Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Lost in Translation

Pieter Bruegel, The Tower of Babel, 1563.

Let us now investigate the language of …well, language. Why are there so many languages? Why are cultures largely defined by the language spoken within specific boundaries? Why can’t we all just get along – linguistically?

I’m not sure that I have answers for these questions. I’m not sure that anyone does. But the fact that there are so many languages and cultures on this beautiful planet is one of the driving forces behind this blog.

The book of Genesis describes the destruction of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of a unified human language. Man wanted to reach for the heavens, and God said something like: “Now, wait a minute. I don’t think so.” And he split us up into various cultures with different languages.

Now, what I think was so nifty about the Rosetta Stone, is that allowed us to undo some of that destruction. The combined Demotic, Hieroglyphics, and ancient Greek inscriptions allowed us to decipher one of the world’s lost civilizations – ancient Egypt. A piece of the Tower had been rebuilt.

And now, Carl Tashian is again piecing together the scattered fragments of Babel with his website Lost in Translation – and then pulling them right back down, burning them, scattering the ashes, and whizzing overzealously on the remains - all for the sake of a good time.

And a good time it is.

Tashian’s site allows you to enter any phrase or sentence – and translate that entry back and forth between five different languages, using a dynamic interface with Babelfish.

Here’s an example. I entered this sentence:

Rosetta Rants is the coolest and most interesting website that I have ever come across during my travels in cyberspace.

And I got this “babelized” translation:

Rants I gave to Rosetta the site of the Web of frischste is one and more interesting, of which everything agrees I found during my courses in Cyberspace.

This came from an English to French to English to German to English to Italian to English to Portuguese to English to Spanish to English translation. And if we tell the program to include Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, we get this:

The calmed site of the Web must, the one that interests the praise of the declared rosette of the certain material of that inside inside,the course for the low point, period of the station of the work more when cyber, is most interesting.

Notice how the length increased quite a bit? This is a perfect example of Chinglish, which will be explained at a further time. For now, all you need to know is that Lost in Translation provides hours of unstoppable Rosetta Fun!

Check it out for yourself!

I definitely get this website. No further translation necessary.

(Except for the translation done on that website, because that’s the point).

Update: Greg Laden's blog has some great examples of Babelized sentences.


mrsnesbitt said...

Sounds a good one to investigate! LOL!

Editor said...

your site translated well, I love it! A great niche and low key humor. good luck!

Splantrik said...

Interesting ... I tried a couple of (fairly simple) phrases, which eventually went to "fixed points" of the map; i.e. they didn't change when babelized.
There might even be "cycles" of fixed points, going back and forth between phrases in successive babelizations.

I wonder for what fraction of inputs this happens eventually. Ask Jeff Goldblum; he knows chaos theory.

Translator said...

Editor - thank you very much! I hope you visit again!

Splantrik - Jeff didn't know. He just looked at me and started crying.

Translator said...

Mrs Nesbitt - It's a great time! Give it a try!

Splantrik said...

I tried several phrases, and all of them reached fixed points (usually very distant from the original phrase) eventually. One didn't (quite), though: the simple phrase "My ankle is tender" resulted in

"The obligation exaggerated, the extremity, the end to suggest knoechel of the reference."

Each babelization adds one repetition of "the extremity,". Crazy.

Translator said...


Lizzie said...

This is great fun.

Too many cooks spoil the broth


Too many cooks damage the bubbles.

Translator said...

That's a good one, Lizzie! Thanks for your visit! Come back soon!

FIAR said...

"FIAR is the most disgusting, despicable, sub-human worthless, heap of garbage I have ever had the displeasure of knowing."


"TO WEAVE more is displeased of disforzo of sensitivity, less of the
human beings, way of sans.valor of the memory of wastefulness, that
had that to know the displeasure all."


Suray said...

The Tower of Babel picture is so nice. I just love it when the 1st time I stop here and take a look about your blog.

Translator said...

Fiar - woah. That doesn't resemble the original sentence at all. Crazy! And I don't agree with the original sentence! You've got to be crazy. You're not despicable.

Suray - Thanks! I'm glad you stopped by! Please visit again!

vnrozier said...

Thanks for the tip. I think I'll feed this fish some politicians remarks before I publish them. As they're so always so twisted perhaps it will streighten them out.