Today, as you most likely know, is Talk Like a Pirate Day. Of all the holidays on the silly side of the spectrum, this is surely one of the most famous – the amount of websites and blogs dedicated to the day is mind-boggling, and it even features regularly in the news.
My personal theory on the popularity of the day is that it is all thanks to technology, and more specifically machine translation and social media. Thanks to advances in machine translation there are numerous translators available on the web and downloadable as smartphone apps, allowing you to enter a sentence or phrase in English, and instantly get some pirate-speak version of the phrase spat back at you.
And thanks to social media, every poster and tweeter becomes a foul-mouthed pirate for a day, filling up cyberspace with their pirate-speak wisdom.
While many of these pirate-speak translators only perform the most basic word substitutions, with perhaps a small set of additional linguistic rules, the fact remains that machine translation – not long ago still only the subject of science fiction and academic research – has well and truly become part of our daily lives.
Machine translation can be done using a range of different techniques, including rule-based, statistical and example-based translation – different approaches work best in different applications. While no systems have yet achieved the ultimate goal of fully automated, high-quality machine translation of general text, massive progress are still being made, and excellent results have been achieved when applying machine translation within limited, well defined domains, for example weather reports or legal documents. The technology also deals effective with short phrases, making it very useful in search engines, social media sites and the like.
Getting back to Talk like a Pirate Day, here’s the results from a few web-based pirate-speak translators, using as our input the classic opening line from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (1952), “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”
“Blimey! He was an barnacle-covered scurvy dog who fished alone in a skiff in thee Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” (http://speakpirate.com/)
“He be an old man who fished alone in a skiff in th’ Gulf Stream an’ he had gone eighty-four days now without takin’ a fish.”
“The orrrnerrry cuss werrre bein’ an barrrnacle-coverrr’d swashbucklerrr who fish’d like an isle in a skiff in th’ Gulf Strrream and he had gone eighty-fourrr days now without takin’ a fish, and a bottle of rum!.”
“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in t’ Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without takin’ a fish.”
Well there you have it – conclusive prove that not all translators are created equal! Whichever dialect you opt for, have fun and enjoy all the seafaring silliness. 🙂