The Babelfish Tartuffe

Here’s something your won’t hear at the Translation Automation User Society: Molière’s classic French comedy “Tartuffe“ as translated into English by the Alta Vista’s Babelfish internet language translator and the result performed by French actors in Dublin.

I attended “The Babelfish Tartuffe” today as part of the Dublin Fringe Festival ‘07, and it was truly wonderful – if more than slightly weird. However, just like the tiresome Chinglish examples we so often hear about, I had no problem figuring out the plot.

Tartuffe image referenced from Wikipedia.

The use of Babelfish, according to the director, Jaimie Carswell, brings a new perspective on Walter Benjamin’s observation about the emergence of a new global language where “all information, all sense, and all intention are extinguished.”

Alta Vista logo. All rights acknowledged.

In the technology infused world of “The Babelfish Tartuffe”, everyone was speaking the same language, but making no sense. Language itself, like Tartuffe, is an imposter as jargon and technical terms take over from any concrete reality. Worth thinking about as you try to catch up with the latest Web 2.0 phrase du jour.

Alta Vista Babelfish logo. All rights acknowledged

If the play comes to your town, then I recommend you see it.  This is one instance when controlled authoring really would have detracted from the resulting machine translation!

Ultan Ó Broin
Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally. Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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