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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Best View Camera Brochure Ever?

by Oren Grad

My most prized example of this was a view camera brochure dating from the '80s which to my great chagrin I appear to have lost. The English was so bad its badness was almost poetic. I wish I could quote it for you. It was delightful.
—Mike J.
'Twas surely a brochure for the Wista wooden field cameras. My copy is undated, but recalling when I obtained it, it has to be at least ten years old. Just a taste:



Origin, India: Beautiful fine grained, harder as furnitures Iron Wood with valuable-thing forever and Ebony is good for furnitures and admiration articles.

WISTA FIELD 45 DX ROSE (Red Sandal-wood)
Origin, India: Hard materials, famous for the musical instruments and fine furnitures and addition to fine finishment especially overall view of grain.

Vermillion Cherry: Vermillion colour's varnishment makes so elegance body along with modernize design, high precision, addition to ease of use.

Hardware: Smoked Gold colour with modernize sense.
The fresnel lens with both focusing can be double brightness and clearness of the entire surface.

And so on. Not to dump on Wista, though: taking price into account, their cameras are every bit as good as their promotional copy was bad. And they're finally getting at least a bit better at that, too.

Posted by: OREN GRAD

From Mike J.: That's the one! I love it. "Beautiful fine grained, harder as furnitures Iron Wood with valuable-thing forever and Ebony is good for furnitures and admiration articles." So daft you couldn't make it up. I love that phrase "with valuable-thing forever." That to which we all aspire.

Many thanks, Oren.


Blogger matt~ said...

Having just spent 6 months teaching English to South Koreans, I have a pretty good understanding of how this kind of translation happens. I'd watch my students do this all the time. They are essentialy doing word by word translations instead of working within the grammar and syntax of English. Given how different English is from most Asian languages, it's pretty amazing how much English so many people manage to learn.

Of course understanding how it happens doesn't make the results any less funny.

11:59 AM  
Blogger 10tacled1 said...

Of course, it wouldn't be the internet if there wasn't a site dedicated to bad translations:

12:10 PM  
Blogger Richard Sintchak said...

What Matt said. I spent 5 years in China seeing pretty much the same stuff. Really getting old though. Imagine other languages would appear the same the translation was done vice-a-versa from English.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Dean said...

You can also get trouble from translation software. In the past this turned out truly nonsensical sentences (as perhaps with the given Wista example), but now it sometimes gets kinda close. Those sudden bursts of incomprehensible bits in the middle of otherwise okay passages may be from where the translator fell down and reached for the software.

Also, and more seriously, this type of translation can totally change the meaning of sentences. Not to pick on them, but playing with Babel Fish will give you an idea of this. Try "the dog likes to play with the neighbour's children" into Japanese, then cut and past the Japanese you get and translate it back into English.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Richard Sintchak said...

Ok, ok, I think I sounded a little grumpy in my last comment. To make up for it I'll share my favorite. A menu in a Beijing Japanese restaurant that had photos next to each item. Next to the photo of a Grilled Chicken Breast was the caption: "Roast Chicken Bosom".

7:13 PM  
Blogger Morven said...

I do wonder how bad the brochures and instruction manuals of products originating in the English-language world are in China and Japan, for that matter. I suspect our own companies are perpetrating some awful howlers in Chinese.

9:12 PM  
Blogger oren said...

They are essentialy doing word by word translations instead of working within the grammar and syntax of English.

Matt, I know what you mean. But in this case, comparing the Japanese and the English, it's not even a faithful word-by-word translation. It's more like tossed word salad.



11:39 PM  
Blogger NIMBY said...

It may explain what Yoda was doing in the years intervening years the first Star Wars trilogy and the latest.

"Photograph with it, you will".


2:51 AM  
Blogger Acliff said...

As a South Korean, I come across this alot. There are many many hilarious engrish examples on oriental stationary. Despite the English being hilariously bad, us Korean people seemingly understand it fine. Maybe its the way we form words and sentences in our heads. Word salad is pretty accurate, a good translation requires a sentence to be looked at as a whole to get the meaning of it, and then the meaning written in the new language. This usually requires pulling words from seemingly random places in a sentence. Electronic translators and Camera Manual writers are terrible at this. You get the distinct feeling that the translator is the one in the company who's been abroad a couple of years and is therefore the best at English. In terms of cost, it can't be that expensive to hire a multilingual translator and get it done properly. A weeks work would improve the situation hugely.

Translating English into Korean/Japanese/Chinese is hard, I think doing the opposite is harder. The nuances, multi-meaning words, different levels of formal language means that most translations read as if written by a 7 year old child.

Besides, its all good fun. If translations were always good, then you wouldn't get knives labeled with 'Danger, keep out of children'

4:00 AM  
Blogger juze said...

The problem is, some language combinations are quite rare. I work as a freelance translator (Shameless plug: English to Slovene, Slovene to English, German to Slovene. No, my rates are not low.) and while most of my work goes through an editor who's a native speaker, it is impossible to get any native speakers of English with sufficient command of Slovene and sufficient knowledge of some more specialised subject matters. Pharmaceuticals, IT and electronics spring to mind.
There are perhaps fifty native English speakers in Slovenia (and, indeed, the world) who speak Slovene well enough to translate it.
Of course, the volume of work that has to be done far exceeds their capacity, which is why translations tend to be less than perfect, and a native speaker editor who doesn't understand the language well enough to grasp the meaning of the text often does more harm than good.
And, as if the matters weren't horrific enough, the vast majority of people who write these manuals in the first place are somewhat less than literate.
GIGO - Garbage In, Garbage Out.

7:07 PM  

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