Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Software Science

Assyrian, Babylonian, Sumerian Translator Created 189

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-does-the-clay-tablet-say dept.
DrJackson writes "A new online translator that can translate Assyrian, Babylonian, Sumerian and Egyptian hieroglyphics (1 of the 3 types anyway) has been developed. This is the first time I ever saw a translator for cuneiform. Something like this would be great for translating interesting historical records like the Amarna Letters."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Assyrian, Babylonian, Sumerian Translator Created

Comments Filter:
  • bo-ring (Score:5, Funny)

    by heptapod (243146) <heptapod@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:22PM (#20406661) Journal
    wake me when they can do pnakotic
  • I didn't think they'd cracked modern language translation yet....I dread to think what these things'll output when you feed them a bunch of test.

    Still this is slashdot and hardly anybody here speaks two languages so expect a bunch of gibberish.

    PS: No, my everyday language isn't English. I hardly ever get to speak English with real people.

  • yes, but (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Does it support UTF-8? :)
  • Uh...right. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by piyamaradus (447473) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:31PM (#20406743)
    As a technologist who also reads ancient Egyptian (from college) as well as Akkadian (== Assyrian & Babylonian, with slightly different scripts over the years) and Sumerian, I can fairly readily call shenanigans on this one. The sophistication of translation here is about as deep as the 'your name in hieroglyphs' stuff you find in museum stores and the horrid Dover reprints of Budge's books.

    And don't even get me started on Sumerian. Professional Sumerologists still can't render half of the agglutinative morphemes that appear in Sumerian verbs.
    • by Rebelgecko (893016) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @10:11PM (#20407049)

      As a technologist who also reads ancient Egyptian (from college) as well as Akkadian (== Assyrian & Babylonian, with slightly different scripts over the years) and Sumerian, I can fairly readily call shenanigans on this one. The sophistication of translation here is about as deep as the 'your name in hieroglyphs' stuff you find in museum stores and the horrid Dover reprints of Budge's books.

      And don't even get me started on Sumerian. Professional Sumerologists still can't render half of the agglutinative morphemes that appear in Sumerian verbs.
      I definitely agree with you on translating difficulties. When your last sentence was translated into English, most of it came out as gibberish!
      • by El Torico (732160)
        Since you are an authority, I have a question. I'm about 2 miles from the Ziggurat of Ur and I'll be here for a while; do you have any suggestions on how best to appreciate it?
        • Re:Uh...right. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by piyamaradus (447473) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @11:31AM (#20412015)
          Well, the destruction of antiquities after the American invasion was a crime against humanity -- not just a crime against one people, but against all peoples. This is not meant to be a political statement or belittle what the folks there are trying to do, but a horror all the same.

          So, as an archaeologist and historian, I would say:

          1) Take nothing, damage nothing. Buy no antiquities -- the black market in looted antiquities has exploded from the war and whenever a tablet is illicitly dug up and sold, it's lost its provenance and a significant part of its value to historians. Remember -- there's a finite amount of archaeological material out there and whenever something is looted, humanity's story is diminished. There are huge amounts that we know about the beginnings of civilization from single fragments. When they're lost, they're gone forever.

          2) Tell your comrades to do the same. It's not just the current generation that will thank you.

          3) Realize that you are standing on a land older by far than anything we know here in the US. Ur was ancient when Rome was a collection of huts on a hill. And when Ur was built cities around it were already in ruins. Uruk (Unug in Sumerian) nearby was where writing seems to have first originated, and was a metropolis of 40-50,000 people five thousand years ago. And in those very first written texts, so early that they're entirely pictographic and are more encoded bookkeeping documents than language, one of the prominent signs is easily recognizable as the (known later) Sumerian word DUL -- a mound, a ruin -- in these texts, a place unsuitable for planting because it was a city site already, at what we think of as the beginnings of history, old beyond time.

          3a) And you'll know the word DUL well. It survives, through Akkadian -> Aramaic -> Arabic, as the word Tell, which you probably hear every day in place names where a site is built on older ruins piled up over the plains.

          4) Lastly, when the full moon is out and hangs over the ziqqurat of Ur, whisper a prayer to Nanna (Sin/Suen in Akkadian), the Moon god who was the patron of the place, and whose temple that once was, and beseech him once again to restore peace unto his land and his people.

          • by _Sharp'r_ (649297)

            2) Tell your comrades to do the same.

            I'm sorry, you seem to be confusing the US with the soviets....

            (I know, I couldn't resist though.)
    • Re:Uh...right. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @10:31PM (#20407189)
      I'll second that with the note that one should look at the sources that McCormack is using for his history of Sumer section. Citing Woolley is great, he is one of archeology's giants, but I must respectfully question drawing conclusions from Waddell for any language model / history. His model of hyperdiffusionism has been long discredited among scholars. I will also note the general lack of citation of recent scholarship in McCormack's pages or any recent work linguistic work by reputable scholars.
      One should point out that our understanding of Sumerian history and language, especially, has changed extensively since the 1930's.
      I think an online English -> Sumerian / Akkadian reference is a great idea. The EPSD from the University of Pennsylvania is a terrific reference along those lines, for example.
      That being said, even if the scholarship in the engine were sound, machine translation is also in its infancy for languages that we _fully_ understand, let alone Sumerian whose grammatical structure is highly debated among scholars.
    • by SlowMovingTarget (550823) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @10:33PM (#20407199) Homepage

      And don't even get me started on Sumerian. Professional Sumerologists still can't render half of the agglutinative morphemes that appear in Sumerian verbs.

      Pffft. That's because they don't have DirectX 10 on Vista, which has had agglutinative morpheme rendering for like forever already.

    • agglutinative morphemes

      Uh, I think you forgot to translate this to English...

    • Professional Sumerologists still can't render half of the agglutinative morphemes that appear in Sumerian verbs.

      My thoughts exactly.

      (Actually I have no idea what I just wrote, but I'm saving it up for my next dinner party to impress the chicks.)
      • Actually in this case, it's the chicks who learned enough Sumerian to impress other people - they're a local women's choral group [zambra.org] who perform in something like 17 languages, because it's just not enough to do several different Gaelic-family languages and Bulgarian and Seneca or have the main dead languages you perform in be Latin and classical Greek. (I forget whether the Hebrew they do is ancient or modern, or whether Ladino counts as a dead language yet, but it's a relatively recent language either way.
    • by Tumbleweed (3706) *

      "Must have used Budge; I don't know why they keep reprinting his books." ;)
    • Re:Uh...right. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by belmolis (702863) <billposer@@@alum...mit...edu> on Thursday August 30, 2007 @02:42AM (#20408489) Homepage

      I can confirm this. I know Egyptian. If you enter single words, you may get a reasonable translation back, though in several cases what I got is not what I would consider the usual word or spelling. If you enter actual sentences, however, the result is in every case gibberish. This system has no understanding at all of Egyptian morphology (conjugation of verbs etc.) or of Egyptian syntax. The verbs are not inflected, the words are in the wrong order. This is not a translation system, it is a crude dictionary.

    • I agree, that last document made no sense. Something about keymaster, gatekeeper, and Zuul.
    • I want to be in your field if only to be able to use words like "agglutinative morphemes."
    • by Gilmoure (18428)
      Professional Sumerologists still can't render half of the agglutinative morphemes that appear in Sumerian verbs.

      I want this on a t-shirt.
    • I've been a fan of Ancient Egyptian language and religion for 20 years now. I know a few words off the top of my head, and it correctly translated them from English. This is far more sophisticated than "your name in hieroglyphics" tricks. For example, the word for "sand" can be transliterated as "sh-ah-y." ... were it simply transliterating into Egyptian (as the "your name in hieroglyphics" mechanisms do), it would come out as "s-a-n-d" using the either Egyptian alef (hawk) or ayin (arm) for the A.

      All

  • by JoshWurzel (320371) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:32PM (#20406745) Homepage
    Now I can finally find out what the capital of Assyria is! I hope its not "aaaarrrrhhhh"
  • by WwWonka (545303)
    "Something like this would be great for translating interesting historical records like the Amarna Letters."

    God, I was just telling my friend Akakakakallatatatmah the exact same thing today! weird.
  • by orionop (1139819) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:35PM (#20406767) Journal
    for the unfortunate translations of the Epic of Gilgamesh that rival the hilarity of the google translation of the japanese amazon site.
  • by Virak (897071) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:36PM (#20406781) Homepage
    Machine translation sucks. Among other things, idioms, set phrases, wordplay, and most importantly the fact that there is rarely a one-to-one mapping between languages (often resulting in either a loss of information or requiring missing information to be added, which often requires knowledge of the culture of the language's people) all present challenges that make it unlikely that anything short of human-like AI (or very close) will be able to do good translations. Or to put it more briefly, "Nothing to see here. Please move along."
  • Great! Maybe now we can finally figure out where the Stargate, err Chapai I mean, is buried!
    • Doctorate in Ancient Languages: US$100,000
      A Library of reference books (including that moron Budge): $200,000
      Plane ticket to [redacted]: $500
      Knowing that you are the only one on the PLANET that can read this tablet (and you have to save the world AGAIN):

      PRICELESS
  • This translates only from English to those languages, making it far less valuable than the other way around.

    I have visited a number of websites over the years which did something similar, if perhaps not as accurately or to as many languages.

    Also, this caught my interest:
    The website translator engine took approximately an hour to create, with the language database occupying two hundred hours to line up cuneiforms and hieroglyphics with text descriptors and make a hierarchy to prioritize the information.

    So th
  • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:44PM (#20406853)
    Zecharia Sitchin's money making scheme...
  • by sbjornda (199447) <sbjornda&hotmail,com> on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:47PM (#20406887)
    Read the article, then go to the web site. The web site translates FROM English TO the other languages. So there are no secrets revealed here. Unless you plan on revealing your personal secrets to someone from 3000 years ago by sending them through some sort of time machine.

    -- .nosig
    • by Anonymous Coward
      IMPORTANT, can somebody translate this for me, A.S.A.P.??

      "Good evening. As a duly designated representative of the City, County, and State of New York, I order you to cease any, and all, supernatural activity and return forthwith to your place of origin, or to the nearest convenient parallel dimension."
  • by eric2hill (33085) <eric@i j a ck.net> on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:57PM (#20406949) Homepage
    Will it translate casting liquified limestone [slashdot.org] correctly?

    I swear, that was the funniest damn thing I've seen on slashdot.
    • While the posting you're pointing to is funnier than this posting of mine (:-), what your comment reminded me of is the spam that I used to get lots of for some training company in Cairo that mostly does civil engineering. If I need to know the *current* regulations for casting liquified limestone in Egypt, they might be the people to go to, but they were so persistent for such a long time that I'd really have liked to cast their mail server in the stuff, and their ISP was the monopoly telco which had no i
  • There must be no good articles today.
    Assyrian translation - translated words/letters in ()
    there must be no (good) (a)rticles (to)day
  • Oh good! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Chairboy (88841) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @09:59PM (#20406963) Homepage
    I've been meaning to write a 'Hello world' Nam-shub...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by 427_ci_505 (1009677)
      How about one that instructs people how to bake bread?
    • Hey, do you want to try some snowcrash?

      01111001011011110111010101110010001000000110001001 11001001100001011010010110111000100111011100110010 00000110011001110101011000110110101101100101011001 00001000000111010101110000001000000110111001101111 01110111001011000010000001001000010000010010000001 0010000100000100100000010010000100000100100001
  • And the OCC just got a little more interesting to judge.

    This program reads itself in from stdin(claytablet), compiles a compiler, then writes itself back out to stddout(claytablet). User is required to ensure resulting program is properly baked to prevent data loss.
    • by jamstar7 (694492)

      This program reads itself in from stdin(claytablet), compiles a compiler, then writes itself back out to stddout(claytablet). User is required to ensure resulting program is properly baked to prevent data loss.

      As opposed to politicians who are half-baked at best?

      Personally, I'm waiting for the Sumerian to English version of this turkey so we can read their political speeches & see we really haven't made that much progress after all...

  • booooooring! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zeromorph (1009305) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @10:16PM (#20407091)

    The whole page is total crap:

    The Only thing the "translator" does is taking an English word and match it with lemmata in a lexicon then it takes the first hit and then it goes on. Try typing "I have seen you" you'll get "[I] [have] [see]n [you]" it simply cuts of the "n" of seen and leaves it there because it can only find uninflected forms. This is less than nothing.

    And by the way the statement "For best results, use simple words as language has developed a lot since the time of this ancient language." under translation is one of the most stupid things I have read on an academic page language dedicated to some aspect of language. They should just take a Sanskrit dictionary (or whatever ... Maya ... Classical Chinese). Language then and now is pretty much the same, but apparently in some places technology hasn't developed that much, grumblegrumblegrumble...

  • by noewun (591275) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @10:24PM (#20407147) Journal
    "It says, 'bird, camel, Horus, snake, bundle of reeds!' "
  • by Darth_Keryx (740371) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @10:40PM (#20407241) Homepage
    I tried a few basic phrases where I know (from graduate school) what the Akkadian should be. "If a man kills..." (shumma awilum idak, if I recall) from Hammurapi's Code. "For the gods" (ana ilani). "An adoption tablet" (tuppi maruti, all over the place especially in Nuzi tablets). Only a few words were represented correctly, and surely through the simplistic "this English word matches" method. I was shocked that even "kills" and "gods" were not rendered correctly. The script on the site tells me that terribly outdated sources were used. Tried the same for a few very simple Egyptian phrases. "The city is in joy" (all over the place in Gardiner, 3rd ed) (result not too bad on this one). "The priest hears the god". What? No flag (n-ch-r, sign for deity)? Few years ago I researched how to write out "God is Love" and "God loves you" (for Vacation Bible School, the theme was archeology-past), and I scoured Gardiner to make sure I got the grammar just right. Oh heck not even close - only correct part was mr for love, but should be mrwt for the noun. Don't get me on the Sumerian tests. Really disgustingly simple stuff from temple dedicatory inscriptions (I had just one semester of Sumerian). Well... got dingir for "god" but that's about it. Sorry. 10/10 for good intentions... but minus several million for the results. Sorry. 10/10 for good intentions... but minus several million for the results.
  • The Assyrian is the only one I care about, since their tool age archer rush is one of the most unstoppable forces in the history of man.

  • Oh come on! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by glwtta (532858) on Wednesday August 29, 2007 @11:09PM (#20407401) Homepage
    Hieroglyphs.

    "Hieroglyphic" is an adjective. Is that so hard?
  • they could come up with a translator for freshman chicken-scratch...
    school districts could actually spend their money on some worthwhile software!
  • by davidc (91400) <davidcNO@SPAMccmi.salk.edu> on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:00AM (#20407743)
    It doesn't even have a translation for "cheezburger", let alone "bukkit"...
  • by photomonkey (987563) on Thursday August 30, 2007 @12:05AM (#20407775)

    As a person who studied Latin at the high school and collegiate level, I know that much of what is 'worth' translating academically has already been translated by other academics. Sure, a scholar might be able to come up with his own unique translation, but that is not something that can be done by a machine.

    A dear friend of mine is an Egyptologist, and I know his struggles in translating writings from different regions of the empire, let alone differences dynasty to dynasty.

    Since even the best computer translators (and I mean the corporately deployed ones, not just freebie Web stuff like BabelFish) mangle all but the simplest Spanish, French and German (I can't say anything about Asian languages, as I can't speak or read any) phrases, how can we expect any level of reliability in translating languages that even leading scholars struggle with?

    Besides, the most difficult part of translating anything stems from the fact that any person seldom speaks or writes as he should. The rules of language are bent, twisted and altered into regional dialects and strings of ethnic and cultural phraseology. In the Spanish language, a word may take on one meaning in Mexico, and entirely another in Spain. Nevermind the fact that, at least in my experience, Spanish Spanish is significantly different from Mexican Spanish. And those are two languages that diverged only a matter of hundreds of years ago, as opposed to the thousands often seen in dead languages.

    This is very interesting to me, but until we have widely-available computers that can understand the subtle nuances of tone, inflection, humor and colloquialisms, the computer translation will never best, or even come close to a careful academic translation, or a translation done by a human fluent in both languages, if not academically trained in both languages.

  • in my everyday life. Now if they one day invent one that can translate nonsense english into real english I'd be in heaven.

    Cool idea though. Wonder if it works, all my texts are in living langaguges. STDK
  • Here I was, hoping to upload pictures I took of some untranslated clay tablets, and then I find it only goes the other way! That doesn't help me very much :(
  • A lot of people here are having a good giggle about how lame this translator is ..

    But keep in mind a simple fact before you laugh too loud :

    - If the Mars explorer missions find artifacts of a prior civilisation on the face of the red planet ... then they are most likely to be culturally similar / identical to Sumerian culture found here on Earth.

    Ruins of temples, memorials, grand stadiums, works of art and science - if such things are soon found on mars, then the chances are that they wont be enscribed in m

  • I was very excited to read the /. headline but honestly, this is rubbish. They've just got a big file in which each row is an English word and an image location -- it doesn't translate at all, it just looks up some *extremely* dubious images based on grepping for an image that matches each word in the input.

    I don't read cuneiform but for hieroglyphs I swear it's as if they scanned in the pages of some 'The Wonder Of Ancient Egypt' type book and cut them into individual gifs. They didn't even start with a
  • What is the Sumerian for "You have no chance to survive make you time"?
  • It's been over 12 hours, and no Snow Crash reference, yet?
  • nobody's got the modern online manual figured out yet.
  • All I get back is "My hovercraft is full of eels".
  • Wow, does it do Egyptian Hieroglyphs as well?

  • So how do I enter the hieroglyphics for translation in the first place?
  • BTW, in case anyone wants ACTUALLY to learn egyptian hieroglyphic, Gardiner, as someone mentioned above, is the place to start, despite being 50 years old. All the 'idiot's guide to egyptian' type books, or the dover reprints, are crap and totally obsolete. And fresh from my mailbox, here's Gardiner on super discount (in college, I had to pay $100 for it and go without sunday dinner for a month):

    http://www.eisenbrauns.com/wconnect/wc.dll?ebGate~ EIS~~~~NEWSLIST [eisenbrauns.com]

10 to the 12th power microphones = 1 Megaphone

Working...