Friday, September 14, 2012

Fun Friday: Translation Sensation

I have so many fun homeschool lessons. Recently, something Renae Kingsley said made me decide to give up on chronological order. Now I'll just post these things as is convenient. (Which generally means, as I unearth them from the piles of papers strewn all about my house.) How liberating!

Here's one from August 10, 2012. For history, we were discussing the King James Bible. I talked about the translation process and William Tyndale, and then pulled up several divergent English translations. We compared Psalm 23 in the KJV, the New International Version, and the Douai-Rheims. Also The Message, which was awful. Funny, but awful. It reads like he didn't even reference the original languages, but simply paraphrased from an existing English translation. "Your trusty shepherd's crook makes me feel secure" vs. "thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Hopefully this link, to the entire side-by-side comparison, will work...

Then, to bring home the difficulties of translation, we tried one of my favorite activities, which involves running a block of text through an online translator. Tee hee. (Like this exercise from Bastille Day, 2008.)

I wrote a bad text and then ran it through several online translations. I documented each step, but in summary, let's just say that French, Japanese, Basque, and Swedish featured prominently. Finally, I had the google translator render it back in English. Eric had to guess my original intent, based upon the mangled text, which I quote below:

Wash up, I saw the Sun do gymnastics. He is sooo cute and tumbling pass with three turns of the rotation if you're shy, if you get my drift. Then he completely frustrated, she cries if strident. Your use probably buy it now, but I fine boring. However, I "practiceth. Long-suffering, patience, and a" remember the Bible says.

Too hard? Yes, Eric thought so as well.

I simplified it a bit and gave him some hints, but he was stymied. So was Jon.

I don't blame them.

See, I didn't just write a bad text. I deliberately wrote a text which I knew would trip the translator.

Here is the original idea, rendered in readable English:

While I was washing dishes, I saw Sam trying to do gymnastics. He is really cute but doesn't have much strength or coordination yet. Because he can't do much more than a somersault, he gets frustrated and then screams. You are probably accustomed to his screams, but I find them annoying. Still, when I start to get cranky, I remind myself that the Bible teaches us to be patient.

Now, my deliberately corrupted version, with commentary:

Washing dishes, I saw Sam doing gymnastics.

I put a dangling participle in to make it unclear whether it was Sam or I who was doing dishes. Later, this led to an explanation of misplaced modifiers in general and dangling participles in particular. See? Educational.

Sam turning into Sat, Saturday, and the Sun surprised me. It was a felicitous accident. Apparently the translator saw "Sam" and assumed it was an abbreviation for the word "Samedi," which means "Saturday" in French. Most languages base their day names on local mythology like Moon Day, Thor's Day, Saturn's Day, or Sun Day. At one point in the process, poor Sam even got turned into the Earth. I mercifully changed him back again.

He's soooo cute but still a few rotations shy of a triple twisting tumbling pass, if you get my drift.

Very idiomatic language. Both "soooo" and "if you get my drift" seemed to survive quite well; generally the translator simply didn't try to render them in the target language, so they re-entered the English without mishap. I thought it was hilarious to see "Sooo cute da, batzuk nire Deriva" in Basque.

"Shy," on the other hand, successfully wrought havoc.

Then he gets frustrated so he screams shrilly.

Mostly filler. I made the grammar slightly awkward with the conjunction "so," but I wasn't really trying.

Your probably use to him buy now but I fined it annoying.

Here my true evil shows. Homophones! Specially designed to "sound" right but befuddle an online substitution dictionary.

But then I remind myself what the Bible says about "he who practiceth patience and long-suffering."

The exercise wouldn't be complete without some Biblical language. (Plus I figured the archaic conjugation also wouldn't show up in a modern lexicon.)

As online translators get better, this exercise gets less fun.

I shall enjoy designing Turing Test Traps while I still can.

--The point of this exercise, naturally, was to show that it is sometimes hard to discern the "original intent" of an ancient message. Especially if original documents have been lost or poorly transcribed. This is why we need a living prophet! For more on my opinion about potential problems in translation, see this post about the Bible and science.

--The devoted reader might also wish to read this story about my stuffed animals trying to translate scripture (well, Green Eggs and Ham) from the "original" Latin.


renae kingsley said...

What a fun way to illustrate grammar principles and simultaneously discuss errors in Biblical translation. It's such a creative idea!

Did you let Eric try writing something to send through the translation process?

Your lessons are always so creative!

renae kingsley said...

Okay, so I just realized I was completely redundant on that last comment- using 'creative' way too often. Let's change that last sentence to say: Your lessons are always so fun/innovative/unique. That's better.

Carolyn said...

whee! translation! Poor Eric.

Brian Thomas said...

Love the idea. But a lot of the ideas you have (e.g. homophones) would probably be caught by a good human translator, as were (ostensibly) the ones who translated the Bible. I would love to see you play the telephone game through a bunch of different human translators -- that would be awesome!

Jon said...

Sorry it took so long to read this won, but its awesum! Eye went back and red yor Bastile Day post, two. Grate memorys...

Gail said...

Won ding I didnt twy was bad spelin. Or whiting like Sham talks. Now dat be bad.

Jan Grambo said...

Love the idea! I'm going to try it, but without some of the deliberate misdirection. I suspect the online translators can mess things up well enough on their own!