"Jesus! Maria! Joseph! Blessed find the dirty jokes!"

09.25.2013

I think I’ve accidentally become a good student.

You know how one thing that professors are always asking you to do is “Draw parallels between classes! Synthesize information you already know with this new stuff!”? Yeah. I’ve started to do that without even realizing it. Caution – this blog post is quickly going to descend into straight-up nerdiness. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

It started off slowly. An article in my research seminar for History majors inspired me to think more about translations. I’d never really thought about how the manner in which things get translated from different languages into English can affect the information I get from it. If you think about it, though, translations are a big deal. If it’s something big, like Harry Potter, people are going to notice if all of the sudden Harry is in Slytherin and siding with Voldemort. The translator isn’t going to slide that one past us. But, what if someone finds this ancient document in a language only a handful of people know? And the entire basis of their work depends on this document supporting their theory? No one would be able to notice a change in translation that makes sure that researcher’s theory is proven correct. If their translation becomes mainstream, suddenly we have an entire generation of researchers that has incorrect, history-changing information. That, my friends, is the power of translation.

Here comes the parallel-drawing I promised. As the intern for the U.S. Catholic Special Collections, I’ve been writing up some information on our collection of holy cards to be put on Digital@UDayton. Part of my job is to make sure that whatever the holy card says is properly transcribed, so that if someone were to translate it, it would make sense. I can do that for English, no problem. As a French minor, I can handle that, too. But German… German and I are not friends. If you follow this blog, you might remember this article about Germanic fonts. Let me tell you, those letters are hard to read. My technique has been to type what I think I’m reading into Google Translate, and if it comes up wonky, I know something’s wrong. Usually, this works out pretty well, but every once in awhile, I get something really weird. Eventually I figure out where I went wrong, but it’s tempting to leave it sometimes, especially when you feel like you’ve substituted every letter of the alphabet… My job as the transcriber is to be as accurate as possible, though, and that’s really important. If I make a mistake, the entire meaning of the sentence can be changed, and while that might not be as dramatic as my previous example, it’s still a problem. Correct transcriptions = correct translations = happy researchers. And we want happy researchers, don’t we?

In the end, I always figure out my transcriptions. But when I get those funny sentences from Google Translate, I enjoy them. My mother said I could write a book, but I think that’s a little ambitious (sorry, Mom!). Instead, I’ll just end up this post with what are a few of my favorite mistranslations:

"Behold, O my most gracious and feet of Jesus! before your fishing spruce I throw myself"
"I am the resurrection and the livers."
"I look at you with all the love and spinal currency." (…how flattering?)
“Deeply beloved father of her four children and son-in-beer…”

- Maddie McDermott ‘15, U.S. Catholic Special Collections Intern

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