Federico Pucci

Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.
Leon-Joseph Cardinal Suenens

Federico Pucci (1896-1973)
Federico Pucci (1896-1973)

In December 1929 the Italian inventor and linguist Federico Pucci presented in Salerno, a port city southeast of Naples, Italy, his study on “automatic translator”. The next year, 1930, the study was presented to the Italian press. In the same 1930 the text of “French-Italian Mechanical Translator” was exhibited for six months (from June to November 1930) at the Prima esposizione dopolavoristica nazionale di arte e mestieri in Bolzano and was awarded a silver medal. Later the study was presented to and was awarded at several other exhibitions—Cuneo Trade Fair (1930), Levante Trade Fair in Bari (1934), Paris Trade Fair (1935 and 1949), International Inventions Exhibition in Leipzig (1936), and Liège Inventions Competition (1950). In 1931 Pucci published a book, entitled “Il traduttore meccanico ed il metodo per corrispondersi fra Europei conoscendo ciascuno solo la propria lingua: Parte I.”, which is probably the first text in world on an automatic translation device. Up to 1960, he published a total of ten books about his “translating machines”.

From the preface to the reader, written in Salerno on 10 December 1930, the author tells us that he intends to demonstrate that it would be possible to make foreigners correspond with each other knowing only their own language respectively. In the report of a conference held on 21 January 1930 in Salerno by Pucci, published on 6 February 1930 in the Salerno edition of the daily newspaper “Il Mattino”, the journalist reports that:
Mr. Pucci, after having shown that all the attempts made during three centuries by foreign scientists had obtained no concrete result, proceeded to a practical exposition of his own method, by having a few sentences translated into English and German by people who have never studied these languages.

In 1949 Pucci developed a new version of his machine, the so-called Dynamo-mechanical translator.

Pucci’s invention was based on the following main ideas:
1. To divide the text into the smallest units of meaning (morphemes).
2. To transpose these units into a foreign language.
3. And finally, the receiver puts the words (generated by the machine) back into the order of the target language, of which he is a native speaker.

It seems Pucci never built a working prototype of his mechanical translator, so his contribution to the area of machine translation was only theoretical.

Biography of Federico Pucci

Vice Admiral Ferdinando Pucci
Vice Admiral Ferdinando Pucci, Federico’s grand-grandfather

Federico Erminio Raniero Carmine Filiberto Pucci, known simply as Federico Pucci, was born in Naples, via Foria 10, on 23 March 1896. His father, Arturo Enrico Emmanuele Pucci, born in Naples on 13 April 1863 was the youngest son of Captain Emmanuele Pucci, an officer of the Royal Navy. The Puccis of Naples descend from a branch of the Pucci family of Florence and had moved to Sicily at the end of the 16th century for political reasons. Emmanuele’s father, Vice Admiral Ferdinando Pucci (1800-1877), after having served in the Royal Bourbon Navy from the Napoleonic wars to 1860, had then concluded his career as commander of the 1st Maritime District of the Kingdom of Italy and Aide-de-Camp of the King. Emmanuele’s wife, Agata Benzo e Sammartino dei Duchi di Verdura came from a family of Sicilian high aristocracy and was the sister of Giulio Benso della Verdura, magistrate and first mayor of Palermo after the unification of Italy, as well as Senator of the Kingdom.

Enrolling at the Istituto di Ragioneria, which at the time was the only high school that included the in-depth study of foreign languages as well as mathematics in the training of students, Federico Pucci wanted to study various foreign languages on his own. The extraordinary love for culture and languages was a characteristic that he had taken from his family of origin, together with the habit of expressing himself in the French language even in everyday life, which he maintained throughout his life and passed on to his daughters.

Given this extraordinary predisposition for foreign languages, after graduating in accounting, Federico enrolled at the Regio Istituto Orientale di Napoli, the oldest center of sinology and oriental studies on the European continent. Here he learned several oriental languages, including Chinese and Korean, but he did not graduate because, during the final written exam, he was unjustly accused of having had his paper copied by another candidate. Deeply offended by this unjust accusation, he refused to repeat the exam.

In order to make himself economically independent from his uncles, Federico competed at a very young age as a translator and interpreter in the State Railways, where he ranked first with 15 languages, and was hired, in 1915, as a manager. Soon he became a skilled polyglot, who not only knows Italian, German, French, English, and Spanish, but is also an expert in Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Czech, and other Slavic languages.

After moving to Salerno in the early 1920s, Pucci married Gilda De Filippis on 13 January 1924, with whom he had four daughters.

On the proposal of the Minister of Communications, in October 1936, Pucci was appointed Knight of the Order of the Crown of Italy. In the late 1930s and during WWII Pucci worked on the development of a mechanical translator for military use, and with the censorship of civil and military correspondence in 30 foreign languages in Salerno.

Pucci was the author of quite a few books in the field of linguistics, starting from 1923 when he published Manuale di letteratura Inglese: Parte I (I principali scrittori) (English literature Manual: Part I (the main writers) (Salerno, Tip. Fratelli Jovane).

In the last years of his life, Federico Pucci was affected by an illness which progressively led him to blindness and he died in Salerno on 6 March 1973, a few days before his 77th birthday.