Friday, July 29, 2005

The Ass of Babel

In a recent debate on grammar at www.zoetrope.com, the subject came up of non-native speakers and the natural poetry of their English. That thing we natural-born Americans lack and covet, unusual arrangements of words, bizarrely beautiful syntax, like “opening the light” and walking “under the rain.” Someone mentioned that she uses the Babelfish online translator (http://world.altavista.com/tr) when composing poems, and I had one of those outloud Yeah! online moments. I decided to try it myself.

The technique: pass the problematic passage through several languages, then back to English, and see what happens.

Like this:

Ass Backwards

Then in Dutch:

ezel achteruit
(rest reverse)

To France:

l'âne marche arrière
(the ass reverse gear)

Then Spain:

el asno marcha atrás
(the ass reverse gear)


France again:
l'âne va en arrière

(So ass in French is ane? Coincidence? I think not.)

And back to English:

The ass goes behind.

And indeed she does.

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