What does the world cost? Oh well, then we'll just take a small coke.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Lost In Translation

I know that in writing this I am undoubtedly communicating to a passel of aspiring linguists who have a rudimentary understanding of every tongue spoken on the seven continents (and then some, if our faithful few are prone to “inventing” languages), so please bear with your author who, though bilingual, knows about as much of most languages as he does quantum physics, which isn't much.

Anyone ever used Google Translator? The website is a lifesaver when it comes to interpreting obscure foreign languages encountered on the web. You just type in the text and BOOM, like some David Copperfield episode, the text is transformed into the language of your choice.

Only it doesn't always work so brilliantly.

Languages vary by a zillion different factors that keep us amateurs confused and professional translators in the cheese. They vary in idiom, syntax, conjugation and pronunciation; even their tenses are different. A word in English could mean the exact opposite in another language (Don't try saying “tootles” in England; I learned the hard way.)

If you have traveled in a foreign country and read the translated tourist signs, you probably believe, as I do, that many cheap businesses use online translators instead of professional human beings to aid their communication to American tourists. Think of it as linguistic plagiarism: Many companies try to skate away from costs by connecting to the ol' WWW and finding out what to say for themselves and, not surprisingly, most fail miserably. For example, a sign in one Morrocan shop reads "Here speeching American." Yeah, right.

You can't escape from the curse of Babel that cheaply!

Here at the FCN lab, we took a simple phrase and ran it through the linguistic grinder. We wanted a sentence that we could use against any malicious people who looked like they might beat us up in a dark ally. You know how dangerous foreign countries can be and its good to have a snazzy line to pull out if someone suspicious starts following you. Well, we gave it the old college try, but our results looked more like linguine than language.

Here's the breakdown:

Original: If anyone follows us, we will ditch them, we will cream them, we will squash them, we will pound them into the ground and tear them to pieces.

French: Si n'importe qui nous suit, nous les entourerons de fossés, nous les écrémerons, nous sirop les, nous les martèlerons dans le sol et les déchirerons aux morceaux.

French Translation: If no matter who follows us, we will surround them by ditches, we will skim them, us syrup them, we will hammer them in the ground and will tear them with the pieces.

German: Wenn jeder uns folgt, werden wir sie mit Gräben umgeben, wir werden sie abrahmen wir Sirup sie, wir werden sie im Boden hämmern und sie werden an den Stücken zerreißen.

German Translation: If everyone follows us, we are surrounded it with ditches, we will them skim we syrup them, we to become them in the soil hammer and them at the pieces will tear up.

Chinese: 如果我们每个人以下,这与我们四周沟渠,我们将他们我们糖浆, 我们成为他们和他们的土锤片将撕毁.

Chinese Translation: If each one of us, which shows us around drains, we will be their skim syrup. We become their hammer and they will tear up the soil.

Russian: Если каждый из нас, который показывает нам около водосточных систем, мы будем их сироп. Мы стали их молотком, и они будут уничтожать землю.

Russian Translation: If each one of us, which shows us about the drains, we are going to skim syrup. We have to hammer, and they will destroy the land.

Korean: 하수구에 관하여 저희를 보여주는, 우리 각자가 우리 가는 경우에 시럽을 우리는 망치로 쳐야 하고, 그들은 땅을 파괴할 것이다.

Korean Translation: Regarding the drain it shows us, our each one us it is thin in case the syrup skim. We must hit with the hammer, them will destroy the ground.

I can just see calling a mugger thin and syrupy.

“Oh, you're going to destroy my land!”

The pronunciations on some of those languages look brutal. Take the Korean, for instance. What do you do with “?” Does that have some kind of phonetic significance or does it mean what it looks like it means, a fat man and his date?

Seriously though, stores should stop forging their own trials through the quagmires of language and hire qualified experts for assistance. I, for one, would be happy to volunteer.


Lizzy said...

That's not a fat man and his date. It's more like a Picasso painting.:)

Jacqui said...


and y'all are so corny to just feed it backwards like that. "i do not think that word means what you think it means."

Aranel said...


ajmoreno56 said...

I was just talking to someone about this...

Bethany said...

That was hilarious! Thanks! As one of those "aspiring linguists" you so deferrentially referred to, I love anything having to do with mistranslation . :-D

Savannah said...

My dad used something like that in a sermon once. :D