Broken Language

Broken Language

Pictures coming soon...

“Is a translation meant for readers who do not understand the original?”[Benjamin 1923]1

This piece brings to light the inherent problems of groups of people with different mother tongues all attempting to convey meaning through the use of technology.

The original text was formed by taking the first word of 100 responses when using Google to search for the word ‘break’.2 This single block of text was then broken down into newspaper headline style statements, to form a piece of Burroughs- esque cut-up poetry.3 This text was then translated, using the emotionless, algorithmic process within Google translate, into the other ten languages spoken by people in Delphi.4 The original text has also been translated one after another, with English as the starting point, and then alphabetically through the rest of the languages until it is translated back into English. For example: English into French, French into German, German into Greek... and so on.

Each stage of the translation process was documented by translating each piece of text back into English, which is presented as part of the piece. Each translated text enables the viewer to follow and analyse the translation process, and to work out how meaning and understanding is transferred throughout the translation.

The final text has also been translated statically into the other ten languages, so that viewers of any of the languages can see the difference between the original text, to the final text.

The piece is displayed simply by printing the text onto A4 sheets of white paper and arranged in a way to express the process as simply as possible.The start and end pieces of text are framed by the translations produced by the English text and the shape of the text on each page is formed by the length of the lines, which vary between languages and translation processes.

“Meaning is served far better -- and literature and language far worse -- by the unrestrained license of bad translators” [Benjamin 1923]1

The original text has only the meaning the reader can extract from the cut-up of words arranged on the page. Only in deciding when to break the text up did I have any control over the meaning within the text.Translation, as a tool, aims to produce (greater) understanding, where previously there may have been little or none (if one is unable to understand the language of the text).This process, when performed by a person with a good understanding of both languages will far exceed the accuracy of a translation performed by a computational system, like Google Translate, but in using Google Translate in this way, a new meaning has been formed. A new understanding of language and translation.

1.    Benjamin, Walter, ‘THE TASK OF THE TRANSLATOR: An introduction to the translation of Baudelaire’s Tableaux Parisiens’, translated by Harry Zohn, Translation Studies Reader Lawrence Venuti (eds), (USA: Routledge, 1999)

2.    One of the exercises we had to do whilst in Delphi was to replace our first name with a verb, I chose 'break' and then proceeded to use that as a basis for this piece.

3.    William S. Burroughs, Naked lunch. Grove Atlantic Press, 1992

4.    This piece was conceived and produced during an erasmus funded tip to Delphi, Greece which also contained students from various different countries and of different nationalities, this is what provided the inspiration for the word.