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Do I Care About Capitalization and Punctuation?

I've noticed that many or most translators don't seem to give a single crap about capitalization or punctuation (or, on occasion, spelling or grammar), and that presents kind of a quandary when it comes time to rank candidate translations. I don't know how many times I've seen translations that were actually very good, even "perfect" one might say, except every single character is lowercase, and there's no punctuation marks anywhere to be found. What should I do in this case? On the one hand, if Duolingo is planning on using our final translations unedited when rebuilding the final document, then I'd say these things are very important and I should not give such sentences a perfect score even if the translation is otherwise perfect. On the other hand, when a perfect (in meaning) translation comes along, I'm pretty hesitant to rate it less than perfect, especially when there are other, less appropriate translations, with higher ratings. I would certainly appreciate it if Duolingo would give us some guidance here. What do you want us to do? Tell me. I'll do it.

November 27, 2012


[deactivated user]

    Tell me about it. That's one of my biggest pet hates about Duolingo. I think this behaviour is actually encouraged by the regular lessons. They let you pass even if you don't use punctuation. A lot of people don't seem to understand that the real world translations are actually meant to be published/sold. I suppose the only effective way to stop this sort of behaviour would be to require proper punctuation and capitalisation in the regular lessons. At least, Duolingo should point out why the real world translations need to be flawless. Also, they could easily check if a translated sentence ends in punctuation, and if it doesn't, there could be a pop-up asking the user something along the lines of "Oops. It seems you forgot to put a period (or another punctuation mark) at the end of your sentence. Would you like to add it now?"


    I'm really happy to use no punctuation in the lessons and switch to using correct punctuations in the translations. A no-brainer to make and apply that distinction. It would just be a nuisance if they required proper punctuation in the lessons.


    I am of two minds on the lessons. On the one hand, not having to worry about punctuation and capitalization (except for nouns), does make things go faster. But I'd be happy to properly punctuate the lesson input too, I guess. Actually, I usually do anyway. At any rate, I won't be offended if they leave it exactly as it is. It works.


    I totally agree with you. On an unrelated note, I've never heard the term "pet hate". I'm not saying it is wrong...I've just never heard it. The more common expression in English is "pet peeve".

    [deactivated user]


      Well I'll be damned. I did not know that. Thanks for the lesson!


      They can't be using our translations to sell yet, as too many 100% complete ones make no sense! I agree about the punctuation, but the non-sense problem is worse.


      I agree, the quality on the 100%ers is hit and miss. Sometimes they're very good. Sometimes they've completely missed the mark. It's definitely a problem that has to be solved, but it's a separate problem. In my opinion, both problems will need to be solved before this site can get up on its own two feet.


      We're about to push a better spell checker that will ask you whether you want to capitalize things properly and do it for you.


      I think that will definitely be a useful addition, but I'm skeptical as to whether or not an algorithm will actually be able to do that task well. This site was built to harness the power crowdsourcing. I think most of the contributors here are more than capable of providing proper punctuation and capitalization. But they also have to know that they're supposed to.

      Duolingo could really benefit from a set of guidelines that outline what is expected of us as translators and what is expected of us as rankers. I don't see why this is so hard! Just write up a list of do's and don'ts, and put a link to it on the Translations tab and a link to it on every article translation page (maybe right down there by the link to the original article). Make it mandatory reading for the first-time translator. I feel pretty confident that if we knew what we were supposed to do, we would do it! Duolingo is cool, right? I mean, I want this site to succeed! I think most people here do as well. We are here to help you, Luis. Just tell us what we need to do.

      And, btw, I still don't know whether or not I'm supposed to take capitalization, punctuation, etc. into account when I'm ranking! Am I? Part of me doesn't want to give a "perfect" rating to a good translation with no punctuation, and part of me doesn't want to rank it down either. Some guidance would be helpful. What do the rest of you do in this situation?


      Great , and how about a better dictionary ? Some of Duolingo's dictionary suggestions are very poor.


      I care about capitalization and punctuation! I give "Some Mistakes" to non-capitalized, non-punctuated sentences. I practice leniency for non-Oxford commas (big Oxford comma fan here!) and for some weirdly placed commas (often between thoughts or clauses in run-ons).


      Okay, that's good input. I think I'll adopt that plan too unless Duolingo comes out and contradicts it. From now on, "Some Mistakes" when the capitalization and punctuation are missing. Thanks, M. Anyone else? How are the rest of you guys doing it right now?

      [deactivated user]

        I do the same.


        That's what I've been doing, too.


        As it turns out, am I. I did not know that they had a name. Now I do. They allow a items in a list to be composed of two parts; subtle, but useful. It looks better in type and calligaphic forms as well.


        Maybe it's me being an English teacher, but capitalization, punctuation, and spelling "count."


        When a translator breaks a run-on sentence for clarity, they are likely to get a better rating from me. I think re-arranging punctuation is as perfectly legitimate as changing word order , which we have to do to make sense .


        I have come across a lot of run on sentences in Spanish. At first I thought the particular writer(s) of the article(s) lacked a bit of writing skill. I purchased a Spanish/English dictionary in which they talk about writing essays in Spanish. ".....you will often find paragraphs that seem long or that do not keep to one main idea..." in comparison to English. So in other words this is their particular style. In translating therefore I feel that we should translate in the style of the language we are translating to i.e. break up some of these longer sentences.


        I've noticed the same thing and wondered the same... this reminds me of a sort-of related question I have: should grammatical and/or spelling errors existent in the source content be left intact (insofar as possible) when translating? I've seen some misspellings, grammatical weirdness, and some wicked run-on sentences in the source material.


        Hey _undertoad! I'm glad you brought that up! Personally, I have been correcting misspellings in the original source material when I translate it. As for run-ons... I have no idea what to do. I guess for the most part, if the original sentence is a run on, I try to translate it that way, but there have been times when the problem has been so egregious, that I've actually split the translated version into two sentences (or more? Maybe more. I can't remember doing more than two... so far). The funny thing is, I know as I'm doing it, that everyone is going to immediately vote my candidate onto the trash heap because I've made extra sentences, but I can't seem to help myself. If the result is supposed to read naturally in English, sometimes it just has to be done.

        Hopefully when Duolingo starts working on that list of translation guidelines tomorrow morning <wink> <wink>, they'll address these issues along with the others.


        I think it is totally appropriate to break some of the translations into two or three sentences. Direct translation is often extremely awkward in English.


        Hah! I know what you mean about feeling like you're going to get marked down. I've been correcting run-ons and misspellings and things as I find them, as well... But I wasn't sure if I should. I guess we're all in the same boat on that, and the grammar/punctuation topic, until or unless we're given direction. Perhaps the lack of direction is intentional, though, you know? I wouldn't want to have to moderate here, and Duolingo would be a little bit less of an awesome, friendly and inclusive environment if there were grammar-nazi mods trolling around and pointing it out (by issuing demerits?) every time someone forgets to capitalize a proper noun or omits a comma.

        The answer to these perceived problems might just be in allowing for Wikipedia-like public discussion and editing of "100% completed" translations, as a way of giving the document a final proof reading. Just as they have a discussion page for each article written on Wikipedia, maybe each translated article on Duolingo should. The idea that a translation is "complete" or "perfect" just because a certain number of translations were provided (and then rated) is a little absurd and it doesn't seem to be resulting in translations that are vastly better than what google can come up with. Seems like a lot of folks are complaining about that, though. No sense in beating a dead horse.


        I don't consider myself a grammar Nazi, but the idea of rating a translation "perfect" if it misses punctuation or capitalization hasn't even occurred to me. Do you think some algorithm will "correct" it on the way from the translator to the reader? I doubt it, the more so as rules for p&c sometimes differ in different languages.

        That said, I'm trying to keep as close to the original as idiomacity allows, meaning if I see e.g. a lower-case letter at the beginning of a sentence I intentionally use the same mistake (although I rate somebody else's translation "perfect" even if it doesn't). IMO I'm here to translate the text, to show the reader what it's really like, including all its faults, not to improve it. I argue thus: if the original said that Columbus arrived in the Bahamas in 1592, would I correct it to 1492? It would be the accurate year - but it wouldn't be an accurate translation.

        As regards exercises, like others here I find it convenient that I can go without caring about proper p&c, but like others here I suspect it is tempting many people into not caring even when translating and I wouldn't mind at all if the exercises demanded proper p&c as well as proper conjugated forms.


        I would urge you to insist on proper case and punctuation. Both carry meaning, prevent ambiguity and are overall easier to read.

        For your amusement, please consider these examples:

        Die Spinnen Die spinnen

        Der Gefangene floh Der gefangene Floh

        Sie ist gut zu Vögeln Sie ist gut zu vögeln

        Der König sagte: Hängt ihn, nicht begnadigen. Der Schreiber hielt fest: Hängt ihn nicht, begnadigen.

        (I found those and more on the page of the Goethe-Institut Chicago https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151149678227486&set=a.94427222485.86352.22133567485&type=1&theater )


        On the question of punctuation, it should be noted that German punctuation is different from English. Particularly the use of the comma. In German it is placed between clauses, not as in English indicate a pause in speaking. Therefore when translating German, the commas must be ignored, but used correctly for English.


        It has been mentioned before, and if you look closely, you will notice that the content you are asked to translate is older content- from years back. I do not think the translations we are doing are quite ready for prime time. Maybe that has changed recently, but I only read the "old content" post in the last few weeks.


        I'm never sure whether I have to follow the punctuation in the text. In Spanish, they seem to use long sentence with a lot of commas and when I'm translating into English, I'm thinking this would make a hell of a lot more sense if I broke it down into shorter phrases. But I worry that I will be marked down for changing too much. I think it is correct, however, to change things like punctuation to ensure the same meaning is preserved.


        When working on German translations, I also often see long, run-on sentences. I don't know enough about the language to know if this is correct and normal, or if the authors have just written poorly constructed, run-on sentences the same way an English-speaking blog author might. Quite often I'll break these into two or more shorter sentences. Obviously this has to be taken on a case by case basis, but, in general, I think it makes for a better translation. If I get marked down for it, so be it.


        German lends itself to long sentences. It's perfectly fine to accomodate an English reader with shorter sentences.


        Just pick the best translation and edit the punctuation, grammar, and capitalization errors.

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