All your base are belong to us

We were all amused by the bad translation in the “All your base” meme some years ago. I was thinking about it recently (for other reasons) and wondered how Google translate would handle the same Japanese source material: 「君達の基地は、全てCATSがいただいた」

Google said: “You are our base, all you CATS”. I contributed a better translation.

I thought the original phrase would be entertaining because it contains a Japanese verb that Google mistranslates brilliantly: いただく。

「いただく」 means “receive” or “accept”. But it’s a humble verb, so the receiver has a lower status than the giver and so receives with gratitude. I suspect that Oliver Twist would use a form of this verb when asking for more gruel.

If you were the receiver and used this verb you would most likely use it in the form of 「いただきます」(the same verb with the normal polite ending). And this is where Google translate gets really confused. Because, unless you frequently get gifts from important people or work in a shop, the most common situation where you would use this word is at the start of a meal: you’ve just been given some food, and you’re thankful, so you say “I (gratefully) accept (this food)”. It’s slightly idiomatic, although the meaning is clear. It’s a bit like “saying grace”. But a popular idiomatic expression used in that situation by many English speakers is (the French phrase) “Bon appétit”. Therefore Google always (as far as I can tell) translates 「いただきます」 as “Bon appétit”.

That really doesn’t work well if the main verb in your sentence is “receive”. One example, appropriate at this time of day, would be 「お休みをいただきます」, for which I would say “thankfully I’ll get some rest”. Google says “Rest for a bon appétit”.

1 comment

  1. That’s hilarious and makes me wonder if machine translation can ever be perfect. Each language has it’s own peculiarities and subtle nuances – the difficulty in translation is compounded by regional dialects and slang. It’s an incredibly complex problem and I’m not sure it can ever be solved programmatically.

Comments are closed.