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Do you enjoy eating cabbages? October 21, 2010

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Fun stuff, Translation.

One of the members of the ATA German Language Division shared an interesting blurb from the October 16-22, 2010 edition of the Feedback section in New Scientist with us, and I thought you might enjoy it as well. Thanks, Cantrell!

DO YOU enjoy eating cabbages? We’re not sure whether the teenager known online as binarypigeon does, but her mother tells us that when she wanted to test the limitations of online automatic translation systems, she typed the phrase “I enjoy eating cabbages” into one. She told it to translate this into Japanese – and then translate the resulting phrase back into English, and then translate that to another language, and then back to English, and so on.

After approximately 20 such translations, binarypigeon’s simple statement had turned into: “Therefore, that is eaten because of possibility of fact of thing of possible possibility, designated that and that of a certain specification regarding that reason being shown it becomes, is inferred or as been, because either one types, whether it has been shown the fact that possibility should do my cabbage to that of the reason of this type, either one should enjoy some dependence of the range hypothesis our appointments which are shown, whether, these of appointment of the appointment which is shown are done.”

In the light of this, Feedback hopes that international bodies like the United Nations will continue to rely on human translators rather than mechanical ones for a while.

Thanks Feedback and thanks binarypigeon! I think this example shows that machine translation still has a long way to go before it will ever be a viable option to replacing a human translator.



1. Stefano - October 21, 2010

Ah ah, fantastic stuff. Sounds like a rant from a Samuel Beckett play or novel (“Watt” comes to mind), if you’re not too picky about the lack of grammar and the least sense.

2. Alejandro - October 21, 2010


3. Kitty - October 21, 2010

Dunno, right now it seems that most people would rely on anything that is free or anybody that is almost free.

4. Ryan Ginstrom - October 21, 2010

Look on the bright side — at least “cabbage” made it all the way through! 🙂

5. Dondu N. Raghavan - October 22, 2010

Have a look at my posting on this. See: http://raghtransint.blogspot.com/2009/08/fun-with-machine-translation-party.html

Dondu N. Raghavan

6. Stefano - October 22, 2010

The Equilibrium game referred to by Dondu N Raghavan in his article is quite cool! Here’s how the Beatles cope with it (I’m omitting the Japanese):

Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, take a sad song and make it better
Hey Jude is that it is not bad, take a sad song, make it better
Hey Jude, but to improve it, take a sad song, not that it’s not bad
Hey Jude, it is not bad, take a sad song, it does not improve
Hey Jude is not bad it’s not, it does not improve, take a sad song
Hey Jude takes a sad song, it does not improve on it is not no bad thing
Hey Jude, it has not improved, take a sad song, it’s not bad
Hey Jude, it takes a sad song, is not improved, it is not bad
Hey Jude, it is better if not, take a sad song, not bad it’s not
Hey Jude does not have it otherwise, and not a bad take a sad song
Hey Jude is otherwise bad, but it does not have to take a sad song
Hey Jude, if it is not bad, but it is not necessary to take a sad song
Hey Jude, and it is not a bad thing, it does not need to take a sad song.
Hey Jude, it is not a bad thing, it does not need to take a sad song.
Hey Jude, it is not bad, but it is not necessary to take a sad song.
Hey Jude, it’s a bad thing, but it is not necessary to take a sad song.
Hey Jude, it is not a bad thing, but it is not necessary to take a sad song.
Hey Jude, it’s a bad thing, but it is not necessary to take a sad song.
Hey Jude, it is not a bad thing, but it is not necessary to take a sad song.

So, please refrain from taking a sad song. It is not necessary. But is it a bad thing? Don’t ask MT. Ask a human translator!

7. Craig - October 23, 2010

Of course, I echo the sentiment that people should rely on human translations, but these comparisons are just plain silly. No real translation ever has to go through as many steps as these “MT chain games”!!

Ever played “Chinese whispers / Broken telephone” at a party? Even sticking to one language, there can be some hilarious ‘interpretations’ that come out at the end of a chain of ten human whisperers.

In the real world, we aren’t usually faced with more than two steps:
Source language -> bridge language -> Target language
where the source and target are minority languages and the bridge language often English.

So put a sentence through these two steps via MT and if the results are ludicrous, then laugh! But they’ll often be reasonable. MT is making advances and has its uses. But we really don’t need to ridicule it in this silly way. That’s just making ourselves look ridiculous.

8. Stefano - October 23, 2010

I think that exposing the funny side of MT is a good way to help academics and MT researchers in their job. We’re making ourselves useful, if anything.
Umberto Eco first made fun of MT in 1998. Sadly, the piece he wrote about the Altavista engine back then is just as relevant today, and it could well be describing today’s free MT engines. He gets back on the topic in “Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation” (2003), a very enjoyable book.
MT didn’t progress much since then. MT is doing great on many heavy-duty corporate levels, but that’s what I call a niche. I don’t care if that niche is moving million of words and dollars around the world, it is still a niche with its controlled language, repetitive texts, dedicated IT staff, postediting rules, overworked human translators, etc.

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