Just stumbled over a post announcing that Yelp will be using Microsoft Bing (rather than Google) to translate reviews on its iPhone app. I suppose this is noteworthy because one never thinks of Microsoft beating Google at anything (though I must say I like Bing maps better than Google maps, usually).
Normally, I use Google Translate, but just for fun, I typed the passage from the Garcia Lorca poem pictured above into both Google and Bing to compare. The poem, by the way, is called Casida del herido por el agua (Casida of the one wounded by water). According to Wikipedia, a casida (or qasida) is “a form of Perso-Arabic lyric poetry.”
I want to go down to the well, I want to climb onto Granada's walls to gaze at the heart impaled on water's hidden spike.
It’s a lovely piece, though a mysterious one.
Here are the two machine translations:
Want to go down the well, I want to climb the walls of Granada, Heart to look at the past By the dark waters of the punch.
I want to go down to the well, I want to climb the walls of Granada, To watch the last heart By dark waters punch.
Granted, poetry is especially hard to translate, and neither is very close on the last two lines — why do they both associate oscuro (dark) with las aguas (the water) instead of with punzon (punch, awl, or pick, according to my dictionary)? Still, comparing the two, I’d say Bing did the better job.
Unfortunately, Bing doesn’t translate Filipino (Tagalog), or any other Filipino languages, so I can’t give up on Google translate yet. And clearly, it will be a while before machine translation will do as well as a human translator. Mostly, it’s handy for gaps in your vocabulary.
Image: A plaque on one of the exterior walls of the Alhambra, Granada, Spain. It’s a tribute to Garcia Lorca on the centennial of his birth. Photo: Nina Zumel