Lesson #154: The Distortion of Translation

I love the manipulation of language because it gives a bit of leeway in the translation of things. On the other hand, language is sometimes hard to translate with the beauty of its original wording. One of my favourite examples of this is a sentence from St. Exupery’s Le Petit Prince which reads, in its original, “les enfants seuls savent ce qu’ils cherchent.” Syntactically, that sentence is gorgeous in French. Its English translation,* no matter how it is worded, is clunky and awkward and it’s a terrible shame.

So when I came across this website today, I had a field day! Because I like to see the process of the manipulation. One set of words translated 54 times don’t even remotely resemble the words they started as. A few examples:

“There were ghosts in the eyes of all the boys you sent away. They haunt this dusty beach road in the skeleton frames of burned out Chevrolets. They scream your name at night in the street, your graduation gown lies in rags at their feet.”** becomes, “Beach City tshevrolet laibeatsh Online bameseyo leg fatigue in children with mental health.”

Yeah, some of those things aren’t even words.

“…to have seen a specter isn’t everything and there are deathmasks piled one atop the other clear to heaven. Commoner still are the wan visages of those returning from the shadow of the valley. This means little to those who have not lifted the veil.”*** becomes, “Another way to pay for the body. This means that families will continue, I think the Marquis splint.”

An old warm-up exercise from my days in the theatre, “I am a mother pheasant plucker, I pluck mother pheasants. I am the best mother pheasant plucker, that ever plucked a mother pheasant!” becomes, “Mothers in seoul, Chickens, Pheasants in the middle of my mother asks. I almost cried as a manager?”

And, because I have a sick sense of humour: Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be they name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.” becomes, “Father in heaven (a surprisingly promising start), earth and air dangerous reputation. In November, the daily bread and forgive us for Breaking our ofeilimata. Seibanos to avoid trial. And honor and power forever artist.”

If you do it with the old version, it’s even better: “God the Father, the bread every day, people, a pretend ofeilimata ignored. Seibanos to avoid trial. Developing power and prestige.”****

*Only children know what they’re looking for.

**This is a lyric to Bruce Springsteen a song that everyone on earth ought to know because it’s one of the most perfect songs ever written.

***The opening to Neal Cassady’s Joan Anderson letter.

****Seriously, I don’t hate religion, it’s just really fun to play with because it uses antiquated words and syntax.

2 thoughts on “Lesson #154: The Distortion of Translation

  1. the gypsy says:

    A more poetic translation might be “children alone know what they seek”. The meaning of the word “alone” in this sentence is ambiguous but in the context of Le Petit Prince may be appropriate.

    • disquisitive says:

      While this is true, the general consensus seems to be that the translation in the English is “Only children know what they are looking for.” I don’t know because I’ve never read Le Petit Prince in English.

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