Lost in translation

Don’t use Google translate for your foreign language homework. Period. Sure, if you’re just looking for the general idea of a passage of foreign language text, this tool is nifty. However, translation is one area where it is best not to succumb to our robot overlords.

Translation technology has yet to surpass the skills of actual human translators with their years of study of grammar and syntax and how one language’s idioms translate into another’s.

Case in point: This video from CDZA takes the text from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s theme song and runs it through all languages on Google translate and then back into English. Hilarity ensues.



Still, it’s amazing that we have come as far as we have with computer translations. Here is a video by Google that explains how its translation program works.


If all else fails, you can fake your way through translation like British comedian Catherine Tate does in this video.

Or maybe not.

Meow! Miau! Nyan!

I happen to be obsessed with a little Japanese kitty who has a Pop Tart for a body and leaves a rainbow trail every time he moves. His name is Nyan, and he stars in a simple but deceivingly addictive video game of the same name. At first I thought the kitty’s name was Nyan just because . . . well, it was. But it turns out that nyan is the sound cats make in Japan.

In English, we’re used to our moos and oinks and woofs and meows, but animals don’t make the same sounds in other countries. Or, rather, the people speaking the languages don’t interpret the sounds the same way.

Take our Nyan cat, for example. In Japan, he says nyan. In the United States, he says meow. In Germany, it’s miau; and, in France, it’s miaou.

Here are other examples of what animals say across the globe:

English: tweet
French: cui cui
Greek: tsiou tsiou
Portuguese: pio
Swedish: pip-pip

English: moo
Finnish: ammuu
French: meuh
Japanese: mau mau
Spanish: meee

English: woof
French: ouah
German: wau
Greek: gav
Japanese: wan

English: cock-a-doodle-do
French: cocorico
Hebrew: coo-koo-ri-koo
Japanese: ko-ke-kok-ko-o
Portuguese: cucurucu

English: ribbit
Dutch: kwak kwak
Finnish: kvaak
Italian: cra cra
Japanese: kero kero

English: oink oink
French: groin groin
German: grunz
Japanese: boo boo
Russian: hrgu-hrgu

Want to learn more?
Here’s the page where I found all of these lovely words. Want to know the noise a donkey, moose, or crocodile makes? Check it out.

Here’s a link to a great ESL page where you can hear sound clips of native speakers saying the animal sounds.

How to say “turkey” across the globe

courtesy of zazzle.com

It’s that time of year again—a sad day for turkeys, but a gut-busting good time for human carnivores. Happy Thanksgiving, Grammar Party readers. To celebrate the holiday, I’ve collected translations of the word turkey from around the world. Wouldn’t it be more exciting to say, “Hey, could you please pass me the pulyka”?


Albanian: gjeldeti
Croatian: puretina
Czech: krocan
Dutch: kalkoen
Estonian: kalkun
French: dinde
Haitian Creole: kodenn
Hungarian: pulyka
Icelandic: kalkúnn
Indonesian: kalkun
Italian: tacchino
Latvian: tītars
Maltese: dundjan
Norweigian: kalkun
Polish: indyk
Romanian: curcan
Spanish: pavo
Swedish: kalkon

New Zealand slang from Beyond the Trail

When we left off with Rob and Debra, our Beyond the Trail travel bloggers, they were backpacking it across Australia, soaking up sun, drinking Fosters (Okay, I don’t know if that part is true.), and rifling both the cities and countryside for fun Aussie slang to share with Grammar Partiers.

The location of their current field report is New Zealand, where they are soaking up the sun, yada yada yada, having an amazing time everyone should be envious of, and rifling both the cities and countryside for fun New Zealand slang to share with us.

Here are some slang words and phrases Debra emailed to me recently that she has heard on her adventures:

brekkie: breakfast
coach: bus
good on ya: good for you
he just cruises/we cruise: chilling
sweet as: something really good
what are ya after: what would you like/what kinds of things are you interested in

In my web travels, I found newzealandslang.com, which listed loads of kiwi slang words and phrases. I have listed some of my favorites below, but I recommend checking out the site for more slangy goodness.

across the Ditch: across the Tasman Sea
bickies: biscuits
bit of a dag: person with a good sense of humor
blimin’: bloody (like the swear word)
blow me down: an expression of surprise
cadge: to borrow
carked it: died
crook: sick
dairy: corner store
fizzy drink: soda
flash: something that looks new
going bush: become reclusive
grunds: underwear
hard yakka: hard work
ice block: ice pop
manus: idiot
pashing: kissing
plaster: band aid
pong: bad smell
rack off: go away
rattle your dags: command to hurry up
stuffed: tired
ta: thanks
togs: swim suit
winge: to complain
wobbly: tantrum
yonks: a long time

If any of these are out of date, or if you know of any new slang words I should include in my list, please let me know.

You can follow Rob and Deb’s fantastical globe-trotting journey at their blog, Beyond the Trail. With their inside peek into foreign cultures, which only people willing to rough it at camp sites and stray way off the beaten path can have, the site is a must-read.

Gadhafi? Qaddafi? Kadafi? The spelling mystery revealed!

You say Moamar el Gaddafi. I say Moammar Khadafy. Somebody says Moamer El Kazzafi?!

According to an ABC news blog, there are at least 112 ways to spell the Libyan leader’s name. With the continuation of the United States’ and NATO’s mission in Libya, why haven’t copy editors and style guides agreed on a spelling?

The reasons for the confusion
The problem is in transliteration, the way letters in one language correspond to letters in another language. Remarkably, there is no standard guide for translating Arabic letters.

Here is the Arabic spelling of Gadhafi: لقذافي. The first letter is pronounced like a “k,” but it is usually transliterated as a “q.” So why doesn’t every spelling start with a “q”? Here’s where not having a standard for translation causes problems. People with the Libyan dialect pronounce the first letter in Gadhafi as a “g,” leading some news outlets to follow suit with their transcribed spellings.

But the confusion doesn’t end with his last name. Some of the multiple spellings for his first name include: Muammar, Moammar, Mu’ammar, and Moamar.

Which spelling should we use?
Until linguists settle on a standard for translating Arabic letters into English, I recommend following the preference of the Associated Press. In addition to house style guides, newspapers look to the AP Style Guide to regulate everything from which numbers to spell out to how to spell “e-mail.” (Hyphen please.) The official ruling by Associated Press is: Moammar Gadhafi.