The problem with translations

This post will be about translations. More precisely, it will be about translations that are performed without proofreading by a person that understands the target language and without the kind of quality control that saves the translator from the shame of a badly translated system. This is actually a wide-spread problem when it comes to computer systems where the target language is a small language like Icelandic. So I’m going to use as a prime example for bad translations (somewhat in the hope that they will pull themselves together and fix that which is broken).

In this post I will first post a problem, and then I will attempt to explain just why it’s wrong or broken. Please remember that I’m not a linguist – I’m just better than average when it comes to languages. Not much better – just a bit.

Days, dates, time and spelling.

Calendar ( Dagbók ) => Yfirlit => Fyrsti dagur vikunnar (first day of the week).

first day of the week

When you have a list of days where you can pick a specific day, the day would end in „-ur“, as in „sunnudagur“ – a sunday, not „sunnudag“ which means you’re talking about the sunday, but not specifying it as a choice; Icelandic rules are
* (Nf. Hér er) sunnudagur ( here is sunday, this is sunday )
* (Þf. Um) sunnudag ( about sunday )
* (Þgf. Frá) sunnudegi ( from sunday )
* (Ef. Til) sunnudags ( to sunday )
All the days in that list take an „-ur“ ending ( dagur )

Same screen: Sýna vinnuviku sem: (show work week as)

spot the odd one out

All of the entries are correct – except the odd one out.

Still the same menu – „Útlit viðburðar“ (Look of event (?))

How does the event get displayed?

„viðburður“ is a male gendered word. „Ljóst“ is a neuter gendered adjective (it should be „Ljós“) and „Feitletrun“ should be „Feitletraður“ („Feitletrun“ is boldface but „Feitletraður“ is something male gendered that boldface has been applied to.)

(This paragraph has been edited) And the last choice in this section is something that was translated as „Altæk dagbók“. Why someone would call something an „Absolute/Universal diary“ is lost on me – but it is absolutely not proper in any way. I suspect it is originally „General calendar“ which would be more properly translated as „Almennt dagatal“ or „Almenn dagbók“. As for the last option in the picture; „Velja gerð dagbók:“ – this is incoherent at best. The title uses incorrect forms of the words („Velja gerð dagbókar“ is more proper but still lacks the correct reference – the reference to a calendar format). The choices are „Gregorískt“, „Hijri“, „Umm Al-Quara“, „Hebreska“ and „Saka tímatal“. The title could be „Veldu tímatal fyrir dagbókina“ or „Veldu í hvaða tímatali færslur í dagbókinni eru færðar“. Additionally, if these are all types of calendars, then either add „tímatal“ at the end of each and everyone, or none. And „Hebreska“ is a reference to the Hebrew language. „Hebreskt“ is a reference to something of neuter gender being Hebrew (like a calendar).

Interestingly enough, I started this post because I found the date formats to be wrong. The shortened month was written with a capital letter – which is incorrect in Icelandic. But now, only a few hours after I mentioned it – it’s fixed.

This used to be wrong, but isn’t anymore. Wo-hoo!

Then there’s the „it’s not wrong, technically, but…“

„To see a list of all hotkeys you should press the key of the questionmark (?) or click here.“
„Til að sjá lista allra flýtilykla skaltu ýta á spurningamerki eða smella hér.“
Much better.

I haven’t gone through all options in all menus – I simply don’t have the time. But this should give an idea as to just why it is so important to hire a professional linguist with a verifiable track record to oversee translation work. You just can’t trust something like Google Translate or ChatGPT to translate the text for you. Translations from a language that is largely neuter and only has two forms (with and without a possessive suffix) to a language where all three genders are used and 16 forms are always goind to be complex and they will always have to be done in context of the translation. Machine translations will – for now – be nothing more than an approximation. A human must have a hand in place.