Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Rosetta stoned

Oscar Madison's Googlation is a splendid toy.
All you have to do is take some English text, have Google translate it into another language, and then have Google re-translate it back into English.
Mostly, the results are silly. Occassionally, serendipitous poetry will emerge from from recombinant translations. Mostly, it's silly, though.

But it reminded me of something, too — something about the world's worst phrasebook. There's the Monty Python sketch, "Dirty Hungarian phrasebook,"
Clerk: I quote an example. The Hungarian phrase meaning 'Can you direct me to the station?' is translated by the English phrase, 'Please fondle my bum.'
But the Python wasn't quite it — the mistranslation is too intentional. One of Oscar's readers remarked of a favorite Googlation, "I like the Portuguese, myself." And that reminded me of the unintentional classic English as She Is Spoke. Here's what BookSense has to say about it:
English as She Is Spoke: Being a Comprehensive Phrasebook of the English Language, Written by Men to Whom English Was Entirely Unknown

In 1855, when Jose da Fonseca and Pedro Carolino wrote an English phrasebook for Portuguese students, they faced just one problem: they didn't know any English. Even worse, they didn't own an English-to-Portuguese dictionary. What they did have, though, was a Portuguese-to-French dictionary, and a French-to-English dictionary. The linguistic train wreck that ensued is a classic of unintentional humor, now revived in the first newly selected edition in a century. Armed with Fonseca and Carolino's guide, a Portuguese traveler can insult a barber ("What news tell me? All hairs dresser are newsmonger"), complain about the orchestra ("It is a noise which to cleve the head"), go hunting ("let aim it! let make fire him"), and consult a handy selection of truly mystifying "Idiotisms and Proverbs."
I ran the book description through the book's own set of translation filters: English > French > Portuguese > French > English (Google lacks F>P, so I used Babel Fish.).
The English because it is SPOKE: While being complete Phrasebook of the English, written by Men with aulequel the English entirely ignored era.

In 1855, when with IP Fonseca and Pedro Carolino Jose wrote an English phrasebook for the Portuguese students they, faced right a problem: they did not know the English. Worse still, they did not have a dictionary English-with-Portuguese _ which they will have will have, although, will have to be a dictionary Portuguese-with-French, and a dictionary French-with-English. The boat makes linguistic shipwreck of train which was followed is traditional of involuntary mood, now restored in the first edition recently selected in century. Armed with the guide with Fonseca and Carolino, a Portuguese traveller can insult a hairdresser ("which observations indicate to me?" All the mechanical planing machine of hair is newsmonger"), have sorrow of concerning the orchestra ("it is a noise which cleve with the head"), go hunting ("leave the objective it! they let make to put fire to him"), and consult a handy choice of really mystifying Idiotisms and proverbs."
This result isn't as odd as some. Running some text through all of Google's filters aptly gave me "joy with the relations in clay language." But "shipwreck of train" is pretty good. Wasn't that collision in a Michael Bay movie?


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