Felix Stalder on 14 Nov 2000 20:36:01 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] The cultural bias of translating programs

[was: <nettime> until the text becomes ' produces ' the left side]

wade tillett wrote:
>I was wondering how much text degrades as it is put into a translator. As
>an experiment, I have entered this text into babelfish and had it
>translate from french to english and from english to french until the text
>becomes 'stable.' Let's see...


>I wondered how much text degrades while it is put in a translator. Like
>the experiment, I wrote this text in the babelfish and translated it the
>French-English one and the English-French one until the text becomes '
>produces ' the left side with us see...

For me  the most interesting aspect of this experiment was not so much to
show "how bad" these translation programs are. Of course, if you translate
back and forth several times, distortions occur. The same would happen if
you gave a text to a series of human translators that do not know of one
another. As children we used to play a game were one person whispers a
sentence into the ear of the next who whispers it into the ear of the
following and so on.  When the last person tells it out loud what sentence
s/he received, it usually has little resemblance with the original. In
Italian there is, I'm told, a saying: tradutore, traditore (all translators
are liars).

What was really interesting in Wade's experiment is to see that a text
indeed does stabilize. Stabilization indicates that this version of the
text contains only words that are, from the point of view of the
translating program, unambiguous in both languages. And the way it
stabilizes reveals the bias of the translating algorithm. In Wade's case,
the translator seems reveals a bias towards business prose (probably that's
where the market is for the high-end version).  It would be interesting to
see if stabilization occurs in all translating programs at the same point,
or if different translating programs have different types of biases.

Perhaps a translation program developed in Asia would have different bias
from one developed in the US which might be different from a European one.


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