Posts Tagged ‘Russian text’

RUSSIAN TEXT: THE PROBLEM WITH ONLINE TRANSLATORS

September 17th, 2009

Russian is a difficult task for translating programs. Perhaps all languages are hard to translate – I can’t say, because Russian is the only foreign language I know – but Russian certainly comes out of those programs looking far stranger than it really is. Much of that is due to idiomatic speech. After all, if a Russian person looks up the word-for-word meaning of, say, “You’re driving me up a wall!” they’re going to think you’re taking them in your car, up along the side of a building. Dictionaries and idioms don’t work well together. Unfortunately, a dictionary is all a computer has and it doesn’t usually produce perfect Russian text.

In Russian, there’s a common idiom, “Ты даёшь!” (ti dayosh), which has a meaning of, “Oh, come on now! You’re such a _____ .” But computers are literal beasts, searching for the dictionary meaning of each word, not able to step back and take in the whole phrase. Thus, they translate the literal meaning of the two words, which is “You give.”

Sure, a program could be changed so that, “Oh, come on now!” is the definition of “Ты даёшь!” but then the computer would inevitably give that translation every time…even when the literal meaning of “you give” is intended. Computers just don’t know when the idiomatic meaning is intended, and when the literal one is.

Basically, Russian text is hard to translate with computers because meaning has to be deduced from context, and computers are awful at this. Another way of looking at it is this:

What is the definition of “Whatever” ?

No fair checking an online dictionary. Think for yourself. Heck, you probably use the word 100 times a day, so what do you mean by it?

“Bartender, gimme a beer.”

“Not sure what we have left, sir.”

“I’ll take whatever.”

So, ‘whatever’ means, ‘anything’…at least in that situation. But later, you’re talking with a friend. “Eww, you kissed Sally? She’s gross!”

“Oh, whatever. You’re just jealous.”

Here, ‘whatever’ means, “I disagree with what you’re saying, but I don’t want to argue.” If you insert the word ‘anything’ in place of ‘whatever’, it won’t make sense.

Finally, here’s a simply test you can give to an y computer translator. Write a few typical lines of dialogue in English. Insert into a translating program. Have it translate to Russian, then cut and paste the result back into the translator, going now from Russian back to English. If you send people Russian text that you translated from English using a computer, the results will be unreadable, and usually hilarious. Try it with mine, below. Go to goole’s translator, for example (or one of your own choosing) and insert this text:

She asked me what I was up for doing and I’m like, “Whatever.”

Translated into Russian, you get this:

Она спросила меня, что я вскочил на ноги за это, и я хотел, “Все”.

And translating that back into English, here’s our original sentence:

She asked me what I got to his feet for it, and I would like, “All.”

I think now you’re seeing the difficulty of dealing with Russian text. In the next article, I’ll give some tips and tricks to dealing with computer translators!

Cheers from Sevastopol!