Saturday, 7 September 2013

Modern Magic

09:30:00 Posted by Ashley Lister , , , , No comments
 By Ashley Lister

According to Lost in Translation by Charlie Croker, this is a translation agency’s advertisement in The Moscow Times.

Bet us your letter of business translation do. Every people in our staffing know English like the hand of their back. Up to the minuet wise-street phrases, don’t you know, old boy.”

Personally speaking, I would employ them.

I mention this because the magic of translation has been on my mind this week. Arthur C Clarke, in his third law, astutely observed, “Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic.” 

I had one of these technology / magic moments last week when my son showed me how to control the display of YouTube on our TV screen by using my SmartPhone.

“Bloody hell!” I told him. “I’m amazed that the technology of your alarm clock has worked like magic on this one occasion.”

But it wasn’t just the alarm clock and the miraculous magic of him being awake during daylight hours. The wireless technology of my phone controlling the TV set like a remote – only a remote with PC capabilities – struck me as being so unexpected it was magical.

Similarly, I get touched by the magic of translation software. I suppose part of my awe on these occasions comes from the fact that I have a very limited understanding of foreign languages. I’ve done a degree in English, so I’m still working on understanding that language. The idea of learning a different set of words for things I pretend to know already is somewhat daunting.

Whilst I was pondering this modern magic, I had an idea to run a foreign language poem through translation software. This is Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Au Lecteur’.

Au Lecteur
La sottise, l'erreur, le péché, la lésine,
Occupent nos esprits et travaillent nos corps,
Et nous alimentons nos aimables remords,
Comme les mendiants nourrissent leur vermine. 
Charles Baudelaire

And this is that same poem in translation:

To drive
the foolishness, the error, the sin, the stinginess,
occupy our minds and work our body,
and we feed our kind remorse,
as beggars nourish their vermin.
Charles Baudelaire

Aside from the opening line, which is usually translated as ‘To the Reader’ I think this is a serviceable piece of writing and another magical facet of modern technology, allowing me to understand something from a foreign language.

Sadly, this level of efficiency in translation is going to mean we will one day lose eloquent mistranslations like this Serbian hotel room sign, which comes from the aforementioned book from Charlie Croker:

The flattening of underwear with pleasure
is the job of the chambermaid.
Turn to her straightaway.
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