The crash-blossom-y headline that Geoff Pullum just posted about, "Google's Computer Might Betters Translation Tool," has been changed in the online edition of The New York Times to something more sensible: "Google’s Computing Power Refines Translation Tool." The headline in the print edition, says LexisNexis, is "Google Can Now Say No to 'Raw Fish Shoes,' in 52 Languages." This is a typical example of the gap between oblique print headlines and their more straightforward online equivalents designed with search engines in mind. (See the April 2006 Times article, "This Boring Headline Is Written for Google.")
In a meeting at Google in 2004, the discussion turned to an e-mail message the company had received from a fan in South Korea. Sergey Brin, a Google founder, ran the message through an automatic translation service that the company had licensed.
The message said Google was a favorite search engine, but the result read: “The sliced raw fish shoes it wishes. Google green onion thing!”
Mr. Brin said Google ought to be able to do better. Six years later, its free Google Translate service handles 52 languages, more than any similar system, and people use it hundreds of millions of times a week to translate Web pages and other text.
I don't know what sort of source text in Korean might have generated the failed translation Brin mentions, but the "sliced raw fish shoes" problem has apparently been a longstanding issue for Korean-English MT. In 2007 the blogger Karl Heinz Kremer described running a Korean-language message from Microsoft through Babelfish (apologies if the Korean version looks like mojibake in your browser):
본 메일은 2007년 12월 20일 기준으로 당사의 메일을 수신 동의하신 고객 분들에게만 발송되는 메일입니다.메일 수신을 원치 않으시면 제목란에 "UNSUBSCRIBE"라고 적으신 후 회신하여 주십시오.또한 프로필 센터를 통하여 뉴스레터에 대한 모든 구독 관리를 하실 수 있습니다.주소: 서울특별시 강남구 대치동 892번지 포스코센터 서관 5층 (우편번호 135-777)
Here is the translation: “The mail which it sees in 2007 December 20th standard the mail of theheadquarters of a party the reception is the mail which is sent out atonly the customer minutes which agree. Unit is not and subject is “asUNSUBSCRIBE” after writing, the sliced raw fish shoes to do the mailreception. Also pro there is a possibility of doing all subscriptioncivil official the news letter the center where it will bloom leadsand against. Address: Seoul Kangnam Ku confrontation eastern 892 housenumber guns su from nose center tube 5 layer (postal code 135-777)”
Another blogger wrote of getting the Babelfish result, "The hour is busy with relationship of pressure one but shear mail sliced raw fish shoes entrusting under confirming it gives rightly. Thanks it gives in cooperation." And an automatically translated love letter on Yahoo! Answers includes the ineffable "…like the like that thing the branch doing against the route which is not the after sliced raw fish it does not want."
Anyone proficient in Korean want to get to the bottom of the sashimi-shoe conundrum?