January 23, 2013

Google Translate + Fresh Prince = apricots


Will Smith is confused. He’s not the only one.

If you had a spare hour, would you translate the lyrics of “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” into Mandarin, with the help of Google Translate, and then back into English, and then perform them? And then into Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, Arabic, Portuguese, and back into English? And then send that result into Bengali, Russian, Japanese, German, and then back into English? And then through all 64 of the languages that Google Translate currently translates between, and then back into English?

Well, now you have an excuse for not doing your best impersonation of Will Smith rapping the word “apricot.” (Honestly, I have no idea how the “apricot” got in there…) CDZA, a collective of musicians who make music video experiments, have already done it. Here’s the video:

The final version of the song is both bleaker (“I bring fear,” “I have nothing!”) and full of snippets of everyday speech (“Next week is no good”), suggesting that Google Translate may select for angst and excuses. Also, the apricot disappears. Magic!


Sal Robinson is an editor at Melville House. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.