You only realize how speech is really just a jumble of ideas at random, transformed into sound waves, when you do audio translation.
Repetition, deviation, hesitation; all the cardinal sins of the BBC Radio 4 word game ‘Just a Minute’ are there in abundance. The average speaker would not get many points or be allowed to speak continuously for one minute very often.
You are constantly tempted to improve the text, to have the speaker use much more elegant or concise expressions, but you can’t because the transcription must be done verbatim. So you just leave it there for all to see on the page. It’s not very pretty sometimes.
But you do at least get an impression of how ideas seem to form differently in different languages, or at least in a different order. English usually gets to the heart of the matter pretty quickly, whereas with French or German you often sit there twiddling your thumbs until the speaker finally reaches his or her point.
Monsieur Jourdain in Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme did not know he was speaking in prose, until he was told so by some charlatan, but he was right in fact.
People do not usually speak in prose, but more in stream of consciousness mode, after all.
Couldn’t resist reproducing this (Comment by Clive Cookson - Financial Times) here.
‘Anyone who has used Google’s translation service to turn a foreign language web page into English will know how much help it still needs.
To test it, I requested an English translation of the French Wikipedia entry for chat (cat). Here is part of the response:
“It also means more familiarly by the cat pussy and pussy by pussy. This term, dating back from 1560, comes from mine, popular name of the cat in Gallo-Romance. This word is the origin of the expression ‘at the crack of dawn’, which means ‘good morning’.”
Admittedly, Google can do much better with its more specialised machine translation services. But even the most advanced technology for understanding, generating or translating human language by computer lags far behind the forecasts of AI (artificial intelligence) pioneers 30 or 40 years ago...’
So caveat emptor, or should it be cave canem or is that felis ?