An Artist's Take On The Art Of [Lost in] Translation

[This is Post #1 in our new series, "Lost in Translation."]

The Original is unfaithful to the translation.
- Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian writer

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. 

I came across this contemporary art piece (see pictures below), composed of a three-part sentence in Chinese, plus translation into English. 

The original sentence in Chinese:

English translation (by professional translators):

They also say, art is a universal language. Hence, what's your take on it, even if you don't read Chinese?

Now, The Texts

The original sentence in Chinese:

  • 不做白不做,做了也白做,白做也得做。

English translation (by professional translators):

  1. This has to be done with the situation where not doing of it is not good, although it is done for naught. 
  2. Doing is better than ignoring; to do is to waste; to do even there is no payment. 
  3. It will not cost much doing it. Doing it is no better than not doing so. Despite it, one still has to do it. 
  4. We are available for everything, so there is no harm to do something of no value to get nothing and we always have to do such things with no choice. 
  5. Getting nothing done to waste resources in vain, getting things done to result in nothing, getting things done through wasting in vain. 
  6. It is improvident to undo it. But to do it is free. Even if free, it should be done. 

It almost becomes a fashion in recent years that some of my foreign friends (especially new acquaintances) would occasionally write to me in Chinese, for fun. Thanks to Google translate.

Now let's do a simple experiment and see how Google translate performs. 

Google Translate

English translation (by Google Translate): 

  • Do not do not do white, white do also do, white do have to do.

English translation back to Chinese (by Google Translate):

  1. 这必须做的与不做的不是好的情况,尽管这是为了没有做。
  2. 做的比忽略; 做的是浪费; 甚至没有付款。
  3. 它不会花费太多。 做这不比不这样做更好。 尽管如此,仍然必须这样做。
  4. 我们可以为一切,所以没有任何伤害,做一些没有价值的东西什么都没有,我们总是有做这样的事情没有选择。
  5. 没有做任何事情浪费资源,徒劳,做事情,导致没有什么,通过浪费徒劳无益地完成的事情。
  6. 撤消它是不可能的。 但是做到这一点是免费的。 即使是自由,也应该这样做。
  7. 不要做白色,白色也做,白色做做做。Even Google can not come full circle. 

So much is the fine art of [lost in] translation. 

Action Tips:

  • Use Google Translate with caution. At minimum, don't use it for love letters or for business. 

  • Always get a second opinion from someone who understand the language before you put it in use.