or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Ich bin ein Bibliotecario

   November 4th, 2010

Babel Fish from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyLanguage is fascinating to me. I'm particularly interested in the idea that our brains are shaped by the language we use to interpret our environments and communicate - and therefore, people of different cultures do perceive the world differently.

So, apropos of absolutely nothing, here are the translations for a few library-related words, according to the Babel Fish translator.

English library librarian book reading information reference
Dutch bibliotheek bibliothecaris boek lezing informatie verwijzing
French bibliothèque bibliothécaire livre lecture l'information référence
German Bibliothek Bibliothekar Buch Messwert Informationen Hinweis
Greek βιβλιοθήκη βιβλιοθηκάριος βιβλίο ανάγνωση πληροφορίες αναφορά
Italian biblioteca bibliotecario libro lettura informazioni riferimento
Portuguese biblioteca bibliotecário livro leitura informação referência
Russian архив библиотекарь книга чтение информация справка
Spanish biblioteca bibliotecario libro lectura información referencia

Something else neat is that other language can be clever sources of product names - who among us wouldn't buy into a chat reference product called "Referencia?" But my favorite is the word for librarian - "bibliotecario" - I think I might change my business cards.

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4 Responses to “Ich bin ein Bibliotecario”

  1. Lisa Says:

    About the German word for reading… Messwert refers to the reading of a measurement in a data-gathering sense. The word Lesen means reading in the sense that you intended. (http://dict.leo.org/ is a really great English-German dictionary online)

    (I love your blog by the way – have found it really useful a number of times.)

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Lisa: thank you for the correction (and I’m happy to hear my website is useful). I noticed there were some differences between what Babel Fish came up with versus how Google translated words – another was Google gave “Referenz” as the German translation for “reference” – machine translation is still far from perfect.

    In fact, a writer I used to know took advantage of the quirks of machine translation when he was suffering from writer’s block or was unhappy with a particular passage. He would enter his text, translate it to one language, then translate from that language to a third, and then finally back to English. Sometimes the resulting word jumble would inspire him with new phrasing or word order, and get him back to writing.

  3. KathyS Says:

    I was sounding out the Russian and Greek, and I am amused at how *most* of your examples have obviously similar roots. The Russian word for “library” sounds like “archeev”, ie, our word for “archive”, and in Greek sounds like “bibliotiki”. The Russian “spravka” (reference), however, doesn’t sound at all like anything in English. Lots of fun!

  4. Meg Says:

    Actually, I don’t know why Babelfish decided to translate library as “архив” because, like English, that actually means archive in Russian. The Russian word for library is “библиотека” – “biblioteka”, coming from the Greek like many of the other languages.

    Thanks for the site. It is continually interesting!