Translation games

Thu 17 May 2012 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , , , , | 3 Comments | Posted by: Gavin

Three Messages and a Warning cover - click to view full sizeWhen Three Messages and a Warning came out one of the things we meant to do was play with Google Translate. Hold that thought, let a few months pass, find a quiet Thursday afternoon and here we are.

So:

  1. here’s the story in the English translation
  2. then the same story run through Google from English to Spanish (enjoy, Hispanophones!),
  3. and, lastly the machine Spanish translation retranslated by Google from Spanish to English—using a different browser so that it did not just return the original text.

I used one of the shorter stories in the book, “Variation on a Theme of Coleridge” by Alberto Chimal [video of author reading], translated by co-editor Chris N.Brown so that you can buzz through it and easily compare:

I got a call. It was me, calling from a phone I lost the year before. I asked me where I had found the phone. I answered myself that it was in such and such cafeteria that I couldn’t remember anymore.
“You’re sick,” I said, calling from who knows where. “What have you done with your life? Still getting fat? Still stuck in your crisis?”
I told myself no, but in reality I was lying and I knew it.
“You’re lying,” I told myself.
“What do you want?” I asked me, a little annoyed with myself. Why was it I was looking for myself at this particular moment?
“You must be wondering why I’m looking for you right now,” I said.
“It’s not true!” I answered.
“The one that gets mad loses,” I said, laughing at myself, and I wanted to hang up but I stopped myself, saying, “You need someone to put you in your place and straighten you out.”
Then there was a knock on the door, and it turned out it was me. I’d been standing there the whole time.
“Obviously I know where you live, idiot,” I said to myself without hanging up the cell phone.
“It’s not worth it,” I answered. “Go ahead and hang up already.”
It was really ridiculous to keep talking on the cell phone. But it didn’t really console me to think that, if I saw me as being ridiculous, I also saw myself as being ridiculous. In fact I wanted to cry from the realization that I actually looked younger and skinnier, and only a year had passed. Even worse, I had hair, I still had hair, when really I’d had one of my crises the day before and I’d shaven and I looked pathetic.
“You look pathetic,” I said to myself. I couldn’t take any more. I started to really cry, and answered me. “Yes.” And then I fell to the floor. And then, against all expectations, I knelt and hugged myself, hugged myself and consoled myself and told myself that everything was going to be okay, that if I didn’t help myself then who was going to help me . . . or so I told myself.
“We’re going to need to hang up,” I added after a moment, and laughed. I laughed too, sucking up the tears and thinking how unworthy our pose was. Then it occurred to me that I’d gotten negligent, because my telephone from a year ago was in better shape than the one I have now.

————

And now, here is that translation run through Google Translate:

Recibí una llamada?. Era yo, llamando desde un teléfono que perdí el año anterior. Yo me preguntó de dónde había encontrado el teléfono. Me contestó que era en la cafetería de tal y tal que no podía recordar más.
“Usted está enfermo”, le dije, que llamaba desde quién sabe dónde. “¿Qué has hecho con tu vida? Aún así engordar? Todavía atascado en la crisis? ”
Me dije que no, pero en realidad me estaba mintiendo y yo lo sabía.
“Estás mintiendo”, me dije.
“¿Qué quieres?” Yo me preguntó, un poco molesto conmigo mismo. ¿Por qué fue que yo estaba buscando a mí mismo en este momento en particular?
“Usted debe estar preguntándose por qué estoy buscando ahora mismo”, le dije.
“No es cierto!”, Respondí.
“El que se enoja pierde”, le dije, riéndome de mí, y yo quería colgar, pero me detuvo, diciendo: “Usted necesita a alguien que le ponga en su lugar y enderezar a salir.”
Luego hubo un golpe en la puerta, y resultó que era yo. Había estado allí todo el tiempo.
“Obviamente, yo sé dónde vives, idiota”, me dije sin colgar el teléfono celular.
“No vale la pena”, le contesté. “Vaya por delante y cuelgue ya.”
Fue realmente ridículo seguir hablando en el teléfono celular. Pero en realidad no la consola me hace pensar que, si yo me viera como algo ridículo, yo también me veía como ridículo. De hecho, me entraron ganas de llorar de la constatación de que en realidad parecía más joven y más delgado, y sólo un año había pasado. Lo que es peor, yo tenía el pelo, yo todavía tenía el pelo, cuando en realidad había tenido una de mis crisis el día anterior y me afeitado y me parecía patético.
“Te ves patético”, me dije a mí mismo. Yo no podía aguantar más. Me puse a llorar de verdad, y me respondió. “Sí”. Y entonces me cayó al suelo. Y luego, contra todo pronóstico, me arrodillé y se abrazó a mí mismo, abrazó a mí y me consolé y me dije que todo iba a estar bien, que si no me ayudan, que me iba a ayudar. . . más o menos, me dije.
“Vamos a tener que colgar”, añadió que después de un momento, y se rió. Yo también me reí, absorbiendo las lágrimas y pensando en lo indigno posar nuestra era. Entonces se me ocurrió que había llegado por negligencia, porque mi teléfono desde hace un año estaba en mejores condiciones que la que tengo ahora.

———

And, at last, here it is back again (cut and pasted as is):

I got a call?. I was calling from a phone that I lost last year. I asked where I had found the phone. He said it was in the cafeteria of so and so could not remember.
“You are sick,” he said, calling from God knows where. “What have you done with your life? Still fat? Still stuck in the crisis?”
I said no, but in reality I was lying and I knew it.
“You’re lying,” he said.
“What do you want?” I asked, a little annoyed with myself. Why was I was looking for myself in this particular time?
“You must be wondering why I’m looking for right now,” he said.
“Not true!” I replied.
“Whoever loses gets angry,” he said, laughing at me, and I wanted to hang, but he stopped me, saying, “You need someone to put in place and straighten out.”
Then there was a knock on the door, and turned out it was me. He had been there all along.
“Obviously, I know where you live, idiot,” I said without hanging up the phone.
“Not worth it,” he said. “Go ahead and hang up now.”
It was really ridiculous to continue talking on cell phone. But the console does not really makes me think that if I see me as something ridiculous, I also saw me as ridiculous. In fact, I wanted to mourn the realization that actually looked younger and thinner, and only a year had passed. Worse, I had hair, I still had hair, when in fact he had one of my crisis the day before and I shaved and I felt pathetic.
“You look pathetic,” I said to myself. I could not take it anymore. I really began to mourn, and I responded. “Yes.” And then I fell. And then, against all odds, I knelt down and hugged myself, hugged me and comforted me and told me that everything would be fine, if not help me, I would help. . . or so I thought.
“We’ll have to hang up,” he added after a moment, and laughed. I laughed too, absorbing tears, thinking how undignified pose AD. Then I thought that had come through negligence, because my phone for a year was in better condition than I have now.

———

The machine translation gets the gist of it, but it’s definitely not there enough yet. It will be fun (or scary) to do this in 2-3 years time to see how much it improves.

Comments

3 Responses to “Translation games”

  1. Cyber on May 17th, 2012 5:14 pm

    That was fun!

  2. Kai in NYC on May 17th, 2012 10:10 pm

    And for the translations to come out even this well, you definitely need simple syntax and simple vocabulary: try this with the first page of McCarthy’s “Suttree,” for example, and you’d get utterest nonsense at each reiteration.

  3. Sam X on May 18th, 2012 9:20 am

    I wish translating works was this easy.

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