A potpourri of language and translation items

July 13, 2021 by Alison Tunley

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A potpourri of language and translation items

Whenever I stumble across something quirky and interesting about language and translation, I make a little note so I can include it in a blog post. This is a great system but, to be honest, most of the bits and bobs I collect are not worth a whole post and I now have a long list of entirely random snippets gathering dust. So, this week’s blog attempts to clear out my miscellaneous collection by bringing you an unrelated assortment of linguistic stuff. Think of it like the lucky dip at a school fête!

First up, a study on how to construct the perfect curse word. If you have ever wondered why certain words can be compounded to create swear words, while others are less effective, this is the perfect read. Perhaps someone can now rise to the challenge of creating a swear word composed of the least likely candidates identified by the paper: fireplace, restaurant, tennis, newspaper, and physician: https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13423-019-01685-8

While we are thinking about making up new words, artificial intelligence is on the case and is not only making up words but inventing the definitions too. This site comes with a health warning – it is strangely compelling to keep clicking “New word” and before you know it an entire afternoon has disappeared: https://www.thisworddoesnotexist.com/

For a lovely insight into linguistic diversity in Scotland, spare 90 seconds for this fun video of the recent swearing in ceremony at the Scottish Parliament, where members took the oath in Arabic, British Sign Language, Canadian French, Doric, English, Gaelic, German, Orcadian, Punjabi, Scots, Urdu, Welsh and Zimbabwean Shona: https://twitter.com/journo_claire/status/1392852731199696896

If you have ever had a linguistic query and failed to find a satisfactory answer via the tried and tested Google and Wikipedia routes, help may be on hand. Babel: The Language Magazine has its very own “agony linguists” to provide expert responses to readers’ questions. They are inviting submissions, although you will need to subscribe to the magazine to get the answer: https://twitter.com/Babelzine/status/1392787371100360706

All translators occasionally wrestle with cultural linguistic content that has no direct equivalent in the target language. A friend recently shared a video highlighting exactly this problem for translators between Persian an English. Sadly, I only have the film on WhatsApp, but it involves an English guy first placing a call to a shop at great length in Persian, then giving a literal English translation of the conversation, which goes “Hello! You good? What’s up? You healthy? I sacrifice myself for you. I die for you. Do you have any cake? Oh, thank you. I hope your hand doesn’t hurt. I die for you. I kiss you. I forward my eye on you. Goodbye darling. I die for you. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.” Then he explains, this is how you do it if you’re English: “Hello. Have you got any cake? I’ll come now. Bye!”

Saving the best language and translation item till last, I was recently introduced to the world’s most redundant interpreter in Woody Allen’s 1971 film Bananas. When bumbling New Yorker, Fielding Mellish (played by Allen), travels to a tiny Latin American nation, a Mr Hernandez introduces himself as the official translator, speaking English with a heavy Spanish accent and translating between two people who are already speaking English to each other: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oF-AcR14Km8&t=11s

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