Gone Babel fishin’
|October 11, 2011||Posted by Sophy Bot under Internet culture|
What if you could understand anything? Not in an omniscient, faith-challenging kind of way, but in a Douglas Adams, stick-this-fish-in-your-ear-and-you’ll-understand-any-language kind of way? In other words: what if you could easily translate anything?
A couple of decades ago, your exposure to other languages was limited to the scope of your world travel and the multiculturalism of the neighborhood you lived in. You weren’t routinely exposed to the cultural output of another country – much less of many other countries – and there was no need to engage in dialogue with people on the other side of the world. Not until the internet brought down geographic barriers and brought us all online, that is. Now, we’re regularly exposed to information from other cultures and conversations in other languages but, despite the availability of text-based online translators, we remain in the dark to most of what occurs in languages we do not speak. So while the internet was awesome in introducing me to the amazing Swedish electro-swing/hip-hop band Movits!…
…it gave me no indication as to what was being said (indeed, one of the video’s top comments is “Thumbs up if you like this song, even if you don’t understand a word”), nor am I privy to what’s being discussed in the Swedish-language comments left underneath the video. Leave it to Facebook to try and solve the problem of the confusingly multilingual conversation.
A recent post on Mashable points to a newly released weapon in the Facebook arsenal: seamless, built-in translation. This particular tool one-ups others like Google Translate by allowing bilingual users to enter their own translation, which other users can then vote up or down based on accuracy. With a service like this, not only could I understand the comments taking place about my favorite Swedish band, I’d also be able to participate in the conversation, no matter what language I spoke. I’m reminded of a real-life example of this when, at a dinner in Berlin, I had an hour-long conversation with somebody who was speaking German while I spoke English. Each of us had enough knowledge of the other’s language to understand what was being said, but neither was skilled enough to respond in it. Similarly, allowing on-the-fly translations in an online conversation would allow each person to contribute in their language of choice, while still understanding all of the others. And while we’ve not yet progressed to the level of technology where putting something in your ear automatically allows you to understand other languages, surely this is the next best thing.
The internet has already opened up conversations to any and all languages. The next logical step is to open up communication across the linguistic divide. Instead of having an English-language forum here, a German-language forum there, and a Swedish-language forum there, now we can have a single forum where understanding the other participants is as easy as clicking the translate button. There will, of course, be cultural barriers to understanding, but with the ability to understand one another’s words will come the ability to explain and understand one another’s views. Allowing open conversations to take place across cultural divides promises to expose us to new ways of thinking and to further widen our already expanded worldviews.
Now pardon me while I go look up the Swedish translation of “f*** yeah.”
Screenshot credit: Mashable