Lost in Translation

2006.Mar.13 Monday · 1 comment

in Books & Other Media, Popular Posts

Planet Earth – Those of you who’ve read along know I have a pet peeve when it comes to menu translations. If you’re going to go to the effort to translate your menu into another language, have someone who speaks both do the translation. I didn’t personally encounter either of these, though after fits of laughing, I pass along links to two sites that were forwarded to me today – strange how these things come in at the same time…

May I Take Your Order?

A little Engrish

The problem, I think, is one of either the traditional way of doing this – someone sits down with a dictionary and picks out a definition that they like from the list of possibilities, without having a clue – so many words can be translated as so many things. Or, in this day and age of the internet, someone uses an online service like Babelfish and hopes for the best – in that case, a computer picks the translation it likes best. As a mini-experiment, I took my last menu from one of my dinners and ran it through various online dictionaries from the Spanish to the English, until I came up with some fun and creative translations – it really wasn’t much work to mistranslate my menu! Admittedly, “llajwa” is a quechua term, not Spanish, but even it has it’s own variant translation used in political circles.

Here was the original printed menu text:

Vieiras a la Llajwa con Tomatillos y Tomates Secos, Compota de Verdeos y Chalotes

Pechugas en Adobo de Citricos, Remolachas al horno, Puré de Papas y Cebollas

Tarta de Manzana

What it should translate as:

Scallops with Tomatillo and Dried Tomato Llajwa (Bolivian hot sauce), Compote of Green Onions and Shallots

Chicken breasts in a citrus marinade, Roasted beets, Puréed potatoes and onions

Apple tart

And the internet dictionary and online sources version:

Social reform great scallops in spite of withered jamberries and commotion, stewed fruit with cover crops and green onions

I marinate in citric audacity, sugar beets from the kiln, thick soup from the hole and bulbs

Cake in a city block

I think I’m ready to go out and translate some menus now. Then I may just go marinate in my citric audacity.

[December 2016: Google has announced that its Translate service is now an “Artificial Intelligence” and that the translations are far more context oriented and correct. And several folk who’ve reviewed the translations seem to think so too. I’ve noticed that the little option I have over there in the second column to change the language does far better in Spanish than it used to. So, how does Translate handle things these days?

Scallops a la Llajwa with Tomatillos and Tomates Dried, Compote of Verdeos and Shallots

Breasts in Citrus Adobo, Baked Beets, Mashed Potatoes and Onions

Apple pie

I’d say that’s significantly better, though interesting that it seems to have forgotten the word “verdeos” meaning green onions.]


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

asadoarg March 14, 2006 at 19:46

Great post. Always gives me a good laugh to see these sorts of translations. I’ve even seen a few 4 star hotels screw it up on their brochures.

I think the dictionary translations (haven’t seen a bad one for bola de lomo yet) are the worst but phonetic translations are good too. I can just picture two people sitting somewhere discussing the translations. “What is this?” “Chep’s salad”……scribbles down Chep’s salad. (I worked in an asian restaurant once, all the chefs were cheps)

About a month ago I walked by a restaurant that had a huge sign on top that attempted to cater to tourists. Spanish and English.

Milanesas – Breded Meat
Hamburguesa – Hamburguer

Hamburguer could have passed(Portuguese?) but seeing that everything else was clearly supposed to target English-speaking people… It was one of those large plastic embossed signs so I’m sure it wasn’t that cheap to create. I wondered just when and if they realized what mistakes they made.

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