Thursday, February 11, 2010

Translation Humor & Mocking Machine Translation

I often run into blogs by translators and LSPs or just regular people who suggest that machine translation is not quite ready. In fact some people actually, believe it or not, mock MT. So while I do believe that MT is going be very much a part of the translation landscape in the very near future, I thought it would be fun to pick some of my favorite examples of MT gone awry. 

While MT mishaps can be funny I still think that humans, especially silly humans can do better, and my first example is by Ben who translated this Bollywood song and just put down what he thought he heard. I speak the language (Hindi) she is singing in and I laughed till I cried. In fact I can’t stop smiling as I type this. For those who want to know, “meheboob mereh” actually means my beloved.  

These are Ben’s own words on what he was trying to do:
My translation of an Indian music video. This is what I think the words sound like.

Translation Party is a popular site that uses a familiar technique used to make MT look bad. You keep translating the same phrase back and forth and perhaps even across various languages to make sure that you make MT output that is really bad. Interestingly there are some “MT consultants” who also use this technique to test MT technology. A pointless exercise if you are serious, but can be great fun if you are just playing. So in my test,  <practice makes perfect and there is no substitute for hard work> was translated as <after working really hard Substitute>. Interestingly it was 100% accurate on <please do not poop on my knee> and gave me the same phrase back. I think that shows that when it really matters it can get things right.

Another personal favorite of mine is from Jill Sommer who had this little gem on her blog. Here is a tiny movie with a dialog developed completely from MT round tripping. As she describes it:
This fine little film by Matt Sloan capitalizes on Babelfish for its dialog. It translates to and from English, French and German. It was filmed on location in Trouville, France. Enjoy!

Mark Liberman in his Language Log blog shows this little furry iPod docking station gadget and with the following description which is suspected to be machine translation:
iMini is built in the rhythm decoding chip MJ1191 of the programming embedded system, and to integrate the HIPS skeleton; No matter you play any kind of music, MJ1191 always make your pet in dancing for you at once.

Another site that is always good for a laugh is These are examples of mostly Chinese and Japanese attempts at translation into English. And this restaurant sign is one I often use in my presentations to show what MT is without human translator involvement. If you have not ever looked at the site, it is quite funny . Here is one that is fun. I am told that there is a site in Japan with funny Japanese phrases from foreigners and I am sure the Chinese are laughing at us too. Just take a look at some of the strange Chinese character tattoos.

Here is a blog that specializes in finding strange translation examples from across the world. Here are some examples we collected from around the world and put on our website (in the left column).  

Anyway while I do laugh at these examples, I do believe the technology is improving all the time and as they say, he who laughs last, laughs the loudest. 

Let me know if you find other fun stuff and if I like it I will add it to this entry or create another entry with the best examples that people find.  Let's focus on really funny and not just wrong, since that would be like laughing at Sarah Palin.

P.S. The Huffington Post found some funny subtitles: Lost In Translation: When Subtitles Go Wrong

I also found another site of mostly human translation gaffes but I thought I would continue to add the best links I find over time to this entry.

Thanks to The Full Blog

And a few more from the Globalization Group and here is an explanation on why the translation industry is "hella lame".

And of course Monty Python with their Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook.

And for those of you who don't speak hip-hop, here is an excellent translation of the song My Hump.

This is a late insertion and shows you how human beings are always  SOOOOO much funnier than anything that MT could dream up. 60 Unintentionally Offensive Business and Product Names - Anybody want to buy some Asshoe shoes, or try some of that tasty Fart juice that goes really well with JussiPussi rolls and Shitto sauce?


  1. Here is a good example of wen not to use the word FART:

  2. I found another Bollywood movie with a guy who just translates by writing what he approximately hears. The real language here is a South Indian language which I cannot identify. But is also hilarious though a much more sexual interpretation; Enjoy

  3. Here are some fun names for cars. Would you buy a Mazda LaPuta, Mitsubishi Pujera or Opel Ascona? and don't tell your Norwegian friends that you drive a Honda Fitta

  4. Thanks for the laughs! Here is a link you will surely want to add, although it is not only machine translation humour, but translation and language humour more generally:

    Here is a short one for you:

    Two translators on a ship are talking.
    “Can you swim?” asks one.
    “No” says the other, “but I can shout for help in nine languages.”