Saturday, 13 October 2012

Lost in translation

Like many Australians of my generation, I have an uneasy relationship with what were called "foreign languages" (but are now LOTE, Languages other than English). Fifty years ago, the inclusion of the study of German in my schooling was explained by the fact that "you like chemistry, so a knowledge of German will help there". (Latin was assumed not to need justification.)

I recall two occasions during my time at university when I extracted information from a German chemistry journal — not because I needed the content, but to demonstrate that I could do so. At the time, I did not believe that this justified five years of anguish at school.

Today, with my Deutsch-Englisch dictionary (purchased for 27 shillings in 1965) beside me, I actually regret not making more effort to master the language that can help me to uncover a significant part of our heritage. As in all learning, motivation is crucial.

Fortunately, the modern mono-lingual family historian can call upon the services of Google Translate when an intractable problem arises.

In running general searches for Gramzow, I came across a passage that seemed to be about a town in Australia that was named after the home of the KÜHNs in Prussia. Der Name ist eine √úbertragung von Gramzow in der Uckermark.

I thought that I had made a reasonable translation but turned to the machine for confirmation. I was shocked when the output did not mention Gramzow at all. Then came the realisation that the software tries to translate every word; including the placenames. A quick reference to the instructions showed how to mark proper nouns and the tool could be run again with much happier results.

The text confirmed that, until 1916, the locality south east of Brisbane city now known as Carbrook was named Gramzow. This is yet more evidence of the impact on the Fassifern, Logan and Lockyer Valleys of the people who left Uckermark in the middle of the nineteenth century for a new life in Queensland.

It has not escaped my notice that, once again, I was almost tripped up by the intricacies of a language (albeit a programming language in this case). However, I am learning to love translation from German.

What is the significance of 1916 in the change of name from Gramzow to Carbrook? That is a topic for another day.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...