August 30, 2007

"UAT Instructor Creates Cuneiform and Hieroglyphic Translator"

An announcement at Marketwire claims that Joe McCormack, an instructor at the University of Advancing Technology (warning: awful Flash website with unreadable text and high buzzword density), has created a program that translates English into ancient Egyptian, Akkadian, and Sumerian. The story has made it to Slashdot, and the Marketwire story reports that McCormack is "talking with museums and institutions to garner further exposure".

Let's nip this one in the bud, before the BBC picks it up, and before any ill-informed museums or schools start using this thing. It doesn't work. I don't know much Akkadian or Sumerian, but I do have a fair knowledge of Egyptian, enough to test this translator. If you enter single words, it will often return a reasonable result, though in a number of cases the result is not what I would consider the usual word or spelling. The system doesn't seem to have a very large vocabulary. Quite a few of the words I tried were missing, including both ordinary words like "silent" and names of major Egyptian gods. If, however, you enter sentences, the result is invariably gibberish. This system has no knowledge of Egyptian grammar. The word order is all wrong. The verbs are not inflected. For possessed forms of nouns, which are formed with suffixes in Egyptian, some of the affixes are wrong, and in all cases that I tested they are in the wrong position.

This system is not a translator. It is a crude lexical lookup system, basically just a dictionary. It is probably fun to play with if you don't know the languages, but it is way over-hyped, and if used by schools and museums will be terribly misleading to people who would actually like to learn about these ancient languages.

Posted by Bill Poser at August 30, 2007 03:15 AM