Saturday, March 22, 2014

not quite

  So, this was the bit on Facebook for a column on by Konstantin Novikov, called "Учи меня думать (Teach me to think)".
Пропагандист — это не учитель. Это единственный, окончательный и бесповоротный пастырь. Причем окормляемая паства, выбирая между учителем и пропагандистом, обязательно выберет последнего — потому что учитель учит мыслить, а пропагандист отучает думать.
The new Facebook interface offered me a translation - I was curious, so I clicked on it to see what I was going to get; was Gazeta.ra offering an English version?

Well, no. What I got was this:
Promoter is not a teacher. This is the only final and irreversible Shepherd. The okormlâemaâ flock, choosing between a teacher and promoter, make sure you choose the latter, because the teacher teaches you to think, and promoter of the otučaet thinking. (Translated by Bing)
Ouch. You don't have to know Russian to know that Bing hasn't done a very good job. (I'm also intrigued by their transliteration system. The hacek (inverted circumflex) over the C is one thing, but the circumflex on the A? How many people would guess that means /jɑ/ - that is, a  jotated A like the YA in yard?) But that they have to transliterate is an indictment of their algorithm. The word окормляемая isn't in the online dictionaries, or the print ones - Novikov didn't make it up, but it's not very common. What it is, though, is a completely regularly formed participle - present passive - from the verb окормлять, an imperfective verb meaning "to guide, direct, care for". A person who knows Russian can recover the verb and then go to "is cared for"; Bing cannot. And отучает is the present tense third person singular of отучать, meaning "to disaccustom, wean from/of, cure of, break of, dishabituate" - and it is in the online dictionaries. There's no excuse for missing that one.

 There's no excuse for capitalizing Shepherd, either. And "make sure you choose" for обязательно выберет? The verb is future, third person, singular declarative and its subject is the flock! And обязательно is an adverb, usually translated as "without fail" but also as "surely, certainly, by all means, definitely...". It can be translated as "make sure", but only with imperative verbs, not declarative ones. And "promoter of the otučaet thinking" means Bing didn't even recognize отучает as verb, never mind that there's no morphological justification for "of the".

To be fair, Google Translate isn't that much better:
Propagandist - is not a teacher. This is the only, final and irrevocable pastor. And okormljal flock, choosing between a teacher and promoter, carefully choose the latter - because the teacher teaches to think, and think disaccustoms propagandist.
They don't know окормляемая, either - and their transliteration (while more standard) has inexplicably turned the participle into a plain past tense verb! They did know отучает, but have oddly inverted the sentence ("think disaccustoms propagandist" instead of "the propagandist disaccustoms to think") which is a very serious error, since it makes the English say that "think" is what "disaccustoms (the) propagandist", instead of what the propagandist disaccustoms you from doing. Also, Google misses the meaning of — это, which is a simple copula (as Bing correctly translated it), plus they chose "pastor" instead of "shepherd".

I'd say:
A propagandist is not a teacher. He is a sole, indisputable and irreversible shepherd*. And the flock which is being so cared for, when it chooses between a teacher and a propagandist, unfailingly chooses the the latter - because a teacher teaches reasoning, while a propagandist weans one from thinking.
* What I'd really say is "He is a shepherd, one and only, whose word is final and from whom there is no appeal" but I don't expect a translation program to do that kind of rearranging.

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At 12:09 AM, March 24, 2014 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

I'm optimistic that human translating will be preferred for a long time. To that end I've lately been running a lot of my projects initially through Google Translate, then collecting the bloopers -- surely enough for a hilarious talk at a conference someday.

Meanwhile, I just came across this in an article online, re the writing/publishing of a book on the annual Gustine [CA] festa:

“The photos and information he gathered were sent to author Liduíno Borba in the Azores, who wrote the book.
“‘The hard part was the he couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Portuguese very well,’ Vierra said. ‘I would have to look up words or ask him to say something in a different way. He would try to use Google to translate and send it back to me, but some things were pretty tough to figure out.’
“Another author translated Borba’s Portuguese version into English, Vierra said, and literally thousands of corrections were required to transform the ‘European English’ structure into ‘U.S. English.’
“‘It is totally different,’ Vierra explained.”

At 12:31 AM, March 24, 2014 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Did you see this quote from a book reviewed in the Washington Post this weekend? It's re teaching computers to understand humor, but I wonder if the same problem (except raised exponentially) occurs with trying to teach computers to translate:

"One computer program failed at recognizing one-liners when given rules to follow but excelled when allowed to learn on its own. 'Computers must be allowed to 'think messy," just like people...'"


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