Sunday, March 01, 2009

Fun With Babel Fish

Hello everyone!

I really get a lot of use out of the Babel Fish translator, which, for those who aren't familiar with it, is simply a website where you can enter text from one language, and it translates it to another. Earlier, I came across a recipe for guacamole that was surprisingly written in German. I was able to figure out what most of the ingredients were, except for something called, "zwiebel," which sounded very familiar to me, but I couldn't quite place it at the time. Had I put some thought into it, I would've no doubt figured out what it was, but I had the Internets right at my fingertips, so why put any thought into it? I used the Babel Fish translator, and the translation came up in English as "bulb." I figured that meant "onion" since I can't see using any other type of bulb such as sweet potato, jicama, or a crocus bulb for guacamole, but just to be sure, I translated "onion" from English to German, and sure enough "zwiebel" came up. I then remembered where I initially heard the word, zweibel, and it all made sense.

Anyway, I started thinking about how words can have multiple synonyms, how the same word can have multiple meanings, and how different languages have different sentence structures. So I decided to have some fun with the translator. I picked out a well-known block of text: in this case, the Pledge of Allegiance, and I decided to try translating it into one language and then translate the result from that language back into English to see what comes up. It's sort of an electronic, one person campfire game. Here's an example:

I started by copying and pasting text of the pledge into the translator, and for those who have forgotten, here it is:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.
Pretty catchy, eh? I then translated it from English to Spanish. Here is the result:
Prometo lealtad a la bandera de los Estados Unidos de América, y a la república la cual representa: un nación debajo de dios, indivisible, con libertad y justicia para todos.
Then I copied and pasted the above into the translator and translated is from Spanish back to English. Here's what came up:
I promise loyalty to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic which represents: a nation underneath God, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all.
That's pretty close to the original. And I like the idea of a "republic which represents," yo! Let's try French:
I pawn l' allegiance with the flag of the d' United States; America, and with the Republic which it represents: a nation under God, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all.
Aside from the difficulties of translating contractions, I find it interesting that "pledge" and "pawn" are apparently synonymous in French. How about another language? Let's try Italian:
Engagement the fidelity to the small flag of the United States d' America and to the Republic to which it corresponds: a nation under the God, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all.
Apparently our flag shrunk in the translation. How about German?
I promise allegiance to the marking sign of the states of America and to the republic, for which she stands: a nation under the God, indivisibly, with freedom and justice for all.
"Marking sign"? What, they don't have a word in German that means "flag"? Interesting. Let's try Dutch:
I link faithfully to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic which it means: one nation under god, indivisible, with freedom and justice for all.
They don't "pledge allegiance," they "link faithfully." This is another reason why Holland/The Netherlands is the most awesome country in the world. They also have two completely different country names, and the name of their language isn't even close to either. The pot and the prostitution is pretty awesome as well, not that I'm condoning such a thing...

Moving right along, let's look at Portuguese:
I promise the allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic that represents: a nation under the god, indivisible, with freedom and justice for everything.
"Freedom and justice for everything"? Even ants? Flowers? Cars? Cookies? That's crazy! What about Russian? I bet they don't allow "freedom and justice for everything"!
I embed devotion to the flag connected [Shtatyy] Of [amerikii], and to the republic for which he stands: one nation under god, indivisible, with the liberty and the justice for all.
Apparently "states" and "America" translated to Russian but not back to English. Still, you won't see too many people trying to "embed devotion to the flag" here. Maybe in Amsterdam, but you'd have to pay to see it. Bring on the Greek:
I commit the subjugation in the flag of United States of America, and in the Democracy which it represents: a nation under the God, indivisible, with the freedom and the justice for all.
"Commit the subjugation"? At least Greeks are honest with their language. I also find it interesting that "republic" is apparently a synonym for "democracy" in Greek.

Now let's get to the non-Indo-European languages, where the sentence structures are more drastically different than English. Up first is Chinese:
I pledged that loyally to US's flag and the Republic which represents to it: Under a God's country, not separable, with all freedom and unjustness.
"Unjustness." It's bad when something translates as the exact opposite of what was originally meant. How about Japanese:
I the American flag loyalty pledge in the republic which means: 1 nations under God, impossible all freedom and justice because of division.
"I the American flag"? That's taking a pledge of allegiance a bit too far in my opinion. "Impossible all freedom and justice because of division"? Wow, that says a lot. What it says, I'm not sure. Finally, we get to Korean:
I the flag of United States of America and pledge a loyalty in the republic which means: 1 nation, there is not will not be able to divide in the providence lower part and all with freedom and the process for joins in.
There is not will not be able to make sense of this at all.

So feel free to try translating various quotes, common phrases, song lyrics, etc. to various languages and back, and then post them in the comments.

Rob

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