At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Years ago the story went that translation software turned "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" into Russian and then back into English as "the vodka is acceptable however the meat is rotten". Your mother wears army boots became a description of an old lady carrying footwear for the military.

Out of sight, out of mind?
Invisibly insane.

Nowadays, everybody relies on translation software.
But is it any wiser to do so than it was then?

My experiments with European languages have yielded gigglesome moments more often than not.

Let's see how it works for Chinese.

"The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak"
Translates back exactly as "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak".

Oh crap.

It's been sabotaged. What I see is "your spirit is willing, however your physique is never-the-less flabby". Which is probably close enough.
Nei mun (you plural) sam-ling (heart, spiritual) gu-yin (admittedly) yuen-yi (wants to, wishes, accords with), corporeal body (flesh unit) kuek (still, yet) yuen yeuk (pliable fragile). What happened here was that Google Translate quickly scanned the net for known equivalencies, and chose the ones with the most use. This sentence comes from the New Testament, and is not very often used outside of a scriptural context.

Do it again.

The entire text above, from "it's been sabotaged" to "a scriptural context", comes out as:
巾幗不讓鬚眉門(你複數)SAM玲(精神,心臟,精神的)區賢(誠然)袁毅(想,願望,符合),肉體的身體(肉體單元)kuek(依然,但)袁躍(柔軟脆弱)。 這裡發生的事情是,谷歌翻譯快速掃描淨已知的換算公式,並選擇了一個最使用。這句話來自於新約聖經,並且不經常一個聖經的上下文之外使用。
Google translation: "It is destroyed. I read the "Your spirit is willing, but your body is never slack." This may be close enough.
Nei door (you plural) SAM-ling (spirit, heart, spirit) region Yin (admittedly) Yuan Yi (want, desire, in line), the flesh of the body (physical unit) kuek (still, but) Yuan Yue (soft and fragile).
What happened here is that Google translate quickly scan the net known conversion formula, and choose one of the most used. This phrase comes from the New Testament, and the outside is not often use a biblical context."

Given that Google's willingness to tackle this text was sabotaged by my Cantonese phoneticizations of Chinese characters, it's not surprising that part of the retranslation is impenetrable. What's remarkable, however, is the transparency of the final English sentence. Which, in Chinese, is still quite utterly goofy.

One problem is that translation programs cannot read between the lines, analyze and deduce, or grasp context.


Let's try some obscure poetry:

The Charge of the Light Brigade, first stanza:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
“支出槍!” 他說:
Half a league, half a league,
Forward one mile and a half,
All in the valley of death
Rode six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Expenditures gun," he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode six hundred.

Looks relatively close, but that's deceptive. 聯賽 (luen choi) is NOT a measure of distance, but a league or union, as in sports. The sentence 前進一英里半 ('chin chuen yat ying lei pun') literally means "forward progress one English mile half". Then comes 所有在死亡之谷 (so yau joi sei mong ji guk), for which the words read "all have at dead perish's valley".
騎著六百 ('kei juek lok bak'): "astride manifesting six hundred".
And so forth.

["Half a union, half a union, forward progress one English mile half. All have at dead perish's valley, astride manifesting six hundred. "Forward progress, riders military brigade!" "Pay out guns!" He spoke. Enter death's valley, astride manifesting six hundred."]

What is happening is that the re-translation naturally mimics the original, but the Chinese version might make sense only to an English speaker. Who would be fooled into thinking that something intelligible was conveyed by the Chinese result.


Let's try this with one of my favourite passages from the classics, the part where Mencius is asked about the killing of kings, and sly hints that doing so is justified, because if they truly acted like kings, there would be no cause; their violent removal succeeds when heaven no longer approves of their conduct.

齊宣王問曰:“湯放桀,武王伐紂,有諸” 孟子對曰:“於傳有之。” 曰:“臣弒其君可乎?” 曰:“賊仁者謂之賊,賊義者謂之殘,殘賊之人,謂之一夫。聞誅一夫紂矣,未聞弒君”。
Source: 孟子/梁惠王.
['Chai Suen Wong man yuet: "Tong fong Git, Mou fat Jau, yau chü?" Mong-Ji deui yuet: "wu chuen yau ji." Yuet: "san si kei kwan ho fu?" Yuet: "chaak yan je wai ji chaak, chaak sin je wai ji chaan, chaan chaak ji yan, wai ji yat fu. Man chü yat fu Jau yi, mei man si-kwan."]

My translation: King Hsuan of Chi asked "Tang overthrew Chieh, King Wu cut down the tyrant Chao, is that true?" Mencius replied "the records have it thus". (Then King Hsuan ) asked "ministers killed their prince, how was that possible?" (Mencius) replied "one who steals benevolently remains a thief, one who steals because of righteousness is still called a robber. Robbers and thieves are only people, and merely commonplace. I've heard of a commonplace person (named) Chao, but NOT heard of the killing of a prince".

Google translation: King Xuan asked: "Tom put Jie, King Wu, have all?" Mencius said: "At the transfer there." Said: "I can almost killed his lord?" Said: "Thieves benevolent that the thief, thief that of the righteous remnant, residual thief person, that one of her husband. Kazuo Zhou Wen punish men, and did not hear regicide.

A random internet translation: Qi Xuan Wang question says: "I'm happy to put Jie, King Wu 紂, 諸? "Yeah Mencius said:" 傳 has it. "The master said," Chen Shi the leader? "The master said," 賊 賊 of benevolent 謂, 謂 the 賊 義 殘, 殘 賊 man, one of the 謂. Articles 誅 紂, not articles Shi King.

An even more random translation: When a problem Qi Xuan Wang said: Mencius said: "I am very pleased to be able to make clean, Zhou, Zhu, Wang Wu": "Chen true leader," "transfer of it, said:" The owner, the owner said, "That Zeizei kindness, righteousness residual thief, thief disabled, the terms of this penalty does not apply to the shipping tycoon.


That's staggeringly awesome.

Let us now put that back into Chinese.

['Dong yat go mantai hin kei siu wong suet: "Mong Ji suet: ngoh han gou-hing nang-gau sai ching-git, jau, chü, wong mou". "Chan chan ling-jau: taa dik chuen yi, suet: "chü-yan, chu yan suet, "naa chaak chaak dik sin-leung, jeng-yi chaan chaak, chaak bei gam-yung, je go dim kau dik tiu fun bing-bat sik-yung wo suen wong.']

Which I must translate as "Undertaking one question, wide and steep, the little king spoke: Mencius said: "I'm awfully happy to be able to clarify, weekly, cinnabar, and the martial King": Chan truly is the leader": his transformation, speaks: "proprietor, proprietor said, "that traitor's treacherous kindheartedness and righteousness opresses traitors, traitors yield a prohibition, this penalty kick's clauses are not at all applicable to the master of the vessel."

That is so perfect it's darned well political speech. I can only imagine the contextual narrative, but it looks like it might make for some fabulously surreal reading.

The spirit is okay, but the corporeal entity resembles a geung si.

It is to their credit that the Chinese can understand us.

Much of what we tell them is pure Inglenese.

We are inscrutable Occidentals.

And we talk funny.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


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