Terrestrial Translator

by : Daniel Punch

Star Trek has a wonderful device called the universal translator. It translates spoken and written alien languages into English, and would probably translate different human languages, if there were more than one in that specifically created future. Though it doesn’t know how to translate isolated foreign words like Russian or French, it is a truly marvelous technology. Almost never fails. Never loses power, even when the rest of the ship does, same as the artificial gravity. No moving parts, in fact, no parts at all. It is just ‘around’, always there, always doing its job without anyone having to think about it. A little like the Internet is becoming now, just a banal fact of life.

Sadly, it is based on the false premise that words in other languages have a one for one relationship with words in English. That Turkish doesn’t have two words for ‘know’, and Russian doesn’t have two words for ‘Blue’. It dictates that languages don’t have both an inclusive and an exclusive ‘we’. (We (inclus) = ‘Me, you, and maybe other people’. we (exclus) = ‘Me, and other person or people excluding you’.) There is a false belief that all languages have only singular and plural constructs, and not up to five categories. Some languages have dual as well as singular and plural, and different categories so ‘every computer’ clearly means either ‘every computer in sight’ or it means ‘every computer that exists, has existed, and ever will exist’, but the two forms of ‘every computer’ can’t be confused with each other.

We’ve started building our own ‘universal translators’ which naturally are on the Internet. I can have paragraphs translated into French or German, or from French to German. Or, I can get whole websites in other languages translated for me. I’ve never had a website translated, but I sometimes get phrases translated when I want a fictional character to say something in another language. I sometimes, just for fun, translate something through two other languages and then back into English to see how good online translations are getting. It is also to reassure myself that computers won’t completely replace humans in the next week or two.

This is my standard signature block after a computer has translated it into French (using http://translation2.paralink.com/):

Original English version: Allan T. Price is a creative writer working at M6.

Net: ‘The web-hosting company for humans.’ M6.Net is working hard to help humanity experience the power and freedom to develop their own part of the Internet, to share their information and connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Allan T. Le prix est un auteur créateur travaillant sur M6. Filet: ?la compagnie accueillante web pour les humains.? M6. Le filet travaille durement pour aider l'humanité à connaître le pouvoir et la liberté de développer leur propre partie d'Internet, partager leurs renseignements et communiquer avec quelqu'un, n'importe où, anytime.

Now I get that French version translated into Spanish:

Allan T. El precio es un autor creativo que trabaja en M6. Red: ?? la compañía acogedora web para los humanos. ?? M6. La red trabaja duramente para ayudar a la humanidad a conocer el poder y la libertad de desarrollar su propia parte de Internet, compartir su información y comunicar con alguien, dondequiera, anytime.

Finally, that Spanish version back into English:

Allan T. The price is a creative author who works in M6. Network? The cozy web company for the human beings? M6. The network works hardly to help the humanity to know the power and the freedom of developing its own part of Internet, sharing his information and communicating with someone, anywhere, anytime. So, I become ‘Le prix’, ‘El precio’ or ‘The Price’. Web-hosting becomes ‘cozy web’, and ‘anyone’ becomes ‘someone’. On the whole, the meaning gets a little mangled, but still survives.

Let’s use two more famous pieces of text and see how they become after computer translation.

‘We consider these truths by itself to be understood, that all men are equally created, that they were subsidized with its founder the certain rights not a subject sale which are under this life, freedom and prosecution Gappiness. - that to guarantee these rights, the governments are constructed among men, its fair authorities of the consent adjusted allocating,’‘We of people of the United States to form more perfect association, we appoint validity, we assure internal silence, we care of the general protection, we promote the general social security, and we guarantee approval of freedom to ourselves and to our future generation, you accept really and you base this structure for the United States America.

’They’re kind of close, but definitely not close to being exactly the same.

Thanks to the Internet, and improving translation programs, English speakers will soon realize the true diversity of other languages. It will become commonly understood that you can have an inclusive and an exclusive ‘we’, or dual and universal as well as singular and plural meanings. We’ll know that Turkish has two different words for the English word ‘know’, seçmek - to perceive or distinguish, and bilmek - to be informed of or be aware of, and no word covering both ‘perceive’ and ‘be informed’. So if someone tells you in Turkish ‘I know he stole it’, you always know whether or not they witnessed the crime, or were simply told who did it. Like English speakers for a millennium or more, people will quietly ‘mug’ these other languages, and ‘rummage around in their pockets’ adding what they find useful to English. At the same time, people all around the word might ‘smooth’ their language out to make them easier for translation software, choosing words that can be easily and clearly translated into other languages. Eventually this would create an easily shared, translated meta-language for International communication, at least when lawyers aren’t involved. Plus, comedies of the future can have people meet face-to-face for the first time and find they don’t speak a shared language. They could have the characters standing facing each otherFree Web Content, sending auto-translated text messages via their palmtops while the audience laughs at the incredibly zany situation.