Notes by Autumn Light

On Hebrew, English, translation, editing, and more—by Jonathan Orr-Stav

Insights of dictation software

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In the past year or so—at the instigation of my elder son, who pointed out to me that one no longer needs specialist software for this purpose—I’ve been using the built-in capabilities of my Mac computer to dictate a first draft of works that I have been asked to translate.

It isn’t suited to all jobs—works of a highly poetic nature that require due consideration to find suitable English equivalents, or conversely obtuse or convoluted writing that requires close scrutiny just to work out precisely what the author is saying, often cannot be translated so easily on the fly. However, for clear and well-written prose, it works very well, and has doubled my productivity in many cases (far more than traditional CAT—computer-assisted translation—tools).

Of course, this is contingent upon the dictation software being accurate in its “understanding” of one’s speech. Thankfully, the built-in dictation capability within the Mac is remarkably accurate 95% of the time (particularly if one adheres to idiomatic English). However, here and there it makes errors.

A handful are plain wrong—such Henri Matisse > army monkeys, or the pensive look > the Prince of Luck.

Some are mysterious, such as: the writings of Simone de Beauvoir > “the ratings blazing wondered of while”, and Wassily Kandinsky > “CD contains key”

Some are amusingly Puritan, as though it can’t bring itself to print what I’m actually saying, or hinting of disapproval—such as forbidden sensuality > “4 billion Cincinnati”, or  lust >  “lost”, or “last”.

Some appear to reflect other, very definite, opinions, such as:

  • intermediality > into mediocrity
  • in the Negev region > in the negative region
  • The critic Boaz Evron: The critic was wrong
  • The enemy’s > Vietnamese
  • in the state of Missouri > interstate of misery
  • the Greater Israel Movement > the greater miserable movement
  • the Arab markets of East Jerusalem > the Harrow buckets of Mr Rosenfeld
  • the Communist Party > the comments party

Most, however, are remarkably insightful and/or funny—to the point of suggesting a “ghost in the machine”. Examples:

  • pluralism > to listen
  • The town of Recipe > The town of very sleepy
  • New immigrants > You immigrants
  • A lithograph > A little rough
  • In Israel > In Asia
  • The Soviet Union >  The savage union
  • Financial independence >  Some actual independence
  • Torres Straits > tour restraints / tourist streets
  • by Bertold Brecht > by bottled left
  • Josephus >  Just see first
  • Amenhotep [Pharaoh] >  I’m important
  • King Solomon > King solver ones
  • Marcel Duchamp > nothing to shop
  • Erudition >  every edition
  • The existential vacuum >  The existence shall vacuum
  • Duplicate > Do the kids
  • In Saloniki > in sunbaking
  • false alarm >  full salaam
  • Israeliness >  is really nervous
  • Tel-Aviv > In to live

As computers begin to acquire a true artificial intelligence, such misdictations, as I call them, may proliferate. Make of them what you will.


Author: יונתן אור-סתיו | Jonathan Orr-Stav

Hebrew-English translator, editor, author. מתרגם עברית–אנגלית, עורך באנגלית, וסופר.

One thought on “Insights of dictation software

  1. Thanks for this Jonathan. Some of the mistranslations are hilarious. I tried Dictation software once for doing translations but it was too cumbersome. Sounds like you have found a solid solution. Many of my jobs contain so many technical terms I’m afraid too see what might result!

    Liked by 1 person

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