A recent post on the Economist’s language blog about a sign on a New York shop window discussed the inadequacy of relying solely on a computer or bilingual dictionary for translation. All the shop owner — admirably — wanted to do was welcome tourists in their own language (some of them, anyway, and I still don’t get the purpose of having a greeting in Latin, but it does bring to mind the classic Monty Python Latin grammar scene in “Life of Brian”). But instead of saying “Welcome!” the greeting, many of the words were “welcome” the noun, as in reception, which would have made little sense to visiting Norwegians, Russians and others.
The Economist post points out that one should at least check the part of speech when using a dictionary or computer translator. One word should be clear enough, but what about a whole sentence? That seems to inevitably result in gibberish, as is commonly spotted in signs around the world. And while bad signs or directions can be funny, they can also be confusing, misleading or offensive.
I’m all about clarity and accuracy, but I also realize that sometimes you need to say something in a language you don’t know. The only good way to do this is to get a speaker of both languages to help you. Barring that, if you must use a computer translator, check the translation by running it back into English to see what was lost.
Let’s try it with Austen: Continue reading You still need a person