Google Translator, beta version, 1940

We have already written about a number of wartime phrasebooks, but never about any more peculiar than this one. The 13×18 cm sized Stummer Dolmetsch, that is, “Silent Interpreter” translating machine bears no date, but according to the – since then sold, but from cache still saved – catalog card of Fünkchen Antiques it was printed in 1940, that is at least half a year before it could begin its intended service on the Eastern Front.

The two illustrations are from Sprachfuehrer’s excellent Военный разговорник и переводчик до 1945 г. (Wartime phrasebooks and interpreters before 1945) blog, on which we will soon write more, and where the above copy can be also purchased; the data from the Übersetzerportal

“Man zeige dem Russen die Übersetzung des Wunsches, Befehls usw., gegebenenfalls zur Ergänzung auch das passende Bild. Auf diese Art kann man nach kurzer Orientierung Hunderte von Wünschen und Befehlen ohne Sprachkenntnisse ausdrücken.”“Show to the Russian the translation of the wish, command etc., eventually supplementing it with the appropriate picture. In this way, after a short orientation you can express hundreds of wishes and commands without any language skill.”

The “hundreds of commands” seems excessive, or to be understood including the combinations made with the pictures. In fact, the two sides of the machine show only twenty-twenty Befehle, Fragen, Verhör, Erkundung and Quartier, that is command, question, examination, information gathering, and instructions concerning quartering. The user turns the upper visible part of the inner disc to the number of the required command, and the equivalent of it appears in the opening framed red for the Russian. A flaw of the machine is that one probably had to poke by hand on the eventual supplementary picture, but we are sure that in case of an extended use the precise Teutonic spirit would have solved the automation of this as well.

The ingenuity of the machine is stunning. But what kind of surplus use value (Gebrauchsmehrwert) may it have offered in comparison with the hitherto seen simple German-Russian glossaries? That the user did not have to face the sea of the foreign language, but – apart from the small danger zone well limited in red – he could feel in his own language medium on both sides? The childlike joy of turning, the habitual safety of machine using? That it, so to say, industrializes the production of the foreign terms? That it enthralled the interaction partner, in whose language there was even no proper equivalent for “efficiency”? Who knows how much cybernetics would be ahead today if this war takes a while longer.

5 comentarios:

Araz dijo...

Dolmetsch in German astonished me, it sounds as Russian Talmach coming from Turkic Dilmanj - a very interesting encounter, indeed! My spouse just has shown the dictionary saying that its etymology is "tur-ung".

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, in Hungarian it is tolmács, which is probably the direct origin of the German term. According to the Hungarian etymological dictionary, it probably comes from 7 to 9th century Pecheneg tılmač. In fact, a number of 10-11th century Hungarian border settlements where Pechenegs were settled as border guards bear “tolmács” in their names, including the beautiful medieval fortresses of Tolmács in Northern Hungary or of Talmács (today Tălmaciu) in Transylvania. And 10th century Byzantine sources on the early Hungarians mention that certain Pecheneg body guards in the imperial court were called “τουλμάτζοι”.

Studiolum dijo...

Dmitry Chernishev took over this post to his excellent ответы на незаданные вопросы – “answers to never asked questions” review blog. The Russian readers, of course, and as usual, enrich it with witty and sharp-eyed commentaries. Just a small selection from the hitherto added ones (and as the post is only one hour old, there will be surely much more, from which we will give a further selection later):

– Interesting, why to distinguish the goose from the other poultry? – Perhaps because the goose was interesting for them because of the meat, while the hen for the eggs.
– Question 11: “How much does it cost?” Absolutely not just a simple “come on, mother, give me those eggs!”…
– An absolutely brilliant device!
– Nanotechnology for the masses!
– How much work! how great intellectual preparedness! and all pure evil!
– The Germans thus expected ours to be able to read!
– The Nazis did not know that the dictionary can operate in the opposite direction, too.
– “Call here someone who speaks German” – how much hope in this sentence!

Araz dijo...

That is very interesting, Studiolum. So what does tılmač mean? Is it translator as I guessed? Does it mean the same thing in Hungarian. As you know, d(t)il means tongue in many Turkic languages.

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, of course, it means ʻinterpreter’, just as in Turkic languages, and in the case of the Pechenegs settled on the border it might also have had a somewhat larger connotation like ʻmediator’ (between people living this and that side of the border). Of course I know ʻdilʻ from Turkish, but it was not taken over into Hungarian: we use the Finno-Ugric “nyelv” for this.