I WAS THE ONE WHO TRANSLATED “ALL STAR” INTO ARAMAIC AND BACK PLEASE STOP THANKS

Hey y’all. It’s been a while since I updated this blog, seeing as the class I originally started it for is over, but this is important enough that I’ve decided to make a new post about it.

In recent weeks, you may have seen a translation of Smash Mouth’s “All Star” into Aramaic and back going around online. Such notables as Facebook’s own God have shared it, but many people have been doubting its authenticity. This is really pissing me off, since I made it.

Those familiar with this site may be aware that two obsessions of mine are,

  1. Jewish linguistic traditions in a musical context, and
  2. Smash Mouth’s “All Star”.

So yeah, I did this myself. Because who else would have. I just wish I had watermarked it first.

Now you may have noticed (as some others did when questioning my translation’s legitimacy) that ‘durr, Google Translate doesn’t have an Aramaic setting, hurr durr, FAKE NEWS.’  That’s why I didn’t use it. I worked on this translation the old-fashioned way – for four damn hours with Jastrow’s Aramaic dictionary in one hand and Frank’s Judeo-Aramaic grammar book in the other.

I have included some proof in images below. On the left is the original text I uploaded, and on the right is my original Facebook post, in a linguistics group of which I am a member. Note that it was posted on August 5th, which is a time substantially prior to when it got big. I also recorded my translation, as you can hear at this link.

So please, if you see anybody who reposts my translation, link this post below and let them know that it’s real and I feel bad that people doubt it.

Oh, and also, this is absolutely not how Jesus would have sang it, no matter what Facebook’s God says. Aramaic is dramatically different depending on place and time, and the 4th-century Babylonian Judeo-Aramaic I used was about as different to Jesus’ 1st-century Galilean Aramaic as modern-day Italian and Spanish are from each other. Thanks.


all star

In text form:

הַהִיא דְּאֲמַר לִי דְּעָלְמָא קָאָזֵיל לְאוֹנוֹדִי, 

דְּאֲנָא לָא חַרְבָּא חֲרִיפָא בְּאַכְלְבָא.

הֲוָות דָּמְיָא לִי כְּאִילוּ טַפְּשְׁתָא, 

בְּאֶצְבּעָתַהּ דִּידַהּ וּבְאַליוֹנַהּ דִּידַהּ 

בְּטוּפְסָא דְּגַּמָּא עַל אַפּוּתַהּ דּידַהּ. 

הָא, שְׁנַיָא שָׁרַן לְמֵיתֵי, וְלָא נָיְיחִי מִימֵּיתֵי. 

מַאֲכִיל לִכְלָלַיָא, וּנְפָלִי עַל אַרְעָא וּרְהָטִי. 

לָאו הֲוָא נִיחָא אִלָּא לְמֶיחֱוֵי בְּדִיל תַּחְמוּדָא,

מוֹחָךְ דִּידָךְ מִתְחַכֵּים, בְּרָם לִיבָּךְ דִּידָךְ מִּיטַּפֵּשׁ.

סַגְיָא לְמֶעֱבַד, סַגְיָא לְמֶחֱזֵי,

בְּגִין כֵּן, לָא קַשְׁיָא אִם אָזְלִינָן יָת שְׁקָקֵי אֲחוֹרָא!

לָא תֵּידַע אִילוּלֵי דְּתֵיזִיל. 

לָא תִּדְנָח אִילוּלֵי דְּתַבְּהֵיק. 

הָא אִידְּנָא! כֻּלָךְ בָּר כּוֹכְבָא!

שְׁרִי גְּבוּרְתָךְ! זִיל! חוּךְ! 

הָא אִידְּנָא! אַנְתְּ רָב זַמָּרָא! 

שְׁרִי שִׁירָתָךְ! אִשְׁתָּלֵּם!

כָּל דְּבָּרְקִי דַּהֲבָּא!

זִיקִין לְחוּדְהוֹן תָּבְרִי יָת טוּפְסָא!


ll star proof

 

7 thoughts on “I WAS THE ONE WHO TRANSLATED “ALL STAR” INTO ARAMAIC AND BACK PLEASE STOP THANKS

  1. I’ll ask what may be a dumb question. When you translated it back to English why did you end up with a different translation than the lyrics you started with? I can understand why you’d get different results when you do machine translation from English -> Aramaic -> English but why would you get different results if it’s human translation and you did both halves yourself?

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    • I’m obviously not the author, and I know nothing about Aramaic, but I do know a few things about translation so I can guess.

      Instead of thinking of the new English as a translation back from the Aramaic, think of it as a formalization of the intermediate step between the song and the Aramaic. That’s not to say that he would’ve written the new English first, just that there isn’t a one-to-one mapping between words, so some amount of shift is needed to convey the same concepts. There’s not going to be a word for “rockstar” in 4th-century Babylonian Judeo-Aramaic, so what’s a rockstar other than someone who is really good at (master of) [pop] music? They wouldn’t have known the Latin letter ‘L’ something more familiar with similar shape needed to be substituted (you’d need someone who actually knows 4th-century Babylonian Judeo-Aramaic to explain why a Greek letter instead of an Aramaic one).

      There are also a lot of stylistic changes to sound more like what you expect Aramaic to translate into (e.g., more formal, old fashioned-sounding). There probably are no records of colloquial 4th-century Babylonian Judeo-Aramaic, so there’s no way to explicitly capture the informal style of the song in Aramaic and so, I assume, the translator is reflecting the inherent style shift in the back-translation. Also, it’s funnier that way 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A more condensed version of the same explanation:
    The process of translation is a lossy filter.

    Imagine taking a song and writing it down without musical notation. You wouldn’t be able to sing the song again as you originally sang it without knowing the song already. Or getting absurdly lucky.

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  3. I can understand the objections.

    When people share amusingly bad translations, the humour comes from the fact that an automatic translator doesn’t understand the subtleties of what they are doing. So when you run it forwards and then backwards you end up with something that is similar but also off in bizarre ways.

    If it was instead an intelligent person who did the forward and back translation then it’s just silly, since they obviously should know better.

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  4. AtreidesOne, fam, I took a beginners course in translation; and let me tell you, it’s not that simple, even at the beginner’s level (it only gets more convoluted from there). There are thousands of years of translation theory with tens of schools of thoughts on the matter in the European tradition alone: let alone the opinions Africa or Asia or First Nation America, etc would have on the topic.

    You sit two translators down with the same source text and target language, and the same tools (a dictionary and a grammar book), and they’ll produce wildly different results. Hel or Hades, if you sit one translator down at different parts of the day with the same source text and target language, the result is liable to be radically different. And if you translate a translated work back to its source, while some schools of thought say you should return where you started, the reality is you won’t. Translation is not an invertible function: you can’t undo ENG->GER with GER->ENG the way you can undo x^2 with sqrt(x) (because nothing’s at a perfect one-one correspondence). You cant even undo GAE->GBE with GBE->GAE and that’s just a dialectal shift.

    And even when there is a one-one correspondence, it’s relatively common practice in some schools to purposefully mistranslate minor details to preserve the flow of the original piece: for example, in German, “Steffmütterchen” is the word for “pansy [flower],” but when to English translators care about the flow, rhythm, or ‘ear-feel’ of a text, it’s common practice to translate “Steffmütterchen”->”chrysanthemums” because “c.” feels so much more like “S.” than “pansy.” Or, if the symbolic meaning is what the translator wants most to preserve, they’ll translate it to “daisy” because German’s symbolic view of pansies passes most closely to how our culture views daisies, or something. I don’t speak flower in either culture.

    Google translate runs through a word to word translation with grammatic restructuring added on, which leaves idiomatic language in the stop-gap, turns “hydraulic ram” into “water sheep” (although they’ve implemented some mumbo-jumbo to make that happen less often), and just gives up when it runs into words it doesn’t understand like “popstar” by pasting it as English in the text. The results are typically pretty absurd, yes, but not as absurd as what people can produce.

    The author is more adhering, far as I can tell from their back translation to a sense for sense model where they try and distill the essence of what’s being said as an intermediate step: “popstar”->”music god [cc]” and then translating that essence, on the forward translation. Then, on the back-translation, to further accentuate the differences between the languages, they’re adhering to the principle of least inaccuracy, where they try to as closely in English as possible express the connotations and grammar of the source text. It doesn’t make the result lyrically beautiful in most cases, and typically serves as a technical step rather than a finalized product, but it’s not dishonest to use this process to showcase the work that goes into translating a text, as well as the differences between the source and target languages (A finalized product would likely clean up the grammar and word choice a bit to sound more like vernacular English, but it still wouldn’t have been close to Smashmouth’s Allstar). I’d don’t speak or read Aramaic, but judging solely from the back translation, the forward translation is probably a pretty high quality.

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