20 December 2010

Regulatin' Google Latin

It must be a slow Monday night, I just spent 10 minutes chortling over Dr. Octagon lyrics in bad Latin. I was inspired to this diversion by Mary Beard's review of Google's new Latin-English translator (unenthused):
...the verdict is -- dont touch it with a barge pole.

My first shot was actually quite encouraging. I typed in "arma virumque cano" and "I sing of arms and the man" came out. I have come to suspect that someone had actually specially entered a range of obvious quotes people might search for, with a correct translation -- because Google was unexpectedly good at these ("per ardua ad astra" = "up the steep slope to the stars" etc). Now that may be useful enough in its was, but it isnt what I call "translation"; it's a database of quotes.

Things started to go wrong pretty quickly when I typed in some baby Latin. "Servus est in villa" (and you couldnt get much simpler than that) comes out as "In the town is the servant of" (how come villa = town? and where has the "of" appeared from?).

Agreed, this translator sucks completely. It just transliterates the English without changing the word order, and is full of inexplicable mistakes (due to a small working vocabulary? I wonder).

However, let's not overlook the entertainment value. The English to Latin is a GREAT procrastination tool, even if you don't know any Latin. For instance, an excerpt from a famous recent epic poem, 'Ordinatores':

Eastside iustus ledo de LBC
Legati quaeruntur Mr Warren G.
Vidit currum plena puellis non tweak non necesse
Omnes sciunt quid pedibus sursum CCXIII

(You might know this one as 'Regulators'). The original looks like this:
Just hit the Eastside of the LBC
On a mission trying to find Mr. Warren G.
Seen a car full of girls ain't no need to tweak
All you skirts know what's up with 213
This translation is whack! How does 'skirts' turn into 'pedibus'?! 'Vidit currum plena puellis' is vaguely right (a chariot full of girls! Woot!), but currus is masculine so it's gotta be plenum. 'Non tweak non necesse' has a ring to it though, I'm gonna start saying that to people when they need to chill out.

Anyway, this thing is a total train wreck. And like trainwrecks, it's irresistable.

Here's the video if you feel like watching it. I do.

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