Thursday, November 23, 2017

Motivation When Translating German Script

Translating German script can get really discouraging and frustrating.  I sadly did not learn German as a kid, so not only do I have to fight through the Gothic script but also I have to read words and sentences that are foreign to me.  I imagine most of you are in the same position.  Here is what motivates me:

1.  There really is genealogical gold in there.  Maybe not in the sentence you are working on, but if you keep going, you will find one nugget, and then another, and then another.  Think of the gold miners in the Old West who dug away tons of dirt and rock and sifted through one pan of gravel after another until they found one nugget.  We're doing the same thing!

2.  The cryptanalysts in World War II who broke the German and Japanese ciphers were not only trying to break into cipher systems with millions of combinations.  But also they were doing this with a foreign language, German or Japanese.  And they had an enemy that would change the ciphers whenever they realized that they had been broken.  Our task is much easier.  Our authors were trying to communicate something and they did it in plain language without encryption.  If the cryptanalysts in World War II could break the German and Japanese ciphers, surely we can figure out what our ancestors were trying to say - we have a much easier task.

3.  Even when your pace starts veeeeeeerrrrrryyyyy slowly, if you keep at it, you will get faster.  If you don't give up, you will learn how the author makes his letters.  You will start to recognize one word after another.  You will get faster and faster at it.  By the end of the document, you may almost be able to read it directly without a dictionary.

If the Gothic script sometimes seems like your enemy, I'll leave you with the immortal words of Winston Churchill, "Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

Sometimes Gothic script seems to have the overwhelming might of an enemy; but if you take Churchill's advice, you will someday declare victory over that church record or diary page and come away with a full sack of genealogical gold nuggets.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, WW2 cryptographers had a much harder job, but then again, I am no Alan Turing! :)

    I see the problem as an amalgam of three different problems: the lack of familiarity with the source language, the lack of familiarity of the script, and the lack of clarity of the script.

    With respect to the script, be it Fraktur, Schwabacher, or some other Gothic script, one just needs to get used to a new typeface. It just takes practice. If you really want to shorten it and don’t care for it, then just OCR the document – the OCR picks up the Fraktur font just as it would Arial or Helvetica. Then, just cut and paste it into a word document using Arial or whatever is your favorite font. I’ve done this with a high level of success.