Machine Translation and Poetry: the Case of English and Portuguese

Philippe Humblé


This article sets out to analyse the translations into Portuguese of three poems written I English, “A Letter is a Joy of Earth” by Emily Dickinson, “To a Stranger” by Walt Whitman and “Sandra” by Charles Bukowski. Three translations by three human translators, Geir Campos, Pedro Gonzaga and Jorge de Sena, are compared to the translations made by Google Translate in order to evaluate machine translation quality. This research shows that machine translations are less “ludicrous” than some would think and are in fact quite acceptable. In the cases investigated, machine translations are sometimes as acceptable as the ones made by the professional translators, and they could even help them to make mistakes through a lack of attention or by ignoring all the possibilities in the case of polysemous words. The Google translations are obviously plainer and there are a number of mistakes in them of the kind one expects: wrong concordances, wrong interpretations of polysemous words, wrong interpretation of gendered words. However, overall the results are far more satisfying than forecast. Google Translate, or similar programmes, may help translators with different, albeit sound alternatives. Additionally, machine translations provide a useful tool to analyse the idiosyncrasies of translators.


Machine Translation; Poetry; Portuguese-English


Copyright (c) 2019 Philippe Humblé

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