Translation technology has made impressive strides and is making its way into communications platforms like Google's search engine, and more recently, Skype.. Google translate -among other tools - is a godsend to anyone who has stared at search results in an unintelligible language. But every once in a while, we can see concretely that machines are making best guess efforts based upon probabilities -- which is quite distinct from asserting that the machines understand meaning.
Famed linguist Noam Chomsky was to be published in Turkish daily newspaper, Yeni Safak. The interview was conducted by email, and the kerfuffle arose around the following statement arising in the back-and-forth of interviews by email.
When the Turkish original: "Aksine ne zaman ki her şey süt liman olur, düzene girer işte o zaman Batı'da telaş başlar" is fed into Google translate, the results are
"Contrary to what happens when everything that milk port, enters the work order, then begins to bustle in the West."
In Turkish, the individual words "süt" and "liman" do mean "milk" and "port" on their own, but taken together they form an idiomatic expression to indicate calm. A human translator might have put it thus:
On the contrary, when everything has calmed down, then this will be when the West starts panicking.
Translations should be elegant as well as accurate. Good translation is good writing which reflects a lifetime of experience, creativity and imagination. (Ancillary moral to story: respected newspapers should have access to human translators.)
Gülay Eskikaya is the founder of Turkish Business Translations, and wrote about the gap between Star Trek's universal translator handheld machine and this amusing anecdote in The Guardian, in 2013. Link to original, here.