Monday, 26 April 2010

hours of fun for all the family: the Bad Translator

The Inttranews twitter feed has just come up with the ultimate timewaster - worse than Youtube, more insidious even than twitter itself - the Bad Translator. It is a little app which takes a phrase and translates it in and out of various language pairs in alphabetical order (from English to Afrikaans, back to English, to Albanian, to English, to Arabic, to English, to Belarussian etc.). It's powered by GoogleTranslate and you choose how many language pairs you want an item translated through: 10, 25 or 'max', which seems to be 54.

I tried it with a few lines off the top of my head:

'Sing me a song but not for me alone' (sue me, I like Lloyd Webber) comes out after 10 translations as 'Singing, but not for me'; after 25 translations as 'Song, but not for me' and after max translations as 'I know Paul'. The key languages where the translation shifts happen seem to be Korean and Norwegian. All explanations welcome.

'I peel and portion a tangerine and spit the pips and feel the drunkenness of things being various' (thank you Louis McNeice) comes out rather come-hither after 10 translations: 'My skin, lemons, spit it out of the moment, things feel different sugar' and 25 translations: 'My skin, lemon, play, feel the various sugars'. I hardly dared to press 'max' but in the end it was all rather tame: 'Lemon zest, I feel the various Sugars.'

Another well-known Irish poem redolent of the values of yesteryear begins 'In a mean abode on the Shankill Road/ lived a man named William Bloat'. Just one translation (in and out of Afrikaans) gives 'In an average home in the Shankill Road, a man named William Bloat'. This is fabulous and can hardly be improved on, but the proper names also get interesting later on. The 25th translation reads: 'On the street, a man named William Shan Kill Iron'. After a few rounds of transliteration, we have: "People oyryamukirushanairon vice". I think Joyce would have liked it.

'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness' comes out after 10 translations as '"This is the best time is the worst, which is the age of wisdom, crazy times'; after 25 translations as 'This is the best time of knowledge poor old crazy time' and after max translations becomes unexpectedly lyrical: 'The best time for anger, loss'.

There's an obvious pun there but I'm not going to make it.

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