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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:

English–>Serbian–>Dutch–>Traditional Chinese–>Telegu–>English

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.

Translated from:

English–>Filipino–>Bulgarian–>Catalan–>Tamil–>Afrikaans–>Esperanto–>English

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.

Huh?

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.’

English–>Azerbaijani–>Finnish–>Belarusian–>Traditional Chinese–>Cebuano–>Hebrew–>Italian–>English

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.”

English–>Arabic–>Haitian–>German–>Malay–>Yiddish–>English

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.

English–>Italian–>Czech–>Mongolian–>Swahili–>English

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.

English–>Basque–>Hindi–>Danish–>Japanese–>Maori–>English

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.

English–>Bengali–>Greek–>Hmong–>Irish–>Turkish–>Igbo–>English

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?

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20 Comments Post a comment
  1. That was pretty funny. The limits of language translation meet the limits of technology.

    Like

    September 12, 2014
  2. I just had to say this. In Klingon, “To be or not to be: that is the question” is “taH pagh taHbe’. DaH mu’tlheghvam vIqelnIS.” A direct translation of that back into English is: “It either endures, or it does not endure. Now, I must consider this sentence.”

    Liked by 2 people

    September 12, 2014
  3. rouellachristina #

    This was interesting! 🙂 makes me want to try it sometime 🙂

    Like

    September 12, 2014
  4. Sam #

    Great that Shakespeare is.

    Like

    September 12, 2014
  5. Fun – please do it again!

    Like

    September 12, 2014
  6. Google Translate is inhabited by the ghost of James Joyce.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 12, 2014
  7. So many language students do not realize how obvious it is to the instructor when they use an online translator. My friend wrote me a birthday note in English some years ago and then had it translated into French by Google translate. That definitely made my day! 😀

    Like

    September 12, 2014
  8. You have me worried about something I sent off in Dutch…and she hasn’t replied at all!
    oops! hee hee.
    thanks for the article…..I will be much much more careful, actually, think I’m going to stick with English, wouldn’t want to look like a Sunday Penis. 🙂

    Like

    September 12, 2014
  9. This is great. You have to do it again. And soon. I’m sure that there are worse fates than looking like a penis. Maybe sleeping with female vermin? I don’t know.

    Like

    September 12, 2014
  10. Wonder what George Orwell would say about Google translate?

    Like

    September 13, 2014
  11. That Gatsby translation was actually an improvement ( can you tell I loathe that book)

    Like

    September 13, 2014
  12. sylviemarieheroux #

    Pretty funny! Not so when you actually have to use it at work…

    Like

    September 15, 2014
  13. Haha! Hugely entertaining. Although with Kafka you shouldn’t have started with English — unfair.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 17, 2014
  14. Everyone loves what you guys tend to be up too. Such clever work and exposure!
    Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve included you guys to
    my personal blogroll.

    Like

    September 27, 2014
  15. Very funny indeed. LOL

    Like

    November 21, 2014
  16. oh thank you! I am not sure whether to laugh or cry – well, to be hones, I laughed 🙂

    Like

    November 21, 2014

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 5 Ways To Generate Blog Post Ideas | 101 Books
  2. Literary Fun With Google Translate, Part 2 | 101 Books
  3. Translated Tuesday: Episode 1 (The Humans) | Words Of A Bluebird

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