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Babbling net software sparks international incident

Translation engine insults Dutch Consulate

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Updated A word of advice: Never use an online translation engine to communicate with the Dutch Foreign Minister.

Last weekend, a group of Israeli journalists used a translation engine in sending an email message to the Dutch Consulate in Tel Aviv. They wanted to discuss an upcoming visit to The Netherlands for a seminar on Dutch politics, but they ended up asking the minister several nonsensical questions about his mother.

"Helloh bud, Enclosed five of the questions in honor of the foreign minister: The mother your visit in Israel is a sleep to the favor or to the bed your mind on the conflict are Israeli Palestinian, and on relational Israel Holland," the email began, before making several more references to the minister's mum.

According to The Jerusalem Post, the Dutch Foreign Ministry is on the verge of filing a formal complaint against the journalists - and canceling their trip to The Netherlands.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry isn't too happy either. "How could this email possibly have been sent? These journalists have sparked a major, major incident," said an Israeli official. "Sure he can't understand many of the questions, because the English is so bad. But he is being asked about the sleeping arrangements of his mother!"

Meanwhile, the journalists say they're too embarrassed to make the trip.

Apparently, one of the journalists is pretty good with English, and that's what he used to arrange the trip in the first place. But when the Dutch Consulate asked for a list of questions the group might be asking during the seminar, this lone English speaker was indisposed.

So another journalist typed up some questions in his native Hebrew and used an online translation tool to translate them into English. And the tool spat out some babble.

The Jerusalem Post claims that the journalists used the popular translation engine Babel Fish, but this appears to be incorrect. Babel Fish doesn't handle Hebrew. One reader tells us that the hacks used Babylon (www.babylon.com), though this has yet to be verified.

The chief problem was that the engine was unable to distinguish between "ha'im," the Hebrew word for "if," and "ha'ima," the word for mother. But there may be a reason for that. Here's the lowdown from one Hebrew-speaking Reg reader:

While "ha'ima" is indeed *a* word for 'the mother', it is not spelled the same as "ha'im". It has an extra letter on the end. However, "ha'em", which also means "the mother" is spelled identically to "ha'im" when one is writing without vowel points, as is always the case when typing.

So the translation engine can be forgiven. But not the journalists. ®

(18:23 GMT) Our source for this article, The Jerusalem Post, reported that Babel Fish was the translation software used. We have since learned that JP was wrong, so we have changed this article to correct our mistake. Apologies all around, especially to Babel Fish.

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