Archive for Translation

Hype over AI and Classical Chinese / Literary Sinitic

From the get-go, I'm dubious about any claims that current AI can fully and accurately translate Classical Chinese / Literary Sinitic (CC/LS) into Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM), much less English or other language, on a practical, functional basis.  Since the following article is from one of China's official propaganda "news" outlets (China Daily [CD]), the chances that we will get an accurate accounting of the true situation is next to nil anyway.

Language system translates ancient Chinese texts

By Li Wenfang in Guangzhou | China Daily | Updated: 2023-11-03 09:42

It starts out on a sour note:

If foreigners learning Chinese think the modern language is difficult to grasp, they should be glad they don't have to learn classical Chinese. Ancient texts are far more challenging, and not easy for even native Chinese speakers to decipher.

This is a cockamamie approach to the analysis of a written language in its ancient stages.  What is it about ancient classical Chinese texts that makes them so difficult?  How do they differ from modern Chinese texts?  What about their morphology, their grammar, their syntax, their phonology and prosody, their lexicon, their literary allusions…?

A fundamental, fatal flaw in the conceptualization of Sinitic on the part of conservative indigenous scholars is that there are no essential linguistic discrepancies between CC/LS and MSM, only stylistic disparities.

Anyway, for what it's worth, the CD article continues:

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Waterless, emission-free toilet that Chairman Xi saw

(see in particular the second item)

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Buddhist ideas on Sanskrit-Chinese translation

[This is a guest post by Max Deeg.  Although the following text has profound implications for anyone who is seriously interested in the actualities of translation between two very different kinds of languages from antiquity, it is fundamentally a task for specialists to render this type of Middle Buddhist Hybrid Sinitic into English.  This is both because of the nature of the language itself and due to the fact that it is fairly lengthy.  Consequently, I will not provide phonetic annotations of the entire text, as is my usual practice for shorter passages on Language Log.]


Bianji on Sanskrit and Xuanzang as a translator.[1]


The following passage is found in the twelfth chapter or fascicle (juan) of Xuanzang’s 玄奘 Datang Xiyu ji 大唐西域記 (Record of the Western Regions of the Great Tang) and is part of what I think is Bianji’s 辯機 (619-?) “Eulogy of the Record” (Jizan 記讚) added to the Record.[2]

The Datang Xiyu ji (Record of the Western Regions of the Great Tang) by the Chinese monk-pilgrim and translator Xuanzang (600?-664; travelled 629-645), arguably is one of the earliest Buddhist Chinese texts translated into a Western language and had an enormous impact on the historical research on Buddhism.[3] Originally written for the second Tang emperor Taizong 太宗 (598-649; ruled from 626) in less than one year after Xuanzang’s return from India in 645, the text gives information about the Central Asian regions Xuanzang travelled through on his journey to India (and back), about India and her different regions, with a focus on the state of Buddhism and its sacred places linked to the life of the Buddha and his disciples. Although the Record has mainly been used in a historicist-positivist fashion in modern scholarship, the text is a multifaceted complex work which contains several layers of “intentionality” that need to be taken into account carefully when reading and interpreting (hence also translating) the text. One of these intentional aspects is to “sell” Buddhism and the ideal of a Buddhist ruler to the Tang emperor.[4]

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Competing chatbots

Competition among various AI services will spur them to further heights.

ChatGPT, Bing, Bard and DeepL: Which one offers the best Japanese-to-English translation?

by Karin Kaneko, Japan Times (7/18/23)

Kaneko, working with her editors at Japan Times, devised an ingenious test for comparing the quality of several translation tools in different categories of writing.  Since this experiment is so innately interesting and inherently revelatory, I will provide extensive quotations, adding romanization of the Japanese passages from GT (not an easy task for me!).  To be fair to GT, and simply out of curiosity to see how it compares with the newer type of AI translation services, I will also invite GT to translate all three of the chosen passages.  N.B.:  All three of the GT English translations have been added by me.

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AI without human oversight

Despite the panic over AI we're seeing in many sectors of society, including academia, the juggernaut rolls on, seeming set to crush everything in its way:

"EU gives more power to AI translation machines"

The European Commission has launched a pilot project to translate some press releases without any human oversight.

POLITICO (6/15/23)

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AI for Akkadian

Article by Melanie Lidman in The Times of Israel (6/17/23):

Groundbreaking AI project translates 5,000-year-old cuneiform at push of a button

‘Google Translate’-like program for Akkadian cuneiform will enable tens of thousands of digitized but unread tablets to be translated to English. Accuracy is debatable.

Opening and key paragraphs:

Cuneiform is the oldest known form of writing, but it is so difficult to read that only a few hundred experts around the world can decode the clay tablets filled with wedge-shaped symbols. Now, a team of archaeologists and computer scientists from Israel has created an AI-powered translation program for ancient Akkadian cuneiform, allowing tens of thousands of already digitized tablets to be translated into English instantaneously.

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Thai to English translation gets injected with Tamil

[This is a guest post by Charles Belov]

I pasted the following Thai, which I got from a YouTube channel, into Google translate. The results were mostly in English, but Google Translate injected some apparent Tamil as well and then just gives up and leaves some of the Thai untranslated.

"ตลอดระยะเวลาการทำงานในวงการบันเทิงมันทำให้เราได้เรียนรู้ว่าจริงๆ เเล้วความสุขอยู่รอบตัวเราไปหมด เเล้วความสุขมันง่ายมาก จริงๆ บางทีความสุขมันก็ไม่ต้องมีเงินเยอะมากมาย ความสุขในชีวิตของผมมันคือการมีอิสรภาพ

ผมรู้สึกว่ามันเเค่ต้อง balance ชีวิตให้มากขึ้น รักตัวเองให้เป็น เงินก็ต้องหา เเต่ก็ต้องให้เวลากับตัวเอง เเคร์ตัวเอง เเคร์คนอื่นน้อยลง"

ฟิล์ม ธนภัทร คนหิวความสำเร็จ กับอิสรภาพของชีวิต

translated to English as:

"During the time of working in the entertainment industry, it made us learn that really, happiness doesn't need much money, so much happiness. in my life it is கெர்பியைப்ப்பு

I feel that you have to find balance in your life, but you have to make time for yourself, take care of yourself, and take care of others less"

Film ตันที่ร ตั้วิที่ สุ้วิต้ามี่ สุ้าวิต้วั่ม

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ChatGPT does Emily Dickinson writing a recipe for Pad Thai (and haiku too)

From Scott D. Seligman via Facebook:

  ChatGPT is really creeping me out. I asked it for a recipe for Pad Thai in the form of an Emily Dickinson poem. I'm no poetry maven, but the damned thing seems to have the ability to turn a phrase, at least some of the time.

Below is what I got in response. [Note to Jeanne Larsen, Jenny Shepherd and any other poets or poetesses with
whom I am acquainted: I hear Starbucks may be hiring baristas].

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Revelation: Scythians and Shang

I was stunned when I read the following article in the South China Morning Post, both because it was published in Hong Kong, which is now completely under the censorial control of the People's Republic of China (PRC) / Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and because it raises some disturbing political issues and troubling linguistic problems.

"Why the rewriting of China’s history 3,000 years ago still matters today"

Confucius uncovered the truth of the Shang dynasty but agreed with King Wen and the Duke of Zhou to cover up disturbing facts
Beijing’s claimed triumph over Covid-19, for instance, may not echo with all who endured the draconian quarantines.

Zhou Xin, SCMP (4/25/23)

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Sinological formatting

I recently received this book:

Sūn Sīmiǎo, Sabine Wilms.  Healing Virtue-Power: Medical Ethics and the Doctor's Dao.  Whidbey Island WA:  Happy Goat Productions, 2022.

ISBN:  978-1-7321571-9-4


As soon as I started to leaf through the volume, I was struck by its unusual format and usages:  every Chinese character is accompanied by Hanyu Pinyin phonetic annotation with tones, and all terms and sentences are translated into English.  But that's just the beginning; after introducing the original author and the translator, I will point out additional features of this remarkable, praiseworthy monograph.

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Clean Up After Your Dog

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Laowai (the Old Furriner) trolls the CCP

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The Sutradhar and the Ringgit: A Study of Terms Related to the Early Puppet Theatres

Sino-Platonic Papers is pleased to announce the publication of its three-hundred-and-thirty-second issue:

The Sutradhar and the Ringgit: A Study of Terms Related to the Early Puppet Theatres,” by Keith Rawlings.


Certain words in Sanskrit, Old Javanese, and Ancient Greek that appear in centuries-old texts are thought by many scholars to be early references to puppetry, leading to certain theories about the history of that art. These particular words from antiquity and the Middle Ages and their interpretations and translations underpin currently received views about the antiquity of puppetry. This paper discusses the history of the related scholarship, examines varying interpretations of the words, and suggests other possible meanings, leading to questions about their interpretation. I hope to show that, because words in earlier eras of a language may have different interpretations from those accepted later, texts and the scholarship that relies on them should be re-examined in the light of current knowledge.

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