Curious Factoid about Google Translate

It doesn't do point to point translations from Language A into Language B.  It translates from A into English and then English into Language B.

Who knew?

The people at put it thus:

It Does Not Translate One Language to Another. This might sound totally crazy – not to mention counterintuitive – but Google Translate doesn’t actually translate from one language to another. Instead, it translates the original language to English, and then it translates English to the target language. Though this makes the process easier, it may cause translation errors as English is far from a perfect language.

We'll let pass the theoretically hard-to-swallow notion with which the passage ends:  just what might be a "perfect language" anyway? 

More fund Google Translate tidbits for your enjoyment here.

Translation Wars: People-Powered-Platforms Fight Back

Consumer-ified machine translation apps -- on your computer, on your phone, on your Smart Watch -- have made impressive strides in aiding the awkward traveling tourist abroad, and the past year's headlines have been dominated by Google Translate and Microsoft's Skype simultaneous translation.

But more intriguing to us as human interpreters are human-translator-powered commerce platforms -- an Uber for language translation needs..  Setlr is a marketplace (in beta) whose mission is to put translators directly in touch with clients.  Babelverse will use mobile tech to get at-point-of-need translation done real time by live humans.

Both should be interesting to watch as they go live and scale up network effects.  

From the Annals of Translation & Its Perils

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.