Beat the Machine: September Translation Slam

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By Sam Mowry

After a rollicking start to our Beat the Machine online translation slam, we’re back with a new sentence! If you need a quick refresher, you can read about the premise in our inaugural post here. Very simply, we’re out to prove how much better human translators are than machines and maybe learn something from one another in the process.

Here is the sentence for this month:

Mais si les relations sont aujourd’hui plus conflictuelles que jamais, il était pour ainsi dire écrit dans le ciel que la formidable croissance économique chinoise des quarante dernières années, orchestrée qui plus est, depuis huit ans, par un régime Xi particulièrement autoritaire et expansionniste, finirait par déboucher sur une lutte de pouvoir de grande envergure entre la Chine et un empire américain qui n’est forcément plus ce qu’il était.

What was that I said last month about French being fond of long sentences? This one will give you ample opportunity to wade through and potentially break into as many shorter sentences as you see fit. The sky is the limit!

For context, Xi refers to Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, who has been in power since 2012. His name doesn’t require any particular treatment, and “Xi regime” would be a fine translation in this context (but feel free as always to get creative!).

Here is the full paragraph the sentence came from:

Que Pékin ne joue pas franc jeu en matière commerciale est notoire et que la dictature chinoise ait depuis longtemps à l’ordre international un rapport « inadéquat » est incontestable. Que M. Trump joue la corde antichinoise à l’approche de la présidentielle, il fallait s’y attendre. Mais si les relations sont aujourd’hui plus conflictuelles que jamais, il était pour ainsi dire écrit dans le ciel que la formidable croissance économique chinoise des quarante dernières années, orchestrée qui plus est, depuis huit ans, par un régime Xi particulièrement autoritaire et expansionniste, finirait par déboucher sur une lutte de pouvoir de grande envergure entre la Chine et un empire américain qui n’est forcément plus ce qu’il était. Nous y voilà. Pour l’heure, l’ordre du monde est façonné par les faucons des deux côtés.

If you’d like to read the full article from Le Devoir, you may find it here.

Here is Google’s feeble attempt:

But if relations are today more conflictual than ever, it was almost written in the sky that the tremendous Chinese economic growth of the last forty years, orchestrated moreover, for eight years, by a particularly authoritarian and expansionist Xi regime , would eventually lead to a large-scale power struggle between China and an American empire that is not necessarily what it used to be.

Submit your much better translation here by September 30, 2020, and the blog post discussing it will go live in October!

Please note the following:

  • Only FLD members will have their translations posted on this blog. Membership is free for current ATA members, so if you aren’t a member yet, make sure to join before you submit your translation!
  • You are free to submit your sentence anonymously, but half the fun will be crediting the creative submissions we receive by name and recognizing their authors.
  • You may submit as many times as you like in case you have a stroke of genius after your initial submission. I will only discuss one submission per person in the review post.

Have you translated or read a particularly pesky sentence this year that you can share for this project? Please send it along! Are you interested in helping us do the same virtual translation slam, but from English to French? We’d love to have one or more volunteers to do this series, but in reverse! If you’re interested, please contact Ben Karl, the À Propos editor, at ben [at] bktranslation.com or myself, Sam Mowry, at sam [at] translation.expert to let us know!

Beat the Machine: Weaving Musical Genres in Austria?

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Welcome to part two of our inaugural Beat the Machine mini translation slam! In our July post, I asked FLD members to re-translate a complicated sentence to improve upon the machine translation output provided in the post. Now it’s time to review some of the submissions!

Before diving in, I would like to acknowledge that I may have had a little bit of hubris when selecting this first sentence. One of my favorite FLD members suggested it and I thought, “perfect, this thing is a mess, let’s do it!” Then I sat down to tackle it myself and… eesh, this sentence really was a challenge! The good news is that this has been a fun learning experience for us all, and I now know what I’m looking for in future sentences. The other good news is that many of our colleagues were clearly less daunted than I and submitted some really creative solutions. So, let’s dig in!

To refresh our memory, this was the sentence we were working with:

L’excellentissime pianiste classique autrichien Friedrich Gulda n’eût peut-être pas été d’accord, lui qui ne cessa de transgresser les deux grands ordres (jazz et classique) en les reprisant et déprisant dans des concerts qui filaient standards de jazz, classiques des classiques.

And here’s what DeepL gave us:

Perhaps the excellent Austrian classical pianist Friedrich Gulda would not have agreed, as he never stopped transgressing the two great orders (jazz and classical) by reproducing them in concerts that spun jazz standards, classics from classics.

As foreshadowed, there are a lot of things we’re working with here. There are four different parts to this monster, so let’s take it part by part before addressing some really neat things some people did with the structure of the sentence as a whole.

L’excellentissime pianiste classique autrichien Friedrich Gulda…

In the first seven words, everyone agrees about three of them. “Friedrich Gulda” and “Austrian” are pretty concrete! Things immediately diverge after that. Some of the options for excellentissime were excellent, brilliant, and outstanding. However, two people did something pretty clever here, opting for “virtuoso” in English. This is particularly delightful because it folds the level of skill into the noun: Friedrich Gulda, classical piano virtuoso. The alternative, [adjective] + [classical pianist], is perfectly accurate, but virtuoso conveys a level of talent beyond “excellent” that better matches excellentissime (the –issime meaning very excellent) and changes up the sentence structure ever so slightly.

…n’eût peut-être pas été d’accord…

Everyone went with either “would not have agreed” or “would have disagreed.” This a fun reminder that you can structure even seemingly straightforward text more than one way. The difference is slight, but real, and which option is “better” depends on the rest of the sentence: is the goal fewer total words? Shorter words? Depending on the context, choosing something like “may have begged to differ,” could potentially be great.

…lui qui ne cessa de transgresser les deux grands ordres (jazz et classique)…

Here’s where things start to get messy. Ne cessa de became: ceaselessly, always, continued to, constantly, and continually. So many options to convey “something that never stops!” Transgresser is clearly a problem in English, as “to transgress” is much weightier than just mixing musical genres, not to mention the moral or religious overtones. DeepL fell right into this trap. Our human options here included “intermixed,” and “transcended.” My favorite solutions were “went outside the box,” which, while it could use a stronger verb than “went,” encompasses the notion of transgressing in a more palatable way, and my very favorite, “pushed the limits.” He didn’t necessarily break the boundaries, as a transgression might suggest, but he’s right up against it.

…en les reprisant et déprisant dans des concerts…

Oh no, wordplay in the source! The holy grail here would be to come up with something that has the same kind of parallelism or at least some kind of interplay as reprisant et déprisant. Options included: “combining and undoing them,” (accurate, if not a little clunky), “reappraising and transforming,” (yet clunkier, in my opinion). “Taking them apart and putting them back together”: we’re getting there, it’s literal but closer to the mark. “Deconstructing and reconstructing,” is almost there and is the best non-metaphorical option that was submitted; it checks both boxes, opposite words with a similar structure to match the source.

However, there was one superlative submission here that does all of the above but also leads into the next part of the sentence beautifully: “unraveling and reweaving them in concerts.” I swooned.

…qui filaient standards de jazz, classiques des classiques.

The swoon-worthy submission continues: “…that spun together jazz standards and classical classics.” This is why I love this option so much for the previous part. The translator saw filer in this section and put it to excellent use in the previous one, using a thread metaphor to describe how Gulda took apart and reassembled the musical components. The use of “spun” continues the metaphor perfectly.

Lastly, “classical classics,” submitted by two translators, is snappy and alliterative, and I don’t know what more you could ask.

Sentence breaks? What are those?

This mouthful of a French sentence reminds us that what is valued for style in French doesn’t always correspond to what we look for in English: French sentences can run on and on and on. And I actually chopped this sucker in half before issuing this challenge! Two of the translators used a period and broke it into two fully separate sentences; one person used a semicolon for the same purpose. One option that surprised me was to pull the initial verb (“might have disagreed”) all the way to the end, so it read something like “Friedrich Gulda, [description], who [did the things], may well have disagreed.” This, again, is a decision where context matters, and this option may or may not flow into what comes next in the text. But it certainly has the option to, and that’s awesome. Next time, I’ll provide more context so that we can better evaluate options like this one.

Putting it all together, this is a string combining my personal favorite individual translation solutions for this sentence:

Friedrich Gulda, the classical piano virtuoso who continually pushed the limits of two great genres (jazz and classical), unraveling and reweaving them in concerts that spun together jazz standards and classical classics, may well have disagreed.

You know what? I think that’s pretty good! That’s a well-crafted sentence. And, given the notable lack of preceding or following sentences, I can claim it is ideal for the context. So… whew! We made it! I hope that it was useful and informative to see how many options there are for even simple phrases, and what neat things you can achieve with even mundane words. Stay tuned for next month, where we’ll do it all again (with a more approachable sentence this time!).

Did you forget to submit a translation in time? Not to worry! Share your version on Twitter and tag the French Language Division (@ATA_FLD) and me, @SamTranslates.

If you would like to submit a sentence for a future slam, I would like that very much! You can contact me, Sam Mowry, directly at sam [at] translation.expert or on Twitter at the handle listed above. You can also contact the À Propos Editor Ben Karl at ben [at] bktranslation.com.

If you’d like to help launch a similar slam but into French, please also reach out!

Beat the Machine: A Mini Virtual Translation Slam by the ATA FLD

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Beat the Machine: A Mini Virtual Translation Slam by the ATA FLD

Greetings, fellow FLD members (and interested onlookers)!

My name is Sam Mowry and I’m here to help us all translate better. Strong words, I know, but one thing I’ve found to be true in my translation career is that the more exposure you have to translations, particularly good translations, the better translator you become. To that end, this is the first in what I hope will become an ongoing series of posts here in À Propos.

The premise is simple: I’ve never met a translator who, when confronted with someone else’s translation, doesn’t secretly or not-so-secretly think to themselves, “I could have done it better.” Moreover, as human translators, we know we’re vastly superior to every machine translation option on the market. We’re going to combine those concepts into a monthly “beat the machine” virtual translation slam (and by that I mean slamming those machine translations into the ground!).

Every two months, I will post a French sentence with an English translation produced by a widely available machine translation engine. This will incite the faithful readers of this blog to rise to the challenge and show how much better it could be by submitting their own versions of the translated sentence. The following month, I will publish a blog post where I share some of the best submissions and discuss what makes them so good. This is a chance to show what a difference the human touch makes and improve our own translation practices in the process by seeing how other translators approach the same problem.

Sound good?

The first sentence is:

L’excellentissime pianiste classique autrichien Friedrich Gulda n’eût peut-être pas été d’accord, lui qui ne cessa de transgresser les deux grands ordres (jazz et classique) en les reprisant et déprisant dans des concerts qui filaient standards de jazz, classiques des classiques.

Fun, right? Hat tip to FLD member Beth Smith, who provided this sentence. Here is what DeepL spat out:

Perhaps the excellent Austrian classical pianist Friedrich Gulda would not have agreed, as he never stopped transgressing the two great orders (jazz and classical) by reproducing them in concerts that spun jazz standards, classics from classics.

You are no doubt chomping at the bit already to submit your much better translation of this sentence. You can do that HERE.

Submissions must be received by July 22, 2020. The follow-up blog post discussing the best solutions will be posted on or around August 1, 2020.

Please note the following:

  • Only FLD members will have their translations posted on this blog. Membership is free for current ATA members, so if you aren’t a member yet, make sure to join before you submit your translation. When you log in to your account on the ATA website, the number of divisions you belong to is listed at the top of the page. Click “Modify” to change which divisions you belong to (and add the FLD!).
  • You are free to submit your sentence anonymously, but half the fun will be crediting the creative submissions we receive by name and recognizing their authors.
  • You may submit as many times as you like, in case you have a stroke of genius after your initial submission. I will only discuss one submission per person in the review post.

Finally, we’re hoping to continue this series with all of your help! Have you come across a particularly pesky sentence you can share for this project? Please send it along! Are you interested in helping us do the same virtual translation slam, but from English to French? We’d love to have one or more volunteers to do this series, but in reverse! If you’re interested, please contact Ben Karl, the À Propos editor, or myself, Sam Mowry, to let us know!

Happy translating!

Sam Mowry is an ATA-certified French into English translator specializing in international development, medicine, official documents, and being mouthy on the internet. She can be reached by email at sam@frenchtranslation.expert or directly on Twitter at @SamTranslates.

 

 

 

 

 

French is Alive and Well and (Even) Living in English

By Jacques Saleh

For all the relentless drumbeat, if not frenzied alarm, in the French-speaking world (as often witnessed on numerous French-speaking talk shows), to counter or curtail the seemingly inexorable onward and forward march of English worldwide, and for all the alarmed French and Francophile luminaries, grandees and pundits who feel that the French language is under siege by the Anglo-Saxon (or Anglo-American) linguistic onslaught, it behooves us to reassure those rearguard French and Francophonie defenders that all is not lost, and that in the spirit of cross-cultural comity and cross-linguistic camaraderie, French is still alive and well and living in English.

Perhaps it hasn’t seeped into the foundational structure of English as much as Frisian and other Germanic offshoots such as Dutch, Scandinavian or German, but English still seems to have more clearly recognizable Gallic terms in its lexicon than other Germanic languages, which over the years have morphed away—in often unrecognizable fashion—from their Teutonic roots. If, for instance, you join the British or U.S. military (militaires) or army (armée), at whichever echelon (echelon), from the humble soldier (soldat) to the sergeant, colonel, general, or admiral, you may think you have joined the ranks of the French military.

And to add a bit of bonhomie to the whole competitive linguistic shebang, the French and Germanic or Proto-Germanic languages have peacefully coexisted in an ongoing détente within English, with English providing the basis for this ideal and idyllic rapprochement. In other words, English may have accomplished the near-utopian feat of making the French and Teutons gentle bedfellows, at least linguistically.

By italicizing French-rooted or French-influenced words in English below, we will notice more vividly how French is intrinsically ingrained in the English language. And if we review the text above, a French-speaking sleuth a bit versed in etymology (NB: while Greek, the word “etymology” took this form through the French “étymologie”) could easily count more than a few dozen words with French ancestry, influence or affinity. Some (including frenzied, counter, curtail, march, vigorously, defend, languages, rearguard, competitive, peacefully, accomplished, feat, gentle, instance, and join) represent different alteration degrees of the French words frénésie, contrer, tailler, marche, vigoureusement, défendre, langues, arrière-garde (itself an alteration of the Old French rereguarde), compétitif, fait, gentil, instance, and joindre. Others are plucked wholesale and with seemingly little compunction from French, e.g., words like détente, camaraderie, bonhomie, rapprochement and the like.

This article is not meant to give a statistical or scientific representation of French within English, especially with a limited textual sample (Old French “essample”), but to show that one can write English using a copious dose of French-influenced or French-originated words, even if their semantic and formal iterations have deviated from current or even Old French. But this would be no different from Canadian French using French terms that are uncommon in France, or modern French in France being quite different from Old French but still influenced by, or derived from, it. Languages do not remain static, and whether the French words that seeped into English were quite different semantically and formally from their modern configuration does not negate the fact that their origin is French and that English has a solid French linguistic identity in conjunction with its Teutonic one.

If the Anglo-Saxons resent this “foreign” influence, they would then be using a French-rooted word (“ressentiment”) to express their feelings, or they could hate it, in which case they would be using a German-rooted or Dutch-rooted term (“hassen” or “haten”). It will be up to them to express any xenophobic or perhaps bigoted sentiments against this reality, but if their resentment pushes them to extirpate only French-rooted words from the English language, English would become so different as to become another language and would no longer qualify as English. As things stand, it won’t be an easy task to extricate English from French encroachment, or for that matter, from its Teutonic manifestations. If it were, English would have a major identity crisis and would cease to exist. To prune the Teutonic-Gallic branches and roots from the English tree will be akin to uprooting and killing that tree. Ergo, RIP English.

While the nuts and bolts of English are infused with Teutonic-originated terms, which permeate its building blocks of prepositions, adverbs, conjunctions and pronouns, French suffuses its superstructure, so to speak, including many terms used in the military, law, economy, finance, religion, and politics, among others.

And speaking of the military, the Brits conquered a good chunk of global real estate and built their empire with plenty of help from the French—that is, French words. They had these French-rooted terms to help advance their colonizing or expansionist ambitions: the army and navy, along with their assortment of generals, colonels, admirals, lieutenants, sergeants, corporals, and soldiers. And to this end they used troops, the infantry, and cavalry, in addition to the artillery. They also used battalions, brigades, and squadrons. 

And to advance their objectives and promote and consolidate their newly established regime, the occupiers did not hesitate to use search and destroy missions to tame any recalcitrant elements of the populace, nor did they fail to use surveillance, reconnaissance missions, espionage intrigues, spies, guards, sieges, and logistics, all the way down to the lowly latrine.

After setting their expansionist designs on a region, they applied or established their laws and rules, again with much help from the French language, introducing in the process French-rooted terms like contracts, felonies, crimes, courts, tribunals, judges, jury, bailiffs, plaintiffs, defendants, attorneys, cases, bails, paroles, summons, claims, complaints, pleas, pleadings, petitions, motions, briefs, requests, appeals, jails, and prisons, among many terms that could almost fill an English legal dictionary. This gave the illegitimate presence of the colonizers a semblance of normalcy and legality that might have helped them further subdue and control the local populace by instilling a whiff of legitimacy, accompanied by a firm dose of law and order, to their conquest.

Naturally, for further appeasement and other self-serving purposes, the new victors probably wanted their newly vanquished communities and societies to enjoy a humming economy. Such economy would assist those victors in better managing their own affairs while profiting even more from the existing spoils by rendering the latter more productive than from the simple plunder of limited or unsustainable resources. 

With such a symbiotic or collaborative arrangement with the indigenous peoples, the victors’ ruling classes and elites, along with their acolytes, would theoretically enjoy a greater level of prosperity and riches, some of which is allowed to trickle down to appease the oppressed masses by easing their economic and financial burdens, hence inducing them into continuing collaborative comportment. In this instance, the reasoning of the conquerors might be that the robust economy should serve as the opium of the politically oppressed people in the way religion played that role for those who championed the cause of the proletariat.

The above examples should suffice for now to give sufficient credence to the present thesis and, by extrapolation, should point to the clear etymological and historical evidence that seems overlooked by all those alarmist French language Cassandras and other linguistic doomsayers who think that languages, especially theirs, are or should be immutable.

Instead, the Gallic doomsters might as well stop panicking and stressing over this issue, and for that matter they might as well vicariously enjoy the English language (French-Teutonic to a large extent) triumphs without undue compunction, mindful of the fact that the English language’s French ancestry is well-established. They should also be mindful of the humbling fact that, for all intents and purposes, all present living languages will eventually sink into Latin-like or ancient Greek obsolescence and will succumb to the inevitable and dire fate of linguistic extinction.

Thus, the Gallic doom and gloom merchants and sundry linguistic fearmongers could join the ranks of those who take a grander and more relativistic and historical view regarding the transience of languages, or of life for that matter, and they could in particular tone down a notch their strident anti-Albion protests once they realize that French will be riding on the coattails of the English juggernaut for the foreseeable future.

In this case, it bears repeating that those with French predilection who are still contesting the current linguistic status quo might as well vicariously enjoy the English language advances, as they should be comforted by the fact that English has historically and to a large degree embraced, assimilated and absorbed French, which played, along with Teutonic linguistic offshoots and to some extent Latin, a predominant role in its inception.

Therefore, once we consider that English has a distinct, significant, recognizable, and manifest French identity, the relationship between the two languages should no longer be regarded as a zero-sum game, as some alarmist Francophile pundits would like us to think, but rather one of lineage and pedigree, or of parentage and identity, which in turn entails that French is not only alive and well for the French-speaking people, but also living in English. Thus, French can legitimately share in the successes of English and celebrate its triumphs.    

[Editor’s Note: What are your thoughts on the influence of English on the French language, and vice versa? Any amateur (or professional!) etymologists out there? Please join the conversation by liking or sharing this article along with your comments on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.]

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Jacques Saleh, PhD is an ATA-certified Arabic-to-English translator with more than 20 years of experience translating from Arabic to English and French to English. He holds a doctorate degree in philosophy from the City University of New York and a BS and MBA from New York University. He has taught translation, philosophy, and humanities courses both in the United States and abroad. You can find him on Twitter at @textoubli or contact him through his website.