I am amused, and sort of reassured, when I use Google-translate to try get the meaning of a Russian sentence, and it comes up with something like, “Here insane laugh, so that over the heads of lime sitting sparrow fluttered.” Usually one can sort of see the meaning of the original in the translation generated by Google, but often only on a basic level.To demonstrate this I will quote some of the more bizarre outcomes from the use of google-translate, what I call “googlisms”, followed by my own humble attempt at the same sentences. At the end I will try to briefly explain why there is a difference, using one of the examples given.
Here are four:
1.) googlism: Tram covered by Berlioz, and under the grate Patriarchal thrown on a cobblestone alley ditch round dark object
mine: The tram covered Berlioz, and across the cobblestones and under a grate along Patriarch’s alley was thrown a round, dark object.
2.) googlism: Turnstile looking citizen? – Cracked tenor asked checkered type – here, please! Directly, and where to go out.
mine: “Are you looking for the turnstile, citizen?” in a cracked tenor the checkered fellow asked, “this way, as you please! Straight ahead, and then go out wherever you need.<!
3.) googlism: Starting at dusk Berlioz clearly saw that he usishki like chicken feathers, eyes small, ironic and half drunk, and checkered trousers, smart enough to see the dirty white socks
mine: In the gathering dusk Berlioz clearly saw that he had mustaches like chicken feathers, eyes that were small, disdainful and half-drunk, and checkered trousers, pulled up so high that his dirty socks could be seen.
4.) googlism: suddenly replied casually crazy and winked
mine: suddenly the madman answered casually and winked.
The Russian version of this last sentence sounds like this—vdrug razvyazno otvetil sumasshedshiy i podmignul. There a couple of translation problems here. One is that Russian and English have two distinct mechanisms for determining how each word functions in a sentence. In English the same word might be a subject, or direct object or object of a preposition, depending on where it is in the sentence. Word order does not serve this purpose in Russian, rather the part of speech of every word is known by the ending it has. In the sentence above, the first word is “suddenly”. By preserving the word order of the original Russian, “suddenly” wants to somehow be the subject, and have “replied” to something. But in Russian the subject is, without a doubt, the fourth word in th sentence- “crazy”/ “sumasshedshiy”, because it ends in “iy”(ий), which is one form of the ending for adjectives in the nominative case. This raises the next problem: the subject is simply one adjective, with no noun. This points to a certain efficiency of Russian compared to English. In this case, the context is already established that any use of words like “crazy”, “mad” or “insane” clearly refers to the “foreigner”. When the thing being described is so obvious that there is no need to state it, in Russian it is not stated. This also goes for articles like “a”, “the” or “one”. To a Russian it is completely unnecessary in this case to say “mad german”, or “crazy foreigner”, let alone “the crazy foreigner”. So just “crazy” works. But it doesn’t really work in English, so a noun, and probably an article, need to be added for it to sound right. I chose “madman” because it is just one word that incorporates the adjective into the noun.
To really convey the full meaning of Russian sentence in English, not only do the words need to be translated, but the inflection of the words in Russian needs to be translated to an appropriate English word-order, suddenly the madman replied casually and winked.