Thursday, September 9, 2010

What Could Have Been . . .

Hello again, everybody, and welcome to another edition of “New Translation Thursday.” Mike Novak, guest blogger here. The morning has dawned cool, clear, and crisp. September days in this part of the Midwest are often spectacular. I hope your day is a good one wherever you are.

This morning I thought I’d inject a little levity into our very serious conversations about the new translation of the Roman Missal. In my work as parish resources editor here at WLP, I frequently handle English texts that are also translated into Spanish. Since my high school and college classes in German and French have prepared me so well for this endeavor (tongue planted firmly in cheek here), I sometimes turn to one of the online translating services just to get a little handle on some of the Spanish texts that cross my desk before I hand them over to the people who really know what they are doing. Now, any of you who have tried to use these services know how rough the output can be.

But that didn’t stop me from wondering what our new translation of the Roman Missal would have been like if we had handed the task over to a computer. I was able to find only one place on the Internet brave (or foolish) enough to attempt producing on-the-spot translations of Latin to English. Nevertheless, I dug up some of the passages whose English translations have been the subject of some conversation here in the States, just to see what a neutral party would do with them. Here are some of the results:

Et cum spiritu tuo.

And when breath tuo.

Per ipsum, et cum ipso, et in ipso,
est tibi Deo Patri omnipotenti,
in unitate Spiritus Sancti,
omnis honor et gloria
per omnia saecula saeculorum.

Very itself, and when ipso, and upon ipso,
est to you Deo Fatherland omnipotenti,
in unitate Breath Sancti,
omnis official dignity and fame
omnia to all eternity.

Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Dominus Deus Sabaoth.
Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua.
Hosanna in excelsis.
Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini.
Hosanna in excelsis.

Holy, Holy, Holy Master God Sabaoth.
Pleni are skies and earth fame tua.
Hosanna upon excelsis.
Benedictus quae came upon by name Domini.
Hosanna in the highest.

Now, no commentary on the translation would be complete without an analysis of the operative translation principles, so here goes:

Here we see the important principle of “when you don’t understand it, leave it in Latin” applied throughout. Food for thought?

The translation principles applied by the Internet site apparently do not include consistency. Compare the third and fifth lines of the Sanctus, for example. If the machine can’t be consistent, can we expect humans to be?

Another principle appears to be “when there are multiple meanings for a word, guess.” Context has no influence on the outcome.

Comparing these results to those from online translations of modern languages, I would have to say that Latin presents more challenges to the machines than many other languages do.  For now, the jobs of human translators appear to be safe. Just wait till next time, though!

Gotta sing. Gotta pray.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the smile this morning!

Chironomo said...

Knowing the inner workings of Babel fish and Google Translate at least somewhat... what is going on is there is no Latin database... it is using Italian and possibly Potugeuse as it's guide. When there is no word found, it leaves it alone. Such programs only use currently spoken lamguages

I would suggest a good online LATIN translator if you want some marginally better results. They will still be poor, but there would be more humor to comment on!

Mike Novak said...

The following comment came to me via e-mail this morning:

Had to smile when I read today’s post. When I was teaching Spanish, I could always tell when my students had gone to a translation site. They thought they were so clever! Liked your balanced views on Tuesday, too. I think many of us are suffering from being too close to the process/product at hand and not getting enough of a wider perspective.

DanN, Boston said...

I think "Very itself" just about sums it all up -- there's a useful theology packed in that.

Fr. Gene Vavrick said...

A wonderful post! Thanks for making me smile at the end of a hard day. You guys are great!