Taking my machine translator to Agapius

The Kitab al-Unwan (World History) of the 10th century Arabic Christian writer Agapius runs from creation down to his own times, divided into two halves by the birth of Christ.  It was published a century ago in the Patrologia Orientalis, in 4 chunks, and three of those are online at Archive.org.  They were published by a Russian, with a French translation.

In my hotel room in the evenings, I’ve been translating the French into English.  It’s very simple French, as might be expected.

Last weekend I scanned the first half of the second part (PO7) into my PC, ran Finereader 8 optical character recognition (OCR) software, and proofed the results (which took very little work).  I did find that the online PDF’s are at 200dpi or less — almost unusable for OCR –, so I had to buy a copy and scan it at 400dpi. 

I then ran the French text through a little utility to split it up into sentences with newlines.  I then ran that through my elderly desktop copy of Systran 3.0.  The quality of translation was really very good indeed!  I then ran both the input and the output through another little utility to interleave the sentences of French and English, thereby making it easiest for me to produce the final version.

This week I’ve been working on the output file on a little hand-held personal digital assistant.  The latter is pretty much useless, even though I bought a keyboard for it.  But I’ve been able to work, and make quite a  bit of progress.  The result will appear online eventually (I already posted the French into some French-language newsgroup online, in case it might encourage them).

I suggest that we need to consider whether some of the older Patrologia Orientalis translations may merely be awaiting someone with a minimal level of knowledge of French to be made more widely available.

I’ve also been trying to get hold of a copy of the Italian translation of the Annals of Agapius’ contemporary historian, Eutychius.  No copy of that book exists in any UK library!  I’ve found a bookseller in Jerusalem who says he has one (isn’t the web wonderful!).  It will be interesting to see if there are any good machine translators of Italian!


2 thoughts on “Taking my machine translator to Agapius

  1. I’ll save you some trouble: A few months ago I machine-translated for my enjoyment a few papyrology articles that I found in Papyrology Today from Italian to English using Babelfish. The result is truly bad. I think that machine translation works best when it is between closely related languages. I cannot say I have much experience beyond babelfish but I have never seen any Greek text ever well translated through machine translation.

  2. Thank you for your comment. German likewise is seldom done well. But Italian… it ought to be good, given that French is done well.

    I don’t know what the best translator is.

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