You may already be familiar with Mark Twain’s dodge whereby he found a French translation of “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and re-translated it back into English. It’s funny stuff, mainly insofar as it demonstrates how un-funny something can get when it is transposed into another language. In the introduction (which is the funniest part of the experiment), he writes,
[The French translator] says my jumping Frog is a funny story, but still he can’t see why it should ever really convulse any one with laughter–and straightway proceeds to translate it into French in order to prove to his nation that there is nothing so very extravagantly funny about it. Just there is where my complaint originates. He has not translated it at all; he has simply mixed it all up; it is no more like the jumping Frog when he gets through with it than I am like a meridian of longitude. But my mere assertion is not proof; wherefore I print the French version, that all may see that I do not speak falsely; furthermore, in order that even the unlettered may know my injury and give me their compassion, I have been at infinite pains and trouble to retranslate this French version back into English; and to tell the truth I have well-nigh worn myself out at it, having scarcely rested from my work during five days and nights. I cannot speak the French language, but I can translate very well, though not fast, I being self- educated.
You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so inclined.
Now, thanks to Google Translate, you can translate and re-translate stories into any number of languages without knowing a single word of any language other than your own. And that’s exactly what we shall do for Audience Participation Friday this week: pick a favorite (and preferably well-known) passage from a book, type or cut and paste it into Google Translate, translate it into another language, then back again into English, and post the re-Englished result below. Also, tell us what language(s) you translated into and back out of.
I should warn you: Google Translate does a better job than you might think. I sent the first page of Moby Dick through the translator (that was for you, Sally and Becca), and it came back word-perfect. I’m thinking they might have certain well-known passages pre-loaded or something. Even the first page of Huckleberry Finn came back surprisingly clean.
The Charlatan’s Boy, however, seems not to have been pre-loaded. The first couple of paragraphs (plus the chapter title) look a little bedraggled after a trip to China and back. The Wild Man of the Feechiefen Swamp becomes the Feechiefen swamp Savage, and poor Floyd becomes Freud:
Here, I jump out of the box and play the Feechiefen swamp Savage …
I do not remember a thing about the day I was born. Or lack of it has not been tried.I’ve tried to go back I can go hours, but I most remember, was the first truck ride back to Freud, looking at myself in the mirror.
I have met people who claim they know everything, their birthday, took place there, who with, what the occasion. But if you really press them on it, in fact they do not remember nothing about it than I do. They only know that someone told them.
I do not care who you are, when it comes to knowing where you come from, you have to take someone else’s word for it. This is a ticklish thing for me has always been. I only know one person who might be able to tell me where I come from, that person isa liar and a fraud.