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Language translations on the Internet

February 4, 2008

by Mark Ollig

According to The Library of Congress, 557 known world languages are being spoken today.

The list of these languages can be found on ISO 639-2/RA.

This is the International Organization for Standardization Registration Authority.

ISO 639-2/RA is designated for the Library of Congress by the worldwide association of national standards group, represented by some 148 countries.

The benefit of the world being wired to the same Internet also has its drawbacks.

Not everyone on the planet speaks the same language.

Sure, I know a few words of Spanish from the one quarter I took in high school, but I can only get so far with “Buenos días. Mi nombre es Marca.” (Good morning. My name is Mark).

Most professional translation web sites on the Internet charge for their services.

You can however, find many free online sites with language dictionaries, which translate individual words.

Whether you need to translate a sentence or a page of text, one web site on the Internet is out there for you to use.

Twelve languages are available, and this web site does not charge to translate.

The web site is called, “Babel Fish Translation,” which is part of the search engine called AltaVista.

Your humble and sometimes overly informative columnist has been using this web site since I first wrote a column about it 10 years ago.

AltaVista has an interesting story on how it came to be.

At the time, Louis Monier, one of the leading scientists with Digital Equipment Corp (DEC), was involved with their new computer called the Alpha 8400 TurboLaser.

Monier wanted to impress others with the power of this computer, so what better way than to create a type of search engine program that could go out and collect all the indexed pages on the Internet. Monier used the power of the Alpha 8400 TurboLaser computer.

In the spring of 1995, Monier joined up with other programmers at the DEC research lab in Palo Alto, Calif.

These folks put together the various components we recognize today as the core parts of a search engine. They then developed a method to capture and store every word of every HTML page on the Internet in a high-speed, searchable index.

Search engines use special programs called bots, like “spiders,” “agents,” or “crawlers,” to search through the Web automatically, copying all the data into a huge indexed database. Monier is credited with writing the “crawler” program code that was used.

In 1995, this first search, or “crawl” for information on the Internet brought back 10 million indexed pages.

From this, Monier estimated the Internet had about 80,000 servers and contained 30 million pages of information he could index.

This guided AltaVista’s development of the first searchable, full-text database on the World Wide Web.

Dec. 15, 1995. Less than six months after the start of the project, AltaVista made its presence known on the Internet. It had accumulated an index of 16 million documents.

It is said over 300,000 searches were done on AltaVista’s first day.

AltaVista was the first Internet search engine to begin image, audio, and video search capabilities on the Internet.

They have been awarded 61 search-related patents, more than any other Internet search company.

Even after Google first appeared on the Internet in 1998, I still used AltaVista as my first choice in web search engines for many years.

AltaVista means “A view from above.”

Today, AltaVista is based in Sunnyvale, California and is owned by Yahoo.

Before I started to use a web browser, when I wanted to find some hyper-links to information, I used the “gopher” text search.

Paul Lindner and Mark P. McCahill developed gopher at the University of Minnesota in 1991.

AltaVista created Babel Fish, which became the Web’s first Internet machine translation service to translate words, phrases or entire Web sites. Languages can be translated to and from English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Chinese, Italian and Russian.

The languages of Dutch, Korean, Japanese and Greek are also available.

What if we are on a website without a handy ‘translate to English’ button?

To translate the text, just highlight and right-click to copy the text you want and head over to http://babelfish.altavista.com.

Paste the text you copied into the “translate a block of text” window on this web site.

Choose what language you want the text translated into, this is done by selecting the language from a list next to the “translate” button.

Press “translate” and wait a few moments for the text to be changed to the language you selected.

You will also see the “translate a web page” field, where you can paste the URL address of the web site. AltaVista will do its best to translate the entire contents of the link.

There is a book you can get about the AltaVista story called, “The AltaVista Search Revolution,” available on Amazon.com.

For a list of all 557 languages, go to http://www.loc.gov/standards/iso639-2/php/English_list.php.