Friday, September 01, 2006


I recently spotted the following sign on a restaurant window:

I'm betting that the original version was generated by an online translator. I frequently criticize the use of such translators, and this is a perfect example of how seemingly simple phrases can be completely butchered. "Cooks Wanted" is actually short for "Cooks are wanted" and must be translated in the present passive, either by using the passive form of "to want" or the more idiomatic Spanish construction employing "se". But "los cocineros desearon" is a translation of "The cooks wanted ...", i.e. the past active form of the verb. Since "to want" is almost always a transitive verb, this is a sentence fragment and would make no sense to a Spanish speaker.

I think the restaurant would be better off printing a new sign altogether, rather than making its utter ignorance of the Spanish language apparent to any potential Spanish-speaking applicant.


Anonymous said...

Translation meaning extracting some information from a text and formulating it with the terms of another language. The phrase in question is not as simple as it seems, because the information it contains cannot be deduced from the meaning, lexical and grammatical, of the two English words, but also from the knowledge about the purpose of this text. A human translator does knot that it's a restaurant sign, whereas the computer does not. In English, such construction as "The president killed", "The terrorist arrested" are very frequent in newspaper titles, but for a MT system, there are no formal reasons to interpret the verbs as participles rather than verbs in Past indefinite, so if you translate such a phrase in any language, you will be surprised to read that the president did kill somebody, whereas in fact he was the victim of murder.
I would suggest to read some excellent recommendation about using MT systems, which can help avoid many errors and lapses

Language Lover said...

Thanks for your comment. I think you have missed my point slightly, however. As a software engineer myself, I'm well aware of the challenges in computer translation, and I don't blame the programmers of these systems in the least. I simply want to emphasize that given these difficulties, people should not depend on machine translation for anything important. There is a common misconception out there that computers can do everything that humans can do---sometimes better---but foreign language translation is a strong counterexample.