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bY Japanese Translation Agency: Translation and the Modern-Day Alchemists

The translation blooper behind KFC’s “Finger Lickin’ Good” campaign is absolutely legendary.

Translation Agency Japan, Tokyo

What mystified many in the translation industry -and beyond- is how this catch phrase, which is fairly easy to translate for professional translators, became in translation “Eat your fingers off”. Finally, we’ve cracked it -- Watch this CNN video on the math(yes, you read that correctly, MATH) whizzes behind machine translation

While an interesting bit of trivia in and of itself, there is more here!

First, there's the phrase

“not all translation will be perfect”.

This refers to the (hyped) capabilities of machine translation, and almost comes across as tongue-in-check. Of course, you will recognize this phrase as the catch copy for Google Translate’s machine translation technology which begs the questions:

Did the mathematicians plagiarize the search engine giant’s sales copy, or did they provide the original marketing spin for an immature technology?

Finally, and far more fascinating, is the inherently flawed assumption that an unnatural language such as mathematics can be employed to translate natural human language and all that it entails; the creativity and ingenuity that makes humans, well, human. How does it work? Statistics -- Essentially,

machine translation is simply a statistical probability of accuracy.

This would explain why only limited progress has been made over the last half century of machine translation research, and, now, instead of machine translation spitting our random gibberish, we get statistically ordered gibberish

Machine translation in its current state (i.e. poor understanding of the basics of languages and therefore our inability to replicate language learning in an artificial environment) is much like alchemy of yore -- A protoscience that contributed to the development of modern chemistry and medicine.

About the Author
Ivan Vandermerwe is the CEO of SAECULII YK, the owner of Tokyo, Japan based Japanese Translation Agency in Tokyo, Japan. Visit SAECULII for the latest professional case studies, articles and news on Japanese Translation Service

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