I enjoy “reading” cartoons. Friends say that I am often “funny” and have a good sense of humor. Alas, I’ve never been good at telling jokes (except about me).

I am toying with revisiting my academic interests in the psychology of humor when I teach the Research Seminar next semester. What makes something funny? Is the same thing funny across cultures?

I am quite impressed with the accuracy of recent dictation software (that converts my speech into text), and I’ve recently been interested in comparing the accuracy of different language translation software apps and browser extensions. Here is one of many situations where I can be helped immensely by my international students and friends.

How good are these translation programs? Are we ready to solve the space alien communication issue which science fiction author Connie Willis so cleverly described in her hilarious novella “All Seated on the Ground?”

I thought about attempting to tell a joke in English and then seeing how well it “translated” across languages—without emoticon smiley support. Alas, the Muse of Funny Jokes Appropriate for Cross-Cultural Sharing and Language-Translation-Software Bench-marking (just TRY Googling that!) did not appear to me tonight when I called upon her. So, I ‘ll try using some aphorisms which might be more culturally universal or at least literally translatable. James Geary delightfully explores aphorisms in his book The World in a Phrase: A Brief History of Aphorisms. Here he is in his own words.

Here is an aphorism about education from Mark Twain:

The man who does not read books has no advantage over the man that can not read them.

Here (I take on faith) is a traditional Chinese translation using the InstantTranslate extension for the Chrome Browser. (The extension also allows for hearing the spoken translation.)


Here is a translation from English to Lithuanian.

Žmogus, kuris neskaito knygų neturi nei žmogui, kuris negali jų perskaityti pranašumą.

Here is a translation from English to Turkish:

Kitap okumaz adam bunları okuyamaz adam üzerinde hiçbir avantajı vardır.

Here is a translation from English to Polish:

Człowiek, który nie czyta książek, nie ma przewagę nad człowiekiem, że nie może ich odczytać.

Here is a translation from English to Spanish:

El hombre que no lee libros no tiene ventaja sobre el hombre que no puede leerlos.

And, for my Chinese whispers telephone game test, here is the resulting translation from English to Lithuanian to Turkish to Polish to Spanish and back to English. I’ll leave to my students the challenge of investigating  all the possible differences with different orders of translation.

“This is a man who does not read books, you can read an advantage.”


Posted by Professor David Simpson

Professor of Psychology, Carroll University (USA), Lover of Dogs, Reading, Teaching and Learning. Looking for ways to enhance cross-global communication and to apply technology learning tools.