Of the Vista of the alcohol it is

Perhaps because I grew up bilingual, I have always been very fond of machine translation stories. I posted my favorite machine translation joke a long time ago, so I won't repeat it here. It's amusing, though, that real life now approximates my joke, as you see from the Lost in Translation web site:

What happens when an English phrase is translated (by computer) back and forth between 5 different languages? The authors of the Systran translation software probably never intended this application of their program. As of September 2003, translation software is almost good enough to turn grammatically correct, slang-free text from one language into grammatically incorrect, barely readable approximations in another. But the software is not equipped for 10 consecutive translations of the same piece of text. The resulting half-English, half-foreign, and totally non sequitur response bears almost no resemblance to the original. Remember the old game of “Telephone”? Something is lost, and sometimes something is gained. Try it for yourself!

It's not a true game of multilingual 'telephone' since it translates the phrase back into English before each iteration instead of being a true round-robin, but it's nevertheless amusing to see what happens when you take a phrase like “out of sight, out of mind” and run it through five different translations:

Here's the first try:

Original English Text:
Out of sight, out of mind.

Translated to French:
Hors de la vue, hors de l'esprit.

Translated back to English:
Out of the sight, of the spirit.

Translated to German:
Aus dem Anblick des Geistes heraus.

Translated back to English:
From the sight of the spirit out.

Translated to Italian:
Dalla vista dello spirito fuori.

Translated back to English:
From the sight of the spirit outside.

Translated to Portuguese:
Da vista do espírito fora.

Translated back to English:
Of the sight of the spirit it are.

Translated to Spanish:
De la vista del alcohol está.

Translated back to English:
Of the Vista of the alcohol it is.


Including Asian languages gets us even farther afield:

Original English Text:
Out of sight, out of mind.

Translated to Japanese:
?????????

Translated back to English:
From vision from heart.

Translated to Chinese:
???????

Translated back to English:
From version from heart.

Translated to French:
De la version du coeur.

Translated back to English:
Version of the heart.

Translated to German:
Version des Inneren.

Translated back to English:
Version of the inside.

Translated to Italian:
Versione della parte interna.

Translated back to English:
Version of the inner part.

Translated to Portuguese:
Versão da parte interna.

Translated back to English:
Version of the internal part.

Translated to Spanish:
Versión de la parte interna.

Translated back to English:
Version of the internal part.

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7 Responses to Of the Vista of the alcohol it is

  1. Paul Gowder says:

    Lets see what it does with W…

    Is our children learning? –> Sweedish: Lärer våra barn? –> English: Learns our children? –> Arabic: يعلم أطفالنا ؟ –> English: Our children know? —> Italian: I nostri bambini sanno? —> English: Our children know?

    It actually makes more sense now! I think we’ve cracked the code to W’s speechwriters.

  2. eh nanomoose says:

    No, no, nononononono. The RIGHT version of the joke (meaning the one I heard first, and that I like better) isn’t “Blind Drunk”… it’s “Invisible Idiot.” Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

    It’s not a common phrase, but it’s much funnier. Drunk’s got a nasty, onomatopoeic *thunk* sound to it, and blind is either furniture or a slur on the differently visioned. But invisible is an intrinsically funny word- see MP, Dead Parrot Sketch: “run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibule!” [yes, i know I wrote invisibule, and that most folks transcribe it ‘properly’ as invisible; i know what they said and how they said it]

    And Idiot…well, nuff said.

    Plus the advantage of alliteration.

    So. Clearly superior.

  3. Charles says:

    “I heard it through the grapevine”

    comes out as

    “I understand of the screw”

    spooky…

  4. michael says:

    I dunno. For me “drunk” works much better than “idiot” great when dealing with the (stereotypical) Russians who live in jokes….

  5. buce says:

    “The Spirit is Willing but the Flesh is Weak”=

    “The Vodka is Good but the Meat’s Gone Off”

    –Per Sandy Taksvig

  6. ProfWombat says:

    Old joke. Shmuel Shambursky, a philosopher of science, told a lecture audience (Columbia, NY City 1970 or so; I was there) of the translation of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ into ‘invisible idiot’ by computer.

  7. DNS says:

    Using babelfish.altavista.com

    English:
    A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

    Into French:
    S’est levé par n’importe quel autre nom sentirait en tant que bonbon.

    Into Portuguese:
    Levantou-se por qualquer outro nome sentiria como bombom.

    Into English:
    Another name was arisen for any would feel as bonbon.

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