|COMPUTER LATIN FOR BOTANY|
The few times that I have asked people for help with translations from a
language with which they are familiar to English, the face has said it all. It
is obvious that most people see translation as a painful experience. Computer
translation is therefore a blessing; one can go about finding out what one
needs to know,
without needing to needle anyone else. Obviously, computer translations are not
going to be perfect, those done by human brain are likely to be much better,
but if one is sensible, can read between lines and one has patience, the
results obtained can be most satisfactory; and the costs minimal. Commercial
translation by human runs at about $16 per page, and if money is no object,
that is obviously the way to go.
Modern languages like French, German and Spanish can be translated by engines like AltaVista's BabelFish; where either tracts of text, up to 150 words at a time, can be pasted, with a result arriving on your screen in seconds, or entire webpages in foreign languages can be requested in English translation. Play around with BabelFish to see its capabilities. Even Chinese and Japanese webpages can be translated, but the results are many times fairly useless, and only occasionally good. Surprisingly, Russian tends to machine translate quite well into English. Google also has machine translating facilities.
More obscure language translating engines can be found by inserting "(language) English translation" into a search engine and checking through the results. I was able to find a Czech-English engine once, when I needed it.
Latin-English translation engines in the format of BabelFish do not appear to exist. There are, however, other Latin-English translation tools available on the web. A summary of some of these, with links, can be found on a useful page from the University of Notre Dame (INDIANA, USA) at
As an aside, for those who enjoy the unusual; I have recently seen that Wikipedia has been brought out in Latin - known as Vicipaedia - Libera Encyclopaedia. Have a look if you have that sort of sense of humour.
Ever in search of Freeware programs to download and use without cost, guilt or legal consequences, I have sourced two programs of use to those who want to translate Latin descriptions of plants into English. I am using these programs to help me understand some of the descriptions in my copy of Lindley's Genera and Species of Orchidaceous Plants, a book which aside from the preface and a few small scattered notes is wholly written in Latin, but one which is very important to the understanding of mid-Nineteenth century orchidology.
The first of these programs is TRANSLAT -version 4.13- computer translation of Botanical Latin by Peter D. Bostock, QUEENSLAND, AUSTRALIA. This Freeware program was written by a botanist with the specific intention of translating Latin botanical descriptions.
The second useful program is WORDS (Latin) Version 1.97Ec of William Whitaker, VIRGINIA, USA. This is a more general and very comprehensive Freeware translation program to help one sort out those problems which the first program has failed to solve.
Both of these programs operate within DOS, and the mere thought of this is likely to make many people run screaming. I have found DOS not to be the frightening bogey-man that one would expect from all its bad press.
Additionally, a Windows GUI (Graphic User Interface) is now available which allows one to utilise WORDS within a more familiar mouse-responsive window.
Another translating program which I downloaded and tried was Latin parser and translator 0.96 programmed by Adam McLean, which can be found at www.alchemywebsite.com/latin/latintrans.html and although this one opened in a Windows window, I found it difficult to use, and not capable of dealing with botanical text adequately. It is a Beta (developer's) copy of the program and allows for some "home programming"; but this is all quite beyond me.
TRANSLAT can be downloaded directly by clicking HERE when on line. This download is a little over 500k in size and should take 3 minutes or less to acquire. If you would prefer to examine the webpage first, then go to http://members.ozemail.com.au/~pbostock/ and have a look. TRANSLAT has been tested under XP, Win2k, NT4, NT3.51 SP3, NT4.0 SP3 & 4, Win95, WINDOWS 3.1x (with DOS 3.x and above and it should also behave under DR DOS 6.x); it has not been tested in XP SP2.
I found the text file of instructions, which is in the package, a little confusing, so I will offer my own installation instructions here.
Download the installation file into your TEMP or DOWNLOADS folder. After downloading, use Windows Explorer to locate this file (called Tranzip.exe) and double click it, or right click and Open it. An installation window will open; click Unzip and unzip the files into the recommended folder specified by the installation program. When this is done, Close. Go to START/PROGRAMS/MS-DOS PROMPT. When the DOS window opens, type in "cd C:\Latin" and hit the Enter key. This should change your directory ("cd") from C:\Windows to C:\Latin (this is the folder set up by the program during installation to house the program itself). Then type in "TRANSLAT /BIN", and hit the Enter key again. This procedure sets up some subsidiary files which are necessary to run the program TRANSLAT. You can then close MS-DOS. If you wish to use LATIN.EXE - the other program in this package, to aid translation from English to Latin, then you will also need to repeat the above procedure with the instruction "LATIN /BIN". The program will now be ready to run.
Any file which you wish to translate must obviously be in digital form, something which can be done most easily by using a scanner and Optical Character Reader, and it will also need to be put into ASCII format = .txt (Notepad). With some word processing programs such as Atlantis Nova, it is possible to directly save a text file with an extension other than .txt, and as the input file for TRANSLAT needs the .lat extension, this is easily achieved. If one is working from Notepad this can also be done, if one is saving a text document for the first time. If you open an existing .txt document and attempt to save it with another extention, you may experience problems. In such a case, copy your text to the clipboard, open a clean page of Notepad, paste the text in, and then save this with the required extention; .lat in this case, into the Text sub-folder of your Latin folder.
Now you have everything in place to get on with your translation. The author also supplies a number of examples which can be found in an application file in the C:\Latin\Text folder called Examples. By double clicking this file, the examples will be set up in the Texts sub-folder. Open the program from Windows Explorer by double clicking Translat (Application) in the C:\Latin folder. Move through the program (Enter, Enter), the third screen will ask you to input the file. Hit F5 to list the files you have in the Text sub-folder (including any file you have placed there for translation). Enter. Type name of file into space provided. Enter. Carry on, using the Enter key; checking each question, and changing your response if necessary, using the cursor arrows. Finally, the translation will take place, which takes about 15 seconds per page on my Pentium 1/Windows 95 setup; obviously much faster on much faster machines. When finished, pressing Enter will close the program.
The output file from the translation will be found in the C:\Latin\Text folder named FILENAME.GRA. Open this with Notepad or your word processing program. This text file has on the left, a list of every word in the input file, with one or more possible English equivalents to the right, and full parsing details. By dividing your screen between two windows, you can copy and paste the translated words you have selected from the list of possibilities into a new document.
TRANSLAT also offers two text documents detailing its features and usage, which can be found in the C:\Latin folder; and other help files can be found via the Home Page.
There may be some words in your original document for which no translation is offered. To deal with these, the second program: Words (Latin) will probably help. Although also a DOS program, it is less cumbersome to install and use than TRANSLAT.
The archived site of the late William Whitaker (1936-2010), the developer of Words (Latin) is at http://archives.nd.edu/whitaker/words.htm, and one can also find some other interesting links here.
If you are running Windows 95/98/NT/ME/2000/XP, just download this file:
into your TEMP or DOWNLOADS folder. The file is about 3M in size and should take 18 minutes
or less to download. If you are using some other operating system, go to the home page and find out what is
being offered - there are also installation files available for plain DOS, Linux and Mac.
To install this program, double click the installation file, unzipping it into the suggested folder. Following this you should find a folder called Words in your C:\ directory, in which you will find two applications; Meanings and Words; they are basically the same program; the former giving you no parsing, and therefore of less value for doing our sort of work. I have deleted my copy of meanings.exe.
To start the program, double click words.exe. This will open a DOS window. Individual Latin words or sentences from your document can be copied, and pasted onto the cursor line using the DOS paste tool, to be found up on the toolbar of the program's DOS window. A simple Enter will set the translation in motion, directly in the DOS window, which on completion will offer another cursor for the pasting of further words for translation. One can copy from the DOS window using other tools on the toolbar. There are three .html documents to be found in the C:\Words folder following installation; these will give you details of the various features of this program. Single-word English-to-Latin translation can also be made on Words in the DOS Window by entering "~e" at the cursor, Enter, and then entering the English word.
The Windows GUI to which I alluded earlier is called LATIN ASSISTANT, and can be found on the most useful site IN REBUS, specifically on the page http://www.inrebus.com/assistant.html. This program requires the pre-installation of Words (Latin), and the downloaded file needs to be unzipped and extracted into the WORDS folder. It will work as is on WindowsXP, but for Windows95 - ME, some supplementary Windows system files may be needed; see the download page for further details as well as a basic overview of this application.
On the same site is another very useful set of LINKS to other items concerning Latin to be found on the Web.
As the installation of these three programs - TRANSLAT, Words (Latin) and Latin Assistant, does not affect any other area of your computer such as the registry, they can be uninstalled by simply deleting the folders C:\Latin or C:\Words and all their contents, or in the case of Latin Assistant, the single file in the C:\Words folder, and they are then gone without trace. But remember not to delete C:\Latin before you have moved any files of work you still require from the Text subfolder.
It is also interesting to note that the installation file of TRANSLAT or Latin Assistant can be saved onto a stiffy, and so can be passed on to others who do not have an internet connection; and being Freeware, one is entitled to do this. The installation file of Words, being larger that that which can fit onto a stiffy, can be burnt to a CD and passed on in that manner.
As an alternative to installing Words (Latin) on your own computer, you can use the on-line edition which you can find on the Notre Dame website mentioned above, on the webpage: http://lysy2.archives.nd.edu/cgi-bin/words.exe. Here, one word at a time can be pasted into a field on the webpage, after which you press Enter, and then wait for a result.
Latin abbreviations are one particularly difficult field, and if you are left dangling on some of these, try the website http://www.case.edu/artsci/clsc/asgle/abbrev/latin/ for some inspiration. This website will need to be interrogated while on line, with pages covering abbreviations starting with each separate letter of the alphabet, available in two levels: common abbreviations and all abbreviations. Be warned that the latter can be very large files.
I hope that this page will be of some value to some people. Any comments or suggestions are welcomed.
Please email me at:
© 2003-2011. Greig Russell
Updated 12 May 2009.