AM -- Dictionaries


Langenscheidts T1 Standard plus 3.0: der Textübersetzer für PCs; englisch; englisch-deutsch, deutsch-englisch; mit Langenscheidts Handwörterbuch Englisch [. . . the text translator for PCs; English, English-German, German-English; with Langenscheidt's compact English dictionary]. Berlin; München: Langenscheidt, 1996. 1 CD-ROM + user's guide. ISBN 3-468-90812-1: DM 398.00


Pons, Personal translator: deutsch-englisch/English- German. München: v. Rheinbaben & Busch; Stuttgart: Klett, 1996. 1 CD-ROM + user's guide. ISBN 3-12-168663-1 (Klett): DM 198.00


Pons, Personal translator plus: deutsch-englisch/English- German. München: v. Rheinbaben & Busch; Stuttgart: Klett, 1996. 1 CD-ROM + user's guide. ISBN 3-12-168673-9 (Klett): DM 498.00

All three software programs reviewed here run under various versions of Windows, and their hardware requirements are nominal (a 486 processor or above, 16 MB RAM and approximately 30 MB of free disk space). All possess an intuitive, well-developed user interface, with a sophisticated array of options available through menu items, icons, and windows. Though extensive manuals are included, they are not necessary to learn the basic functionality of the programs. For those familiar with other Windows programs, like the Microsoft family of office software, learning the basic translating functions of the programs should take only a few minutes of orientation. The programs are structured similarly, with one window containing the source text and another window presenting the translation.

Langenscheidts T1 Standard Plus (there are other versions of T1 available) utilizes a large dictionary of 320,000 entries, and it can be configured to work with American or British English. PONS Personal Translator Plus (PT Plus) also has this option, and the two programs share the ability to work as add-ins with Word 6.0 (T1 and PT Plus are the more comparable programs in their functionality and feature set). T1 translates quickly, and how it translates can be configured in many ways. For example, German "Sie" can be preconfigured to translate as "you" or "they," and "er" or "sie" can be selected to translate to "he," "she," or "it." One can even indicate what subject area one is translating in, so that words like the German Verzögerung can mean "delay" when using the general vocabulary dictionary, but it will translate to "retardation" when using the physics vocabulary list. The translation window also includes a useful means of indicating uncertain translations by highlighting them in a different color.

The PONS Personal Translator (PT) clearly represents the simplest of the three programs reviewed, both in terms of functionality and friendliness of the interface, which explains why it is less expensive than PT Plus is. It possesses 160,000 words (PT Plus has 200,000), and does not permit switching between American and British. One can, however, select from more than 20 subject vocabularies and curiously--unlike T1--you can select between the German "Sie" and "Du" forms.

The PT programs base their translation operations on IBM's "Logic-Programming Based Machine Translation" technology, which works with five linguistic functions: segmenting, lexical search and transfer, syntax analysis, and structural transfer. The purpose of this project for IBM was to allow rough translations of in-house documents.

From the sophisticated description of PT's translation technology provided by the handbook, and from such effusive claims found on the packaging of all the programs ("state of the art technology," "superior sentence analysis," and the like), one naturally develops high expectations of the software's actual translating capabilities. Indeed, with the highly developed interface and the myriad of options, the software packages do give the impression that polished translations will result from using these language tools. Unfortunately, this is far from the case, something quickly noted after even the most rudimentary first attempts at using the software. Both software producers warn the user that the programs are only intended to provide initial, "rough" translations to give a sense of the meaning of the original. Users are instructed to use simple grammatical sentences without colloquialisms or idiomatic phrasing, but one quickly learns that even the most rudimentary sentences, in either language, will lead to results that are more often humorous than acceptable translations of the original. For example, the simple sentence Die Polizei nimmt an, ihn wiederzuerkennen ("The police assume they will recognize him again") is translated as "The police look after, recognize him"--a result which does not permit a reasonable understanding of what was in the original German. Using T1, simple words and expressions like reiselustig ("fond of traveling") and World Cup (the world soccer championship) are translated, senselessly, as "trip merry" and "Welttasse." A study of how T1 developed its translations reveals that the software worked with fully nonexistent or with a very primitively developed understanding of grammatical structures. The English use of to do, for example, as in the sentence Do you sell rail tickets?, was translated into the ridiculous "Tun Sie Ihnen Verkaufs- Schienen-Fahrkarten?" Or the use of supposed to, as in "Is this food supposed to be kept cool?", is translated as "Ist diese Nahrung, die sich gehalten soll, kuehl?" A number of tests revealed that even the simplest of grammatical rules in English were not recognized, leading to German sentences that were virtually incomprehensible. Indeed, to a large degree the software worked with merely literal, word-for-word translations. In testing the software one arrives at the conclusion that the large vocabularies were included so that superficial lexical translations would cover the lack of grammatical complexity in the software.

To conclude, the poor quality of the translations delivered by these software packages makes it difficult to identify a user group that would benefit from them at all. As rough first drafts for professional translators, even the simplest of texts would typically need to be extensively revised, thus obviating their potential in saving time. The greatest danger, however, is for the beginner, or for those with only a rudimentary knowledge of the target language. The professional, slick look of these programs can easily lead a novice to conclude that a reasonable translation was made of their text (unless of course the translation is senseless, which occurs frequently enough). The software producers disingenuously shift the onus of blame for poor translations onto the user by explaining that faulty translations can be traced to inadequately preparing the original text, which entails removing difficult language. In a comparison between packages, T1 demonstrated that it could translate some types of sentences, in which it recognized the context, better than its competitors, but for the most part it too suffered from the same kinds of problems as the PONS software. [wb/rob]

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