Google Translates Proust


The NYT today has an article on the Google Translator (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/09/technology/09translate.html?hp). Google’s network may now be “the world’s largest computer,” and that power is now available to translate text, which apparently millions do every day. I, naturally, wanted to give it a try with a paragraph from Proust. I chose the lines that André Aciman used to criticize Lydia Davis’s Swann’s Way for being at once accurate and inaccurate, faithful to the letter of text but missing some of the authorial intent. Could that criticism also be applicable to Google’s translation? First, the passage as translated by Scott Moncrief:

When Swann did finally introduce M. de Froberville to the young Mme. de Cambremer, since it was the first time that she had heard the General’s name, she hastily outlined upon her lips the smile of joy and surprise with which she would have greeted him if she had never, in the whole of her life, heard anything else; for, as she did not yet know all the friends of her new family, whenever anyone was presented to her, she assumed that he must be one of them, and thinking that she would show her tact by appearing to have heard “such a lot about him” since her marriage, she would hold out her hand with an air of hesitation which was meant as a proof at once of the inculcated reserve which she had to overcome and of the spontaneous friendliness which successfully overcame it. And so her parents-in-law, whom she still regarded as the most eminent pair in France, declared that she was an angel; all the more that they preferred to appear, in marrying her to their son, to have yielded to the attraction rather of her natural charm than of her considerable fortune.

And now as translated by Google:

When finally presented Mr. Swann Froberville of the young Madame de Cambremer, as was the first time she heard the general’s name, she made a smile of joy and surprise it would have been if we did had never spoken to her other than this, because not knowing the friends of his new family, each person brought to him, she thought it was one of them, and thinking that She was tactful with the air of having heard so much since she was married, she held out her hand hesitantly intended to prove the reserves it had learned to overcome and spontaneous sympathy successfully overcame. So her parents, she believed people still the brightest France, declared that she was an angel, especially as they preferred to appear, in marrying their son to be transferred the attractiveness of its qualities rather than his great fortune.

You be the judge.

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One Response to “Google Translates Proust”

  1. marimann Says:

    “…still the brightest France…”

    Exactly. This would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

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