Thursday, April 27, 2017

On not trusting automatic translations!

On the status of a friend of a friend on FB, I found this:

Efter uppståndelsen var Jesus kropp förvandlad.Han kunde gå genom reglade dörrar, och han kunde aldrig mer dö. Hans kropp kunde inte åldras eller skadas.

Jesus var osårbar, ändå bar han sår.

In a distracted moment I clicked sth visible under it, and found it was a translation to French (it was on the FB account which I have in French).

Après l'excitation, le corps de Jésus s'est transformé. Il pourrait traverser les portes fermées, et il ne pouvait jamais mourir. Son corps ne peut pas devenir vieux ou endommagé.

Jésus était invulnérable, mais il a été blessé.

Uppståndelse is a Swedish word with two fairly distinct meanings both related to standing up.

It means, in the context here, a standing up of someone who was dead, i e a resurrection.

It also means when a lot of seated people hurry to stand up, which is a social excitation (not a mental solitary one), and is in certain political terms related to insurrection, however, the Swedish word does not get that far, it is a synonym for tumult, where English prefer the term commotion.

The actual Swedish word is a calque midway between resurrection and insurrection. Resurrection literally means "to stand up again", i e after lying down as a corpse. Insurrection literally means "to stand up on something", i e on a barricade (or simply on the floor on occasions where being seated is expected). Uppståndelse literally means "to stand up", and therefore only translates the part "surrectio" in the Latin base word. Hence, it translates both words into Swedish.

Now, instead of translating "efter uppståndelsen" with "after the Resurrection", the autotranslate has translated as "after the commotion".

In a way there is a kind of prophecy there, since the Descent into Hell or into Sheol and the ensuing Resurrection did involve quite a lot of commotion, joy for the souls who had been captive due to original sin, terror for the demons who were clearly "losing the grip" when these souls could no longer be confined in darkness. But for someone who didn't know Swedish, the translation is not immediately informative. If we don't believe the mistranslation (i e : if we don't trust this autotranslate) those of us who don't know Swedish but only French would be somewhat led astray if they didn't know Christian theology at least as much as main outline of Gospel story beforehand.

Le bon mot c'est "la Résurrection", pas "l'excitation".

This is not all.

  • "... var Jesus kropp förvandlad," means "Jesus' body was transformed," (i e already from that moment of Resurrection, and so all the time after it)

    • "... le corps de Jésus s'est transformé" means "Jesus' body transformed itself/changed" (i e after that moment, with some delay and development)

    • better : "était transformé".

  • "Han kunde gå genom reglade dörrar," means "he was" [in fact] "able to walk through locked doors".

    • "Il pourrait traverser les portes fermées," means "he would be able to walk through locked doors" [if and additional condition had been fulfilled.]

    • better : "il pouvait" etc.

  • Skipping minor quibbles on tense useage.

  • "Hans kropp kunde inte åldras eller skadas," means "His body could not age or be hurt."

    • "Son corps ne peut pas devenir vieux ou endommagé," means "His body cannot become old or damaged" - tense change is better theology, less good narrative, but chronologically speaking the Body of Christ is in fact 2017 years old this year, my friend's friend is speaking of the aging process, which stopped, He is anatomically 33, and it is not a piece of furniture where we speak of "damage", it is a living body where, prior to the resurrection, we speak of getting "hurt" or "wounded".

    • better : "Son corps ne pouvait pas vieillir ou être blessé".

  • "Jesus var osårbar, ändå bar han sår," means "Jesus was invulnerable, yet he bore wounds". He was invulnerable from Resurrection on, and bore wounds from before it.

    • "Jésus était invulnérable, mais il a été blessé," means "Jesus was invulnerable, but he has been wounded" - as if it was a question of an invulnerability not quite working.

    • better : "Jésus était invulnérable, mais il portait ses blessures".

If a human translator had come up with this, I would have noted him "peut mieux faire". But a computer can't do any better. It has no understanding of meaning.

The words are translated by algorithms, and the more common use of "uppståndelsen" is "the commotion", so the computer translates, mechanically, the word with "l'excitation" even when "the commotion" was not not what the human writer meant. The computer cannot translate after probable meaning, since it has no idea at all about meaning.

One could program it to make an exception when Jesus is in the same sentence, but suppose a Swede were to say:

"När Jesus talade var uppståndelsen ofta stor bland fariseerna"

He would be, for Swedish, making a pun on the resurrection, but the accurate meaning of the words would be:

"When Jesus spoken the commotion was often great among the Pharisees".

And a computer programmed to translate "uppståndelsen" with "la Résurrection" each time Jesus occurred in the same sentence would now be getting this sentence wrong instead. AI is a myth, a misunderstanding of what computers do. It is not around the corner, it is a metaphysical impossibility.

Hans Georg Lundahl
Nanterre UL
St. Peter Canisius, S.J.

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