Babelfish

Posted September 11, 1998 at 9:00 am No Comments

Have you ever played with the Babelfish Translator at Altavista?   It’s really quite fascinating.  You type in a passage or the address of a web page, select a source language and a target language, and all of the text is translated for you, to a reasonably high degree of accuracy!  Naturally, every translation is riddled with tiny errors (mostly due to words with dual meanings), so you can’t really use it to write your French papers.  However, it’s definitely very useful as a tool for understanding writings in a language with which you’re not familiar.

That’s not what I like best about it, however.  My favorite part of the Babelfish Translator is that you can use it to translate a passage from English to another language, and then back to English again, and it makes the passage sound as if it was written by someone with an extremely poor command of English.  For example, consider the previous paragraph in this daily update.  Translating it to French, and then back to English, lends it the formal, stylized, slightly erroneous quality of English text written by a foreigner:

Did you ever play with the translator of Babelfish at Altavista? It is really completely attractive. You seize a passage or addresses of a Web page, to choose a source language and a target language, and any text to translate for you, reasonably a high exactitude degree! Normal, each translation is solved with tiny errors (most of the time due word with duelles significances), thus you cannot truth employ it to write your French papers. However, it is certainly very useful as tool to include/understand writings in a language with which you are not well-informed.

When you translate passages including slang and idiomatic expressions, the results are even more humorous!  For example,  consider the following passage from the classic American rap hit Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-A-Lot:

I like big butts and I cannot lie,
And you other brothers can’t deny
That when a girl walks up with an itty-bitty waist,
And a round thing is your face you get sprung,
Wanna pull out that tongue,
‘Cause you notice that butt is stuffed.

Watch what happens when we translate the passage from English to Spanish, and then back again:

I have taste of great tops and I cannot lie,
And you other brothers cannot deny
That when a girl crosses above for with a waist itty-bitty,
And a round thing is its face that you obtain loosen,
Wanna removes tongue-piece,
‘Causes the warning to him that the top is filled up.

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