AW: Breaking barriers

James Kass jameskass at
Sat Oct 23 00:36:15 CDT 2021

On 2021-10-22 9:30 PM, Doug Ewell via Unicode wrote:
> Miscommunication can happen in almost any translation situation, even between two educated, literate, fluent humans, and for that matter even within a single language.

In addition to idiomatic or regional issues, there's also a temporal 
barrier to communication even within the same language.  This is because 
meanings of words (and even phrases) shift over time.  Some words I used 
as a kid now mean something completely different.

The phrase "punk rock" wouldn't mean much to a 19th century denizen, and 
some future translator might output something meaning "rotting wood 
stone" for it.

I came across a lyrics web page which offered the words for Washboard 
Sam's hit recording "Let Me Play Your Vendor".  A phrase in the song was 
transcribed as "Let me play your sea bird".  The song uses phrases 
related to juke boxes in order to convey its sexual imagery.  The lyric 
transcriber might have missed that completely, though.  The word 
"vendor" itself in the song title refers to a vending machine / machine 
that gives you something for a nickel / juke box.  The lyric 
transcriber, apparently unfamiliar with 1940s culture, could be excused 
for not correctly interpreting the phrase as "Let me play your 
Seaburg".  (Seaburg was a popular juke box brand name.  I filed a lyric 
correction on that particular web site.)

Bottom line - any machine or human translator should take steps to 
determine the era in which the source material originated.

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