Saturday, June 9, 2012

French to English automated translation issues

For the French sentence:
Les pièces sont, sinon moins froides, du moins plus tranquilles.
Google Translate returns:
The parts are, if not warmer, at least quieter.
A more natural, and in this case correct, translation is:
The rooms are, if not warmer, at least quieter.
as I theorized that it ought to be, and which I subsequently confirmed with a native French speaker.  Of course, having translated the original French sentence (which did involve checking a dictionary) from my own original thought in English, I can be certain of what the translation (back) into English should be.  I was simply curious about an automated translation result.


Google Translate is likely hampered by the fact that "piece" (Google Translate used "part", which has an equivalent meaning) is the first definition of "pièce" in a dictionary.  At least that is the case in the Larousse French/English dictionary app, wherein "room" ranks fourth in the eleven definition possibilities for "pièce".

Beyond "The parts are", Google Translate offers the following additional translation options of the first clause ("Les pièces sont"), but those minor variations are wrong for this particular sentence as well:
  • The pieces are
  • Pieces are
  • Parts are
  • The coins are


Looking up "room" in French, the Larousse dictionary app gives different definitions depending on the context:
  • in building or public place:  salle
  • in house:  pièce
  • in hotel:  chambre
Even those rules are not cast in stone, in my experience, but they're probably reasonable general rules.

In any case, the above peripheral perspective is not so easily incorporated into automated translation.  However, my French sentence's reference to "rooms" would seem to be relatively easily inferred from the rest of the content by a native or reasonably experienced (human!) French speaker.

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