Archive for Lost in translation

The city of Mr. Andreessen, South Korea

By now, the sinking of the South Korean MV Sewol on April 16, 2014, with 476 persons on board, is known to the whole world.  Especially tragic is the fact that most of the passengers were high school students on an outing and that the ship's captain had behaved in an extremely irresponsible manner, resulting in the deaths of many individuals who might otherwise have been saved:

"South Korean President: Actions of sunken ferry captain 'akin to murder'".

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Funky Mind Shoes

Michael Johnson took this picture in Hong Kong between Queen's Road Central and the escalators:


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Not guilty on this train

Wenn sounds a bit like when, but doesn't really mean "when" in German; it usually means "if". Wer sounds a bit like where, but it doesn't mean "where", it means "who". Sechs sounds like sex but doesn't mean "sex". Gift looks like gift but means "poison". Nothing is easy, even when dealing with languages as closely related as English and German (the curse of Babel really was a serious curse). I was reflecting on such matters yesterday as I waited to begin my journey on a fast train from Salzburg to Munich. How easy and natural it would be to make the wrong assumption about, for example, the meaning of the adjective gültig, which I had seen on my tickets and accompanying documents. And as if on cue, I suddenly heard the beautifully-spoken announcer tell us in English over the train's PA system that tickets of a certain category "are not guilty on this train."

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The sparseness of linguistic data

Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis say in a New York Times piece on why we shouldn't buy all the hype about the Big Data revolution in science:

Big data is at its best when analyzing things that are extremely common, but often falls short when analyzing things that are less common. For instance, programs that use big data to deal with text, such as search engines and translation programs, often rely heavily on something called trigrams: sequences of three words in a row (like "in a row"). Reliable statistical information can be compiled about common trigrams, precisely because they appear frequently. But no existing body of data will ever be large enough to include all the trigrams that people might use, because of the continuing inventiveness of language.

To select an example more or less at random, a book review that the actor Rob Lowe recently wrote for this newspaper contained nine trigrams such as "dumbed-down escapist fare" that had never before appeared anywhere in all the petabytes of text indexed by Google. To witness the limitations that big data can have with novelty, Google-translate "dumbed-down escapist fare" into German and then back into English: out comes the incoherent "scaled-flight fare." That is a long way from what Mr. Lowe intended — and from big data's aspirations for translation.

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Chinese Dream: Flying nine days

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Translating Chinese poetry is hard

Wei Shao sent me this photograph of the English translation of a famous Chinese poem:


(Click to embiggen.)

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Energize Complete Works

Jì Xiànlín 季羨林 (1911-2009), an old friend of mine, was China's greatest Indologist and Tocharian specialist (see this Wikipedia article, also in Mandarin, Cantonese, and Classical Chinese).  His complete works in 18 volumes, Jì Xiànlín quánjí 季羨林全集, are available through Amazon and other online book services.  What is strange is that the English translation of the title is given in a number of places as Energize Complete Works.

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Free of Smoke

The following photograph was taken at Dolphin Discovery on the island of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands:

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Washirweng

John Considine found this circa 1880 advertisement in the Hong Kong 2013 catalog of Bernard Quaritch (with the note that "We have not been able to locate any other example of this kind of trade card"):

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Ensure government big tofu

Sandeep Robert Datta posted this on Facebook, from the Beijing International Airport:

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Oracle

Bryan Van Norden sent in this photograph taken at the Hong Kong International Airport:

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Bad shits

I received the following photograph of a sign taken by Son Ha Dinh in Damak, Nepal:

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Sale of chicken murder

This fine instance of Saudinglish is found, together with other prime examples, in the following article: "Vous avez aimé le 'chinglish', vous allez adorer le 'saudinglish'!"

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Really lost in translation

Ray Girvan ("Ibong Adarna: Google Mistranslate", 2/17/2014) documents one of the more bizarre machine-translation oddities in recent years:

Ibong Adarna is the title of a massively popular epic fantasy in the mythology and culture of the Philippines; it originally went under the snappy title of Corrido ng Pinagdaanang Buhay nang Tatlong Principeng, Magcacapatid na Anac nang haring Fernando at nang Reina Valeriana sa Caharian ng Berbania ("Corrido of the Traveled/Travailed Life of Three Princes, Sibling Children of King Fernando and Queen Valeriana of the Kingdom of Berbania"). Despite the Spanish names, it evidently pre-dates the Spanish Era in the Philippines.

You should read Ray's post for more background on the history, form, and significance of this work, whose title means "The Adarna Bird".  Because somehow — mischance? malice? — Google Translate came up with this:

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Microwave display

Jim Unger recently got a new microwave oven made by Haier in China.  He soon noticed that, when the cooking is done, it displays the following notice:  GOOD.  Since that seemed a bit odd, Jim thought about it for awhile, but then realized that it must be a translation of Mandarin hǎole 好了 (lit., "has become good"), which can mean lots of things ("well; okay; all right; ready", and so forth), but in this case indicates "done".

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