May 26, 2005

Memory of qualities: armed structure and crystals

My brother Richard brought me, all the way from southern Spain, a precious object: a color brochure for a new residential condo development in Pilar de la Horadada, near Alicante. It has been built with an eye to the many British people who are buying vacation properties in Spain, and located (so the brochure says puzzlingly) "From 2 km. to the sea." The brochure goes on to claim that in this development:

Each detail meticulously has been studied to create
a confortable home, a warm space for a stay wel
coming. In Basi Residential we have designed each
corner thinking about its welfare.

Meticulously has been studied? Wel  coming? Confortable? Each corner designed by thinking about its welfare? Even a casual browse of the pamphlet gets one's linguistic antennae tingling. A look at the floor plans of the units reveals that the floors are labeled "LOW PLANT", "FIRST PLANT", and "SECOND PLANT". And as we go on into the description of the condos, we increasingly realize that something terrible has happened. I have a suspicion that these people have done something truly catastrophic: I think they have trusted a free Internet translation service they found on the web. Look at the rest of the text:


Armed Structure of concrete.

Facade of brick and remainder of outsider plastered wall.

Carpentry exterior of aluminium lacquered blank.

Crystals in double glass climalit or similar.

Carpentry interior of Word lacquered blank, with the armored door of entrance of high security.

Interior to puta an end to painting plastic color.

Baths and kitchens shaped to the ceiling.

Floors of platform of Word in the living rooms and in the remainder of the dwelling. I pave earthenware.

It cooks furnished with sink of stainless steel of a breast and plate rack, fridge, plate oven and extractor fan.

Heater of gas or electric in the patio or laundry.

Preinstalation of air conditioned.

Strong box of security.

Built-in cabinets in dormitories an attic.

Installation of pumbing in copper, complying the regulation in force.

Installation of electricity, according to regulation with antenna t.v.

Solarium with pergola of wood.

Common pool, green zones and parking.

Then comes a description of the town of Pilar de la Horadada:

In the south of the Valencian Community, opening step to the Costa Blanca, its found Pilar de la Horadada. Its coastal seaboard of more than 4Km.,its spring climate during all the year an the behavior of its peoples do of this municipality a privileged place to pass some unforgettable holidays.

To travel through the maritime walks, to enjoy the sun, of the nature, to take a bath in its tranquil an transparent water and to navigate the Mediterranean are some of the attractive tourist that offers this nail.

Leaving behing the coast we enter in the zone of mountain, that constitute areas of great environmental and ecological value, arranging of a natural area protected where besides the enjoyment of the nature activities they can be practiced and sports related to this.

Besides Pilar de la Horadada counts on numerous sports facilities : fiel of golf, sports port, air conditioned swimming pool, sports trails, covered building, etc.

Your place of leisure and rest!!!

When one has finished giggling, and one has noted that "The development business is reserved the right to make any change that be necessary", one finds oneself wondering: who on earth could approve English this bafflingly dreadful for publication in a full-color brochure that must have cost thousands of euros, while knowing so little English that they could not see they were signing off on impenetrable gibberish? Why was no one who knew English from long acquaintance brought in to cast an eye over it? My brother spends several months each year in Alicante; they could have found him. After reading two lines he could have told them, "Hold the presses; you don't want to print this." For fifty euros he could have spent a couple of hours finding out what they intended (what an armed structure is, what those crystals are, what is meant by carpentry exterior of aluminium lacquered blank, how the baths and kitchens could be "shaped to the ceiling", and so on — and could have rewritten it for them. Why did they not call him, or call someone, any visitor from England who was able to read?

Could it be pride, an unwillingness to admit to not being adequately fluent in the nascent global language of commerce and the most frequently encountered language spoken by visitors to Spain? ("I speee-eek Eeng-lish," says the waiter Manuel from Barcelona in the John Cleese "Fawlty Towers" series, very proudly and dramatically; "I learn it from a boo-ook!") The frequent uses of its for is and an for and suggest the material really was typed by the hands of a human being, someone who thought they knew what they were typing, and did know various common small English words, though not enough to tell them apart. I'm still not sure what I think. But perhaps someone called up a web-accessible translator, typed in the Spanish text, and — not realizing that the machine translation problem has yet to be solved — trusted the output to be reliable, and handed it over to someone who retyped it adding extra errors. Why "Word" would be used for wood, with a capitalized initial, I have absolutely no idea. It happens twice in the material above, but not three times (the third time we get the correct "wood"). That is not predicted by machine translation, word-processor spell-checking, or incompetent retyping; it's just an inscrutable mystery.

[Added later: Thanks to Richard Pullum for supplying the brochure, and for Candace Freiwald for doing the painful job of typing it out for me. Ray Girvan has pointed out that you can read the text online in both the English version and the original Spanish, and that if you use Google's translation engine you get something very similar to the English but not identical, as you can see here for yourself. Ray thinks it is as I suspected: a human editor who didn't know English not only trusted the Google translation (mistake number one) but also saw fit to slightly modify it (mistake number two).]

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at May 26, 2005 06:31 PM