Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Tuesdays With Googlation

by Tom Bozzo

It's the latest craze to hit the Internets! (Or at least it should be!) Take a phrase, use Google language tools to automatically translate it into another language, and then automatically translate the result back into the source language. (Via Oscar at The Columnist Manifesto.)

This Capital Times headline made me think for a moment in the original English:
Garbage entrhalls Madison with a killer show
After English-French-English Googlation:
The refuse fascinates Madison with an exposure of killer
Several of the translaters refused to translate "enthralls," for whatever reason. As a result, the Spanish Googlation, which transformed "Garbage" into "the captive sweepings," was verbless nonsense.

As it is sometimes my role, I should offer a couple of propositions without proof by way of establishing a Theory of Googlating.

1. Googlations of idiomatic expressions and terms of art will differ most from the source text, provided the source text doesn't contain jargon that isn't in the target lexicon.

For instance, the French Googlation of "Jack and Jill ran up the hill" is "Jack and Jill ran to the top of the hill."

The automatic translation tools appear to either refuse to translate, or will sometimes even drop certain words (see above).

2. Exceptions to Proposition 1 have high comic value.

3. The French aversion to English-derived jargon implies that Googlations of French source texts will have above-average comic value.

Addendum: Joe Malchow traces a form of Googlation to the sitcom NewsRadio. (He also reminds me of the existence of the Internet2, the wonders of which have yet to trickle down to us retail commercial users in any obvious way, grrr.) There being 10 million blogs and all, I do wonder where else this might have arisen as an internet(s) meme.

Second Addendum: Scott at Semiquark does more digging, and not surprisingly finds (via Google search, natch) references from the pre-blogging (*) internet to round-trip translations of texts using AltaVista's Babel Fish service. This raises interesting questions about the meme life cycle. Why would this one have seemingly faded? One thought is that it takes more skill to do an interesting Googlation than to dump a list of tracks from your MP3 player.

Scott gets a quite nice result from a Googlation via French of part of this post (and more of his own):
3. The French aversion with the jargon English-derivative implies that Googlations of the French source texts will have the comic value with-top-average.

(*) At least, when proto-blog sites weren't widely called blogs.
I tried Googlating some of your post:

3. The French aversion to English-derived jargon implies that Googlations of French source texts will have above-average comic value.

Babel Fish didn't fade so much as it got orphaned.

From what I can tell after talking with one of its developers, pretty much when AltaVista acquired it, but couldn't really leverage it in their business model.

Give Google credit where due in realising that their product is the user's eyes, not just providing a "search ability" as such.
The ironic thing about Google vs. Babel Fish is that they're the same under the hood: they both use Systran's engine.

Tom, I ran my post through ALL of Google's languages. Part of your post looks like this:

3. It is Ing nyu the franc? You î Googlations it is born to him the basic rule, to write, know France? ssin nýss the concept which is, reached where held for him truily, disowned the value in that? the uniform? the technician of designations of the capacity does not estimate that.
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