Archive for August 19th, 2008

Babel Fish, Snickers, Godzilla, and Garfield

August 19, 2008

Yesterday’s post was about how Pole Vault conversion between Metric and Imperial is not symmetric: 16′ 1″ converts to 4.90 meters, but 4.90 meters only converts to 16′ 3/4″.

It turns out that language translation programs aren’t symmetric either. For example, Babel Fish translates the phrase Gozilla sure eats a lot of Snickers bars! as Godzilla mange sure beaucoup de barres de Snickers! in French, but then if you translate the French phrase back into English you get Godzilla eats sour much bars of Snickers! Sour (surely?) Snickers — bleh. Godzilla can have ’em.

(Not surprisingly, translation via Babel Fish is also not transitive: if you translate Godzilla mange sure beaucoup de barres de Snickers! into Dutch you get Godzilla eet zurig vele staven van Snickers! but if you translate Gozilla sure eats a lot of Snickers bars! into Dutch directly you get Zekere Gozilla eet heel wat bars van Giechels!.)

The lack of symmetry in translation programs resulted in a great set of cartoons in Garfield Lost in Translation on Blogoscoped, in which Garfield cartoons were translated into Chinese and then back into English. You can see the cartoons here, but here’s one example:

Author Philipp Lenssen comments here that he had to use Babel Fish for the initial translation into Chinese because:

Google’s translation were – unfortunately for the purpose of this – far too good to be funny most of the times, even when trying multi-language chains (e.g. English to Japanese to German to English).

There’s more of this on The Language Log and also on The Lansey Brother’s Blog (using the Gettysburg Address).

Speaking of Garfield, if you haven’t seen Garfield Minus Garfield it’s worth a look. Each day a new Garfield cartoon is posted with all the animals and their monologues removed. The results look like this:

Ah, Garfield. Providing amusement on so many levels.