Category Archives: language

lost in translation

https://i2.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41g6gTQYtEL._SL500_AA280_.jpgMy daughter drives an old Volvo that doesn’t have a port for an iPod cable. We originally got her an adapter that played her iPod via the cassette player. When it broke after a few months, we looked for an alternative. It arrived from Amazon yesterday: the Eforcity 3-in-1Charging and Car Holder FM Transmitter. She plugs it into the car’s cigarette lighter (yes, the car is old enough to have one of those), tunes the radio to an unused frequency, and plays her music through the radio.

If I were to write instructions for using this gadget, they’d go something like this:

  1. Set your iPod in the cradle, and adjust the arms on each side so they hold the iPod firmly.
  2. Plug the cable into the iPod.
  3. Plug the cigarette-lighter adapter into the car’s cigarette lighter.
  4. Turn on the car radio, and locate an unused frequency.
  5. Turn on the iPod, and you’re ready to rock.

Here are the actual instructions printed on the package insert. (Step 2 is my favorite.) Note that the punctuation is as written:

  1. Insert some cigarette ends of iPod car kit in some cigarette devices of automobile of yours, and adjust the suitable angle, so that your convenient operation iPod.
  2. Draw back both arms, put your iPod into and equal to the urgent both arms , let your protection firmly of iPod among them .
  3. Will charge the plug and connect it on the base interface of iPod, in this way you can charge while listening to the music .
  4. Choose the transmission frequency of this equipment according to the local frequency situation of radio station , the switch is presetting frequency to stir the frequency band , try one’s best to avoid the frequency of the local strong radio station , then open wave band , FM of auto radio , of you , is it search platform or manual to search set let auto radio of you receive frequency that you preset automatically to choose, in this way you can listen to iPod stereo music of high-fidelity taken the place of to you through iPod car kit device .

Parts of step 4 are almost haiku-like:

then open wave band
FM of auto radio
of you

My daughter thinks the manufacturer wrote the instructions in Chinese and then ran them through a translator. Just to see what would happen, I took my version of the instructions, translated them to simplified Chinese on FreeTranslation.com, and then translated them back to English on Babel Fish:

  1. Establishes you in cradle aspect iPod, on adjusts the arm nearby each, therefore they have iPod firmly.
  2. The plug enters to the iPod wire.
  3. The plug enters to automobile’s cigarette blasting machine’s cigarette blasting machine switch.
  4. Turns on the car radio, discovers frequency which has not used.
  5. Is decided in iPod, prepares the jogging with you.

I think that (thankfully) technology has a long way to go before the writer/editor’s job becomes obsolete.

Advertisements

language rules!

Damn straight. And you know what? Language Rules! is the name of a new, teamwritten blog that I’m part of. It’s about, well, language. C’mon over and check it out.

the tough coughed as he ploughed the dough

I was reminded yesterday of the vagaries of English and how much I pity anyone who attempts to learn it as a second language. To, too, two. Its, it’s. Your, you’re. Multiple pronunciations of the same letter combinations, as in the title of this post. English is a marvelous, expressive language — but, thanks to the many cultural sources from which it obtains new words, it offers a bewildering and sometimes seemingly random assortment of spellings and sounds.

I’m currently working on a book whose author speaks (first) Dutch, (second) French, and (third) English. He has a wonderful grasp of English; and, in an example in his book, he introduced me to something I’d never heard of: Shavian.

Shavian

From Wikipedia:

Posthumously funded by and named after Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, the Shavian alphabet (also known as Shaw alphabet) was conceived as a way to provide a simple, phonetic orthography for the English language to replace the difficulties of the conventional spelling. Shaw set two main criteria for the new alphabet: that it should be phonetic, with as great as possible a 1:1 correspondence between letters and sounds; and that it should be distinct from the Latin alphabet so as to avoid the impression that the new spellings were simply “misspellings”.

What a superb idea: a phonetic alphabet that would yield something akin to “thuh tuhff cawft az hee plowd thuh doh” (only written in much prettier, vaguely Elvish characters; here’s an example) and would thus save us from our maddening tangle of spellings and pronunciations.