B A R R Y L A N D .



the grand building of much talk.








bring out the GIMPS.
how a 19-yr-old college kid wound up discovering the latest Mersenne prime, and what on earth it means

an essay on my fascination with linguistic symmetry

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lost in translation
an examination of the hilarity of switching cultures

a word with you
a new word game every day

the engine I used for this piece

the dialectizer
yep. put your text into pig latin and more


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 W ell, our friends at Alta Vista have linked up with their friends at Systran, and there is now a completely free translation service: submit a passage, and violin! it's translated for you, to or from the language of your choice. A boon not only for business people with zillion-dollar deals hinging on communication, but poets as well.

For instance, I submitted a well-known passage, telling it to translate to French, then translated the French result back into English:

Stopping by wood one evening of Milou of which wood that it is me think that I know, its house is in the village however, it will not see me ceasing here observing its wood fill of snow. My small horse must think it strange almost to stop without farm between wood and the fixed lake the most sunk evening year. It gives to its bells of harness a jolt to ask whether there is some error alone of the other the field noise of the easy wind and the duveteux flake.

Wood are beautiful, dark and deep, but I have promises to preserve, and miles with going before I sleep, and of the miles to going before I sleep.

Heartbreaking, no? Going to Italian and back, one comes on the charming phrase,

My small horse must pensarlo strange for arrestarsi

followed up by something much more — what's the word? — Cyberfaulkner:

It gives to its flange of the wiring a jolt in order to ask if the only swept one of the other sound of easy wind and of the lanuginoso ribbon is some error.

What's amazing to me is what gets preserved: somehow "easy wind" made it, along with "dark and deep, but I have the promises to...." Amazing, actually, when you think about what gyrations that computer program is having to go through.

My Spanish adventure had an appropriately courtly air to it at times — "Stopping by the wood in late Made snow-white" — though at other times it had a disappointing clunk — "Its house is in the village nevertheless."

But just when you get depressed it will sock you: "Between wood and the lake congealed afternoon darker of the year." A phrase worthy of Garcia-Marquez.

And I have no idea what to make of this:

He gives to his alarms of harness a shock to ask if there is a certain error. The sweeping of only the other sound of the easy wind and the smooth grudge.

The smooth grudge? How do you get there from "downy flake?"

Then I remembered an old episode of I Love Lucy, set in France, where there was a remarkable game of Linguistic Telephone. I sent the English-from-Spanish through German, back to English, and then through Portuguese; here is the final English result, after 6 generations of translation:

They are stopping for the wood, about the white of the snow late in an educated way of who wooden this I, thinks of that I know; Its house is in the not obstante village. It does not see me to stop here, the end to monitor its wood, the end to full itself for mentioned above of the snow.

My horse must think d very rare, without stopping the end of cortijo; Between the wood and the lake solidified the afternoon, that is darker of the year.

It gives to an impact its acknowledgments of wires to ask if it has one determined error. Only sweeping the other tone of the simple wind and the smooth disfavor. The wood is deeply, bezaubernd dark e, but I have that to arrest promises, and the miles to go, before sleeps and the miles to go before it sleep.

I love how our "smooth grudge" has shifted to a more neutral "smooth disfavor." And our computer translator has taken "to watch his woods fill up" and spun a graceful and haunting anaphora: "the end to monitor its wood, the end to full itself." Meanwhile, all those romance languages have morphed Frost's iambic plod into a waltz of anapestic phrases: "of who wooden this I, thinks of that I know"..."for mentioned above of the snow." Positively Seussian.

I ran it once more to French and back, to see what would happen, and a lot did. For instance, we had

It gives to an impact its acknowledgments of wires to ask if it has one determined error.

That's actually not too bad considering that it's been through 6 translators in 4 languages since its original form as

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.

But after only once from the I Love Lucy version to French and back, it looks like this:

It gives to an impact its acknowledgements of delivery of the delivery of the wire to ask whether it has a given error.

Where did all those deliveries come from? Continuing:

Only sweeping of the other dial tone of the simple wind and the soft doubt.

The soft doubt. Ahhh, the soft doubt. I love the French. Doesn't all this make you reconsider the implications of the Whorf-Sapir thesis?

All in all, this program has gone way beyond Deep Blue's accomplishment: it actually recreates the experience of having a human translator! And if you've ever had an audience of Hungarians laugh uproariously at your tender story of a mother's love, you know what I mean.

I figured there was no better way to end my first adventure in cybertranslation than with a famous quote about this very topic, put into French, German, Italian, and back to English:

"the Poetry is, that it loses a freezing of Robert in the translation"

Couldn't have said it better myself.