word compo unding

A colleague (non-native speaker of German) was filling out some form and asked for advice about the following:

Bitte ergänzen Sie wenn möglich eine deutsche Voranschrift der letzten 5 Jahre:

Interestingly, Google Translate could not help him, since it produces this in English:

Please fill in if possible, a German font previews over the past 5 years:

Why the „font previews“? This might be due to faulty German word compounding. It seems that Google tries to split German compounds in order to break up the out-of-vocabulary tokens (here: Voranschrift meaning Vor/“previous“ and anschrift/“address“) but messes this up and instead splits into Voran and schrift, which translates into „before“ and „font“. The occurrence of „font“ then probably influences the language model to prefer something with previews since we have the tokens „German“ and „font“ in the translation hypothesis and a „German font preview“ makes some sense in a (trigram) context. 😉 Furthermore, Voran as part of Voransicht means „preview“.

Ah, behold the wonders of statistical machine translation. You never know what ya gonna get!™

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