[Tutor] thesaurus

Dave Angel davea at ieee.org
Fri Jul 10 16:43:22 CEST 2009

Kent Johnson wrote:
> On Fri, Jul 10, 2009 at 7:08 AM, Dave Angel<davea at ieee.org> wrote:
>> Alan Gauld wrote:
>>> Or the translation program that translated the expression
>>> Out of sight, out of mind
>>> from English to Russian and back with the result:
>>> Invisible, lunatic
>> Or the expression:
>> "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"
>> to:
>> "The wine is good, but the meat is rotten"
> These are fun but, according to snopes.com, they are probably urban
> legend rather than fact:
> http://www.snopes.com/language/misxlate/machine.asp
> FWIW translate.google.com correctly translates both of the above from
> English to Russian and back. I wonder if they have optimized for those
> phrases?
> Kent
I first heard the "spirit is willing" one about 30 years ago, from my 
father when he was studying Russian (written Russian, with the interest 
in reading technical materials), so I concur with Snopes evaluation.  
But I don't really care if it was true then or not.  It got some people 
to realize just how complex language automated translation might be.

As for present-day Google doing better on those, it's also possible that 
those idioms have been imported into Russian by now, so that there is a 
better translation possible.

My point is that in some languages, some concepts can't be literally 
translated, so some idiomatic usage may be needed.  I can only think of 
a lousy example right now, but Chinese apparently has no distinct verb 
forms for past, present, future.  So they rely on other words to 
indicate which they might mean.  And those clues might be far displaced 
from the verb in question.  And I frequently have talked to recent 
Chinese-American folk, who get the English for this wrong.  Until they 
learn to "think in English" some things are tricky.

And meatware is so much more powerful than software in these kinds of 
things, I'm amazed at how good computer translations have gotten.

I remember a computer translation of a camera review, where the English 
version kept referring to guns.  It took a few paragraphs to figure out 
they were talking about Canon.

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