Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Google Translate Now Supports Latin!

I just noticed that today. I don't know how long it's been now that one can translate from and into Latin with Google Translate. I'm guessing, not long, for two reasons: I think I would've noticed if Latin had been among the languages it works with for a while, and, there's a red "Alpha" in the lower-right corner of the box containing the machine's translation, and when you mouse-over it you see the message: "This language is still in early stages of development and not yet up to the same quality standards as our other languages."

I noticed that message after my first attempt to use it to translate from Latin into English. I entered "laboraverimus," which is one of the three mottos at the beginning of Handke's Wiederholung.(More precisely, the motto is "'...laboraverimus.' -- Columella.) The result Google Translate gave me was "efforts." No, I don't think that's quite it. I think it's more like "we are working toward truth," or... I really don't know what Columella was trying to tell us there, that's why "laboraverimus" was the first Latin term I entered. But I'm glad they're finally making an effort to include Latin, among, currently, more than 60 other languages. As I've mentioned before, a few years ago I was wrong about translation machines. At the time they were mostly valuable for their unintentionally comical characteristics. I boldly, and incorrectly, predicted to all and sundry that they would remain pretty much completely useless as practical translators for at least several decades. I assumed that the people making vastly more optimistic predictions were ignorant in very essential ways about language, or IT, or both. Nope, I was wrong, they were right.

Let's take another motto from the front another book which I read avidly before I could read Latin, Gaddis' Recognitions.That's what first got me interested in non-English languages, including Latin: authors writing in English such as Gaddis and Pynchon and -- well, all the best writers in English I knew tossed in quite a few untranslated foreign phrases, and I thought, These guys are all so cool, and they all seem to be at least a little bit multilingual, so I better be too. Thanks, guys. This motto is taken from Irenaeus' Advervus haereses: "Nihil cavum neque sine signo apud Deum," which means, "With God, nothing is without meaning." Google Translate gives us: "No hole or without a sign from God." Hm, no. It seems Google Translate is still not fluent in Latin.

I don't really know how optimistic to be about improvement here, because I have no idea how much of a priority this is for Google, nor do I have any idea how capable the people are who are working on it. I have checked out some other Latin-to-English online translators, and some appear to be copying Google, and others are doing significantly worse. There may currently be better free online Latin-to-English translation than Google somewhere, but I haven't found it yet. And of course I'm hoping that Google's improves rapidly. I'll be checking from time to time, definitely. And in the meantime, if anyone could help me out with "laboraverimus," that'd be extra-cool.

PS, 1:40PM: An easy and obvious way to learn what "laboraverimus" means didn't occur to me until after I wrote this post: just Google "laboraverimus." And when the results of that were inconclusive, because Handke is widely-read and much-discussed author, just Google "widerholung laboraverimus." It means "we will have worked." I suppose it's too late now to convincingly claim that that was my second guess. (But it was.)

PPS, 25. August 2015: They took the "beta" sign down from the Latin translator much too soon. It sucks. Don't use it.

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