Most spam comments are pretty straightforward (sex sex sex sex nasty sex sex!). But every once in a while they get strangely creative. So today’s medal of honor for spam comment wackness goes to:
When I have left the fine girl on heart it was very bad, even would visit thoughts on that what to leave in other world, did not know, that to me to do further without it. But I was helped by the Internet, I long wandered on it and on eyes one site which has cheered at once me up and all has got to me as that by itself has seen reason, can and still to someone will help [Kelley’s note: followed here by the url of a porn website… ]
— a spam comment recently left in my comment queue
Is it just me, or is this oddly… hypnotic? Do you glimpse, as I do, some mad story peering through the cracks in that tangled string of words? Or is it just that had I too much wine last night and not enough tea so far this morning? Hmm, that might be it…
Perhaps it is because I am a storyteller that I insist on trying to find meaning in, well, everything, even some jumbled babel fish words. Of course automated translations are pretty unsuccessful — translation and interpretation are not simple word-for-word exchanges, that’s not how language works.
I remember being absolutely gobsmacked as a child to learn that some languages didn’t have words for things we have words for in English. I had always assumed that languages all had the same number and type of words in them, but that those Other People’s words were funny-sounding and spelled weird. My native language was so engrained into me at the molecular level that I literally couldn’t understand that other languages were differently structured, used different grammar, defined the world in fundamentally different ways.
The day I finally, really got it, it felt like the top of my head turned inside out. I felt that again thirty years later, learning American Sign Language with its spatial grammar and ability to particularize classifiers to meet a variety of needs, rather than having “a sign for every English word.” We drove our teachers nuts the first year or so asking What’s the sign for crimson? What’s the sign for trapeze? What’s the sign for mansion? while the patient look glazed over their faces and they tried once again to make us understand that it’s not like English.
Language is not a vehicle. It’s not like driving on the left versus driving on the right, where the whole experience is really weird but underneath it all the cars all work the same way. It’s not like a currency exchange, where you give dollars and get back lira… we should never assume that there’s equivalency in our different languages, that everyone has some word that means the exact same thing to them that our word means to us. Language is… so much more. How fascinating to see human experience through the lenses of different languages and therefore different meanings, different shadings, different worlds…
Fortunately, Babel Fish is not the only option these days. I use a site I really enjoy, WordReference.com, which I like because it’s a dictionary site, not a translation site. But translations are available — it’s just that you have to dip into the forums and interact with a human being to get them. And WordReference keeps a database of phrases, etc. so that you can see how the word you’ve looked up is actually used, and you can see equivalencies rather than literal translations. It’s a wonderful window into how languages actually work, the apples and oranges of it all.
I used Babel Fish to translate one of my favorite paragraphs of “Dangerous Space” into Spanish, and then back into English.
But the night. Music. The pulls of the house with people; the air is heavy with its anticipation, its alcohol and the musk, the human atmospheric disturbances of its conversations that hit. When the technology of the guitar warms up, when fixed mics, people watches to us with a directness that it never would demonstrate in the street, as if she could raise in our lives if she watches fixedly only hardly enough. We are foreplay; we walk the stage like the models of the channel, horses of races, arrogant and kind expert and, and slightly rubbed its anticipation with each movement that we do. And when you are ready, when you you are jadeando for him, the bandage comes to you with the hands of music and it touches with heat and hope and joy to him, with all they know of being human, and is so great you cannot contain it everything: sing you it and again dance and shout them. And then they give more him. Forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards. Ecstasy.
— Babel Fish translation of “Dangerous Space”, English to Spanish to English
It has its own mad beauty in places, no? But it’s not the same. All props to the literary translators of the world, the human beings who with their skills make stories into something more than converted words, who translate meaning in meaningful ways. And to the interpreters who build bridges between us by finding ways to make meaning clear when it seems sometimes that our languages are no more than mud between us, something sticky that we cannot see through to find each other.