Thursday, 1 December 2016

context clues or remembrance of things past

Writing for Æon magazine, scholar and translator Arthur Goldhammer explores the nuance of translating versus interpreting and how context can be an elusive matter for even the cleverest algorithm—occasioned by one translation engine’s shift from a phrase-based system to a neural network that can infer at least some of the subtleties of natural language. 
Schooled on a variety of sources, the algorithm can essay something as rich and complex (in small bites at least) as Marcel Proust’s indulgent masterwork À la recherche du temps perdu, which we humans know is translated as Remembrance of Things Past—as the article demonstrates. A quick check of the new translation engine does reveal it to be pretty polished and refined—ever perhaps surpassing, and the foibles of a non-native speaker using an inappropriate synonym whilst addressing nuns—reminding me of my German step-father saying “shit-storm”—do illustrate how the goal of communication is not always to be intelligible.