Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Lost and Found in Translation

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Lost and Found in Translation

Article excerpt

MICROSOFT WORD is one of those computer programs that mimics the power of the human brain: It has enormous capabilities-specifically for document preparation-but we use only a tiny percentage of it, mainly to make signs for our yard sale next weekend. Naturally, we do this during office hours, since heaven knows the weekend will be busy enough.

Likewise, our brains can handle numerous complex tasks, such as learning multiple languages-a capacity I would never use, since I'm currently inside my home hiding out from the sequester-although for some reason the only thing it lets me remember from high school is that you should never talk to a football player's prom date, because you can get the snot beat out of you.

Similarly, MicrosoftWord can do things you never asked for.

Recently a colleague was typing something religious for our next issue when Word suddenly offered to translate it into French, and then back into English again. Always open to distractions when typing religiously, my colleague clicked, "Well, sure, why not?" (Control/Shift/F2/ blink) and the result revealed why it's often difficult to find common ground with people from other countries: They talk funny.

In some languages, for example, sounds we assume are caused by the speaker dislodging a hairball from his (or her) throat are actually words meant to communicate important messages about, say, a nation's willingness to go to war if not leftalone, which the U.N. translator totally misses because he (or she) is thinking about that hairball.

Language can be funny that way. At least it is when MicrosoftWord gets involved. For example, here is the second paragraph, above, translated into French and then back again into English by Word's builtin translation program:

Similarly, our brain can handle many complex tasks, such as the learning of several languages [so far so good] a capacity I would never use because I'm currently hiding receiver inside my house, [uh oh] even if for some reason, the only thing it allows me remember high school, except to never speaks until then for a player of cricket prom because you can get the rhythm of the snot out of you. …

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