Friday, May 06, 2005

Tower of Babel


dvancements in techonology are amazing. Everytime I turn around there is something that simply freaks me out. My school laptop has voice recognition and will learn as I speak to it, catching my pronunciations and inflections to turn my spoken words into electronic text. I sometimes feel like I'm in a science fiction film. But this is mere transliteration. When it comes to understanding and interpreting a language, no amount of programing and computation can take the place of the human brain.

Translation Machines

These little beauties translate words and phrases adequately. But full texts are another matter. Language is far too complicated, too intricate, to rely on a translation machine for competent rendering. The following translation of a quote that was on RBJ is a case in point. The English--my English, which will never be mistaken for Faulkner, Hemingway or even Stephen King--is not particularly complex. But both Babel Fish and Google butchered it quite badly. The left is the Japanese rendered by the translation programs and the right is my re-translation back into English.

We bloggers are, to varying degrees, narcissists and exhibitionists. We love to expose ourselves, talk about ourselves. And yet, ultimately, we expose only what we want to expose: a little thigh, some cleavage--well, I don't really have any cleavage...

Babel Fish

私達は、様々なレベルへ、bloggers narcissists 及びexhibitionists である。私達は私達自身をの私達自身についての話露出することを愛する。今までのところでは、最終的に、私達は私達がたいと思う何を露出し露出するただ: 小さい腿、開裂-- よく、私は実際に開裂を持っていない。

Babel translated

We, to various levels, bloggers are narcissists as well as exhibitionists. We love to expose the stories concerning ourselves, of ourselves. Up until now, ultimately, we expose what? that we think we desiderative and expose. It's just that: small thighs, split openings--often, I don't really have split openings...


私達は, 様々な程度へ , bloggers narcissists とexhibitionists である。私達はの私 達自身についての話露出することを愛する。今までのところでは 私達がたい何を露出し, 最終的に, 私達はただ露出する: 小さい 腿すなわち開裂…よく, 私は実際にどの開裂をも... " 有しない

Google translated

We, to various extents, bloggers are narcissists and exhibitionists. We of love to expose stories concerning ourselves. Up until now, we desiderative expose what? ultimately we simply expose: small thighs, namely split openings... often, I actually don't possess any split openings

As you can see, my re-translation is horrible. But that's because the Japanese is horrible. Some of the grammar is whacko, because it tried to mirror some of the grammatical liberties I take when writing. Google, I think, did a tad bit better, although the Japanese still sounds awkward and two words in both were completely blown and one grammatical point is totally indecipherable. When I wrote, "A little thigh" I didn't mean the size of my thigh. And cleavage refered to the split between the breasts, not some split that is created by "cleaving," which is what the Japanese suggests. BTW: Cleavage in Japanese is 谷間 tanima, literally, valley space. Hahahhahaha.

The incomprehesible rendering was the word "want". In Japanese, like Korean, aspects of predicates--perfect tense, desire, negation--are conveyed not through separate words but by attaching suffixes to verbs or adjectives.

  • tabe-ru : I eat (tabe is the stem)
  • tabe-ta : I ate
  • tabe-nai : I don't eat.
  • tabe-tai : I want to eat.

Now, this is not a Japanese class, but I do want you to look at the last conjugation: tabe-tai. The suffix, -tai, is attached to the stem of the verb to make it mean "I want to eat." But the point is that -tai is a suffix, not an independent word. It cannot be used by itself. But inerestingly, both translation machines rendered "want" as simply -tai, as if it could stand alone. Further, the pronoun "what" introducing the relative clause was interpreted as an interrogative. So the sentence in Japanese is completely mumbo jumbo. In Japanese: チンプンカンプン

  • And yet, ultimately, we expose only what we want to expose.
  • 今までのところでは 私達がたいを露出し, 最終的に, 私達はただ露出する. Ima made no tokoro de wa, watashi-tachi ga tai nani wo roshutsu shi, saishuu-teki ni, watashi-tachi wa tada roshutsu suru.

The Japanese should read, stirctly speaking:

  • しかし、結局のところ、私達が露出したいことだけ露出する。Shikashi, kekkyoku no tokoro, watashi-tachi ga roshutsu shitai koto dake roshutsu suru.

Of course, my own Japanese would sound a bit different.

  • しかし、結局のところ、我々が見せたいところしか見せないのだ。Shikashi, kekkyoku no tokoro, wareware ga misetai tokoro shika misenai no da.

Not that my Japanese would be mistaken for Mishima, Kawabata, or even Murakami Haruki...

1 comment:

David said...

This is a really interesting blog! I found it from a search of 'gaijin vs. gaikokujin'
I actually commented on how bad machine translation is on one of my blog posts.
Then again, the original Japanese wasn't exactly perfect either. ;)