Monday, February 8, 2010

Spelling is still problematic (or, Why the Superbowl commercial is more complicated than you think)

Yesterday on the Superbowl broadcast, Google showed a wonderful commercial about Paris, falling in love, getting married, moving to France and having a baby.

14 seconds into the commercial, you can see the query  translate tu es très mignon ], which works nicely.

However, since then, lots of people are trying  translate tu es tres mignon ]   (Note that they're using the American spelling of très, using a regular "e" instead of "è"  (which, for the record, is an e with an accent grave).  

The only problem is that when you do the "tu es tres mignon" Google thinks you're searching in Spanish!  So Google shows a translation from Spanish to English, and the translation output is the French phrase, which isn't particularly helpful.  It makes a certain kind of sense:  Google can't hear that you would have said "tray" (the French word for "very") instead of "tres" (as in the Spanish word for three).  

     UPDATE 11AM:  Well, it used to earlier this morning.
       Google's fixing this even as I write; which is another great object lesson--
       things change on the web constantly.  

This is one of those cases where the spelling really does matter, and while Google's spelling suggestion system is extremely good, in many non-English language cases, these subtle distinctions are important.  

For my part, I went to the home of some Indian friends to watch the Superbowl and feast on Indian snacks.  (No chips and guacamole here!)  Instead, we had something called "bell"... or that's what I thought I heard.

Naturally, I looked it up when I got home and found... NOTHING!  There are lots of hits on Indian bells (bronze or silver), and the use of bell peppers in Indian cuisine, but this wasn't helping.

Then I remembered that it sounded a bit like there might have been an "h" sound in the word.  Perhaps it was "behl" -- but that's also a terrible search result as well.

As a last resort, I tried [ bhel Indian food ] and that worked perfectly.  It's a wonderful mix of puffed rice, sev (lentil noodles) and wheat crackers. Mix with diced warm boiled potatoes, top with a melange of finely cut tomatoes, minced onions, cilantro and chillies. Drizzle fresh cilantro chutney/pesto and tamarind chutney.

You've got to love the multinational Superbowl.... especially when you get the spellings correct.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you liked bheL! With non-Roman scripts, it's even more subtle than the differences between French and Spanish. The last consonant in "bhel" is not quite the letter "L", but only approximated by it. (That's why we use a capital L to distinguish the two.) The real pronunciation is, well, I'll have to speak it to you when I see you at the office next.

    Thus, searches for "भेळ" (the accurate Indic spelling) yields much more relevant results than "भेल" (which is what "bhel" roughly transliterates to.)