I speak other languages real good.
August 15, 2002 5:59 AM   Subscribe

I speak other languages real good. Contemporary Jack-of-All-Trades Jothanan "J.D." Feinberg has been involved in a variety of projects. As a musician, he was the original touring drummer for They Might Be Giants, and as a software programmer, he's employed by the brains behind the Netomat project, and has currently updated a couple projects which play around with AltaVista's Babelfish. [more]
posted by Smart Dalek (11 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As common cultural barriers and Markov Chains have demonstrated, what's expressed and what's understood aren't exactly the same. The gaffes occurring among humans can be exposed in an often derisive fashion, but how often is the whistle blown when technology fails us in a likewise manner?

The dadaist results of translators can often be artistic, and even frustrating, yet the people who may rely upon them the most may have no idea of how unreliable their interperter(s) may be until it's too late.

Could it be possible, however, that the efforts of those like Feinberg could be employed in a greater context?
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:02 AM on August 15, 2002

Is the "gaffes" link correct? Why are the ebaymotors and tax pros links relevant? Is there anything specific about the web standards link that ties in with translation?

At my last job (in Scotland) we were dealing with someone in S America. Their english was very good, but they sometimes translated colloquial phrases literally. The best was something along the lines of "we must actuate to the brevity".

I once tried writing a Markov chain generator that used the previous two words for the key instead of just one, but it made very little difference to the output.
posted by andrew cooke at 6:44 AM on August 15, 2002

lengthy writings have sorrow - haircut i below increase frequent portion.
posted by quonsar at 6:44 AM on August 15, 2002

Or it could mean that we need smarter translators. The Spanish translation of "east coast" is "costa del este" which comes back as "coast of the east" - technically true, but never the way a human would translate it. The human element is, of course, context. We may not yet have the processing ability to account correctly for shifts in conversational dynamic a word, sentence, or paragraph forward and back.
posted by PrinceValium at 6:46 AM on August 15, 2002

Speaking of They Might Be Giants, today is their official 20th anniversary. They'll be playing in Central Park tonight to celebrate.
posted by katieinshoes at 7:55 AM on August 15, 2002

Interesting about the german ambassador though. I've noticed this as well, and it does seem strange that the English are (a) very reluctant to learn other languages, but (b) don't seem to care how much it is mangled in the name of country to country communication. This seems in complete contrast to other European countries, where everybody seems to know about 8 dozen languages, but takes an extreme displeasure in hearing the mother tongue used in a way which is syntactically incorrect, but quite understandable.
posted by seanyboy at 7:59 AM on August 15, 2002

Not sure how it's related, but I've sometimes had people get quite annoyed with me when I don't understand their english (an Israeli woman almost hit me when I confused "walking" and "working" and started asking where he husband was going to, for example).

Maybe it's that english has such a wide variety of sounds that almost anything sounds "reasonable" as a noise, even if it doesn't make sense as a word. Other languages (my experience mainly being spanish) have a much more restricted set of sounds, so I guess I sound "bad" even before they get round to trying to decide what words I might be saying.

Another pet theory of mine is that in english it's not so much what you use as vowel sounds, but more that they are distinctive and remain constant relative to each other. As long as "walking" and "working" sound different then, once I've "got" the accent, there's no problem distinguishing them.
posted by andrew cooke at 8:15 AM on August 15, 2002

Andrew, the "gaffes" link refers to a poorly-translated videogame imported to the US - which, unlike a misworded instruction manual, was an entire product.

There are people in the States who know english as a second or third language at best. Not all these folks are necessairily web-savvy, so if they hear of a quicker, easier way to file their income return, they may well attempt to use the 'fish in order to clarify some necessary item.

Ebaymotors was included because it's not uncommon for people to acquire a motor vehicle while still practicing for their driver's license. (I for one knew somebody who attended a reposessed property auction for just such a purpose.) Most people do understandebay's processes of bidding, paying and waiting for shipment. The more complex issues of applicable transfer of title, along with inspection and insurance requires a bit more reading. Without a cousin, neighbor, or other helper to always be around, and only a weblink at their immediate disposal for for writing of emails, you can see the dilema.
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:41 AM on August 15, 2002

I once found a page similar to Feinberg's web-based translation toy that translated phrases between, if I recall correctly, seven different languages--beginning with English and traversing through Spanish, French, Portugese, etc. before coming back to English again. It came up with some hilarious results. I've since lost the URL, and am having no luck finding it on Google. Does anyone know the page I'm talking about?
posted by Acetylene at 8:53 AM on August 15, 2002

More addictive than crack.
Plus provoquant une dépendance que la fente.
More causing one dependence that the slit.
Plus d'une dépendance causante qui la fente.
More than one causing dependence which it slit.
La plus d'une dépendance causante qu'elle a fendue.
More than one causing dependence which it split.
La plus d'une dépendance causante qu'elle a dédoublée.
More than one causing dependence which it duplicated.
La plus d'une dépendance causante qu'elle a reproduite.
More than one causing dependence which it reproduced.
posted by littlegreenlights at 9:23 AM on August 15, 2002

You know, I've been trying to join Metafilter for some time now. On the day when a whole post is written about me, I find registrations open. Coincidence? I think not.

I'm glad to be here.
posted by e.e. coli at 12:27 PM on August 15, 2002

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