Thursday, February 28 2013

Web-translation pitfalls

Spotted this one just now while using Google Translate on a store’s information page: 定休日 was translated as “Closed Sundays”, instead of “regular closing days” or something similar. If, like me, you expect Google to make a hash out of Japanese and are only using it to fill in the gaps, you’ll be okay, but not only is Chrome doing automatic translation, I’m running into more and more Japanese sites that supply an “English version” that’s copied from Google output, and if you don’t know you’re reading gibberish, you might end up thinking that the store really is closed on Sundays.

How did Google screw this one up? Well, 日 can mean “day”, “sun”, or “sunday”, distinguished by context, and both 定休 and 定休日 mean “regular holiday”, used by stores to indicate their regular closing schedule. Google picked the shorter match and then decided that the following 日 meant Sunday, which would make perfect sense if there were some punctuation to make it unambiguous (such as “定休:日・水” for “closed Sunday and Wednesday”). A human translator would have picked the longer match, and expected the next block of text to contain the actual set of closing conditions, which in this case was “third Wednesday of each month”.