Sometimes translation is moan

I’m fascinated with how one language relates to another and what that looks like in translation.  One of the special features on Monty Python’s Holy Grail special edition is a scene from the film which was dubbed (i.e. translated) into Japanese with English subtitles translated from the Japanese dub.  It’s fascinating what happens to words and phrases when they are translated out of one language into another and then translated back to the original language.

Earlier today I was reading a Dutch children’s story to Madeline and translating it into English as I read. It’s really quite interesting how much nuance is lost in translation, even between two Germanic languages. Certain Dutch words have no English equivalent that I’m aware of; other words require multiple words in English; some have so many shades of meaning that several similar words put together only hint at what the original word might mean. I imagine it’s the same when translating the other way.

To that end, and for my own interest (because I’m sure that few, if any of you, will be interested), I present you with my literal (“wooden”) word-for-word translation of “Nijntje Aan Zee”.  (Nijntje Pluis is a children’s character, named “Miffy” in English.)

It looks long, but it’ll be a quick read, and near the end I have some fun by translating from Dutch to English to Dutch and back to English again using different translators.

Miffy On/By/At Sea

On one day said Father Pluis
Who goes there with me along/with
To the dunes and the beach
and to the big sea

I, cried/shouted Miffy, I go well along/with
Yay-yay, that find I fine
Then take I too my pail along
For if there shells are

Good, said Father, step but/may-as-well in
I pull you there-towards-to
Then are we very quickly on the beach
And become you not so tired

They rode through the dunes to/towards
What high, cried/shouted (little)-Miffy out
And Father Pluis said: I see beach
Look there but/may-as-well straight forward-out

They stopped by a big tent
See-so, we are there, Miffy
What pulled you hard, cried/shouted little Miffy
Yay-yay, it went so fine

Then dressed (little)-Miffy Pluis herself out
And pulled her swimpants on
Now-now, yelled/shouted Father Pluis mystified
That have you fast done

Here are your pail and your shovel
Make but/may-as-well a very big fort
Then shall I look if it well
Very strong and sturdy becomes

Miffy shoveled what she shovel(ing) could
The fort became big and strong
You saw only her little-head still
It was a huge work

When little Miffy was out-shoveled
Took she her pail with/along
And looked-for she nice shells up
That laid/lay near by sea

Thereafter was-allowed Miffy with Father along/with
In sea, a whole period
Then splashed she her Father wet
And Father become not angry

But when they were off-dried
Said Father: (little)-Miffy Pluis
It is well too-bad, but we are-going
Now quickly again back to house

What too-bad now, cried/shouted (little)-Miffy out
I am yet really not tired
But in the wagon, on-the-way
Fell her (little) eyes towards

Here’s what Google translate did with the story:

One day dad said lint
Who’s going with me
The dunes and the beach
and the great sea

I called Miffy, I will go with him
hi-hi, it makes me fine
I will take my bucket
for if shells are

well, said father, but in step
I pull into it
then we very quickly on the beach
and you are not tired

they drove through the dunes around
what high, cried out miffy
lint and father said I lost beach
look straight ahead but there

They stopped at a large tent
There, we are, Miffy
what attracted you hard, cried Little Miffy
hi-hi, he was so fine

when dressed miffy lint itself from
and pulled her swimsuit
Well, well, surprised called father lint
that you have done quickly

Here are your pail and shovel your
but make a huge fortress
I will see if it
become very strong and sturdy

Nijn scooped what she could create
The fort was big and strong
you saw only her head still
It was a gigantic work

when little was scooped Nijn
she took her bucket
and she looked beautiful shells on
who were near the ocean

Then if Nijn along with father
sea, a long time
when her father splashed wet
and father was not angry

but when they were lost
Father said: miffy lint
It is a pity, but we
Now back home soon

Well what a pity, cried out miffy
I’m not really tired
but in the car, road
her eyes were far

If I can compare Google’s translation to English Bible translations, I would say it takes a dynamic equivalence (thought-for-thought) approach.  Kind of like the NIV, but moving towards the NLT.  Google translate does quite well for being computer-generated, but it’s far from perfect and in some places the meaning of the English is completely different from the Dutch meaning.  In the first paragraph, for instance, it seems that the dunes and the beach and the sea are all going with Father to an unspecified location.  (Also, Google translated their last name “Pluis” into “lint”, but it’s intended to be a name. Google translate, of course, wouldn’t know this.)  Actually, now that I’m reading it closely, for the most part Google’s translation just won’t do.

Here’s my thought-for-thought translation:

One day, Father Pluis said
Who’s going with me
To the dunes and the beach
And to the big sea?

Me! Shouted Miffy, I’ll go with you!
Yay! I think that’s a great idea!
I’ll take my pail with me
In case there are shells there

Good, said Father, step in
I’ll pull you there
So that we get to the beach quickly
And you won’t get so tired

They rode through the dunes
So high! Shouted Miffy.
And Father Pluis said, I see the beach!
Look! There–straight ahead!

They stopped by a large tent
Here we are, Miffy
You sure pulled hard, said little Miffy
Yay! It was so fun!

Then little Miffy undressed
And pulled on her swimsuit.
Wow, said Father Pluis, amazed,
You did that quickly!

Here is your pail and your shovel
Make a big fort
And I will make sure that it
Becomes very strong and sturdy

Miffy shoveled all that she could shovel
The fort became big and strong
You could only see her head!
It was lots of work

When little Miffy became bored with shoveling
She took her pail
And looked for nice shells
Which laid near the sea

After that she was allowed to go with her father
Into the sea for a long time
And she plashed her father until he was soaking wet
And he didn’t get angry.

But when they were dried off
Father said, Miffy Pluis
It’s too bad, but we are going
Back home soon.

That’s too bad, cried Miffy,
I’m really not tired yet.
But in the wagon on the way
She closed her eyes and fell asleep

Even a thought-for-thought version isn’t all that easy, because sometimes I have to decide whether a better translation will require me to leave out some of the words in the original language.  Sometimes I can’t find the exact corresponding English word, so a bit of nuance is lost.  And, of course, in Dutch this whole story rhymes.

Good times.

Now, just for the fun of it, here’s the poem in English, translated from my English thought-for-thought translation into Dutch with Google translate and then translated into English again using Babelfish. The results are really quite fun–akin to the English-Japanese-English in Holy Grail.  I had a good laugh over this, especially over the words left in Dutch and the fact that Miffy somehow now thinks it’s a terrible idea:

On a day, father Pluis said
Who goes there with me
For the dunes and the range
And to the large sea?

Me! Nijntje shouted, I go along with your!
Yay! I think that a terrible idea!
I take my bucket with me
In the case there shells there

Well, father, step said
I you will draw there
So that we rapidly to the range
And you do not get this way tired

They drove by the dunes
This way high was! Nijntje shouted.
And father Pluis said, I see the range!
Look! There – rechtdoor!

Them stopped at a marquee
Here we are Nijntje,
Weet you certainly that drawn rapidly, the small Nijntje
Yay! said It was this way nice!

Then small Nijntje stripped
And its zwempak drew.
Wow, Pluis, astonished said father,
YOU did that rapidly!

Here you bucket and your shovel are
Make a large fort
And I will ensure that it
Becomes very strong and firm

Nijntje schepte everything what she was possible shovel
The fort became large and strong
You could see only its head!
It was much work

Then the small Nijntje were annoyed with scoop
Them its bucket took
And looked at shells to leuke
Which put in the buurt of the sea

After that she could go with its father
In the sea for a long time
And them plashed its father, until he was drijfnat
and he did not do that angry.

But when they had been dried gone
Father said, Nijntje Pluis
It is moan, but we go
Rapidly to house.

That is moan, Nijntje called,
I am really not yet tired.
But in the carriage on the way
She closed its eyes and fell in sleep

And there, folks, you have an example of the difficulty of translation. Sometimes translation is moan.

4 thoughts on “Sometimes translation is moan

  1. Dixie

    He did this instead of washing the pots and pans the other night, Toni. I’m off to do them right now because I am a good wife. Though maybe the “teach a man to fish” rule should apply here.

  2. Toni

    Make a man a fire and he’ll be warm for an evening. Set him on fire and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life?

    Was that the one? 😉

Comments are closed.