section Why automatic translation is realistic
In December 1997, Web users started asking each other: "Have you noticed the 'Translate' links on AltaVista search results?" The popular AltaVista search engine had started suggesting, in a not so prominent way, that users can get automatically generated translations of documents. When a user had sent a set of keywords to AltaVista, it returned a list of documents matching the keywords as previously, but now there were "Translate" links in the following style:
4. Writing for Translation
Writing for Translation. by Roz Treger and Nancy Ott. More and more companies are marketing their products globally. As technical communicators, we are...
Last modified 11-Sep-97 - page size 10K - in English [ Translate ]
That document, by the way, is related to our topic and is definitely worth reading.
By following the "Translate" link, the user would get page containing a form like the following:
The user could then request for a translation into one of a set of languages, namely French, Italian, German, Portuguese, and Spanish. (For a document in one of these language, one could request for a translation into English.) In our example, a translation into German would begin as follows:
Schreiben für Übersetzung
durch Roz Treger und Nancy Ott
Immer mehr Firmen sind Marketing ihre Produkte global. Als technische Verbindungen produzieren wir Material, das von den Benutzern in vielen unterschiedlichen Ländern gelesen werden und in einige Sprachen übersetzt werden kann. Wir müssen dieses in Betracht ziehen, wenn wir Schreiben es sind. Übersetzung ist ein Re-Ausdruck von Ideen in einer anderen Sprache, nicht in einem eins-zu-eins Ersatz von Wörtern und in den Phrasen. Übersetzung-freundliches Schreiben stellt Ideen offenbar und durchweg dar und läßt sie einfacher, damit Übersetzer und non-native englische Lautsprecher sie verstehen. Soviel wie möglich, ist es kulturell Neutrales.
This is far from being good German, but anyone who knows German reasonably well understands what the document is about.
Notice that the translation is based on the document as written in the HTML markup language, which indicates the structure of the document, e.g. denoting parts of the text as headings. The translation preserves, or at least tries to preserve, the markup. (Babelfish can translate plain text, too, of course.)
There are many deficiencies in the translation. For example, the English phrase "are marketing" has been translated as if "marketing" were a noun! But the translation is far from being a naive word by word conversion. It constructs sentences according to German grammar, which e.g. often uses a word order quite different from English.
Next subsection: Some clarifications