Homophonic translations are a multilingual version of the parlor game in which each person whispers a phrase to the next, with the meaning getting mangled along the way. The twist is, you don't actually have to know how to speak any other languages in order to do a translation.

All it takes is an understanding of how a language is pronounced, and a lot of patience. Pronunciation isn't as hard as it sounds; most English-speakers who have had even the briefest lesson in Spanish can roughly pronounce a Spanish sentence. Italian, being fairly phonetic, is also an easy subject for homophonic translation. (French might take some doing, though.)


Homophonic translation involves translating foreign phrases into English phrases that sound the same but have a different meaning, or the translating English phrases into foreign phrases that sound the same. A relatively well-known homophonic translation is the French translation of Keats' most famous line, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." The homophonic translation into French is, "Un singe de beaute est un jouet pour l'hiver" - the literal translation of which is "A monkey of beauty is a toy for the winter." English speakers get their own back by translating Frere Jacques, as Frayer Jerker.

A longer text is this translation of Latin into English. Here's the original Latin:

Caesar adsum jam forte.

Brutus aderat.

Caesar sic in omnibus.

Brutus sic enat.

And here's the homophonic translation:

Caesar had some jam for tea.

Brutus 'ad a rat.

Caesar sick in omnibus.

Brutus sick in 'at.

And if you're interested in the actual translation, here it is:

I, Caesar, am already here, as it happens.

Brutus was here also.

Caesar is so in all things.

Brutus so escapes.

Homophonic translation is just a pastime for linguists and language enthusiasts, but most of us, when listening to someone speaking a foreign language, will sometimes hear what sounds like an English phrase. The mind takes sounds in and makes meaning out of them.

[Sources: Experiments, Palimpsests]