Ve haf vays of meking you translate … not you Google, sit down!

Michael Gilleland has been trying out German on Google Translate, with mixed results.

I used to tell students, “This passage makes sense in Latin, and your English translation has to make sense, too. It isn’t nonsense in Latin, and it can’t be nonsense in English.” Google Translate’s version of Wilamowitz’s German seems to fail the “intelligibility” test.

Does Microsoft’s Bing Translator do any better?

I wasn’t aware of the existence of Bing Translator (which for some reason makes me think of defunct US sit-com Friends) , but the more the better, in my experience —  you can sometimes get part of the meaning from one, and part from another.

German IS a problem in Google translate.  Part of the reason for this is the involuted word order, for which, I believe we have Martin Luther to thank.  Part of the reason is the lengthy sentences that German literature written by scholars tends to favour.

What I have found is that often you can get enlightenment by breaking down a sentence into bits.  If you put each clause on a separate line, and do the same with what looks like the main verb at the end, it helps.  You’ll often do better to translate one such sentence into more than one English sentence anyway.

But in the end, you will still need some knowledge of the language.  These toys do not do all the job for you.  But they help considerably.

I’m having difficulties with a (paid) translator at the moment.  The following neatly sums up the problem:

This passage makes sense in Latin, and your English translation has to make sense, too. It isn’t nonsense in Latin, and it can’t be nonsense in English.

Well said, Mr. G.

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