MT causes diplomatic snafu
Thread poster: Abdellatif Bouhid

Abdellatif Bouhid  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:05
English to French
+ ...
Nov 10, 2007

Online translator sparks diplomatic row
Babelfish causes 'mother' of all errors

Matt Chapman, 09 Nov 2007

An email sent to the Dutch foreign ministry by a group of Israeli journalists has sparked a diplomatic row, thanks to an unreliable translation by Babelfish.

The journalists wrote a set of questions before a planned fact-finding trip to The Netherlands, running them through the online translation tool to turn them into Dutch.

The beginning of the email read: 'Helloh bud, enclosed five of the questions in honor of the foreign minister: The mother your visit in Israel is a sleep to the favor or to the bed your mind on the conflict are Israeli Palestinian.'

The translation was flawed as Babelfish confused 'ha'im', the Hebrew word for 'if', with 'ha'ima', which means 'mother'.

Another question in the email asked: 'Why we did not heard on mutual visits of main the states of Israel and Holland, this is in the country of this?' And a third said: 'What in your opinion needs to do opposite the awful the Iranian of Israel?'

"How could this email possibly have been sent?" an Israeli diplomat told the Jerusalem Post. "These journalists have sparked a major incident."

Original link to this story

[Edited at 2007-11-10 15:14]


GoodWords  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:05
Spanish to English
+ ...
Please see existing thread Nov 10, 2007

There is a discussion of this incident at


Ralf Lemster  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:05
English to German
+ ...
CAT? Nov 10, 2007

Hi Abdellatif,
What I don't get is where a CAT (= computer-assisted translation) tool comes in - this is about machine translation, isn't it?

Best regards,


Abdellatif Bouhid  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:05
English to French
+ ...
Thanks Ralf Nov 10, 2007

Please read MT instead of CAT.


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:05
English to French
+ ...
If they really have to use MT, they could at least pick the right one Nov 10, 2007

I am not surprised at all anymore at such incidents. But I still wonder how these people came to the conclusion that Babelfish was the right MT tool. Compare it to the other major MT tools, and you'll soon realize that although Babelfish was a pioneer in MT, their tool, as opposed to others which have been launched since, has not evolved. If they really have to use an MT tool, why not use Google Translate? It is worlds apart in terms of quality. Although Google Translate is still not good enough to replace a flesh and blood translator, I am sure that its results would have made much more sense.

It is not the use of MT that strikes me, but rather how innocently the MT tool was chosen. Beats me...

EDIT: I just realized that Google doesn't offer translation from/into Hebrew. I am now wondering how many MT tools are available to people looking to translate from Hebrew. Well, at least our colleagues who have Hebrew in their language combinations will not be asked anytime soon to proofread MT - which is just as well. At least, we have learned one positive thing from this thread...

[Edited at 2007-11-10 15:41]


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:05
Flemish to English
+ ...
Cronica de una muerte anunciada. Nov 11, 2007

Instead of posting this gaffe as an illustration of how "terrible" machine translation is, we'd better be concerned. With the current state of M.T., it is not possible to produce good translations. With the future state of M.T., the role of the translator will be reduced to rewriting translations churned out by M.T. Googletranslate may not be able to produce good translations, but with the financial means and the people working at google (mathematicians, linguists) at their disposal and a database fed by corrections people make when using googletranslate, in other words giving their TM to google, CATs will become obsolete and M.T. will be the big issue.
Where was google in 1997 and where is the company now?

[Edited at 2007-11-11 09:49]


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:05
English to French
+ ...
I don't agree Nov 25, 2007

Williamson wrote:

With the future state of M.T., the role of the translator will be reduced to rewriting translations churned out by M.T.

I know that such work has been assigned to translators lately, but I also know that translators are becoming increasingly aware of this, and we all more or less have the same opinion on this tendency - we don't want to be a part of this. I could name several translators who had such jobs proposed to them and they refused flat out.

No matter how well MT will evolve, it will never replace humans and it will always need human intervention to make sensible translations. If those humans refuse to touch MT - it will not go any farther than being a tool used to write e-mails to penpals and to make sense of foreign newspapers when browsing the internet. I don't think MT is a threat to translators.


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MT causes diplomatic snafu

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