Certainly most non-translators would be surprised at how often the translator encounters words in a foreign language for which there is no generally agreed upon translation. This is clearly one factor that severly limits the capabilities of translation software. Google Translate works by sifting mountains of reference translations. For standard terms in clearly formulated sentences, this sifting strategy can work quite well. As soon as non-standard terms crop up, however, Google Translate stumbles, not least due to the fact that many reference translations are of questionable quality or applicability. The problems of ambiguity that plague the task of translation are regularly apparent when one searches for hard-to-translate terms at online dictionaries like LEO or reference sources such as the EU’s database of legal translations.
I confront terms for which there is no preexisting entry at LEO or clearly understandable direct equivalent in English nearly every day. Here are a few:
- tiefenstufenabhängige Baumdurchwurzelungsstrategien (soil-depth-dependant tree rooting strategies)
- Holzhackschnitzelheizkraftwerk (combined heat and power plant that runs on wood chips; try to say that one three times fast)
- Kommunikationsaufforderungsakte (acts by which one prompts another to communicate)
- Verfüllkörper (the body of backfilled material within a revegetated strip mine)
- Legalitätszentriert (adjective indicating a focus on aspects of legality; literally, “legality-centered”)
- Nachverhandlungsanfälligkeiten (noun designating things which are subject to future negotiation)
- Rovingsgelege (I forgot what this is; something to do with repair of wind turbine rotors)
- Granulatmusterzugschublade (component in a roller compactor for the manufacture of pharmaceutical products)
- Ver- und Entsorgungsmedia (funny compound in German designating “media” for both “supply” and “disposal” – a highly ambiguous term when translated directly)Note that none of these terms (except for Holzhackschnitzelheizkraftwerk) yields even a single hit at Google. So how does Google Translate handle them? Well, it doesn’t.