Friday, February 19, 2010

New feature: read Lingwë in your native language

If you take a look at the top of the sidebar (to the right of this post), you’ll notice a new widget, courtesy of the good folks at Google. You can now read Lingwë in more than fifty languages, automatically translated for you by Google, all without ever leaving this page. I would love to hear from my friends out there on how well Google handles Lingwë in Polish, Finnish, German, Bulgarian, and whatever other languages you read.

I’ve already give a cursory inspection to the results in French and Italian, with a less than cursory look at several others. Comme ci, comme ça … così, così … así, así. What do you think?

25 comments:

  1. Hi Jason, just letting you know that I have informed the Elendilion readers know about the new google translator. It seems to be a great idea, but it is good to remember that many subtleties can be lost in trnaslation especially if the translating is done b a machine rather than a person. However, I think it is a great feature that will hugely benefit your subscribers. Don't think you are going to get rid of us doing our own translations! :D
    All the best.
    Bartek - Telperion- Opalinski

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  2. It does a decent job of translating into Bulgarian and Greek. :)

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  3. I wanted to say, "molt bé!", not that Catalan is my native language but it's important to my work, but:

    "Google Translate Error: The server could not complete your request. Try again later."

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  4. Nice to hear from all of you! And equally nice to hear that Google doesn’t make too much of a botch of Lingwë in other languages. Of course, this is no substitute for a proper translation! As for Catalán, Jonathan, perhaps this was an intermittent problem. I just tried it, and it worked for me.

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  5. Harm J. Schelhaas2/22/2010 6:02 PM

    I've taken a look at Dutch, German and Afrikaans. It's passable and understandable, but far from perfect.

    One thing gets my attention in particular. The google-translator every now and again gets the grammatical or syntactical function of the word wrong. E.g., in the first sentence "take" is translated into Dutch and Afrikaans as if it said "to take", "top" is translated into German as an adverb by itself, instead of a noun functioning as part of the adverbial clause "at the top of ...".

    In the same sentence "courtesy of" is translated into German as if it meant "by kind permission of", although it gets through fine in Dutch and Afrikaans. And "good folks", or even the entire "courtesy of the good folks at Google" is really a social idiom - even though the engine translates it with linguistic perfection in Dutch and Afrikaans, the effect is still thes same as if it spoke with an American accent! At least that is how it comes over in Dutch, Afrikaans has taken up more English (British) idiom, and I'm not well up in Afrikaans idiom anyway.

    Well, that is only one sentence, I'll spare you the rest. In general though, the word order of the translations is quaint, even when it is not outright impossible. In Dutch in particular, the effect is uncannily like what you hear when a francophone Belgian politician speaks Dutch on Flemish television ...

    Now when you think of it, that is quite a feat, imitating a francophone Belgian speaking Netherenglish ...

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  6. Thanks for the detailed assessment, Harm. I suppose it’s not altogether inappropriate that the translations sound “as if [Google Translate] spoke with an American accent!” After all, my writing tends to be very idiomatic, and it’s probably a good thing that this comes through in some fashion. Problems with word order, though, and especially with syntax and part of speech, are of more concern. But you get what you pay for, eh? And in this case, a free translation that is at least mostly intelligible is a pretty impressive feature to offer. Also, we have reason to hope that the translations are improving all the time. Translations into Hindi were originally very bad indeed, but they have since become more than passable. :)

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  7. Swedish comes out fairly well (I make use of Google Translate to translate my Tolkien-based role-playing game from Swedish to English), though in almost every sentence there are parts that sound weird.

    Finnish doesn't work as well. Not many of the various grammatical forms are correct, probably because forms in Finnish are used in an altogether different way than in Germanic languages.

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  8. I am not at all surprised to hear that Google has difficulty coping with Finnish. But it’s good to know that Swedish comes out tolerably well — as would (presumably) Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic.

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  9. Thanks for this Jason! I added it to TolkienGuide.com as well, given the international traffic that comes by regularly.

    One of the cool features of this script widget is that when you mouse over a sentence that has been translated, it will pop up the original text so you can do a "what the $^&@)%^ was Google thinking here?" sanity check.

    One of the not-so-cool features is that there is no "undo" button to go back to the original page, except to do a full reload (hit the browser refresh button).

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  10. Jeremy, there is a sort of undo, easier than a full refresh. In the Google Translate bar which appears at the top of the screen, there is a Show Original button. Click that, and things instantly return to the original language (English, in this case). There is also a little x (i.e., close button) to the right of the Show Original button. Click that, and the page returns to the original language and the Google Translate bar disappears.

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  11. Ah, so there is! I don't know how I missed that entire toolbar at the top of the page. [chagrin]

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  12. Harm J. Schelhaas2/24/2010 1:11 PM

    Well, I have a gripe now. That toolbar will now keep appearing on any page of your blog. Indeed, I can click it away with the ⊠ button, or with the button "switch off translation from English", but it will just reappear on the next page I call. Furthermore, as soon as I hit the toolbar button for the translation, the "switch off" button disappears, and it doesn't reappear when I hit the button for the original version. Also, from then on, every page from your blog I click through to is translated automatically, and there is no way to cancel that setting, other than closing the tab and reopening the page from scratch.

    Nowhere on the google help-page that is linked from the toolbar can I find anything about how to get rid of this again.

    I can do without this clutter of my browser, especially on my usual laptop (with wider aspect ratio), and am actually v. angry indeed.

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  13. Harm, it does not behave that way for me! If I click the close (x) button, the translation bar disappears and does not reappear, no matter what other links I click. I hesitate to ask what operating system, browser, and version you are using, because I am certainly in no position to support the Google applet. I’m sorry it seems to be misbehaving for you. Anybody else seeing the issue Harm describes?

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  14. Harm J. Schelhaas2/24/2010 2:13 PM

    IE 8 and Vista SP2; in case anybody wants to compare.

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  15. Jason, I haven't had it work for me yet, but I guess I'll keep trying.

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  16. Harm, have you tried activating IE8’s compatiblity mode? I wonder if that would solve the problem. Jonathan, sorry to hear that. I guess Google still has some bugs to iron out!

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  17. Gary Schmidt2/25/2010 9:50 PM

    I am disappointed there's no way to translate into Matses. :)

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  18. Hahae, me too. Even though the c. 2,000 Matses scattered across the Peruvian/Brazilian Amazon basin probably don’t have a single computer. Do they even have electricity?

    But if you’d care to take a stab yourself, Gary, I found a nearly 1,300-page dissertation on the grammar of Matses (by David William Fleck, Rice University, 2003). Certainly nothing like this existed back when we first learned a handful of Matses words in, what, 1984? 1985? (And when there might have been ten times as many Matses.)

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  19. Harm J. Schelhaas2/26/2010 7:29 PM

    Yes Jason, I have already tried out compatibility mode, and it doesn’t make a grain of difference. It is one of the things I regularly do when I run into snags like this one, even though I find it rarely helps.

    Aye well, it’s something for a computer issues board, not really for this blog.

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  20. Merci pour ce widget! Je peux enfin suivre ce très bon blog, la traduction en français est compréhensible ;)! Bravo.

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  21. I checked your 26 Feb book announcement in Portuguese and Welsh, not that I'm expert in either. The Portuguese is tolerable but makes some of the same types of errors already mentioned, e.g., interpreting "Sound" as a noun. Joining English words with slashes [Victorian/Edwardian] of course does not come out properly.
    The Welsh seems much poorer, unidiomatic in word order, missing mutations, and in some cases [intertwined] not translating the word at all.

    Having gone directly from English to Portuguese to Welsh to French, I too found returning to English difficult even after consulting the Help function. The translate toolbar no longer showed the return to original function. I think Google should list English in the widget.

    I agree with Jeremy that being able to hover with the original helps with what-were-they-thinking? -- but of course if I could read the original language that well, why would I be using the Google translator?

    The widget does serve as a first approximation to guide the reader in deciding whether to make the effort to read the content. IMHO I think you should continue offering it. Perhaps you could add a brief help note or undo button on your page.

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  22. Merci beaucoup, Druss, and thanks very much, ElanorTX. And so, Elanor, was there also no longer a close (x) button on the right side of the toolbar? In my own experience, I have never seen any of these problems. In fact, I just reproduced the same sequence of steps your describe above, and the show original and close buttons remained and worked correctly. I agree that English should be in the list, and perhaps it will be added. This is, after all, a brand new tool. :)

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  23. Google Translate uses a statistical model of phrases drawn from large hand-translated corpora, frequently the statutes of officially bilingual countries. The less colloquial your text, the better it comes out, therefore.

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  24. Indeed, John. And Google invites people who happen to possess lengthy tracts of bilingual text in other languages to submit these corpora to Google. In this way, they can continue to expand their offerings with more (and more obscure) languages. But while it does work, for the most part, it’s a technique with its share of disadvanages (as you note).

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