Lost in Translation: Mary Had A Little Lamb -> "Eager children cry. "Why, Mary loves the pregnancy, as you know!"

 

 

 

 

My daughter has become good friends with a girl at her school who is a Jehovah Witness. It has been difficult to set up playdates because the other girl is only allowed to have them if they have a Jehovah witness to oversee them. I have been explaining to my daughter that this is all very normal for her friends religion and that together we can make it work so they can get together and be respectful of the limits sanctioned by her friends religion. 

 A very broad version of the history of Christianity as explained to a 5th grader

My crude -from memory and attempting to be of temporal scale- outline of the history of

Judaism -> Time of Jesus -> Catholicism -> Protestant Movement (1500's) -> 2nd Protestant movement (1800's)

Tonight we were discussing that and how the Jehovah Witness use a different translation of the bible than what her mother's church uses (King James Version). Which, as I am prone to do, led into a an hour long discourse (in very broad strokes) of the origins of modern protestant religions going back to the origin of Judaism with a nice little segway about the Harmonites (which I excavated one of the Harmony brick factories in Pennsylvania a number of years ago). In the course of our talk I was describing the challenges faced in the dawn of Christianity before the council of Nicea in that the original spoken word of Jesus was likely in Aramaic and then quickly spread to greek and then after the advent of Gutenberg's printing press how all hell broke loose (in our eurocentric history) as the bible began to be disseminated by translation into other languages. So that led me into talking about the challenge of passing on oral history, verbatim, and then parsing that into other languages. So to illustrate it I decided to use Google Translate to show how things can be "lost in translation". I know this has been well documented, but our results...well my daughter almost spit she was laughing so hard.

We decided to use "Mary Had A Little Lamb" because it contained a number of very common words to many cultures. We used the British version available on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Had_a_Little_Lamb

One of our first translations was very complicated. We ran Mary Had A Little Lamb through a variety of machine processed language translations (which ended with Zulu to English) and so we went from this:

Mary had a little lamb,
His fleece was white as snow,
And everywhere that Mary went,
The lamb was sure to go.

He followed her to school one day,
Which was against the rule,
It made the children laugh and play
To see a lamb at school.

And so the teacher turned it out,
But still it lingered near,
And waited patiently about,
Till Mary did appear.

"Why does the lamb love Mary so?"
The eager children cry.
"Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know."
The teacher did reply.

To a translation of:

 Mary became a lamb,

White as wool

And Mary, who has everywhere

The lamb was sure to go.

 

After school one day

What was normal

He made the children laugh and play

To see a lamb at school.

 

And so the teacher turned out,

But yet, he remained close

And waited patiently about

He appeared in Mary.

 

"Why does the lamb love Mary so?"

Eager children cry.

"Why do I like the lamb, you know."

The teachers had to answer.

 

So as we spoke more we decided that was awful tough for machine processing.  So my daughter wanted to try something that more similarly parallel the translations of text from the language Jesus likely spoke (Aramaic) to it's early translations (Greek) to where Martin Luther came into the picture and made the word of the monotheistic Jewish/Christian god available to the larger public German.  I explained how the modern languages are not necessarily the same as their historic roots, but she understood and we looked at is as just a nice way to illustrate a point.

Now currently Google Translate does not have Aramaic. So we choose Arabic, which has a common root with Aramaic.  So our translation went Arabic -> Greek -> English (the shortest path between the language of Jesus and English we though there might be).  We used the same British English version of Mary Had A Little Lamb as noted above. Here is the translation we ended up with. It really does demonstrate the challenges in translation well in a very broad sense :-)

English -> Arabic -> Greek -> English

Mary had a little lamb,

It was snow - white wool ,

And everywhere that Mary went,

Pregnancy was sure to go.

 

He followed her to school one day,

Who was against Al - Qaeda ,

And gave the children laugh and play

To see Lamb live at school.

 

And so the teacher turned out,

But there are still close,

And wait patiently for him ,

So did Maria appear.

 

"Why lamb love Mary so ? "

Eager children cry.

"Why , Mary loves the pregnancy, as you know . "

 

 

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