Who needs to learn languages when you have Google Translate?

The dream of the intraaural babelfish was popularised to humourous effect by Douglas Adams in the 1970’si but the underlying idea that a technology could be developed to save you the unreasonable trouble of learning a language other than the solitary one your unendowed parents and their unenlightened public schools raised you with is as old as time itself. I mean, if technological progress can save us from digesting raw starches, walking up flights of stairs,ii or using carrier pigeons to send private messages, then why can’t the said same magical pixie dust save us from embarrassingly fumbling through language lessons ?

Horace meets Google Translate

I’ve nearly gone hoarse over the years about ESLers,iii but perhaps no more tragic an example can be found than this definition for the latin “audat”, which Google Translate hilariously garbles as “Elves_Besieged.cfg“, which in turn appears to be little more than a reference to the turn-based computer game Battle for Wesnoth. Whatever the fuck that is. Horace, who penned these words in Book II of his Epistles, couldn’t possibly have been thinking of anything of the sort. And while the alert reader will surely have noticed the typo in the latin quote – that “l [space] audat” should be compounded as “laudat” – the monolingual reader of that great Americanised Levantine is unlikely to be so astute. The ESLer is much more likely to say “Fuck it, that makes no sense, Google Translate is a broken piece of shit and who cares what Horace was trying to say anyways” and move on.

The polyglot, contrariwise, considers first the imperfect nature of verbal communication and the corresponding attempts to be understood through unknowable layers of cultural meaning.iv Rather than saying “Fuck it…”, if he’s learned anything at all from his thousands of previous experiences in miscommunication, he’s less likely to be discouraged when the superficial interpretation appears to be rank nonsense. This is a sixth sense that can’t be duplicated for all the tekmology in sillycon valley. After all, no technology can make us telepathic. It’s really only languages – as many of them as will fit into our formative years – that we have to guide us through the murky seas of global complexity. So take languages over “AI” every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

There’s no babelfish. There’s just you.

___ ___ ___

  1. The Babel fish is small, yellow, leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier, but from those around it. It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. It then excretes into the mind of its carrier a telepathic matrix formed by combining the conscious thought frequencies with nerve signals picked up from the speech centres of the brain which has supplied them. The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish. Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that something so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes something like this: ‘I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, ‘for proof denies faith, and without faith, I am nothing.’ ‘But, says Man, the Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’ ‘Oh dear,’ says God, ‘I hadn’t thought of that,’ and vanishes in a puff of logic. ‘Oh, that was easy,’ says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing. Most leading theologians claim that this argument is a load of dingo’s kidneys, but that didn’t stop Oolon Colluphid making a small fortune when he used it as the theme of his best-selling book, Well That About Wraps It Up For God. Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.

  2. Before Elisha Otis invented the emergency stopping elevator, their use was greatly limited for fear of free-falling to one’s doom. Before Otis’ products gained a commercial foothold in the 1850s, it was the lower floors of buildings that commanded higher per square foot costs. As such, buildings were rarely more than five stories tall. Ex Otis, and with a little help from steel and concrete, buildings were built higher and higher and *gulp* higher! 
  3. English as a Single Language-ers. As previously discussed once :

    That the parallels are so numerous between the USSR and USSA could never be readily apparent to ESL bois who grew up in “the biggest fastest strongestest country in the history of the universe.” This is true for reasons of entrenched ignorance that are fundamental to the dysfunctional, nay, gibbled tardtocracy, but… that’s entirely their loss.

    twice :

    So it was with relish and delight that I smiled my Cheshire Cat smile as the SJW/ESL/JWZ lamestream media and its mouth-breathing commentariat fumbled with constipated consternation for politically correct retorts to the bald-faced call-out of the dire political, social, and infrastructuralii state of affairs in North America by F1 impressario Bernie Ecclestone.

    and thrice :

    The point of a hackathon is – at least in the ESL world – team bonding, cohesion, and the development of the necessary glue that allows average people to agglomerate in physical workplaces Monday to Friday so that they can be told what to do and when to do it in a purportedly self-determined manner.

    ad minimo! 

  4. Roberto is a perfect example of this patent struggle.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *