Early live translation / Maschinelle Übersetzung im 19. Jahrhundert

Trevor’s scholarly translation (with footnotes disguised as sidenotes) of a chapter in Pío Baroja’s novel The adventures, inventions and mystifications of Silvester Paradox / Aventuras, inventos y mixtificaciones de Silvestre Paradox (1901) introduces an English conman called Mr Macbeth:

bq. Still not satisfied, Macbeth, drunk and impassive as ever, explained to the public an apparatus of his invention, the optical and acoustic translatoscope. The translatoscope was a simple apparatus—how simple!—based on the learned and little-known principle of Dr Philf, by which words, spoken or written, expand as they advance to the tropics and contract as they recede. Hence, the construction of a translatoscope requires nothing more than the combination of a system of convergent mechanisms that pass gradually to flat menisci and then to divergent menisci and place them in a tube. The menisci may be optical or acoustic, as is wished.
If one talks through one end of the tube in English, the words will issue from the tube’s other extremity in Spanish. The same occurs when one looks through the tube, since the translatoscope translates everything. The secret lies in nothing more than the calibration of the screws.

They are still trying to make this kind of thing work today.

3 thoughts on “Early live translation / Maschinelle Übersetzung im 19. Jahrhundert

  1. Ingmar: agreed. The way some people believe in perfect machine translation is very similar to this belief in snake oil, it seems to me.

    Chris: yes, I’m afraid my titles are getting more cryptic. I have usually tried to be plain enough for people looking at the RSS feed so they don’t waste their time clicking through when the entry is of no interest to them.

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