Google Translate Vs. Sir Mix-a-lot, RuPaul Gets Lost in Translation, and More: 10 Language Stories to Read Right Now

Happy Monday! Looking for something to read while you readjust to the working world? Here are 10 interesting, funny or thought-provoking stories from the language and translation world to make you seem like the most interesting person in the room:

ET, Phone Home 

If extraterrestrials ever make contact, how in the world would we speak to them? According to Carl DeVito, a math professor at the University of Arizona, mathematics might be the key to communicating with ET. And he’s developed a math-based language that could, in theory, allow us to discuss physics with an alien race.

Japanese Prisoners Get a Translation Upgrade

Even prisoners deserve help in their own language. But deploying interpreters efficiently can be difficult. Japan is addressing the issue by providing prisoners access to translation services using video phones and tablets. This will also make it easier for families of non-Japanese inmates to visit their loved ones since they are not allowed in without an interpreter to help prison officials monitor their conversation.

Baby Got What? Google Translate Mixes Up Sir Mix-A-Lot On the Tonight Show


What happens when Google Translate gets hold of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s classic “Baby Got Back?” Somehow, “I love big butts and I cannot lie” becomes “I love large saplings that is the truth . . .”

And that’s just the beginning. Watch the video to see Jimmy Fallon and Idris Elba sing Google Translated versions of songs by Sir Mix-a-Lot, Britney Spears, and Boyz II Men. Read more

Literary Translators: Unsung Heroes of the Literary World

Today, let’s take a moment to highlight some of the unsung heroes of the publishing world: Literary translators.

Literary translators do not have an easy job. Books, short stories, and poems can be quite challenging to translate.  For example, word play, slang, and humor often lose meaning if they’re translated word-for-word. They have to be carefully rewritten to create the same effect in the target language as they do in the original.

So literary translation is difficult, but it’s also extremely valuable.

Why is Literary Translation Important?

Literary translation is important for a number of reasons. Translation introduces authors to new audiences and readers to new worlds. It promotes understanding and empathy between cultures.  It preserves ideas and knowledge and helps transmit those ideas across time and space.

Literary Translators: Unsung, Outshined, and Underpaid

But literary translators are clearly not in it for the glory.  As Tim Parks noted last year in the New York Review of Books, “Glory, for the translator, is borrowed glory. There is no way around this. Translators are celebrated when they translate celebrated books.”

If they are successful, the author gets the credit. Of course, the author deserves most of the credit. But literary translation is an art, too. Read more

6 Useful Facts About Time in Different Languages and Cultures

This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats mountain down.
 ” – Gollum

Time should be easy to translate, right? Wrong! The passage of time is universal and inevitable, but the way different cultures experience it is not. And that can lead to confusion, especially when you’re traveling, or when you’re trying to socialize or do business with someone from a culture that treats time differently than your own.

With that in mind, here are  6 useful facts about time in different languages and cultures.

Most Western cultures are monochronic. Here’s what that means and why it matters.

Social scientists classify cultures are “monochronic” or “polychronic” based on how they view time.  Monochronic cultures see time as a limited resource, something that can be “saved,” “spent” or “wasted.” In a monochronic culture (like the US or the UK), it’s normal to schedule tasks and appointments to start and end at a certain time.

But in a polychronic culture, time is seen as flexible. And that means that appointments and deadlines may be more flexible as well. In polychronic cultures, it’s also more common to do many things at a once. Interruptions are regarded as normal instead of undesirable.

(One caveat: These are just generalizations. They aren’t universal. Japanese culture is generally regarded as polychronic, but the culture is also quite fast-paced and punctuality is important).

Time isn’t always a line

Monochronic cultures also tend to see time as a “line,” stretching forward into the future and backwards into the past.

But that’s not universal. In some cultures, particularly Asian cultures and some Native American cultures, it’s a wheel, moving in reoccuring cycles. On a practical level, that means they may need to carefully consider past events before making decisions for the future.

And of course, if you’re a Time Lord, it’s a big ball of wibbley-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff that you can travel through. Read more

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