Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Facebook Machine Translations

Facebook is only too happy to help out when you get a post in a foreign language.  Happy to help, but often not exactly prepared to be helpful.  Some languages are obviously harder than others for machines to translate.

Thai is one of the hard ones.  Thai is a continuous language, there are no spaces between the words.  There are also no capital letters and no punctuation, so there are no clues as to where the actual words begin and end.  To add to the confusion, Thai is largely monosyllabic, and one syllable can be as many as fourteen different words, depending on the tone.  More complex words are made up of several smaller words.  All of this amounts to a challenge that the machines are clearly not able to handle.  

I get a lot of posts in Thai, and sometimes I can parse them out myself.  Generally it’s easier to check the Bing translation.  Sometimes the “English” version is pure comedy gold; sometimes it just doesn’t make any sense at all.  Once in a while though, the translation is pure poetry.

Like this one:

“Lack of good a few like how she is, the moon has enough”

Look at it in poetic lines:

Lack of good
a few like how she is,
the moon has enough. 

It’s almost a Haiku! 

I tell my students, “if anyone wants to make some good money, create a reliable computer translator of Thai to English.”  That would be a license to mint money. 

The original post, by the way, was about those Chinese Moon Cakes that are hitting the stores about now. 

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