Recursive Machine Translation


  • Joshua Evans



Machine translation tools such as Google Translate are at best seen as useful approximators, rather than offering any literary potential. In this experiment and short methodological reflection, I use Google Translate to recursively translate Austrian poet Georg Trakl’s celebrated WWI poem, ‘Grodek’, between German and English, until the two versions stabilise. I am attentive to places in which the poem and its renderings are simplified and/or literary value may be lost, but also places in which new or unexpected renderings emerge. This is a preliminary foray, but I propose that the method of recursive machine translation offers a new way to explore the translation of literary texts—a timely proposal, given the increasing applications of computer programmes and machine learning both within the humanities and throughout wider literary culture.


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