish)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul
And sing the melody without the words –
And it never stops – at all

“Hope” est la chose avec des plumes –
Qui se perche dans l’âme
Et chante la mélodie sans les mots –
Et ça ne s’arrête jamais – du tout (French)

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
Who perches in the soul
And sing the melody without the words –
And it never stops – at all

“Hopp” är saken med fjädrar –
Vem perches i själen
Och sjunga melodin utan orden –
Och det slutar aldrig – alls (Swedish)

“Jump” is the case with feathers –
Who perches in the soul
And sing the melody without words –
And it never ends – at all

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John told me that my efforts to learn Swedish online with Duolingo help to improve Google Translate and similar translation services, which purchase the history of users’ mistakes in order to refine their translation algorithms. I think Google Translate has fewer howlers lately. Maybe I helped.

Now along comes a product that claims to translate as you converse with a speaker of another language. Spenser Mestel has the story at the Atlantic.

“Last week, New York City-based Waverly Labs announced its recent invention, Pilot, a set of two ear buds that costs $299. Scheduled to be released by spring of 2017, the device purports to offer near-simultaneous translation for four languages.

“Inspired ‘when he met a French girl,’ Andrew Ochoa, the company’s founder, says that Pilot promises ‘a life untethered, free of language barriers.’ …

“Despite how quickly machine translation has progressed in the last few decades, language is a data set that’s far more complex than it seems, so no matter how quickly translation technology evolves, the stochastic messiness of speech will always outpace it. …

“In 1949, the scientist Warren Weaver proposed an alternative to rule-based translation called statistical machine translation (SMT).  Instead of attacking language one minutia at a time, Weaver suggested a two-pronged approach: First, the computer would mine millions of documents looking for statistically significant linguistic patterns, thereby discovering the grammar, syntax, and morphology rules for itself. At the same time, the program would create a model to predict how certain phrases are translated and where in the sentence they should appear. …

“Waverly Labs hasn’t yet released the details of its software, but it likely works in the same fundamental way as Google Translate, which uses these rules and the predictive model to give the most statistically likely translation, the one that best mirrors the patterns it already found. …

“Even if it lags and stutters, Waverly Labs’s Pilot … could allow for more substantive engagement with the world.” More here.

Photo: Waverly Labs
The Pilot in-ear translators from Waverly Labs

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Margareta sent me a poem in Swedish by Karin Boye. She said it was apt for Erik and Suzanne, who are embarking on several new “voyages” simultaneously.

Erik sent a follow-up: “That poem is very well known in Sweden; everyone will know the sentence ‘Nog finns det mål och mening i vår färd-Men det är vägen, som är mödan värd,’ which roughly means that it is the act of voyage, and not the end goal, which is the purpose of acts, and life.”

Erik also sent me a poem by his childhood friend Jonathan. “The poem is written with the Lake District in mind, where he traveled frequently with his family as a child.”

FALLS, by Jonathan Wallis

crystal clear to frozen ground
Snowdrifts from currents, lightly
muted all disturbing sound

Colours bound, in touch of frost
Summer’s splendour lost,
and found

Touched now, mirth is drained
Laughter caught, angels choir stained

No whisper above, but below,

Hair twisting,
body rushing, twisting

Here I cannot see only feel

In dark,
colours shift too rapidly
Body heat, maddeningly
Why did I laugh at the beauty of such curiosity?

Run, silently
beneath covering snow
and in time
warm life shall grow

lightly now,
Crystal clear to spring warm ground
Naked body laughs
All is sound
Colours unbound,
in touch of waters tossed
Dreams are lost,
and found

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Margareta e-mailed one of my entries to her extended family with a note and copied me. Once I had used Google Translate on her note (Google Translate gets better every day), I read some very nice things she was saying about the blog. That made me want to keep on truckin’.

At work I struggled all week with a pretty terrible article that I probably should have rejected. But then I ran into another of my authors who made a point of telling me that she really liked the editing I had done on her submission. So I redoubled my efforts to salvage the terrible submission.

And here’s a compliment that made me laugh. My colleague who creates gallery exhibits invited me to lunch with a couple of her external collaborators. As she introduced me, she seemed to stumble at first on what to say, given that my job as an editor actually has nothing to do with her exhibits.

She said, “She’s and editor here … and … uh … she’s interested in … stuff.”

That’s me! Interested in stuff. Here’s some stuff.

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