Saturday, July 8, 2017

Google Translate Sings 'Aesthetic & the Animals' (aka B&tB) aka the importance of good translation!

Ah Google Translate! Where would researchers and far flung friends and colleagues be without you? Performer Malinda Kathleen Reese gave us a glimpse of what non-English speaking folks, trying to translate tales and lyrics via Google Translate, might be 'hearing' instead...
This is a bit of (very well done) fun, of course, but it illustrates wonderfully why, when studying tales translated to English from other languages, you should be aware of the translator and how accurate they're considered to be, or (if you're lucky and have their notes) why they chose to use certain words and phrases instead of the more obvious ones... for instance the ones the Google Translate might suggest. ;)
One of the difficulties in translating to English is that it's a very imprecise language and definitions are constantly evolving, because social and popular meaning changes. And that's only half of the equation. The other is the original language and its quirks. If you've ever dabbled in languages with even minor translation endeavors, you quickly learned that there is rarely a 'correct' way to translate  - except that the guaranteed 'wrong way' is to try the word-for-word method - and that it's more of an art form than a science of substituting equal meanings.

You have to take into account:
  • the words and what they specifically mean (and their equivalent in the language you're translating too)
  • what the words also imply (the subtext of using that specific word instead of similar ones), which is influenced by...
  • the context at the time - and place - of writing
  • all of which usually has a 'tone' and style
(A very small selection of recommended books of translated tales with lots of great notes!)

And that doesn't include:
  • storytelling style - which is very important in translating tales
  • cultural expressions, idioms, similes and metaphors
  • those words that have no English equivalent
(And there are more factors too that a qualified folklorist or professional translator could discuss at length, but you get the idea.)

When you take these into account, even retelling old tales originally written in English can prove tricky..!

Speaking of untranslatable words, can you imagine a retelling of Rapunzel, in which these words - wonderfully illustrated  by Marija Tiurina - are used? (Click on the images to see full size.)

And what about this one for Riquet of the Tuft?

You can find a lovely bunch of many more 'untranslatable words', that have been wonderfully illustrated HERE.

It's a pretty fascinating subject and we're a little in awe of people who translate tales and other creative and social works (not to mention those who facilitate United Nations negotiations!). Be prepared for a fun ride down a rabbit hole if you decide to look into this subject further!

(Note: our suggestion, if you don't want a world of instant-overwhelm, would be to start with annotated tales, and tale collections in which the translators include their notes on the story origins, collection and translation process, sometimes summarized in a foreword on each of the stories. Be prepared to never read anything quite the same way again!)

And just because these are a lot of fun, here's Malinda's latest Google Translate Sings video with a compilation of Mary Poppins songs. Enjoy!
Want more? Malinda has a bunch of princess songs too, in which she sings the original and has a 'sing-off' with the google translate version. Funny stuff!


  1. I was surprised a while ago to read (possibly on this blog?) that the 'Alice in Wonderland' books were among those translated into the highest number of languages, given that the jokes and puns rely heavily on specific attributes of the English language. This interesting article provides a few examples of how that has been managed by various translators:

  2. Well and Good Sunday Morning, What may one expect from this delightful well scripted dialogue and presentation of fairy tales, folk tales, movies, satire, story favorites, for anyone who likes new ideas formed around old studied themes. Best web site. I already feel like dancing, which my husband declares off limits in the house dancing and singing too outlandish?