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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Finding a Site to Translate Web Text




One of the greatest features of the Internet is that it spans the globe, as it were, uniting far-flung tribes and nations. On the other hand, it's not all that global.


Some people read Asahi every day, some spend their nights and days at Hotwired, but for others Chortovy Kulichki is the end of the earth. Some imagine that the Internet is a global network, while some suppose it's the province of American designers. There are folks who think Geocities is the downtown of cyberspace, while others call www.moscowtimes.ru their home.


Domain names are not what's at issue here. The problem lies with language: the linguist's isoglosses divide up the Internet more accurately than national boundaries. The more languages a user knows, the more expansive the Internet seems to him or her.


For polyglots the Internet is truly global. Monoglots have to resort to the services of friends, dictionaries and translation programs f or deny themselves the pleasure of visiting sites whose URLs don't end with the appropriate suffix, such as "ru" for example.


There are plenty of dictionaries on the Internet (check out, for example, www.facstaff.bucknell.edu/rbeard/diction3.html or Linguistlist.org). They cover not only selected Romance, Germanic and Slavic languages but Sino-Tibetan, Indo-Iranian, Finno-Ugric and other exotic language families whose native speakers you don't run into every day, or even once in a lifetime (with the exception perhaps for Finno-Ugric group speakers who happen to be our northern neighbors).


There are far fewer translation programs on the Internet.


One of the best on the block, SYSTRAN's Babelfish program, has been available at AltaVista for the last several years. Babelfish doesn't understand Russian, but it is more or less fluent in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. It is able to "filter" foreign-language sites and translate their contents on the fly. So a Frenchman, for example, can travel through the American Internet almost as comfortably as he would the byways of the Francophone net f although much of what comes out on his computer screen would make the august members of the Acad?mie Fran?aise reach for their nitroglycerin pills.


The most popular machine translators into and from Russian remain the programs of the Russian company Prompt. For the last few years not one pirated version of Windows has been "released" without a little makeover job by Prompt's Stylus program. Besides the "great and mighty" Russian tongue, Stylus has a command of English, French and German. Prompt has also issued WebTranSite 98, which lets you translate texts directly in your browser window, and the web site www.translate.ru, where absolutely anyone can make use of Stylus's invaluable services f if, of course, he's not too fussy.


Stylus, you see, translates worse than a second-year Russian major on a three-day vodka zapoy in Petushki.


Stylus makes light work of business-letter formalities. It knows that "Uvazhayemiye gospoda!" is "Dear Sirs," and that "Iskrenne vash" is "Sincerely yours," but when the going gets a little bit rougher, Stylus becomes utterly tongue-tied. Stylus would have us believe, for instance, that the simple statement "Ya krasivy" should be rendered into Faulkner's native tongue as "I beautiful," into Hugo's as "Je beau" (thanks for not making that "Je belle"!), into Schiller's as "Ich sch?n."


Stylus is even more hopeless when it comes to fine literature. "Mine a uncle of the most honor rules, / When not for fun has fallen ill, / It he to respect itself has forced / And it is better to invent could not." That's Stylus' take on the soliloquy that opens "Eugene Onegin" (apparently Onegin is an uneducated provincial decadent).


Onegin's love interest, Tatyana, fares no better: "I to you write-that more? / What I can still tell? / Now, I know, in your will / Me by contempt to punish."


Yes, to punish by contempt is certainly our will.


What a relief to learn that machines still can't think.


Daniil Dougaev is a columnist for the Independent Media Russian language newspaper Kariera-Kapital.