C-Rae emailed me a link to the Babelizer, a simple perl CGI written and hosted by Carl Tashian. The script sends a form string to babelfish, where it is translated to French and back to English, then that string is translated to German and back, and so on with Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish, until the string is finally returned in an unrecognizable form. Sort of like a game of telephone.
I used to be very interested in Machine Translation, the art of building babelfish type systems, but linguistics and computer science just isn’t quite there yet. My intro computational linguistics class had an assignment where we’d have to see what sorts of sentences would break different machine translation systems.
Just for giggles, the first sentence I tried out was one from a funny, although untrue, story. The DoD was spending enormous amounts of money on MT in the fifties, trying to build systems for automatically translating intercepted Russian communications. The general in charge of the program was a devoutly religious man, and he went to see his system demonstrated, proposing that they translate an English sentence to Russian and back again. The sentence he chose was a passage from the bible, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” In the story, the sentence came back, “The vodka is good, but the meat is rotten.” He saw that the translation system was destined for failure and funding was withdrawn.
So I tried out that sentence and got back: “The alcohol becomes ausgebritten, but the meat is weak person.” Pretty doggone close!
Trying another sentence of a sort good at breaking machine translators, “Grandpa Gums flew the coop,” I get back: “The rubbers of grandpapa had robbed the structures.”
Snicker. That was waaaay better than I expected.
Update (6/1): I was just teasing Pete about how Greeks are keen on soccer and know little about baseball, and tossed “foot ball” into babelizer, expecting “pedtesticle,” but got the more creative “Initial end of the foot.”