Friday, April 14, 2006
Warum Babelfish Saugt
Years ago, I worked with a German guy who really took me under his wing when he found out I had taken three years of German in high school. Actually, I took one year of real German and then took two years independent study where I would goof off for an hour a day in the library and then occassionally cram for a test. I had the very sweet old German lady that taught the class completely snowed. Naturally my German was pretty week. Twenty-five years of neglect haven't done it much good either.
When my German coworker quit, he gave me as a momento the November 1993 issue of German Playboy featuring Mimi Rogers (the first Mrs. Tom Cruise, in case you don't remember). This of course makes the "I read it for articles" excuse completely implausible. The good thing is that since the format of German Playboy is identical to the American version, you can pick up a lot through context. I would try to read the Playboy Advisor, but I think some of the more technical terms that might appear in Playboy would not be in the vocabulary lists from my high school texts.
Laughter is the universal language, so the Party Jokes page should be a little more accessible. Here is one of the ones I was able to decipher:
“Hören Sie mal, junger Mann, warum bringen Sie meine Tochter erst um fünf Uhr früh nach Hause?”
“Dumme Frage! Weil ich um sechs zur Arbeit muss.”
I loosely translated the joke to this:
“Listen up, young man, why are you bringing my daughter home at five in the morning?”
“What a stupid question! Because I have to go to work at six.”
I didn't say it was a good joke. Most jokes in Playboy aren't. To test my translation abilities, I went and typed the joke into Babelfish to see if I got the gist of it and I got this gibberish.
"hearing it times, young man, why you bring my daughter only at five to o'clock early home?"
"stupid question! Because I around six to the work must."
I would never recognize that as complete sentences let alone a fairly unfunny lame joke. Bablefish translates the sentences word for word, not even trying to adjust the grammar, let alone shift the prepositions or idioms to something a real English speaker would say. I pity anyone relying on Babelfish to do anything other than look up the harder words.
At least I know enough German to know how dreadful the translation is. Maybe my three years of high school German weren't completely wasted.