Yahoo Babel Fish

Yahoo is now the host of the classic Babel Fish translation service, formerly hosted by Altavista. It now also supports Japanese!

For example, try: 七国山病院 (the CatBus sign from Totoro, courtesy of Steven). The Babelfish gives us “Seven national mountain illness institutes”. I noticed from Steven’s link that 国山 can be interpreted as “realm” and Steven also mentioned that 病院 (“illness institutes”) is actually hospital, so the sign translates as Seven Realm Hospital. The Babelfish isn’t capable of translating these compound statements and is more of an atomic processor on the individual characters.

Naturally, it also works in reverse: try “Seven Realm Hospital” and you get the output 7 つの王国の病院 which when I feed back into the Babelfish, turns out to be “Hospital of seven kingdoms”. Realm and Kingdom both get translated as 王国. What my point is, I have no idea, other than to probe the assumptions in the Babelfish engine. As a toy for gaikojin otaku like myself, it’s neat 🙂

Plus we must all bow to the universality of Douglas Adams. Just like 42, the Babel Fish has entered the mass lexicon. Have I mentioned that the Guide entry on the Babelfish, as related in the BBC Radio Scripts, is the most hilarious version by far? You just can’t beat the dry delivery of Peter Jones as the Book. It’s like comparing black and white to color television.

5 thoughts on “Yahoo Babel Fish”

  1. I’d never visited Babelfish before, but I was surprised it doesn’t support Arabic. There have to be more people in the world that speak Arabic than who speak Dutch.

    I don’t speak Arabic, so I don’t really have a point other than to wonder how they decide what languages are worthy of attempted translation.

  2. Dutch was easier to add, since it’s part of the Germanic group.

    I think that semitic languages would be particularly hard to support with that interface because they’re written right-to-left, and that’s not easy to enter using a western-setup L-to-R browser.

  3. Not only that, but Arabic letters change their form depending on what the adjacent letters are – whereas Japanese letters are as static as English. It’s just harder, not impossible, so I imagine that Japanese was low-hanging fruit. However all these technical issues that Steven and I mention are quite solvable and have been solved in other places, so it’s just a matter of time.

Comments are closed.