The Lucille Ball Translation Chain
I Love Lucy was never a favorite of mine, but I did watch a fair number of episodes as a lad, mostly after school, when it tended to be paired with the likes of The Honeymooners. One scene that has stuck with me all these years involved Lucy getting into some scrape in Paris, through a typical hi-larious Lucy misunderstanding, and being hauled in by a gendarme. But the police at the station had no English, and of course Lucy had no French.
Ricky shows up and asks if any of the police speak Spanish. None do, but they bring out a fellow obviously arrested for public drunkenness who speaks German and Spanish. One of the cops can speak German as well as French, so they set up a translation chain: from the monolingual French sergeant to the French/German policeman to the German/Spanish drunk to Spanish/English Ricky to monolingual English Lucy. Even as a kid, I appreciated the comic inspiration of the setup.
Naturally, the clip is on YouTube, and information about the episode is freely available elsewhere (original air date: January 12, 1956). Lucy had paid for something with counterfeit money, it seems. I'd forgotten that detail. But for something I hadn't seen in at least 40 years, I remembered the gist of the scene almost exactly. Guess it made an impression.
I thought of that scene recently when using Google Translate to gather information from some German and French web sites. I wondered what would happen if you ran some famous text through a translation chain. As someone familiar with English signs written by Japanese speakers, I know that human translation can be drop-dead funny. But what about machine translation?
So I ran the Gettysburg Address through a Lucy chain: English to Spanish to German to French and then back again to English. Not as funny as Macho Business Donkey Wrestler, but interesting for its rough spots, and also for the things that came through exactly, such as the famed last phrase. Maybe the equivalent phrase is almost as famed in other languages. Anyway, this is the translation.
For 87 years, our ancestors on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are in a great civil war testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We met on a great battlefield of that war. We arrived at a part of the field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live to pay. It is only right and proper that we need to do this.
But in a broader sense, we can not consecrate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow - this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have hallowed above our poor power to add or delete. The world will little note nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, but now the unfinished work which they fought so far so nobly dedicated. It is rather for us to be is the big task ahead dedicated - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last and devotion - to solve that this high dead have not died in vain - that this nation under God, then a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.
And the original, for reference.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.