A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Wilder Shores of Machine Translation: "the Field of Youth Creationism Doritos Taha"

I never use Facebook's built-in translation function unless friends are posting in a language I don't know, but sometimes it seems to translate automatically, not always with the best results:
The second part almost approaches comprehensibility, but "Joey scene appears in the field of youth creationism doritos taha masjid yusuf aga time" is a sublime victory for computer translation running off the rails.

The photo accompanying it is this:
Now let's look at what the caption really says: "Cairo: aerial view of Bab al-Khalq Square; in the midst of it is the Mosque of Yusuf Agha, the Governorate Building, and the Dar al-Kutub (National Library), and the Islamic Museum. At the top of the picture appears Abdeen Palace and the area surrounding it . . . Picture from the thirties of the last century."

It leaps the rails at the beginning, when "aerial view" becomes "Joey scene," though the word for aerial (jawiyy) has clearly been read as "Joey." The square in question, Bab al-Khalq, can be translated as "Gate of the People," or the "Masses," but Khalq can also mean "creation," so I guess that explains "creationism." I don't know where "youth" came from. Any ideas? But the real genius was turning one word in Arabic, يتوسطه, into two, "doritos taha." If you ignore the actual voweling, you might come up with "itostaha," quite wrongly, but the "do-" is nowhere to be found.

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