Sunday, November 02, 2008

What are corpora for?

I get this queestion every time we talk Translation Memories, so here are a few links to good reading materials for translators:

Exploring corpora with concordancers can help translators to improve the quality of their translations by, for example, providing them with information about collocates; by helping them to choose between terms; or by enabling them to confirm intuitive decisions. But corpora also allow unpredictable, incidental learning: the user may notice unfamiliar uses in a concordance and follow them up by exploratory browsing. The article discusses the potential of corpora to throw up previously unknown information that may be relevant to a translation assignment, and illustrates how advanced search strategies can increase the likelihood of “accidentally” finding relevant information.

Abstract: Translators and editors who work in a specialised field—a particular branch of medicine, technology or finance, for instance—may find it difficult to acquire (or enhance) their domain-specific knowledge other than by learning as they go or going back to college. Both strategies can be slow and costly. Our paper describes a faster, more economical way to climb the specialist learning ladder, namely a corpus-guided approach to translating, revising and editing. We describe two tools for analysing a corpus of model texts: on the one hand, a user-friendly concordancer with an intuitive interface; on the other, an equally easy-to-use desktop-based indexer. Finally, we propose an approach to the issue of corpus size (sampling adequacy) that provides a practical solution for the working translator: we recommend creating a carefully chosen, cleaned text collection that functions as a reliable substrate corpus for language pattern guidance and adding to it an ad-hoc ‘quick and dirty’ corpus to further narrow the topic focus as needed.

Why you should wear the right footwear!

Daniel James, born Ismail Mohammed Beigi Gamasai, 44, is a corporal in the British Army who has been charged withallegedly passing information to Iranians. James was formerly the interpreter for British Army Lt.Gen. David Richards , who commanded the NATO forces in Afghanistan. James speaks fluent Pashtun and Farsi.


Well, the reason HRM forces felt there was something wrong with Corporal James was that (a) he was not deferential enough for a corporal; (b) wore a weird sunhat and (c) had different footwear. In addition, he also used magic (!!!)

The Guardian reported that:

"An army interpreter accused of spying for Iran was "strange and eccentric" in both his appearance and behaviour, his former commanding officer told a court today.

Tehran-born Daniel James, who also worked for the British military commander in Afghanistan, wore "distinctive and odd" headgear and did not act in the way expected of a low-ranking soldier, Colonel John Donnelly said (...) "His attire wasn't what I would normally have expected of a junior NCO," he said. "He had a very distinctive and odd sun hat with a cape down the back of his neck, and he wore slightly different boots."

Two weeks later the same paper stated that: "James explained that his interest in salsa had led him to Cuba. While there, he was introduced to the Yoruba faith. "I actually did black magic for General Richards, praying to God to protect him from the Taliban," he said. "

Interestingly enough, on his first appearance James said it was racism in the British Army that led to his downfall..

The guy needs a good shrink and a pair of regulation boots.

Linguistic Anecdote Award of the Year

Thanks to John Rawlins of

Supposedly Madame de Gaulle, the wife of the former French president, was asked at a diplomatic dinner what she desired most in life.

'A penis', she tartly replied, causing a stunned and embarrassed silence around the table.

'Ah yes, Madame', said a quick-thinking diplomat once normal speaking became possible, 'I'm sure all of us wish for happiness'.

"So who is your mother sleeping with, Sir?"

This is better than the Welsh sign board:

The incident occurred in November last year, when a standard request for advance questions from the Dutch Foreign Ministry turned into what an officer in the Israeli Foreign Ministry called a "major, major incident." As the Jerusalem Post reported earlier this week, a group of Israeli journalists attempted to use an online translation tool to translate their Hebrew questions into English. The results were less than precise.

"Helloh bud," began the e-mail. "Enclosed five of the questions in honor of the foreign minister: The mother your visit in Israel is a sleep to the favor or to the bed your mind on the conflict are Israeli Palestinian, and on relational Israel Holland."

The e-mailed questions were more than simply an embarrassment for the reporters. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Dutch Foreign Ministry is now considering canceling the entire trip and filing a formal complaint over the incident.

After the questions were entered into the online translation tool, questions like "What, in your opinion, needs to be done regarding the Iranian threat to Israel?" Became: "What in your opinion needs to do opposite the awful the Iranian of Israel." Additional translation errors included "bandages of the knitted domes" instead of "Dome of the Rock" and a question that read "Why we did not heard on mutual visits of main the states of Israel and Holland, this is in the country of this."

Write Your Out of Office Note in English

From the BBC

When officials asked for the Welsh translation of a road sign, they thought the reply was what they needed.

Unfortunately, the e-mail response to Swansea council said in Welsh: "I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated".

Apparently, this is not the only time Welsh has been translated incorrectly or put in the wrong place:
• Cyclists between Cardiff and Penarth in 2006 were left confused by a bilingual road sign telling them they had problems with an "inflamed bladder".

• In the same year, a sign for pedestrians in Cardiff reading 'Look Right' in English read 'Look Left' in Welsh.

• In 2006, a shared-faith school in Wrexham removed a sign which translated the Welsh for staff as "wooden stave".

• Football fans at a FA Cup tie between Oldham and Chasetown - two English teams - in 2005 were left scratching their heads after a Welsh-language hoarding was put up along the pitch. It should have gone to a match in Merthyr Tydfil.

Oh, well.. we shouldn't blame them. After all, we only speak Australian :-)