Slowly Working Up to Indeterminate Translations

Mechanical translators get better, but still sound funny sometimes. In Wired:

For those of us who see every error as a potential poem or joke, every new web service or handheld gizmo claiming to do translation strikes a chill in the heart. The other day my girlfriend told me that Sony’s PlayStation Portable can now do simultaneous translation using a microphone, speech-recognition and translation software.

It seemed too good — and too bad — to be true, so I googled the rumor. Talkman, its makers Lik-Sang claim, offers “a voice-activated translation software application” capable of “pure translations” between English, French, German, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. The Gamespot review of Talkman lowers expectations somewhat, though. Not only are all interactions with foreign speakers mediated through a clunky blue bird called Max, “you can ask only the questions that have been pre-recorded into the game.”

When Google threw some of its gazillion dollars into its own Google Language Tools service, garble-fans feared that the zany poetry of imperfect web translation would be a thing of the past. So far, it hasn’t turned out that way. Especially when it comes to East Asian languages, Google’s service renders results as erratic and eccentric as AltaVista’s.