Sign up for newsletter
 

Six degrees of Dolly Parton

Country Musings by Robert Loy, September 1998

I found a place on the World Wide Wait, http://babelfish.altavista.digital.com/, that will translate any phrase from English into any of several European languages, or vice versa. Some people might see this as a step towards greater world understanding; I see it as a chance to have fun with country lyrics. What I did was translate lines from famous songs into another language, then back into English, just to see how they'd survive the trip.

Most of the lines came back pretty mangled. "Above rock, you will be always house at the soft house with me" is (believe it or not) "Rocky Top, you'll always be home, sweet home to me" translated into French and back to English.

Some are pretty close to the original. "Why can't I release your doubtful understanding and melt your cold cold inside?" (English to German to English) could probably pass as a Hank Williams first draft.

As you might expect, puns are a problem. "Lumber, I am falling in the love" (Italian) is not something I can see Patty Loveless singing. For some reason, pronouns are tricky too. "It ceased liking it today. They placed a garland on its gate" (French) loses a lot of the passion of the George Jones original.

And, if you've ever wondered how a true country classic would sound after a quick trip through five foreign languages, watch what happens with Neal McCoy's immortal line "What really turns me on is the shake"

  • "What really puts on me, is the vibration" (German)
  • "What really ignites it is the scoss" (Italian)
  • "What it really turns on me is the agitation" (Portuguese)
  • "What really turns to me is the shock" (Spanish)
  • "What really lights to me is the jolt" (French)

    If all this proves anything besides that I desperately need to get a life it's why translators make lousy songwriters.

  •