Neil's News

ghunmeH ngogh

1 April 2014

Some things are completely inevitable. If you haven't already seen the fun, check it out here before going further:
Making Blockly Universally Accessible

It started on a three day "team building" trip. I brought my trusty Klingon-English dictionary, found a quiet corner, and proceeded to translate all of Blockly's strings. It had been 20 years since I had previously written in Klingon, so I pretty much had to start from scratch. Klingon grammar is delightfully bizarre (Object-Verb-Subject: "The food eats the cat."), which meant a lot of issues trying to rearrange blocks so that they would fit.

One of the challenges was Klingon's limited vocabulary. How does one translate "prime number" when most of the language is devoted to space-based weapons systems? Then I realised that "prime number" in English has no intrinsic meaning. Since I am apparently the first person to tackle mathematics in Klingon, this gave me a blank slate to establish new terms. Here are some of the more interesting terms created for this project:

English Klingon Meaning
prime number potlh mI' important number
even number / odd number lang mI' / ror mI' thin number / fat number
round / round up / round down ngoH / Dung ngoH / bIng ngoH smear / smear above / smear below
integer ngoH mI' smear number
average beQwI' SIm flattener calculate
median beQwI'botlh SIm flattener centre calculate
mode beQwI' motlh SIm flattener usual calculate

Another problem was The Klingon Dictionary[?]. Apparently between the first and second editions, the printer lost the source files. New words could not be added to the dictionary, they could only be added to an addendum. This means everything needs to be looked up in two places (three if you count the book Klingon for the Galactic Traveler[?] which has more words). Fortunately Microsoft has added Klingon to Bing Translate[?], which makes look-ups trivial. Unfortunately Bing is a disaster. Let's round-trip the word "library" from English to Klingon and back to English:

library → be'nI''a'wI', Datu' → , Inc.,

Wait, what? And it gets worse. Manual translation of that Klingon phrase reveals that "library" was translated as "discover my big sister". Bing Translate is an epic fail at every level. So it was back to thumbing through paper volumes. I don't want to accidentally risk messing with some Klingon's sister...

For all my effort, I'm still humbled by the level of expertise found within Google. Our internal Klingon Language group provided several pages of corrections to my translation. One just can't beat fluent speakers. It is not possible to be the geekiest person at Google. But I'll keep trying.

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