We’re in the fourth inning

Let me start today’s post by honoring a revolutionary world inventor, Steve Jobs, on his passing, just a day after the new iPhone 4S was announced by Tim Cook this week. Some bloggers and news outlets were underwhelmed by this new iteration of the famous gizmo. There is one experimental feature, however, that deserves special mention.

Siri is a new feature in the iPhone 4S. According to media reports, it allows the user to speak to the phone not just statements like “Call Stan to go watch Thor” but queries such as “Any Jiffy Lubes in Orlando?” as well. While Siri is in beta mode (in English only, I suppose), I can imagine the use of its artificial intelligence (A.I.) engine to infer meaning from statements in other languages.

According to Fox News Latino, Spanish will be a challenge for voice recognition in Siri. So, we are forced to sit on our hands and wait. If A.I. through Siri could interpret Spanish phrases and commands in a fairly accurate fashion, it won’t be machine translation per se, but a new kind of computerized, on-the-fly foreign language interpretation.

In yesterday’s issue of USA Today’s Money section, Mike Thompson, mobile business head at Nuance Communications, says “We’re in the fourth inning –the rate of change and innovation is faster than ever before in speech. The accuracy and performance [are] getting better. (In the) next five innings, we’ll see greater and greater natural language.” I was happy to find a technical text with a sports metaphor. This can be an excellent exercise in writing to test your Spanish writers and translators.

Spanish translators knowledgeable in baseball understand the meaning of inning, one of nine divisions of play. It’s called entrada or manga in Spanish. Most translation services providers like to talk about high quality, faithful translations. Almost no one says a word about translation strategies or techniques, which are learned through a rigorous study of translation theories applied to practice.

If we use the equivalence strategy, we could search for a sports equivalence in Spanish –soccer or baseball, perhaps? But what about the meaning underneath the sports figure of speech? What does the author say with in the fourth inning? What does he say with in the next five innings? It doesn’t take us long to realize that the fourth inning is very close to half of the baseball game at 9 innings, as if he were saying we’re almost halfway.

How would your Spanish writer or translator express this?

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Spanish language, Style

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