Cheeseburgery hamburgers and the problem of computerised translations

Don Osborn dzo at
Sat Jan 31 14:47:56 UTC 2009

We all know MT (machine translation, aka  computerized translation) is not
perfect so I don't think this piece was particularly informative.

The only news I see in it is that there is MT for Polish <-> English
(probably has been for a while but this is the first note I've made of to
it). Given what must be necessary to develop MT, it does not surprise me if
a recently developed program churns out some cheeseburgery results (though I
wonder who put that word in the lexicon).

While on the topic, my favorite MT mistranslation was with an older version
of (results duplicable on Babalfish): "discussion on fonts" in
English became in Portuguese the equivalent of "quarrels in baptismal
basins." Such blatantly outrageous results, though, speak to me as a
non-specialist in the matter more of how the MT was set up than any inherent
problem with setting up MT. Discussion in English is not really a synonym
with its apparent cognates in Latin languages (at least French &
Portuguese); and how often do English speakers use "font" to describe a what
in Portuguese they call pias baptismas? I've never heard of cheesburgery
before but will surely find a way to use it in conversation sometime - just
not in MT.

The real news is how useful MT can be in sorting through the gist of things
in diverse languages, and how with new approaches the results are improving
significantly. I hope FT takes a look at that, and how the complex and
uneven progress in MTis changing the way we access and use multilingual
content and documents.

Don Osborn

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-lgpolicy-list at [mailto:owner-lgpolicy-
> list at] On Behalf Of Harold Schiffman
> Sent: Tuesday, January 27, 2009 11:18 AM
> To: lp
> Subject: Cheeseburgery hamburgers and the problem of computerised
> translations
> Cheeseburgery hamburgers and the problem of computerised translations
> January 26, 2009by Tony Barber
> This morning I found myself on a public platform in a Brussels hotel
> for my first ever European bloggers' conference. As a representative
> of an "establishment" news organisation, I was half-expecting to be
> roasted alive. But in the end both Mark Mardell of the BBC, my friend
> and fellow-guest, and I got through it safely enough. The most
> perceptive contribution, I thought, came from a Romanian blogger who
> made the point that the global blogosphere remains to a large extent
> divided by language. For example, you can blog all you like in
> Romanian, but most of the world won't have a clue what you're saying.
> A moderator responded to this by saying, "Try using computer-generated
> translation." As I drifted back to my office, I recalled that the last
> time I'd experimented with computers striving to change Italian into
> English or Dutch into Spanish, the results had been pretty hopeless.
> Perhaps things had improved over the last couple of years?
> Well, below are three examples of computerised translation - courtesy
> of Google Language Tools - from French, German and Polish into
> English. I am republishing the translations exactly as they came out,
> punctuation mistakes and all, after I hit the button.
> 1) This is from a news story in Le Monde about US and European policy
> in the Middle East. "Believing that the war in Gaza has imposed new
> priorities and the administration of the new American president,
> Barack Obama, might break with the unconditional support to Israel,
> French diplomacy is trying to print in Europe, a change of tone
> against the Hamas."
> As you can see, this translation starts off promisingly. In fact, it
> scarcely puts a foot wrong until it loses control and talks, weirdly,
> about printing changes of tone against the Hamas. Still, we sort of
> know what's going on here. 7 out of 10 for Monsieur L'Ordinateur.
> 2) Now here's a sentence from a story in Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung
> about the US prison centre at Guantánamo and what Europe can do to
> help close it down. "The fate Released Guantanamo prisoners ensures
> fierce debates: Union politicians criticized the foreign ministers of
> Vorpreschen Stein Meier - and refer the responsibility for the inmates
> to the U.S."
> This is a pretty poor effort, Herr Computer.  Particularly
> disappointing is the omission of the preposition "of" between "fate"
> and "released" (which also shouldn't have a capital R), and the
> baffling three words "Vorpreschen Stein Meier". But let's be fair,
> there's a modest degree of sense here. 5.5 out of 10.
> 3) Lastly, here's a sentence from the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza
> on French leisure habits during the recession. "Economic crisis and
> changing lifestyles, the French seriously affect the profits of French
> cafes and restaurants. A sign of the collapse of the French culture of
> the restaurant is visible on the streets of Paris rash of
> quick-service bar, offering generally pogardzane a few years ago and
> cheeseburgery hamburgers."
> No, dear readers, you have not gone potty. That's what it says. And I
> am afraid, Pan Komputer, that it's utter gibberish. You get 2 out of
> 10 - and an hour's detention in the language lab.
> the-problem-of-computerised-translations/
> --
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