How to hurt people with machine translation

A story flashed through the media in Ireland recently that caught my linguistic-technological interest. The newspaper Irish Independent published an interview on 1 February 2012 with a Polish immigrant called Magda (not her real name) who is receiving unemployment benefit in Ireland – which she is perfectly entitled to on account of being an EU citizen. Magda is presented in the interview as a shameless freeloader; somebody who has come to Ireland only to claim unemployed benefits. At one stage, she is reported to describe her unemployed life in Ireland as a ‘Hawaiian massage’.

It turned out later that this interview was a mistranslation into English from an original interview in Polish published in the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. Nowhere in the original text does Magda describe her life in Ireland as a Hawaiian massage. What she actually says is that she has taken a course in Hawaiian massage and is planning to open a massage business. She also says that she has a problem with being unemployed, hates living at the state’s expense and wants to get out of that situation. Continue reading

Seven Languages in Seven Weeks

If you are a programmer, you are probably too busy to read books about programming, especially those that are not directly job-related. But if you have time to read at least one such book this year, you will not make a mistake if you pick Seven Languages in Seven Weeks by Bruce A. Tate, published by The Pragmatic Bookshelf.

This book is a drive-by introduction to the following seven programming languages: Ruby, Io, Prolog, Scala, Erlang, Clojure, Haskell (in this order). If you’re like me and your entire programming career has been in a “classical” object-oriented programming language like Java or C#, then these languages are ones you may have heard of, but don’t really have a clear idea what they’re all about. This book will change that. But it is not a textbook and it will not turn you into a proficient user of either of the seven language. It reads more like a novel with code examples. For each language, it shows you its main typological properties and explains how it’s different from others. Each chapter even includes a mini-interview with a person who knows the language well, often the language’s creator himself (yes, himself: sadly, it seems that programming language design is a man-only affair). Continue reading