Man met Machine Translation (as well as, though not to be confused with, Machine Transliteration) the other day. A Facebook-facilitated re-encounter with one of my Hindi teachers from nearly thirty years ago finally prompted me to figure out how to write in proper Hindi script (Devanagari) on the computer. I figured it had to be doable in this day and age, and so it soon proved as the previous post shows, using Google IME, an easy to use transliteration system. You type in the Hindi word as you would “write” it using the Latin alphabet, and the program figures out the proper Hindi spelling in Devanagari. Magic.
Suitably impressed and enthused I started writing – Word, e-mail, WordPress, and then Facebook. Here’s the FB string. (Click on the image to enlarge.)
The responses have been interesting. Isobel starts in English in complimentary fashion, but switches to Gaelic to ask what it is. Michael replies to identify the language, and then goes on to explain, very accurately, what I’ve just been writing. I happen to know he’s multilingual, but hadn’t figured on Hindi being on his language list. Then Bill and Isobel write back to me – in Hindi! (OK, the grammar’s not perfect, but the message is clear if contradictory – one inviting me to stop, while the other asks why…) Anyway, I’m impressed, and say so, whereupon my neighbour Nick breaks in with his own somewhat bookish and Sanskritic expression of wonderment, and asks, in Hindi, how it’s all done. Things eventually go quiet when I invite him round to the house so that we can continue our conversation – in Hindi… A surreal exchange, but great fun.
So what kind of language behaviour is it when the writer “writes” something without the aid of any human third party intervention that they can neither read nor say? And what motivates them to do it, anyway? There’s probably a PhD thesis in there for someone, but I think fun has got to have something to do with it – that and some kind of sense of adventure, a willingness to try out something new (I suspect Google Translate in this case, unless my friends have been keeping a secret from me) just because you know you can.
The moral of the story? Not sure, but maybe a couple – one general, one particular. Firstly, playing with language(s) is fun. We all do it, even if we only have one. मगर जब हमें सिर्फ एक ही भाषा से और भी आती हैं जिन के साथ और जिन के बीच हम खेल सकते हैं, तो और भी मज़ा आता है. (Hah, let’s see how Google Translate deals with multiple embeddings in subordinate clauses!) And secondly, it’s no small thing to get the bilingual genie back into its bottle once it’s come out to play – an inherently self-restrictive act. Tha còir aig luchd-ionnsachaidh na Gàidhlig gu sònraichte a bhith mothachail gu bheil dà chànan (aig a’ char as lugha) aig na fileantaich, agus gur e rud mòr a th’ ann a bhith ag iarraidh orra dìreach aonan a-mhàin a chleachdadh nuair a bhios sinn fhèin a’ bruidhinn riutha. Catch fichead ’s a trì?