Global Voice Translator

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What? You haven't heard of the Pomegranate phone? It's "[t]he ultimate all-in-one device", going "where no phone has gone before". It's amazing. I want one, even more than I want an iPhone (and I want one of those pretty bad, so you can just imagine).

The Pomegranate's niftiest feature is probably the Global Voice Translator, illustrated here:

(I say "probably" because the niftiest feature is really the coffee brewer, but this is Language Log, so I had to go with the GVT.)

[ Hat-tip: Andy Kehler. ]


  1. Ed said,

    January 23, 2009 @ 1:40 pm

    I LOVE NOVA SCOTIA!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    January 23, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

    That's probably the coolest thing I've ever seen. Thanks Eric, now I want one.

  3. Albatross said,

    January 23, 2009 @ 1:56 pm

    Can it do Klingon?

  4. Nick Lamb said,

    January 23, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

    But does it have an Extra Large 5 like the Wasp T12 Speechtool ?

    The Wasp T12 also featured a text insult dictionary, and was shark proof.

    Admittedly Hoxton is no Nova Scotia.

  5. Ryan Denzer-King said,

    January 23, 2009 @ 2:47 pm

    If only it could do Blackfoot. Then I could collect data from my cell phone.

  6. Lazar said,

    January 23, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

    I've always wished that Star Trek could do something more realistic like this, where you can actually hear the aliens speaking their own language, followed by a computer translation.

  7. Constance said,

    January 23, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

    That would be wonderful.. if it existed.
    I still don't understand why Nova Scotia did this simply to promote tourism.

  8. Nathan Myers said,

    January 23, 2009 @ 4:22 pm

    Lazar: I predict you would be disappointed at how pedestrian the aliens' languages would turn out to be. Strictly speaking, Klingon phonemes ought to be variations on pummeling.

  9. Mark Liberman said,

    January 23, 2009 @ 4:31 pm

    The Interpreting Telephony research laboratory, part of ATR ("Advanced Telecommunications Research"), was established in 1986 in Japan with the goal of creating speech-to-speech translation technology of this type, though as far as I know, ATR never deployed a system for general use. One of the last projects that I worked on at AT&T, in the late 1980s, was a speech-to-speech translation system between English and Spanish, which was shown off at the AT&T exhibit for the Seville world's fair.

    More recently, the DARPA "Babylon" project (later called CAST — see here and here) produced a device called the phrasealator, which has actually seen some use. (An article about it in Salon is here.)

    [There's a spectrum of different technologies here, from something which is basically a Berlitz phrase book with voice look-up and output, to genuine speech-to-speech translation, and I'm lumping them all together. And across the spectrum, it's easy for a well-designed demo to fool you into thinking that the technology is more robust than it is; or for a badly-designed one to give you a wrong impression in the opposite direction. ]

  10. David said,

    January 23, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

    More than I actually want to have another gadget, I simply lust to build a practical approximation of the software.

  11. Mo said,

    January 23, 2009 @ 6:12 pm

    I'm with Nick. The Pomegranite is nice, but can it make you into a self-facilitating media node?

  12. Stephen said,

    January 23, 2009 @ 8:11 pm

    Hmm… It would have been nice if they had actually used someone with better German. The (Canadian?) accent is very noticeable.

  13. Mark Liberman said,

    January 23, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

    Nick and Mo might have added that the Wasp T12, already in 2005, had "TV-cast hijack capability". According to the CNET review, it was a spin-off of "secret projects for the Costa Rican military". I was especially interested in the technology behind the "Intelligent Thermotones that heat or chill the cheek according to the social ranking of your correspondent", though I would choose to disable this feature in my own unit.

  14. marie-lucie said,

    January 24, 2009 @ 11:41 am

    Ryan: coming from Nova Scotia, it would be more likely to have Mikmaw (= Micmac), another Algonquian language.

  15. nichim said,

    January 24, 2009 @ 12:18 pm

    I wonder what went into the ad agency's choice of this particular language pair. I can't imagine that there are many young German-speaking professionals who would actually need this device when doing business with English speakers.

  16. John Cowan said,

    January 24, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

    Of course it would have been better if the two parties had been speaking Standard Canadian English and Newf.

  17. Eric Baković said,

    January 24, 2009 @ 1:30 pm

    @Nichim — in case you missed it, the whole thing is a joke: the Pomegranate phone does not exist, nor does the GVT technology. And, if you follow the GVT link on the "product" website, the language pair is Farsi-English.

  18. nmc said,

    January 24, 2009 @ 1:41 pm

    Interesting, the actual website has a Farsi-English pair…

  19. ForestGirl said,

    January 24, 2009 @ 3:40 pm

    I wonder why they decided (if they did) to hash the English-to-German translation. "Wie geht das Projekt worden?" makes absolutely no sense.

  20. marie-lucie said,

    January 24, 2009 @ 5:19 pm

    I listened earlier today when I first read the post and the language was German. I tried again now after reading the latest comments and it is Farsi. Whether they are spoken correctly is irrelevant – in fact, if the translations are recognizably poor, that is one of many signs to the initiated that the whole Pomegranate thing is a spoof (but a charming one). The intent is to catch people's attention and get them to listen to the rest of the program, which is not about just tourism but also other opportunities. It also shows how clever and humorous Nova Scotians can be – this is not just a rural backwater. [disclaimer: I live in Nova Scotia]

  21. Troy S. said,

    January 24, 2009 @ 8:06 pm

    This is doubtless the greatest technological advancement since PinealWeb and the USB Toaster.

  22. Sili said,

    January 25, 2009 @ 2:45 pm

    Does anyone want to put on their prognotication goggles and tell if we're ever likely to have machine translation without proper artificial intelligence? It sounds to me like the tasks are equally hard.

  23. krum said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 4:42 am

    Some people here didn't immediatly realize that website is blunt satire. This is the first thing ever that puts in perspective the thus far inexplicable to me popularity of the iPhone.
    Sili: I would guess machine translation is going to get increasingly better in specialized areas, while more general-purpose translation will be developed a bit before "proper" artificial intelligence. Also, the thing we'll end up using will be somewhere inbetween.

  24. nichim said,

    January 26, 2009 @ 11:17 am

    lol. Granted, I didn't click through, just watched the ad, but I guess I'm more out of touch than I thought. I didn't think machine interpretation could be at the point where it would be effective, but I absolutely believed that phone gadget folks might market it as if it were. And I thought: "geez, glad I'm not still working in community translation so I don't have to fend off people wanting to borrow or rent one of those things to help them explain surgical procedures to Somali refugees." I'm going to send the link to my former colleagues, though, so they're prepared if anyone calls. It would be relatively satisfying to be able to say, "no, I'm sorry, sir, that's a joke."

  25. Elina said,

    February 2, 2009 @ 6:41 am

    In particular I like the eye play between those guys. Cute.

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