A journey around the meaning

Using three languages –German, English and Icelandic– as departure points Hulda Ros Gudnadottir explores the adventures of the meaning of a famous sentence by Karl Marx through its translation into different world languages.
In place of a journey around the world in 80 days she guides us through a journey around the world of unexpected meanings Marx’s phrase “The Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it” may acquire if translated in an array of languages; she does so by recording translations of Marx’s dictum into 49 Google supported languages in alphabetical order, using German Google’s automatic translator.


Translation is by definition a metaphor -originally a Greek word meaning transportation [of meaning]; it is a transportation of the original text’s meaning into words of another language, which inescapably results into a transformation of the meaning itself. Given that Language is a metaphor per se (since it consists of random words being used to signify things and concepts, thus arbitrary attaching meanings to specific speech sounds), Translation operates as a metaphor of a metaphor.

Inevitably, the translated text isn’t just exposed to several interpretations due to the range of meanings each word of the “recipient” language has, but carries in itself the interpretation of the original text by the translator proper. If the translator is the kind of software used by the most widely used search-engine around the world, software which doesn’t really take into account the context of the quoted text, as translators normally do, the result is quite astonishing.


Die Vierzig Neunen

2010, installation / 49 A4 90 gr paper, printer ink
Gudnadottir’s experiment acts as a critical commentary on both the persuasive power of written words–in our case of the translated text– and on technology. The extreme examples of misinterpretations Google-translations leads to surround us, hang on the walls of the venue; they help make us aware of how careful and critical we should be in our approach to any given text or information. The more we need to get quick answers and acquire knowledge the more we might get lost in an ocean of superficiality or –even worse- of nonsense.

It’s a matter of Doubt and Caution vs. Belief and Haste.
— Barbara Papadopoulou