Funny how some days the talk around the water cooler is pretty standard fare, like who got to bed late last night and why, like which TV shows are funny and which ones are overrated, or like the crazy things that go on at our jobs. So of course today we had a rousing time talking about — what else? — dialects and translation technology.
I work with this girl whose family is originally from Norway, and she actually goes back to visit fairly often. I’ll call her Marika. At the same table sitting beside me was Sara.
Me: Do people over there speak in a weird way?
Marika: Well, um…
Sara: Weird? That’s not right to say.
Me: Oh, whoops. I meant different. Yeah, do they speak in a different way?
Marika: Well, yes. I mean, they speak English but there are so many different dialects as well. It can be hard to keep up.
Me: You speak Norwegian?
Marika: No, but you pick up some being around them for a little bit.
Me: Really? I could pick up Norwegian?
And of course that made me think about the French and Spanish courses I took while I was in school, and how if a kid is exposed early enough to other languages, that kid can pick up the languages like a fish picks up swimming. Imagine if you were in a household where at least three different languages were spoken regularly, and how advanced you would be in switching from one language to another.
Sara: Wouldn’t it be cool if some day, you know, before we die, we’re able to carry on us a universal translator so wherever we are it translates word for word what is being said?
Me: Then we wouldn’t have to wonder if the natives were talking about us behind our backs.
Marika: The natives?
Me: Uh, yeah. I’m not saying what I mean today.
Sara: I’ve got a translator for that.
Me: I just don’t like people talking about me behind my back in another language.
I believe I said something about our Smartphones already being able to do the translating, but Sara brought up the good point that even our phones can’t keep up with certain dialects, slang, and accents that exist out there. I honestly don’t think it’s possible to have a translator that can keep up with the rapid fire way that people constantly shift and change language. Sara agreed, but still insisted that a translator could come pretty close, that we had the technology to make one that was almost perfect. At some point, maybe we will, but until then I think human translators will still be in high demand.
And don’t even get me started on sign language!