Do minority languages need machine translation?

This is an abbreviated transcript of a talk I gave at a British-Irish Council conference on language technology in indigenous, minority and lesser-used languages in Dublin earlier this month (November 2015) under the title ‘Do minority languages need the same language technology as majority languages?’ I wanted to bust the myth that machine translation is necessary for the revival of minority languages. What I had to say didn’t go down well with some in the audience, especially people who work in machine translation (unsurprisingly). So beware, there is controversy ahead!

Be patient! Bí othar!

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10 reasons why Irish is an absolutely awesome language

Health warning! Learning Irish will open your mind, win you interesting friends and make you attractive to the opposite sex.I have devoted a large chunk of my career to learning Irish, working with Irish and making a living out of Irish. So I thought it would be fair to put together a list of reasons why I think the language is worth it. Mine are proper linguistic reasons though – none of that starry-eyed sentimental nonsense about the language being ‘beautiful’ or ‘romantic’! So, put your language geek hats on, here we go!

(Many of the features mentioned here are actually common to all Celtic languages, including Scottish Gaelic and Welsh, but let’s not be splitting hairs now.) Continue reading

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

How not to order a beer around the world

This is a beautiful poster I spotted recently in a bar in north Dublin. It’s titled How to order a beer around the world and features phrases one can use in various languages to, well, order a beer. Combining my keen interest in languages with my even keener interest in beer, it drew me to itself like a lamp draws a moth.

I have a million comments to make about this poster. But before I do, let us understand what it is for. Contrary to what its title might suggest, its purpose is not to teach you how to order a beer correctly in various languages. Its purpose is more to entertain and amuse than to inform. It belongs in a genre of what I call decorational multilingualism (more about that later). So let us not expect much of it. Continue reading

‘A series of tubes’, or an impassioned tirade on how internet terminology gets mangled by people who don’t know what they’re talking about

Ever since the Internet ceased being a domain of IT professionals and started being a domain of the average citizen, we IT professionals are constantly having to deal with people who use internet terminology inaccurately. Continue reading

Living with a diacritic

No, this is not an article about living with an obscure illness. It’s an article about living with a name no-one can spell correctly. You see, my surname is Měchura and the second letter from the left is adorned with a diacritic called a caron. This diacritic is used a lot in Czech, the language of the Czech Republic, which is where both my name and I are from. It is not used a lot in Ireland, though, which is where both my name and I live now. So we both end up being misspelled a lot. Continue reading