Saturday, February 5, 2011

Machine Translation: Potential for Crime?

My friend Karin posts on Facebook in Swedish. This makes sense. She's Swedish. I amuse myself by reading her posts out loud and trying to figure out what she's saying. I've studied German, which is, if not a sister language, then certainly a kissin' cousin of Swedish.

For example, she recently wrote: "Det blir ju inget varmvatten när man har luftvärmepump! Antingen får jag elda lite för att kunna ta en dusch, eller helt enkelt gå o träna för då ingår dusch. Kan man duscha på gymet utan att ha tränat först? Kan man se matinköp som träning?"

I read it. Hmm. Something about 'wind warm pump'. 'Dusch' sounds a little like 'douche,' 'sh
ower' in French. 'Kan man' sounds like 'Kann man...' in German: 'Can one...? Then my friend Tim M ran it through Google Translate, getting the following results:

It'll no hot water when you have a heat pump! Either I get burned a bit in order to take a shower, or simply go o work out for the shower included.
Can you take a shower at the gym without having practiced first? Can you see food shopping as exercise?"

This is fun. I was right about the "Can one...?" and "shower." But look at the grammar and fractured English in the automatic translation. Swedish and English are pretty closely related. Can't Google the Great do any better than that?

Then imagine the potential for international criminals sending messages with machine translation, and what a forensic linguist could do with that. Ahh, says the writer, rubbing her hands together in anticipation. So much material, so little time...

Do you have experience with automatic translation gone bad, or even human-produced results misunderstood?

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