Tuesday, December 26, 2017

So close

Man, I feel like quoting Luke Skywalker.

"Nothing more important than to return our home - no." That's how Facebook translated Нічого важливішого за те, щоб повернути наших додому – немає.

It's a perfect example of the importance of grammar - those pesky little endings. Every word is right or close enough. Almost every word is wrong. Especially наших додому, where the endings make it clear that this is not a noun phrase meaning "our home" - but rather two parts of the verb phrase, the direct object and the adverb of goal: returning "ours to home". Hаших is accusative plural (looks like genitive because the elided noun is animate), and додому is an adverb built from the preposition до + the noun дiм in genitive (дому).

There's a bit more, of course.  Нічого важливішого is genitive of negation because of the verb немає, which is the negative existential: "there is not". Negatives are very often in genitive in Ukrainian, and the 'subject' of the negated existential is always in genitive. But Facebook's translation algorithm almost never recognizes case endings.

Interestingly, it does navigate the syntax of за те, щоб, correctly rendering it as "than". Points there, algorithm. But the full sentence is just wrong. And worse, it reads just fluidly enough that you can think you know what it means. But you don't.

"Nothing more important than to return ours (our people) home doesn't exist" - with negative concord, so a better translation would be "Nothing ... exists" or "anything ... doesn't exist". Best would be "There is nothing more important than to bring our people back home - nothing."

And that was just the first sentence. It didn't get any better. Stay tuned... 

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At 3:21 PM, December 26, 2017 Anonymous Kathie had this to say...

Our favorite translation-program whipping-boys, Google and Bing, did no better.

GOOGLE: Nothing more important than returning our home is not.

BING: Nothing to return to our home – no.

At 3:39 PM, December 26, 2017 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Oh, Bing. You never disappoint.


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