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apertium-tolk[1] is a program which translates as you type.

What you need

Version 0.2, pair: French to Spanish.
  • The Apertium D-Bus Service
  • A working Apertium 3.0 installation (note: this must be installed)
  • Python >= 2.4
  • A reasonably fast computer (a 1.2Ghz Pentium, with 256Mb RAM is fast enough if completely unloaded.)

If installing from SVN, you also need these prerequisites:

  • gettext
  • libglib2.0-dev
  • python-gi

(On Debian/Ubuntu sudo apt-get install gettext libglib2.0-dev python-gi)



If you're running Debian unstable (sid), just:

sudo apt-get install apertium-tolk

There are debian packages available here. Note: any language pair you want to use will need to be installed from a Debian package as well.


Check out the apertium-tolk from the subversion repository.

svn co https://svn.code.sf.net/p/apertium/svn/trunk/apertium-tolk
# Optionally install it so you can run it from anywhere:
sudo make install
Version 0.1, pair: Macedonian to Serbo-Croatian.


Restart D-Bus

The solution to both of the problems below is typically to restart D-Bus. You can do this on Debian and Ubuntu by issuing the following command:

$ sudo /etc/init.d/dbus restart

If that does not work, try logging out and in again.

Method does not exist
org.freedesktop.DBus.Error.UnknownMethod: Method "translate" with signature "a{ss}s" on interface 
"org.apertium.Mode" doesn't exist
Unable to guess signature
  ERROR:dbus.connection:Unable to set arguments ({}, 'A') according to signature None: 
  exceptions.ValueError: Unable to guess signature from an empty dict
  Unable to guess signature from an empty dict

Install dbus-x11

If you get a message that dbus-launch is missing, like this:

  File "/var/lib/python-support/python2.4/dbus/bus.py", line 125, in __new__
    bus = cls._new_for_bus(address_or_type, mainloop=mainloop)
dbus.exceptions.DBusException: org.freedesktop.DBus.Error.Spawn.ExecFailed: Failed to execute dbus-launch 
to autolaunch D-Bus session

Then in Debian/Ubuntu you need to install the dbus-x11 package.

No module named tolk

If you get a message like this:

$ apertium-tolk
** Message: pygobject_register_sinkfunc is deprecated (GtkWindow)
** Message: pygobject_register_sinkfunc is deprecated (GtkInvisible)
** Message: pygobject_register_sinkfunc is deprecated (GtkObject)
Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "/usr/local/bin/apertium-tolk", line 19, in <module>
    import tolk
ImportError: No module named tolk

you can probably fix it by setting the PYTHONPATH variable. On my system, Python by default notices modules installed into /usr, but not into /usr/local, so I had to start apertium-tolk like this:

PYTHONPATH=/usr/local/lib/python2.6/site-packages:${PYTHONPATH} apertium-tolk

For most recently version of apertium-tolk using python3:

PYTHONPATH=/usr/local/lib/python3/dist-packages:${PYTHONPATH} apertium-tolk

If you installed into some other prefix, swap /usr/local for your prefix.

You might also want to edit the "Exec" line of /usr/local/share/applications/apertium-tolk.desktop to say this.

Python encodings

If you get the following error, it means that there is a bug in apertium-tolk:

UnicodeEncodeError: 'ascii' codec can't encode character u'\xe1' in
position 1: ordinal not in range(128)

You can hack this by making a sitecustomize.py file in either /usr/lib/python2.5/site-packages/ or /usr/lib/python2.4/site-packages/ (whichever corresponds to your version of Python) with the following contents:

# sitecustomize.py
# this file can be anywhere in your Python path,
# but it usually goes in ${pythondir}/lib/site-packages/
import sys;

Note: Python 2.6 users can set sitecustomize.py locally per user under ~/.local/ (See details in doc.python.org).

(apertium-tolk should be fixed so that it decodes and encodes utf-8 correctly, see http://wiki.apertium.org/wiki/Unicode_in_Python_2.)

Machine grinds to a halt

This is probably because either you're running apertium-tolk on an old machine, or the machine is heavily loaded, if you look in your process list ($ ps axu) you will probably see many instances of Apertium running.

You can kill them using:

$ ps ax | grep apertium\/  | cut -f2 -d' ' | xargs kill

Unfortunately the only ways to stop this are either, decrease load on your current machine, buy a new machine or fix the code. Its a known issue, and we're working on it, but we could always do with some help :)

crash on update_translation_object

Traceback (most recent call last):
 File "/usr/local/bin/apertium-tolk", line 159, in on_comboPair_changed
 File "/usr/local/bin/apertium-tolk", line 155, in update_translation_object
   self.translator = dbus.Interface(self.bus.get_object("org.apertium.mode", dbus_pair_name), "org.apertium.Mode")
 File "/usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/dbus/bus.py", line 244, in get_object
 File "/usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/dbus/proxies.py", line 241, in __init__
   self._named_service = conn.activate_name_owner(bus_name)
 File "/usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/dbus/bus.py", line 183, in activate_name_owner
 File "/usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/dbus/bus.py", line 281, in start_service_by_name
   'su', (bus_name, flags)))
 File "/usr/lib/python2.6/site-packages/dbus/connection.py", line 630, in call_blocking
   message, timeout)
dbus.exceptions.DBusException: org.freedesktop.DBus.Error.Spawn.ChildExited: Process /usr/local/share/apertium/dbus-1/mode.py exited with status 1

One possible reason for this is if you are (1) running an outdated version of apertium-dbus and (2) trying to run apertium-tolk (or some other dbus-program) first as one user, then as another user. A quick fix is to do

sudo chmod a+w /tmp/mode.log

Feature requests

  • Focus on text entry box, not on exit button
  • Tooltip to say "type text in this box to translate".
    • Alternatively, just put text in the box that disappears when you click.

Related software

  • Apertium-view is a similar, but more complicated GUI tool which shows you every stage of the Apertium pipeline.
  • Apertium-viewer is an improved version of Apertium-view, which does not require dbus and which is written in Java


  1. No, this isn't a spalling mistake