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Machine translation in 1968

The BBC recently published this excerpt from a 1968 edition of Tomorrow’s World featuring a computer system at Kyoto University that was not only able to translate simple sentences from Japanese to English, but could also read out the resulting Japanese text. #OnThisDay 1968: Tomorrow's World was in Japan, to test Kyoto University's extraordinary English to Japanese translator. What sorcery is this? — BBC Archive (@BBCArchive) August 14, 2018 It looks like the translation it performed was as follows: Input: MY NAME IS JOHN PARRY, AND I WORK IN LONDON ENGLAND. I HAVE COME TO KYOTO UNIVERSITY TO LOOK AT THE DIGITAL COMPUTER. Output (Romaji): WATASINO NAMAEWA JOHN PARRY DE ARU, SOSITE WATASHIWA LONDON ENGLAND NONAKANI HATARAKU. WATASHIWA DEJITARU KONPYUUTAAWO MIRUTAMENI KYOTO DAIGAKUE KIMASITA. Output (Kana): ワタシノナマエハ JOHN PARRY デアル、ソシテワタシワ LONDON ENGLAND ノナカニハタラク。ワタシハデジタル コンピューターヲミルタメニ KYOTO ダイガクヘキマシタ。 Apart from the use of dictionary-form verbs instead of the more polite “desu/masu” forms that one would expect from a human translator, the results aren’t bad at all. Very impressive for a computer that probably had less processing capability than a modern washing [More…]

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70 years ago

Here’s a propaganda leaflet that was dropped over Japanese cities following the destruction of Hiroshima on August 6th 1945. The original text and a translation are shown below. Let’s hope this sort of thing never happens again. 日本國民に告ぐ!! 〝卽刻都市より退避せよ〟 このビラに書いてあることは最も大切なことでありますから良く注意して読んで下さい。 日本國民諸君は今や重大なる秋に直面してしまつたのである。 軍部首脳部の連中が三國共同宣言の十三ヶ條よりなる寛大なる條項を以て此の無益な戦争を止めるべく機會を與へられたのであるが軍部は是を無視した。 そのためにソ聯は日本に對して宣戦を布告したのである。 亦米國は今や何人もなし得なかつた恐しい原子爆弾を發明し之を使用するに至つた。之原子爆弾はたゞ一箇だけであの巨大なB-29二千機が一囬に投下する爆弾に匹敵する。この恐るべき事實は諸君が廣島に唯一箇だけ投下された際、如何なる状態を惹起したかはそれを見れば判るはずである。 此の無益な戦争を長引かせてゐる軍事上の凡てをこの恐るべき原子爆弾を以て破壊する。米國はこの原子爆弾が多く使用されないうち諸君が此の戦争を止めるよう天皇陛下に請願される事を望むものである。米國大統領は曩に諸君に對して述べた十三ヶ條よりなる寛大なる條項を速やかに承諾し、より良い平和を愛好する新日本の建設をなすよう米國は慫慂するものである。 随つて日本國民諸君は直ちに武力抵抗を中止すべきである。 然らざれば米國は断乎この原子爆弾並に、其他凡ゆる優秀なる武器を使用しこの戦争を迅速且強制的に終結せしむるであらう。 〝即ソツ刻コク都ト市シより退タイ避ヒせよ〟 Attention People Of Japan!! — Evacuate your cities immediately — The content of this leaflet is of the utmost importance, so please read it carefully. The Japanese people are facing a grave situation. Your military leaders were given the opportunity to stop this futile war by accepting the thirteen conditions of the Potsdam Declaration, but have ignored it. As a result, the Soviet Union has declared war on Japan. Furthermore, the United States has invented a formidable atomic bomb, which has already been used. Just one atomic bomb carries the destructive force of 2,000 B‑29 Superfortress bombers, as you can see for yourselves by witnessing the destruction caused by a single bomb dropped on Hiroshima. All military forces involved in prolonging this futile war will be destroyed by these atomic bombs. The [More…]

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Name translator issues

Thank you to everyone who emailed in about the issues with the name translation tool. It looks like the problem was caused by an expired SSL certificate. Hopefully things are working properly again now. Please keep me updated if you encounter any more problems.

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Translating names into Kanji

This summer’s David Bowie exhibition at the V&A museum apparently features several Japan-themed outfits designed by Kansai Yamamoto. The cloak shown here is decorated with the calligraphic characters 出火吐暴威, which represents the name “David Bowie” as follows: Kanji Meaning 出 de exit; leave; emit 火 bi fire (usually hi) 吐 to spit; vomit; belch 暴 bō outburst; rave; fret; force; violence 威 i intimidate; dignity; majesty; menace This translates roughly as “the one who spits fire with forceful menace” (or “one who spits out words in a fiery manner” according to the rest of the blogosphere). Regular visitors to this site are probably already aware that foreign names are normally written using the phonetic katakana syllabary, and not without good reason — kanji characters can usually be read in at least two different ways, so it’s almost impossible to achieve unambiguous results. For example, film director Yoshikazu Katō and human rights activist Giichi Nomura both share the same given name (義一) but with completely different pronunciations (Yoshikazu and Giichi). At least with Japanese names it’s usually possible to make an educated guess [More…]

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Tokyo Story

Every ten years since 1952, the British Film Institute (BFI) has polled film directors and critics to determine the greatest film of all time. In the recently published results of the 2012 survey, a Japanese film topped the directors’ poll, and ranked third in the critics’ poll. Tokyo Story (Tōkyō monogatari; 東京物語) was directed by Yasujirō Ozu (小津安二郎) in 1953. It features an elderly couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their grown-up children, but find them too preoccupied with their own lives to care for their parents. However, they are treated more warmly by their widowed daughter-in-law. Shot in Ozu’s characteristic style (low camera viewpoint, little or no camera movement), the film presents a thought-provoking and rather sad portrait of changing family values in post-war Japan. It is widely regarded as Ozu’s masterpiece. Do watch it if you get the chance. A  subtitled version of the film has been uploaded to YouTube, but I won’t embed it here as I’m not sure it’s all above board in terms of copyright (although the film would definitely be in the public domain by now had it been released in [More…]

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Tsugi wa … OMAE DA!

This made me laugh: It’s a photo of an electronic display inside a train that provides passengers with information such as the name of the next stop. Here it says 次は オマエダ (tsugi wa Omaeda) to indicate that the next stop will be at Omaeda station (小前田駅) in Saitama prefecture. However, since the place name is written in katakana instead of kanji, it can be read in two different ways. The intended meaning: 次は 小前田 = tsugi wa Omaeda = “Next: Omaeda” And the unintended threat: 次は お前だ = tsugi wa OMAE DA = “Next: YOU!” Omae is a rather disrespectful way of saying “you” in Japanese. (Check Wikipedia for the meaning of da, if you’re interested). Furthermore, katakana is often used as a means of emphasis, similar to the use of italics or block capitals in English. So the sign could perhaps be translated as “YOU’RE NEXT, PAL!”.

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Converting zenkaku to hankaku

For historical reasons, Chinese, Japanese and Korean word processors allow certain characters (including the Roman alphabet and Arabic numerals) to be entered using wide variants called fullwidth (zenkaku; 全角) characters instead of — or rather, in addition to — the ordinary halfwidth (hankaku; 半角) characters used by everyone else. When preparing Japanese text for translation in CAT tools like OmegaT, it often helps to convert zenkaku characters to their hankaku equivalents. The Japanese version of Microsoft Word has a built-in feature that will do this, but it’s a little bit annoying because it also converts katakana characters. All I really want to do is convert the non-Japanese characters. Here’s a Perl script I’ve been using to do this inside TextWrangler: #!/usr/bin/perl -w # File: # Author: Phil Ronan, # Convert zenkaku to hankaku # Prepare Japanese UTF-8 plain-text files for translation by # converting full-width (zenkaku) characters to their half-width # (hankaku) counterparts. Katakana characters are not converted. # This script was written for use as a TextWrangler plugin, but # can also be used as a command line tool — [More…]

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OmegaT + Google Translate v2 + Mac OS X

OmegaT is a free, open-source, cross-platform computer-assisted translation tool. One of its useful features is an interface to the Google Translate API that enables it to provide a (somewhat helpful) machine translation of each chunk of text as it is being translated. Earlier this year, Google announced that its free translation API is to be replaced with a paid service, and will stop altogether on 1st December 2011. Providing an API key Recent versions of OmegaT are compatible with the paid service (Google Translate v2), but before you can use it you have to set up an account with Google and give them your credit card details. In return, you’ll get an identification code called an API key that OmegaT will need when interacting with Google. However, the OmegaT developers haven’t yet made it very easy to enter this key. Windows users can provide this information by adding the following line to the OmegaT.l4J.ini configuration file (replacing “xxxx” with your actual API key): -Dgoogle.api.key=xxxx On other operating systems, the API key has to be provided as a command line argument when the OmegaT Java application [More…]

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Trade and Investment for Growth

The Department for Business Innovation & Skills recently published a white paper on the subject of Trade and Investment for Growth (download PDF file; 997 kB) that stresses Japan’s importance as one of the key markets for new business opportunities as the world emerges from the global recession. To help things along, the UK Government is hoping to set up an EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement that could potentially “deliver €43.4 billion additional EU exports to Japan”. However, the document raises concerns about the lack of language skills among UK businesses, an issue that was also mentioned by Baroness Coussins in a House of Lords debate yesterday: Another figure worth quoting, given the explosion in online sales, is that over 70 per cent of consumers require information in their native language in order to make an online purchase, while people who do not have good English are six times less likely to buy from an English-only site. It is self-defeating and inaccurate to think that English is enough. Only 6 per cent of the world’s population are native English speakers and [More…]

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Header image: Maple leaves and bamboo stems in autumn at Tenryū-ji garden (天龍寺庭園) in Kyoto. Photo: Frank Gualtieri.

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