Google Translate service replaced its phrase based (rule based) algorithms with a sophisticated “machine learning” (artificial intelligence) system. They released the new system on Nov 15, 2016. The theoretical background of their new approach is explained in this academic paper. Turkish/English translations are handled with the new system so I decided to test it with the text of my “Aşk Bir Yokluk Deniziymiş” post from my Turkish blog.
In the early days of translation algorithms Turkish was always the first language because Turkish was switched to the Roman script and regularized in the 1920s and 1930’s under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. This was a huge cultural effort. Because of this, it is easier to computer-program the rules of Turkish grammar compared to other languages. It turned out, however, that Turkish is actually very difficult to translate because Turkish speakers use many idioms and metaphors.
The Google Neural Machine Translation does an impressive job translating from Turkish to English but the overall result is not satisfactory because it tries to translate the aphorism “Aşk bir yokluk deniziymiş” and fails miserably. It is also odd that the aphorism is translated differently at different parts of the translation.
I have many complains but one is striking. In my Turkish text there is no mention of “Qur’an”. Why does Google insert that word in the translation?
I admit that my Turkish text is difficult to translate but clearly Google has a long way to go. One of my motivations here is to give machine translation researchers some feedback.
My translation of the Turkish text “Aşk Bir Yokluk Deniziymiş“(additional commentary helping the translation is written in square brackets ):
“Love is an ocean of Void” [literal translation of “Aşk bir yokluk deniziymiş”]. In popular [Turkish] culture this aphorism is used occasionally. Most recently, I have heard it in the TV series “Leyla ile Mecnun.” I believe “Aşk bir yokluk deniziymiş” is derived from a couplet in Rumi’s Masnevi.
I wanted to comment on this aphorism with the unbearable lightness of commenting. For a theoretician like me the subject of existence is irresistible. I know that words are incapable of expressing the truth of existence but ego wants to say something anyway.
In recent times, the subject of “creation ex nihilo” is being reinterpreted in the Western world. This is an old subject. In Turkish, the doctrine of “creation ex nihilo” is known as “yoktan varetti” [God created the universe from Void]. In the past, “creation ex nihilo” was once the official doctrine of Christian theology.
What Buddhists call “Shunya” is usually translated into English as “Void.” The Turkish translation of “Shunya” is “Yokluk” which is the word we encounter in the aphorism “Aşk bir yokluk deniziymiş.”
In the Western world the new interpretations of “creation ex nihilo” are being produced by athesists. The [few but vocal] atheist physicists have entered the scene and written books and articles with “something from nothing” flavor.
I care about terminology. I don’t understand why people refer to the ultimate reality [Absolute Being or Godhead] as Void? [In Turkish] I use the term “Öz” to refer to the Absolute Being. As I summarized in my Turkish post “Öz’e dair” the entire creation [Cosmos] is an emanation progressing in stages from the Absolute Being.
Some argue that it is harmless to use the terminology of Void. Words matter! In my opinion it is quite harmful to call Plenum as Void. [Here, I translated “varlık” as “plenum.” This is not the “plenum” of materialists. I use the term “plenum” in the same sense as the Kabbalah scholar Elliot R. Wolfson uses it].
What is meant by “Yoktan varetti” is not “something from nothing.” On the contrary, “Yoktan varetti” is meant to say that the Absolute Being allowed a portion of Itself to appear as forms.
During the process of creation Absolute Being allows a portion of Itself to transform into 3 stages that can be described as : 1) pure existence 2) the first cause of forms 3) Cosmos. Don’t forget that in each stage there is Unity of Being. The forms [Cosmos] do not have a separate existence.
Now, let’s talk about Love. In my opinion Love and Öz is the same. This is the true meaning of the aphorism “Aşk bir yokluk deniziymiş” which tries to convey the message that the infinite ocean of love and bliss is the only existence. We are talking about an infinity that words cannot describe. What we say or write does not make any difference but we try anyway. The entire Cosmos emerges from a drop of Divine Love.
[additional commentary: I am endlessly fascinated by the mystery that God has infinite number of names, attributes and dimensions while Godhead is nameless, dimensionless and free of attributes; yet, God and Godhead is the same!. No insight into this mystery can be gained without transforming the ego into a transparent form with the fire of Divine Love and eventually surrendering the ego to the Divine Grace.]
Google Neural Machine Translation
I wanted to copy the machine translated text here but I decided not to because I do not want search engines to associate the bad translation with me. Besides, Google is probably improving the translation service behind the scenes.
If you are curious you can cut-and-paste the Turkish text from “Aşk Bir Yokluk Deniziymiş” into https://translate.google.com/ and judge the quality of the machine translation for yourself by comparing it to my translation above.