Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Portia-san, is that you?

kw: translations, linguistics

On a wild hare, I typed a phrase from Shakespeare (with three words modernized) into Google Translate, and picked Japanese as the target language. Here is the result:


I don't read Japanese well enough to know how good the translation might be, but the word order, as the "hover" function reveals, is:

"Mercy's quality strained is not, it the place beneath upon, heaven's gentle rain (it) drops."

This is grammatically correct, at least. Now, to hit the Reverse function:

"Not the quality of mercy is strained, it is depending on where the bottom will drop like a gentle rain from heaven."

So the word "bottom" had to be supplied at some point. Quite good, though. The original text is the opening phrase of Portia's speech in Merchant of Venice:

"The quality of mercy is not strain'd, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heav'n upon the place beneath." Except I put strained, drops and heaven in place of the archaisms and contractions.

I'll have to consult my Japanese wife to determine another point; in translations of works such as Shakespeare's, do they translate into modern Japanese, or into late pre-Edo period Japanese? I've been told that Japanese is less volatile than English, and that anyone who can read Japanese can quite comfortably read 500-year-old texts. In English, that is not quite so. I am pretty well educated, but I cannot read Shakespeare quickly, and as for Chaucer (late 1300's), I'm pretty lost.

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