Re: Stupid experiment

1

My German is pretty rusty, but that Eugenides translation does indeed appear to be pretty sloppy.

(Is a sentence missing from the German? I don't see anything for "Simon had already kissed her in the fields.")


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 03- 3-13 11:40 PM
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Whoops! There is indeed a missing sentence (now restored).


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 3-13 11:55 PM
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3

Also that Julavits quote is ridiculous. What kind of "translator" admits to not knowing the language she's translating very well, and also refuses to look up any words she doesn't know?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 12:01 AM
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At best, one who isn't taking the translation very seriously.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 12:05 AM
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5

Indeed.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 12:12 AM
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The Julavits obstruction seems potentially fruitful to me -- someone who knew a language well but not perfectly would probably write a poor to middling translation, whereas someone with vast gaps of knowledge would essentially wind up writing a Mad Lib.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 1:11 AM
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This being McSweeney's, is it not possible that the entire framing device is a fiction? That there's only one author/translator?


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 1:27 AM
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8

So the conclusion is that Eugenides can speak German fluently, but not English.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 2:59 AM
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9

Does anyone have a spike I can use for my head?

I used to be fluent in German, but lack of use over the last 20 years has made me rusty. I can still do better.

Or, to quote Heebie, what the fucking fuck?


Posted by: Grumbles | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 3:53 AM
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There should be a German word in English for stupidity combined with pomposity, and that word should be "stomposity."


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 4:19 AM
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11

Yeah, obviously they're trying to make some point with all this, but reading it has all the banality of staying up late grading essays by second-year language students who didn't put in much effort.

What's with the handful of undeclined adjectives in the German? They could have at least tried to make their project fail in interesting ways.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 4:54 AM
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Serves you right for reading McSweeney's, I suppose, though I did like that Wajahat Ali article.

Hofstadter's Le Ton Beau de Marot has some actually interesting cases of iterated translation, as well as a bunch of other awesome stuff.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 7:14 AM
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Wait, "und wider besseres Wissen gab sie sich ihm hin" is translating the "against her better judgment" bit, right? So then whoever translated it (Eugenides?) didn't know "wider" meant "against", but got "Wissen = knowledge" and "gab = gave" and made it into "gave him special knowledge of herself"? That's terrible. (Also, is the typo "grandted" in the original?)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 7:39 AM
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Hofstadter's Le Ton Beau de Marot has some actually interesting cases of iterated translation, as well as a bunch of other awesome stuff.

As, of course, did Translation Party. I'm trying to remember if Eco's book on translation goes into this sort of thing. He certainly talks about the difficulty of translating prose style, and indeed the question of whether and how to translate words that are foreign in the original text.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 7:43 AM
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13: Yeah, that one's particularly stupid. "Sich jemandem hingeben" means "to abandon oneself to someone" or "to give oneself to someone". Dude lived in Germany for five years, which doesn't guarantee that he ever learned German, but come on. It very much seems done on purpose: ooh, translation makes it so we don't even know if they fucked or not.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 8:34 AM
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Serves you right for reading McSweeney's, I suppose

Well, quite. McSweeney's is one member of a set of stuff that make me feel like Homer Simpson shaking the television set and shouting "Be less dumb!"


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 8:38 AM
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(Also, is the typo "grandted" in the original?)

No. Undeclined adjectives may also have been victims of the transcription process, sadly.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 8:53 AM
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18

Yes: "arm" is "arme", "still" "stille". These and two other typos now corrected!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 8:57 AM
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19

Here is something from a reputable university: "Bicycling on the sidewalk eliminates the relatively small danger to cyclists of crashes
with overtaking motorists, but increases the potential for more common intersection
collisions"

Street biking is safer.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 9:03 AM
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Damn it. That was the evil Trebor Droflah, not me.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 9:07 AM
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Hofstadter's Le Ton Beau de Marot has some actually interesting cases of iterated translation, as well as a bunch of other

...painful doggerel.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 9:08 AM
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Nevertheless, my assessment of the project stands!


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 9:09 AM
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"Happenstance" seems like a pretty studied word to use to translate "Zufall".


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 9:13 AM
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24

21: That too.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 9:17 AM
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25

I'm sure in the world of McSweeney's, any actual credentials as a translator are considered roughly equivalent to "hey dude I had this cool idea."


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 10:45 AM
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26

I always get a few pages into Le Ton Beau to where he asks you to translate the poem, can't quite commit to translating the whole thing with a seriosity that seems commensurate to "this whole book is about translation so please translate this poem and then proceed," and get no further. I have done this like three times.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 10:50 AM
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19: How reputable can it be? I hear they even give PhDs to people who do nothing but read and comment on blogs.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 12:29 PM
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26: Skip it and read the book. If you are a translation perfectionist like me you will never finish, and if like me you disagree with Hofstadter about the nature of translation you will miss the point and translate in an irrelevant way, and if you have ever translated anything artistic ever, that's close enough that there's little marginal benefit.

It's not like a math textbook where exercise 1.2 builds explicitly on what you learned from exercise 1.1


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 1:09 PM
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It's a shame, b/c the original experiment as described by the editor sounds really interesting to me.


Posted by: Ile | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 1:45 PM
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and if you have ever translated anything artistic ever

Yes this is the problem. I fussed endlessly one time with Marina Tsvetaeva's little three-stanza poem "Мне нравится, что вы больны не мной" and never really finished because good translation is difficult verging on impossible, hence my fit of pique at McSweeney's's's's glib everyone's-a-translator thing.

I mean verse in particular, it's just insane to try and replicate rhyme and meter and expect it to flow at all, to still feel like a poem*. But even with prose, it's a serious business and best left to people who have 1) a nuanced understanding of the first language and 2) a great deal of skill at writing in the second and 3) an interest in the impossible task of capturing the writer's ineffable qualities.

But I think I actually have the book so maybe I'll go back and see if it's interesting once I surrender at the translation exercise.

*Unless you are James E. Falen


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 2:01 PM
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The Julavits obstruction

Not Ludlum's best work.

(I couldn't remember Ludlum's name, but, surprisingly enough, googling '"the name noun" thriller writer' paid off!)


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 2:01 PM
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32

lavendar primate drying rack in a sink


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 2:04 PM
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33

At the NY Tech meetup a few years ago a guy demoed a similar project. It that used Google's API to translate a a document back and forth between English and a language of your choice (maybe just Japanese for the demo?) over and over until it reached a harmonic convergence and the text stopped changing.

Mostly just played for laughs.


Posted by: Lambent Cactus | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 2:21 PM
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34

14.1 to 33.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 2:34 PM
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35

Neb, on what grounds are you flagging "Eugenides's"? He's not Jesus!


Posted by: Mr. F | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 3:30 PM
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36

I prefer "Eugenides'".


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 3:42 PM
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37

28: like me you disagree with Hofstadter about the nature of translation

What's the basis of your disagreement with the Hof? In my view all he says is that translation of art is a difficult multidimensional problem with no optimal solution, which seems obviously true in light of his examples.


Posted by: Ham-Love | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 10:44 PM
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38

He is slippery about explicit claims, but I think he badly underweights the utility and importance of "unartful" but semantically precise scholarly translations. Sometimes it is helpful to know what the sentence sounds like, and separately to know what each word means. Sometimes a writer is developing a technical vocabulary where using one word to translate another consistently is much more important than getting all the connotations right each time.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 11:04 PM
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And this can be true even of such artful works as the Platonic dialogues.

Or even of proper poetry. It is nice to be able to read attempts to capture how Homer or Dante would have sounded and felt in English, but it is also valuable to have s place where a non-Greek or non-Italian speaker can look up what they actually said.


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 03- 4-13 11:08 PM
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I'd quote from Browning's Agamemnon, but I know someone will come along and bring up Housman, so let's cut out the middleman:

Go chase into the house a lucky foot.
And, O my son, be, on the one hand, good,
And do not, on the other hand, be bad;
For that is very much the safest plan.


Posted by: Awl | Link to this comment | 03- 5-13 3:52 AM
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Isn't the Fragment aimed at Housman's friend Gilbert Murray, rather than Browning? When I was a nipper it was Murray who was mostly associated in the minds of mt teachers with that style of hyper-literal translation.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03- 5-13 4:07 AM
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Oops. I somehow got it into my head that it was aimed at Browning.


Posted by: Awl | Link to this comment | 03- 5-13 4:49 AM
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43

You may well be right. I don't think I've ever seen an authoritative discussion of it.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 03- 5-13 4:58 AM
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44

Well, McSweeney's youtube says "frist!":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMkJuDVJdTw

I thought it was actually a testament to google translate that they had to put it through all, like, 60 languages to get it really garbled.


Posted by: simulated annealing | Link to this comment | 03- 5-13 8:29 AM
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Seriously? 44 comments and not a single mention of Super Karate Monkey Death Car?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMZtdLra24E


Posted by: Ken | Link to this comment | 03- 5-13 2:13 PM
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46

Go ahead and mention it if you want.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 03- 5-13 4:34 PM
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