We, translators are well aware of the perils of global marketing using word-for-word translations. Sometimes, we laugh, others we don’t. The concerned companies never laugh. Millions are spoilt, image is degraded.
Jay Ogilvy clearly explains in a recent article the reasons why natural language translation programs run into inevitable peril.
The first of them is the fact that natural language is not code, because, and that’s the second reason, metaphors are essential to natural languages. So when programs attempt to translate metaphors, they go ridiculously word-for-word. Literalism, though, is just one among many language games.
As a conclusion, pursuing the holy grail of natural language translation with programs could very well lead us straight ‘into the wall’. These programs could become adequate for many simple tasks. “But if we ever get so confident in our natural language translation programs that we make the mistake of depending on them to conduct high-level diplomacy, or conduct a courtship, or translate poetry, or conduct business, or provide intelligence, then we are in for some big disappointments.” Let’s stop hitting the SEND button so confidently before realizing we just send the wrong message to the wrong person.