Thursday, 13 February 2014

Ibong Adarna: Google Mistranslate

from Project Gutenberg Tagalog edition
Ibong Adarna is the title of a massively popular epic fantasy in the mythology and culture of the Philippines; it originally went under the snappy title of Corrido ng Pinagdaanang Buhay nang Tatlong Principeng, Magcacapatid na Anac nang haring Fernando at nang Reina Valeriana sa Caharian ng Berbania ("Corrido of the Traveled/Travailed Life of Three Princes, Sibling Children of King Fernando and Queen Valeriana of the Kingdom of Berbania"). Despite the Spanish names, it evidently pre-dates the Spanish Era in the Philippines.
One of the most beautiful tales which the Filipinos are wont to hear in their youth since time immemorial is the “Ibong Adarna”. This tale, or awit, is known all over the Philippines and was told vocally probably  centuries before it was anonymously printed in Tagalog in about 1860, thereafter appearing in the different vernacular dialects  — Visayan, Pampango, Ilocano and Bicol where its version varies. It is a four-thousand-one-hundred-thirty-six-line metrical romance in quartillas, of iambic tetrameter, on the life and adventures of the three sons of King Ferdinand of Berbania — one if not the most interesting of the fantastic tales in Philippine literature. According to the more reliable studies on the subject the tale is of Pre-Spanish origin and so is indigenous, although it is not free in its modern version from outside influence, like the other native corridos that were "derived" from European romances, that are greatly saturated with the "medieval flavor and setting of chivalry". It is comparable or possibly on a par with the world-famous Arabian Nights' Entertainments — a book included in the outside reading texts of both public and private schools. Although its language is not as literary as Florante at Laura, the work nevertheless indicates that it is the product of a pen of the stamp of a Balagtas, which in spite of not having the academic preparation of that prince of Tagalog poets, in fact it is like an uncut diamond which though it does not glitter as much as the cut and polished one, yet does not on that account cease to be a diamond.
- The Adarna Bird (A Filipino Tale of Pre-Spanish Origin Incorporated in the Development of Philippine Literature, the Rapid Growth of Vernacular Belles-letters from Its Earliest Inception to the Present Day), Eulogio Balan Rodriguez, General Printing Press, 1933.
See the paper ANG MGA INAGDAANANG BUHAY NG IBONG ADARNA: Narrative and Ideology in the Adarna's Corrido and Filmic Versions (Francisco Benitez, Department of Comparative Literature, University of Washington) for a detailed analysis of the story's content and cultural significance.

As you can gather from the synopsis at the Wikipedia page Ibong Adarna (mythology), it's a fairly convoluted story of the adventures of three princes, Pedro, Diego and Juan. The first two conspire against Juan, as they go on a quest to heal their ailing father (who has got ill from worrying about a dream in which two traitors conspire against Juan). The title refers to the Adarna bird that's central to the story and has properties probably unique  for a mythical creature. It has powers of magic and healing, but a dangerous aspect: petrifying poo! At the end of the day it sings seven songs that lull listeners to sleep, changing colour with each song, then defecates - and anyone incautious enough to be underneath is turned to stone.

Which leads to the Google Translate weirdness. "Ibong Adarna" means "Adarna bird" ("Adarna" is a proper name of, as far as I can tell, unknown etymology). But if you put it into Google Translate, it correctly detects the language as Filipino (the prestige register of Tagalog), but translates the whole phrase as "Toilet Slave" [or did so at the time of the screen shot below - it has now been fixed].

This is peculiar, to say the least. With the individual words, it translates "Ibong" as "Birds" (which is on the right track) and can't translate "Adarna" (which is expected). The problem is only with the phrase "Ibong Adarna". Is it a malicious mistranslation someone submitted to the database? Some inexplicably garbled allusion to the defecating Adarna bird? Or what? Knowing zero about the Filipino language and the workings of Google Translate, I can't fathom it. Any thoughts?

- Ray (finder's credits to Pinkie17 on Yahoo! Answers)

Addendum: Mark Liberman at the linguistics weblog Language Log kindly mirrored the topic - Really lost in translation - and the Google translation has now been fixed. The mystery still remains as to where the original translation came from.

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