Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Using Babelfish to write poetry

I have an unnatural obsession with machine translation. I have a great time using the various internet sites that provide computerized translation from one language to another, like Babelfish.

Since I am a person that actually knows about languages (during my Pagan days I translated a Pagan booklet from German into English) I know that computer translations usually suck. They are helpful if you already know the language you are translating into well enough to catch mistakes, but otherwise they can be trouble.

But while Babelfish and her sisters may not be able to solve the world language problem, they do have another use. They can write poetry.

You see, one day I was testing Babelfish to see how well it could translate into Korean. I know next to no Korean, so what I did was I wrote a test sentence: "My cat Claudius has a neurological disorder", translated it English-to-Korean with Babelfish, and then cut-and-pasted the resulting unknown Korean sentence into Babelfish and did a Korean-to-English translation.

This is what Babelfish spit out at me:

To my cat Claudius
there is a military force
at the nervous crane.

Who knew Babelfish could write a haiku? So, anyway, I slapped a title on it ('catpoem/claudius') and added it to my collection of poetry written. It is now included in Where the Opium Cactus Grows.

In this first case I liked what Babelfish did enough to keep it pretty much as it was, I just arranged it into three lines.

Most of the time Babelfish poetry is more work. You might have to run it through a couple of languages (Asian languages seem to work best), and pick-and-choose the best results and do a lot of rewrites. But it produces some pretty cool imagery and can help to fire up those creative juices on days when you just don't feel like writing anything.