Cipher began as an experiment with translation software and a desire to do a piece that dealt with our relationships with technology. Having friends all over the world, many times I need to translate their Facebook posts into English using some kind of tool. We have all discussed how funny, and or, confusing the resultant translations can be.
Translation software is wonderful, but the difficulties in translating languages are enormous. Even if you don’t factor in syntax, there are expressions that make no sense when literally translated, not to mention the subtleties of context and connotation, as well as slang.
There are more philosophical considerations too. If I say the word tree or water, the image that comes to mind is going to vary from person to person depending on their environment and exposure. For a tree, it could be a pine, palm, or oak. Similarly, water could evoke the image of a stream, pond, or ocean. When we get to emotions, words like love can have radically different associations depending on a person’s experience. I recently discovered there is a whole area of study dealing with this topic called psycholinguistics.
All of this gave me an idea: I wondered what would happen if I took a quote about the inadequacy of words and translated it into another language using software, then, translated it back into English with another software. Furthermore, what would happen if I took the result, (the corrupted translation), and did it again, in a different language? How long would it take to degrade to nonsense? Would it take on different meanings?