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"English as She is Spoke"; or, the Danger of Using a Translator.

4 years ago
I would never deny that bilingual dictionaries and machine translators are great tools. Indeed, I use them myself. They are especially helpful when we need "a quick and dirty" look-up.

However, I advise all my students that these tools should be used cautiously. A dependency will do nothing for your language learning except cause it to flounder. I'll give a few reasons to state my case:

1) Lack of connotation. As Luther Vandross said, "A house is not a home". Many words may refer to roughly the same thing, while all evoking entirely different associations. Very good bilingual dictionaries may help with this problem, but they will never completely resolve it.

2) They rob the reader of the opportunity to puzzle through a phrase. Sometimes, all a reader needs is a second or third reading of a passage to be able to tease out its meaning, even if it contains a large number of unknown words. A translator will deprive a reader of this valuable experience.

3)A language may have grammatical ambiguities that are unresolvable without context. An unthinking machine is inevitably going to fall into a "trap" and mistranslate, even if it produces grammatically correct constructions. This problem is demonstrated quite elegantly by Douglas A. Hofstader in his article, "The Shallowness of Google Translate." https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/01/the-shallowness-of-google-translate/551570/

4) The overuse of a translator will produce ludicrous results.

There are many other reasons, but I'd like to give an example of #4. More than a century before google translate, a Portuguese man named Pedro Carolino published English as She is Spoke, the most woefully misguided language book that ever existed. The origins of English as She is Spoke are disputed, but as I understand it, the author first consulted an English-to-French dictionary, and then ran the French words through a French-to-Portuguese dictionary. Whatever happened, the resulting phrasebook could only have been created by someone who knew nothing about the English Language.

Here's an example, for the perplexed traveler with sartorial intention.
With the tailor. Can you do me a coat? What cloth will you do to? From a stuff what be of season. Six ells. What will you to double the coat? From something of duration. I believe to you that. When do you bring me my coat? The rather that be possible. Bring you the coat? Yes, sir, there is it. You have me done to expect too. I did can't to come rather. It don't are finished? The lining war not sewd. It is so that do one's now. Button me. It pinches me too much upon stomack. The sleeves have not them great deal wideness? No, sir, they are well.

Any student who wishes to "retranslate" this into intelligible English will receive a 15% off coupon for a class with me!!

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