Automated transcription-cum-translation

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Marc Sarrel received the following message on his voicemail:

Marc explains:

Because I live in Los Angeles, with a large Chinese speaking community, I often get spam phone calls in Chinese.  I got another this morning, but something new happened on my phone.  Apple has long transcribed voice mail left in English.  But, this is the first time that I've seen them translate and transcribe from another language.

Here's the audio file:

Here's the Hanyu Pinyin transcription, the message in Chinese characters, and the English translation (the first copy starts in the middle, then there's a full version):

…guòlái lǐngqǔ, fǒuzé jiàng zài jīnrì dào qí. Cháxún wénjiàn nèiróng, qǐng àn yī, yóu běn guǎn rényuán wèi nín zīxún.

Zhōngguó lǐngshìguǎn zuìhòu tōngzhī, nín yǒu yī zé wénjiàn yǐ dá duō tiān, shàngwèi lǐngqǔ, qǐng xiédài xiāngguān zhèngjiàn, guòlái lǐngqǔ, fǒuzé jiàng zài jīnrì dào qí. Cháxún wénjiàn nèiróng, qǐng àn yī, yóu běn guǎn rényuán wèi nín zīxún.

…过来领取,否则将在今日到期。查询文件内容,请按一,由本馆人员为您咨询。

中国领事馆最后通知,您有一则文件已达多天,尚未领取,请携带相关证件,过来领取,否则将在今日到期。查询文件内容,请按一,由本馆人员为您咨询。

…come to pick it up, or it will expire today. If you want to check the contents of the document, please press one. Staff of the consulate will advise you.

This is the last notice of the Chinese consulate. Your document has already arrived for many days, and has not yet been claimed. Please bring relevant papers and come to pick it up, or it will expire today. If you want to check the contents of the document, please press one. Staff of the consulate will advise you.

This is a common type of scam that we've encountered before, many of us personally, but all of us via Language Log (see the "Further Reading" below).  The twist in this instance is the failed attempt of the software to transcribe and translate the Mandarin message into English.  Perhaps the music in the background threw it off.

Further reading

"Mandarin phone spam" (5/3/18) — with references to media reports in the comments

[Thanks to Qing Liao, Zeyao Wu, and Emma Wang]



7 Comments

  1. Victor Mair said,

    December 17, 2018 @ 11:48 am

    Google search — for subsequent coverage of the continuing proliferation of Mandarin phone spam

  2. Francois Lang said,

    December 17, 2018 @ 2:13 pm

    I used to get Mandarin spam on my phone fairly often even though my ancestry is 100% European, because my surname ("Lang") is a perfectly good Chinese surname.

    Non-linguistic now: The number of these crank calls has dramatically decreased since I installed Nomorobo!

  3. John Swindle said,

    December 17, 2018 @ 3:00 pm

    Has the transcription program correctly identified the language of the message? It doesn't look like it's taking the original as English, and the "you" and "we can show me" parts of the transcription look they could conceivably be attempts to translate from Mandarin.

  4. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    December 17, 2018 @ 4:41 pm

    I've just recently started getting Chinese robo spam calls to my cell phone. So far, my voicemail has not tried to transcribe it.

    FWIW, I live near LA too (High Desert), but my cell number has a SF Bay Area area code.

  5. Stephen Norris said,

    December 18, 2018 @ 4:05 am

    Just as an aside, the carrier transcription for visual voicemail, not Apple.

  6. Katy said,

    December 18, 2018 @ 6:49 pm

    I have gotten similar spam voicemail, with similar transcriptions. I assumed that my voicemail program was simply attempting to transcribe the message as if it were spoken English, rather than translate anything.

  7. Chas Belov said,

    December 18, 2018 @ 11:47 pm

    The Outlook 365 transcriber has enough difficulties transcribing English messages I leave myself. Nearly all of the transcriptions are gibberish.

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