If you tried to attempt either of the imbecilic actions mentioned in the title of my silly post today, the chances are the woman in question would start hitting you with a stick.
And who would blame her?
And yet, “dress a woman with a stick”, and “shave a woman with a machine” are perfectly legitimate translations of the Czech sentence “Stroj ženu holí“. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this article discussing ambiguities of translation from one language into another—in this case Czech to English—that human translators must solve many times a day in their much misunderstood and often unappreciated work.
A human translator would immediately start thinking there must be something wrong with the sentence because it makes no sense. A human translator, male or female, would know that women are far too complicated beings to allow anyone to dress them, let alone with a stick. Sticks simply don’t go together well with the act of dressing a woman.
A human translator would require context to translate an ambiguous sentence such as the Czech sentence “Stroj ženu holí“. If there was no context in the source text, he or she would probably go on the internet and try to find the context to make sense of a nonsensical sentence.
If there was no context to be found anywhere, a human translator would probably translate the nonsensical sentence as “Machine is shaving a woman”, because something like that is much more plausible than a woman being dressed up with a stick. For example, I have heard that some women shave their legs, although I have never actually seen one do it.
It is understandable that most women would be very private about something like that.
At my local supermarket I have seen pink razor blades being advertised as razors for ladies, and I have stayed away from these razors based on the assumption that the features of and requirements for shaving razors for female legs and those to be applied to male beards are probably different and both types are probably not equally suited to the similar, but not identical task.
But then I found recently (from a woman) that I did the right thing by staying away from them for another reason: Guy razors are the best, much better than the one for women and there is this thing called “pink tax” on women’s razors. They are pretty much the same product (if not inferior), but they are much more expensive. The same goes also for shampoo, etc.
The is no end to the perfidy of men!
If you are interested, this is what one of these manual shavers for women, called “Venus”, looks like. It costs from 9 to about 30 dollars.
If you are in the market for an electric shaver for women, you can also chose from many models, manufactured by Panasonic, Philips, Conair, and Remington, priced from about 12 to about 20 dollars, most of which should be available at your local Walgreen’s.
Thoughts like these would probably be going through the head of a human translator who is suddenly confronted with a sentence that makes no sense and that must be translated into another language, which, incidentally, usually happens to me and probably most human translators at least once every twenty minutes.
In the case of male translators, some other thoughts might possibly be also going their heads at the same time, since male brains are particularly well adapted (thanks to evolution) for certain types of multitasking.
A good translator would thus probably translate the sentence “Stroj ženu holí”, which consists of only three short and simple Czech words, as “A machine is shaving a woman”, since it is somewhat plausible that such an action could be accomplished with an electric shaver for women’s legs (or “whatever” as Donald Trump might put it). A good human translator would most likely also leave a Translator’s Note to let the customer know that there is probably something wrong with the text in the original language.
But what is a machine translation program supposed to do with such a devilishly complicated sentence, even though it contains only three short words?
When I ran the sentence through Google Translate, the best current available machine translation program, which is somewhat disrespectfully referred to by some translators as Giggle Translate, the machine translation program translated it for some reason as “Woman shaves machine”.
It is certainly an interesting concept that might make you giggle a little because that’s what it did for me.
This is just my guess, but I think that the new “neural translation” feature of Giggle Translate, which instead of using grammatical and language rules tries to match one sentence with the closest sentence available in its gigantic database and then somehow makes everything “neural”, would most likely come up with a sentence that would say that somebody, most likely a man, is beating, or hitting, a woman with a stick.
Disgusting, revolting and unforgivable as such an act might be, since the truth is that such acts have happened, and probably on many occasions, based on the innovative approach of Google, the “neural translation” of Google Translate would probably be: “A man is hitting a woman with a stick”.
When I ran the sentence through Microsoft Translator, which is (or is supposed to be) based on grammatical rules instead of statistical probability, it came up with “Machine woman shaves”. This translation clearly shows to me that the human programmers working on the design of Microsoft Translator need to work on their knowledge of grammar, Czech grammar in this case.
The fact is that just like Google Translate, Microsoft Translator also completely ignored the rules of Czech grammar in the sentence I used to test it.
It would be immediately evident to any human translator that “Machine woman shaves” is a mistranslation because the word “Stroj” (Machine) is the subject here and based on the ending of the word “ženu” (woman), the woman in question is the object here, grammatically speaking, and thus (she) cannot be in the position of some “machine woman”, so that the word “machine” would be expressing a qualifying feature of the “woman” as if it were an adjective.
If this were the case, the noun in Czech would have a different ending, namely, it would be “žena“, not “ženu“. Although this is something that would be obvious to any Czech first grader, since Microsoft Translate does not seem to grasp even this relatively simple grammatical rule, it still has a long way to go, not only in Czech, but also in other languages.
So, dear reader, whenever you see another press release from Google Translate or from our beloved “translation industry” stating unequivocally that “machine translation is quickly approaching the level of human translation”, try to remember that machine translation has been “approaching the level of human translation” since 1947, very quickly in the last 20 years, and really very, very quickly in the last 10 years (every year, dozens of article are published stating categorically that within three to five years it will be as good or almost as good as human translation).
Or maybe you can just remember a post about the dilemma of whether to translate three simple Czech words, “Stroj ženu holí” as “A machine is shaving a woman”, “Shave a woman with a machine”, “Dress a woman with a stick”, or “A woman is shaving a machine” to put the threat of machine translation to human translators in the proper context.
Like everything else, the concept of “machine translation” is all about the proper “context” – a word so dear to the heart of every translator, but impossible to explain to a silicon brain because its origin is in human experience.