Faulty Translations

Any playwright whose work is being performed in a language other than his own will inevitably become a victim to faulty translations. These translations don’t necessarily have to be bad; some are merely dated or hopelessly regional. Debates will commence: why should a theatre company use a very Victorian translation for a decidedly non-Victorian French play? Whose translation works the best for which theatre, in which time and place?

To put an end to the debate, I decided to turn to the Babelfish, a resource I last used in connection to playwriting in 1998-99 by taking passages from The Bill Show, translating them to German, and translating them back. I commanded the Babelfish to translate the Act II “misogyny” debate between Bonnie and Johnnie, and it gave me back complete gibberish. Since this is a step above the original English that I wrote, I considered its translation abilities a success.

The Babelfish is always up-to-date and is mindful of its multi-national audience, so it should show none of the weaknesses of human translation. It allows the playwright to speak to the world and to the ages, limited only by the expanding horizon of modern technology.

I decided it was time for a more vigorous test. I searched the Internet for August Strindberg in the original Swedish. Strindberg has been subjected to so many bad translations (most notably the notorious Bob Hope/Bing Crosby version of The Road to Damascus.), it was time to use the tools of our age to correct that.

Unfortunately, it seems that the Babelfish does not yet speak Swedish. Though it seems that there are several tools out there that speak the Muppet variant. We’ve come so far, but not far enough. You will be stuck with that musty 1960s adaptation of Miss Julie for a while longer.

So instead, I did random phone book searches for famous people.


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