Literary Fun With Google Translate, Part 1
I titled this post with a “part one”—which implies there will be a “part two”—but I honestly don’t know. I guess we’ll see how this goes over.
Here’s the deal. This is an idea I completely stole from Garnet and Black, a blog devoted to the University of South Carolina football. They take coach Steve Spurrier’s press conference quotes, then throw them through a Google Translate ringer, basically translating his quotes through five or six different languages, then back translating to English. The results are pretty funny.
So I thought we’d try the same with famous literary passages. Why not?
1) From The Great Gatsby:
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning——So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
If you take that final passage from Gatsby then translate it as follows:
You’ll get this:
Gatsby believed in the green light, carnival, year after year, we had to escape our future, but no matter – tomorrow we will have a morning and so much more …. we will run faster, stretch his arms to keep the boat in the last repeating.
Just doesn’t have the same ring, huh?
2) On to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Here’s the opening line from that classic novel:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Here’s what that looks like:
The fact that a man in a good position in the world must recognize that the absence of a man.
3) Here’s a great passage from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities:
Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend, will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof shuts out the sky.’
Suppression only. Rooftop sky long-term fear and slavery, my friend in the dark, and will continue to monitor Ahrihsot Slhclb.
I think Google Translate just gave up on that one. It’s like if James Joyce were asked to rewrite Dickens.
4) Now here’s one of my favorite lines of all time. It comes via Iris Chase, the loveable, grumpy old lady in Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin:
“Soon you’ll regret all that sun-tanning. Your face will look like a testicle.”
Soon you will regret all that Sunday Figure you’ll look like a penis.
Fair warning. Sunday Figuring results in looking like a penis.
5) How about the opening line from Metamorphosis?
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.
Gregor Samsa uneasy dreams one morning, he and his animals is horrific past in her bed.
Somehow this monstrous vermin has turned into a woman whom Gregor is apparently sleeping with, and she has animals. Maybe she’s a cat lady?
6) And another famous opening line. This one from To Kill A Mockingbird.
Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square.
Old Town, fatigue, Maycomb the old town, I will do it first. Streets become fed red in the sky that will grow in the grass pavement, the judge credited the room.
Google is trying there. It’s really trying.
7) And how about this classic from Shakespeare?
To be or not to be: that is the question.
For it is: a question.
Deep, that is. Shakespeare has turned into Yoda. I love that, through all those translations, Google has stayed true to that colon. How many other languages actually use a colon?
Well that was kind of fun. You can always play along over at Google Translate.
Maybe we’ll do this again sometime. What do you think?