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”.

There goes Godzilla…

In one of my Japanese classes I was studying transitivity pairs of verbs: in each pair both verbs have the same basic meaning, but one is transitive and the other is intransitive. (A transitive verb requires an object; an intransitive verb does not.) For example, one of the pairs was 「出す/出る」, which means “take out / go out”: 「ごみを出す」 means “take out the trash”; 「出る」 means “I’m leaving”.

The textbook then described how the meanings would change in the present imperfect tense (the book didn’t call it that; it just called it the 「+ている」 form). Transitive verbs describe an action, so the present imperfect tense of a transitive verb describes an action in progress; this is a normal use in English. But intransitive verbs describe a change, so the present imperfect tense of a intransitive verb describes a state that is the result of the change. That made sense, and I hope it still does.

But then came the example sentences. They are usually good examples that can be used in normal conversations, so I wasn’t surprised by the intransitive imperfect for “break”: 「このコンピューターは壊れています。」, meaning “this computer is broken”, is a useful phrase. But the corresponding transitive example was 「ゴジラが町を壊しています。」 translated as “There goes Godzilla, destroying the city.”

Spork and chopsticks

At YAPC::Asia Ingy told us all about Sporx, explaining that it was a combination of Spork and Takahashi, and so should be pronounced “Sporkahashi”.  When I began to tell Karen about “Sporkahashi” she said “That was clever” when I had only mentioned the name.  Because she knew little about Spork and nothing about Takahashi she had assumed the “hashi” was 箸 instead of 橋.

Well, Karen wouldn’t have thought about the kanji characters, but she knew that “hashi” (箸) meant “chopsticks”, so she thought a “spork and chopsticks” name was a smart idea from Ingy.

I don’t think anyone else spotted that.  The “hashi” (橋) in Takahashi (高橋) means “bridge”; 高橋 is a surname that means “high bridge”.

Learning Japanese

I started a Japanese language course at the EIC Japanese Language Center. I only have 3 weeks left in London, and 2 evenings per week available for lessons. Normal lessons would not suit because my existing knowledge of Japanese is weird: I understand some advanced grammar but my vocabulary is miniscule. The staff at EIC handled my requirements very well, and I really like my new set of flash cards.