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Google Translate and the Basilisk

24 December 2016

As of November, Google Translate has been using an A.I.-based system for translating between English and Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Turkish.

As it happens, earlier this year, on about 6 May, I tested Google Translate's capabilities in translating a passage from some foreign translations of Harry Potter back into English. My test covered French, German, Chinese (two versions), and Japanese. (Regrettably I didn't try translating in the other direction, which would have been interesting.)

I reproduce the results delivered by the old Google Translate and the A.I. version below, without comment.

The paragraph concerned is the description of the Basilisk, which I covered some years ago at The Treatment of Relative Clauses in the Description of the Basilisk in Harry Potter (Book 2).


(British English Original -- J. K. Rowling)

Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, there is none more curious or more deadly than the Basilisk, known also as the King of Serpents. This snake, which may reach gigantic size, and live many hundreds of years, is born from a chicken's egg, hatched beneath a toad. Its methods of killing are most wondrous, for aside from its deadly and venomous fangs, the Basilisk has a murderous stare, and all who are fixed with the beam of its eye shall suffer instant death. Spiders flee before the Basilisk, for it is their mortal enemy, and the Basilisk flees only from the crowing of the rooster, which is fatal to it.


(French version, Harry Potter et la Chambre des secrets, translated by Jean-François Ménard)

De tous les monstres et créatures qui hantent nos contrées, il n'en est guère de plus étrange ni de plus mortel que le Basilic, connu également sous le nom de Roi des Serpents. Ce reptile, qui peut atteindre une taille gigantesque et vivre plusieurs centaines d'années, naît d'un œuf de poulet couvé par un crapaud. Pour tuer ses victimes, la créature recourt à une méthode des plus singulières : outre ses crochets venimeux, le Basilic possède en effet des yeux meurtriers qui condamnent à une mort immédiate quiconque croise son regard. Il répand également la terreur parmi les araignées dont il est sans nul doute le plus mortel ennemi. Le monstre, quant à lui, redoute plus que tout le chant du coq qui lui est fatal si d'aventure il lui parvient aux oreilles.

(Google Translate's translation into English)

Old:

Of all the monsters and creatures that haunt our country, it is hardly more strange or more deadly than the Basilisk, also known as the King of Serpents. This reptile, which can reach gigantic size and live many hundreds of years, is born from a chicken egg hatched by a toad. To kill its victims, the creature uses a most singular method: in addition to its venomous fangs, the Basilisk has indeed murderous eyes condemned to immediate death anyone who crosses his eyes. It also spreads terror among the spiders which he is undoubtedly the most deadly enemy. The monster, meanwhile, more concerned that all the crowing of the cock that is fatal to him if by chance he manages his ears.

New:

Of all the monsters and creatures that haunt our countries, there is hardly any stranger or more mortal than the Basilisk, also known as the King of Serpents. This reptile, which can reach a gigantic size and live several hundred years, is born of a chicken egg brooded by a toad. To kill its victims, the creature uses a most singular method: in addition to its poisonous hooks, the Basilis has indeed murderous eyes that condemn to an immediate death anyone who crosses his gaze. He also spreads terror among the spiders of which he is without doubt the most mortal enemy. The monster, for his part, fears more than all the song of the cock that is fatal to him if it reaches his ears.


(German version, Harry Potter und die Kammer des Schreckens, translated by Klaus Fritz)

Von den vielen Furcht erregenden Biestern und Monstern, die unser Land durchstreifen, ist keines seltsamer oder tödlicher als der Basilisk, auch bekannt als der König der Schlangen. Diese Schlange, die eine gigantische Größe erreichen und viele hundert Jahre alt werden kann, wird aus einem Hühnerei geboren, das von einer Kröte ausgebrütet wird. Der Basilisk tötet auf höchst wunderliche Weise, denn außer seinen tödlichen und giftigen Zähnen hat der Basilisk einen mörderischen Blick, und alle, die in den Bann seiner Augen geraten, erleiden den sofortigen Tod. Spinnen fliehen vor dem Basilisken, denn er ist ihr tödlicher Erbfeind, und der Basilisk entflieht nur dem Krähen des Hahns, das tödlich für ihn ist.

(Google Translate's translation into English)

Old:

Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, none odd or deadly than the Basilisk, also known as the king of snakes. This snake, which reach a gigantic size and many can be a hundred years old, was born from an egg, which is incubated by a toad, The basilisk kills in a most miraculous way, because except its deadly and venomous teeth of the Basilisk has a murderous look, and all those who fall under the spell of his eyes, suffer instant death. Spiders flee before the Basilisk, for it is their fatal hereditary enemy, and the Basilisk flees only the crowing of the cock, which is fatal for him.

New:

Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land is no stranger or more deadly than the Basilisk, also known as the King of Serpents. This serpent, which reaches a gigantic size and can be many hundred years old, is born from a hen's egg hatched by a toad. The Basilisk kills in a most miraculous way, for, besides his deadly and poisonous teeth, the Basilisk has a murderous look, and all who get caught in the spell of his eyes suffer instant death. Spiders are fleeing before the Basilisk, for he is their deadly hereditary enemy, and the Basilisk escapes only the crow of the cock, which is deadly to him.


(Chinese version, simplified characters, 哈利·波特与密室, translated by 马爱新)

在我们国家,游荡着许多可怕的野兽和怪物,其中最离奇、最具有杀伤力的莫过于蛇怪,又被称为蛇王。这种蛇的体积可以变得十分巨大,通常能活好几百年。它是从一只公鸡蛋里、由一只癞蛤蟆孵出的。它杀人的方式十分惊人,除了它致命的毒牙外,蛇怪的瞪视也能致人死亡,任何人只要被它的目光盯住,就会立刻丧命。蜘蛛看到蛇怪就会逃跑,因为蛇怪是蜘蛛的死敌,而蛇怪只有听见公鸡的叫声才会仓皇逃命,因为公鸡的叫声对它来说也是致命的。

(Google Translate's translation into English)

Old:

In our country, a lot of wandering terrible beasts and monsters, the most bizarre, the most lethal than the basilisk, also known as loafing. Volume snake may become very large, usually can live for hundreds of years. It is from a male eggs, hatched by a toad. It is amazing the way the murder, in addition to its deadly fangs, the basilisk glare can cause death, anyone who has been pegged its eyes, would instantly killed. Spiders see basilisk will escape, because the basilisk is the sworn enemy of spiders, snakes and strange sounds only heard the rooster will run for her life, because it is also the cry of the cock fatal.

New:

In our country, wandering with many terrible beasts and monsters, one of the most bizarre, the most lethal than the snake, also known as the snake king. The size of this snake can become very large, usually able to live for hundreds of years. It was hatched from a cock egg by a toad. It is a very striking way of killing, in addition to its deadly fangs, the stupid peephole can also cause death, as long as anyone stared at it, it will immediately die. The spider saw that the serpent would flee, for the serpent was the mortal enemy of the spider, and the serpent had only heard the rooster's cry to escape, for the rooster's voice was fatal to it.


(Chinese version, traditional characters, 哈利波特—消失的密室, translated by 彭倩文)

在我們國土上漫遊的眾多可怕野獸與怪物裡面,其中最希罕,同時也是最危險的種類就是蛇妖,亦稱為萬蛇之王。此種可以成長到驚人尺寸,並擁有數百年壽命的蛇類,是由蟾蜍孵育雞蛋所生。牠最不可思議的特點是牠殺戮的方法,除了牠那致命的毒牙之外,蛇妖還擁有一種殺人的凝視,而所有與牠視線相接的人都會立刻死去。蜘蛛見到蛇妖就會落荒而逃,因為牠是牠們的天敵,但蛇妖唯一忌憚的卻是雄雞的啼叫,那對牠來說是奪命的魔音。

(Google Translate's translation into English)

Old:

In our homeland roaming on many terrible beasts and monsters inside, one of the most rare, but also the most dangerous species is the snake demon, also called the king of snakes. Such can grow to an impressive size, and has a lifespan of hundreds of years snakes, toads by incubating eggs were born. It is the most incredible feature is its method of killing, in addition to its deadly fangs, the snake demon also possess a killing stare, and all its people will die eye contact immediately. Spiders will see the snake demon fled, because it is their natural enemies, but the fear is the only snake demon crow of the rooster, that it is life-threatening magic sound.

New:

In our land roaming many terrible beasts and monsters inside, which is the most rare, but also the most dangerous species is the snake demon, also known as the king of snakes. This can grow to amazing size, and has a life of hundreds of snakes, eggs are born by the toad incubation. It is the most incredible feature of its killing method, in addition to its deadly fangs, the snake demon also has a murderous gaze, and all people with its line of sight will immediately die. Spiders see the snake demon will fled, because it is their natural enemies, but the only fear of the snake demon rooster is the rooster, that it is deadly magic sound.


(Japanese version, ハリー・ポッターと秘密の部屋, translated by 松岡佑子)

我らが世界を徘徊する多くの怪獣、怪物の中でも、最も珍しく、最も破壊的であるという点で、バジリスクの右に出るものはない。『毒蛇の王』とも呼ばれる。この蛇は巨大に成長することがあり、何百年も生き長らえることがある。鶏の卵から生まれ、ヒキガエルの腹の下で孵化される。殺しの方法は非常に珍しく、毒牙による殺傷とは別に、バジリスクの一にらみは致命的である。その眼からの光線に捕われた者は即死する。蜘蛛が逃げ出すのはバジリスクが来る前触れである。なぜならバジリスクは蜘蛛の宿命の天敵だからである。バジリスクにとって致命的なのは雄鶏が時をつくる声で、唯一それからは逃げ出す。

(Google Translate's translation into English)

Old:

It has a lot of monster wandering the world, even in the monster, the most unusual, in that it is the most destructive, there is nothing to come out to the right of the basilisk. Also referred to as "the king of the Viper." This snake is able to grow huge, sometimes Nagaraeru live for hundreds of years. Born from the eggs of chickens, they are hatching under the toad belly. Method of killing is very unusual, and killing by poison fang separately, glaring one basilisk is fatal. Who was caught in the beam of light from the eye to instant death. Spider escaping is a harbinger that basilisk comes. Because basilisk is because it is a natural enemy of the spider of destiny. Fatal of the cock in the voice to create a time for the basilisk, the only escape from it.

New:

There are no on the right of the Basilisk in that we are the most unusual and most destructive among the many monsters and monsters we wander around the world. It is also called "king of a viper." This snake grows enormously, it can last for hundreds of years. Born from a chicken egg, it is hatched under the toad's toe. The way of killing is very rare, and apart from the killing by poisonous fang, the one of Basilisk is deadly. Those captured by the ray from that eye will die instantly. It is a harbinger that a basilisk comes when a spider escapes. Because Basilisk is a natural enemy of spider's fate. The fatal thing for Basilisk is the voice that the cock makes time and only escape from it.


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