Unlike many people, perhaps, I actually find some spam amusing. Among the many messages I have deleted from my website recently is this:
“Asking questions are genuinely pleasant thing if you are not understanding something entirely, except this paragraph gives fastidious understanding even.”
Given the misunderstandings in this sentence supposedly about understanding, I was sure that it had been written by a machine. This reminded me of the various online services providing translations from one language to another. As a professional wordsmith myself with a reasonable knowledge of several languages, about 18 months ago decided to put them to the test.
I asked several online automated “translators” to put into English the following Italian sentence, chosen at random, which I had read somewhere: “Sono un pittore non professionista. Mi interesso si approfondire nel campo della critica d’arte.” (As far as I know, the Italian is perfectly OK – an important starting point.)
My own translation of this would be “I am an amateur painter. I am interested in learning more about art criticism.”
The online results were entertaining and diverse. (The apostrophes and other punctuation are shown exactly as they appeared in the translations.)
Google Translate gave “I am a professional painter. I am interested in is deepening ‘field of art criticism.”
Microsofttranslator.com’s effort was “I’m a professional painter. I am interested will deepen in the field of art criticism.”
http://www.translate.net offered “I am a professional painter. I am interested in is deepening ‘field of art criticism.”
Both webtranslation.paralink.com and translate.reference.com came up with “I am a professional painter. I am interested in deepening it in the ‘field of art criticism.”
Notice anything about these five? They all miss the fact that the person is NOT a professional painter.
Bing Translator actually noticed the word “non” before “professionista” and came up with “I am a non professional painter. I am interested will deepen in the field of art criticism.”
Babel Fish almost agreed – “They are a not professional painter. I am interested to get a deeper knowledge in the ‘ field of the critic d’ art.”
And FreeTranslation.com was close to this, with “I am a painter not professional. I interest to be deepened myself in the’ field of the critic of art.”
So out of the eight services I tried, only three recognised that the enquirer was an amateur, not a professional – a fundamental point; and only one of them recognised that he/she was actually interested in learning about art criticism.
This unscientific exercise proved, if I needed it proving, that you cannot rely on online services to do what humans should be doing. I took this as a welcome confirmation of the value of my decision to train as a proofreader and editor for my second career. But then I found another spam message on my website, whose authorship I was less able to identify as human or electronic. It read “Your blog is very interesting. When did you last update? I found 24 spelling errors.”
I deleted that one very quickly.