Jennifer Weist: Tattoos of the last Unicorn and Alchemy

As you may remember, I posted an article on a Rilke quote tattoed on Lady Gaga some time ago. (And there is another interesting post on Rilke and the series "The Magicians" as well). But the other day I stumbled upon the fact that the heavy tattooed German singer Jennifer Weist from the band Jennifer Rostock has a literary tattoo on her leg aswell, see photo. In this case, it is not Rilke, but a slightly modified quote from the movie "The Last Unicorn" or may be the book by Peter S. Beagle

In German, it goes like this:

Du kannst die anderen
finden, wenn Du Mut hast.
Sie verschwanden von allen
Straßen vor langer Zeit.
Er rannte dicht hinter ihnen
und verwischte ihre Spuren.
Als Kalb schon war er
gewaltig wie ein König und
seine Hörner sind riesige
Flammenspeere. Mit ihnen
wird er sie jagen, sie alle,
bis ans Ende der Welt.

The full version is interrupted by the butterfly and resolutes the pronous "Er" and "Sie" with "der rote Stier" (the red bull) and "Die Einhörner" (the unicorns) and you can listen to the text, which is told by the singing butterfly right at the beginning of the movie, in this gruesome edited clip (at 3:30):

The English transcription is, according to scifiscripts as follows:

BUTTERFLY: (strange voice) No, no, listen.  Don't listen to me, listen.  You 
can find the others if you are brave.
(Shows unicorns running down a path, and a great red mass chasing them.)
BUTTERFLY (voice only) They passed down all the roads long ago, and the 
Red Bull ran close behind them and covered their footsteps.
UNICORN: Red Bull?  What is the Red Bull?
BUTTERFLY: Hold tight.  Hold tight.  Hold tight, hold tight.  ...(same strange 
voice) His firstling bull has majesty, and his horns are the horns of a wild 
ox.  With them, he shall push the unicorns, all of them, to the ends of the 
earth.  Listen, listen, listen quickly!

So the tattoo would be in English:

You can find the others
if you are brave.
They passed down all the roads
long ago.
He ran close behind them
and covered their footsteps.
His firstling bull has majesty,
and his horns are the horns
of a wild ox. With them,
he shall push them, all of them,
to the ends of the earth.

I really love the movie and think that Jennifer took an impressive choice with this quote - I would have never ever even come to the idea to chose this quote as a tattoo - but now as I see it I really adore it and its message, style and tone.

There are two other tattoos by Jennifer Weist I have been interested in. The one is a songtext right down at her ankle of the other leg. It's "Comin' home" by City and Color, a really beautiful song about someone travelling the world by always longing to come home. 

The other one is a combination of four obviously meaningful symbols on her side (take a look here at Jennifers Instagram account) . Although I spent quite a lot of time on it, I was not able to decode them satisfactorily. One idea I came up with is that the symbols are alchemical symbols for the four elements, although one has to change alphabets to read them (i.e. there is no single alphabet of alchemical symbols that contains all four of them). Another idea would be planets, but I haven't found them neither. 

  1. A circled dot represents the sun or fire or gold in classic alchemy
  2. A small delta δ - following my theory of the four elements, this would be "air". Unfortunaltey, I don't find a reference for this. Except the Delta Airline, of course. ...
  3. A cut triangle pyramid on the top represents earth in classic alchemy
  4. The letter upsilon Ʊ represents life according to this list of basic alchemy symbols; as it looks like a goblet it may also refer to water

So, this remains mysterious for me. The four elements, btw., are generally represented symbologically like this: 

Feuer = fire

Erde = earth

Luft = air

Wasser = water

So, after all this discussion on tattoos on Jennifers body, I want to get you an impression of Jennifer Weists art: she is one of the best German writers and has a very impressive voice. This is my favorite song by Jennifer Rostock, "Schlaflos": 

And the lyrics with translation:

SCHLAFLOS (by Jennifer Rostock)

Straßenbahnfahrpläne, altbekannte Landkarten,
Schädel voller Schandtaten, Taschen voller Pfandmarken
Geh' nach Haus, schlaf' dich aus, es ist schon spät.
Schrecksekunde, Sperrstunde, noch die letzte Runde schmeißen,
bis mich die Hunde beißen. Altbekannte Wunden reißen auf,
geh' nach Haus, schlaf' dich aus, so gut es geht.

Ich bin der letzte Schatten, der noch durch die Gassen irrt,
In meiner Hand ein Licht, das mit der Zeit verblassen wird,
Lass' das Streicholz brennen, solang' es geht.
Ich nehm' die letzte Bahn, wieder diese Strecke fahr'n
Zuhause Decke über'n Kopf und an die Decke starr'n
Der Schlüssel steckt, ich sperr dich aus, doch es ist zu spät.

Du bist so laut in meinem Kopf und alles dreht sich,
Ich versuch' dich zu vergessen, doch es geht nicht,
Ich lieg' wach und bleib' ratlos,
Was soll ich tun? Du machst mich schlaflos.
Die Stille liegt mir in den Ohren und es zerreißt mich,
Ich zähl' die Stunden bis zum Morgen und ich weiß nicht,
Was muss passieren? Ich bleib ratlos.
Was soll ich tun? Du machst mich schlaflos.

Schlaflos, schlaflos, schlaflos...

Mitternacht, Kopfkino, Super-Acht-Projektion,
Ach, die Gedanken sind in Bild und Ton unsynchron,
Ein Projektor der nur stottert, nur funktioniert.
Die Tapete in den Zimmern hört nicht auf sich zu errinern,
Deine Schatten sind noch immer hier und flimmern
Wie durch unsichtbare Blender an den Wänden projeziert.
Der Filmstreifen hängt in immergleichen Schleifen fest,
Die Bilder springen wie ein Insekt, das sich nicht greifen lässt,
Das Geschwirre macht mich irre und es hält mich wach.

Wie unter Fieber werden Glieder heiß, Atem kalt,
Was sich mit Wiederhaken dann in meine Laken krallt,
Ist die Angst vor der Nacht und was sie mit mir macht.

Du bist so laut in meinem Kopf und alles dreht sich,
Ich versuch dich zu vergessen doch es geht nicht,
Ich lieg' wach und bleib' ratlos,
Was soll ich tun? Du machst mich schlaflos.
Die Stille liegt mir in den Ohren, es zerreißt mich,
Ich zähl' die Stunden bis zum Morgen und ich weiß nicht,
Was muss passieren? Ich bleib ratlos.
Was soll ich tun? Du machst mich schlaflos.

Schlaflos, schlaflos, schlaflos...
Was soll ich tun? Du machst mich schlaflos.

Straßenbahnfahrpläne, alt bekannte Landkarten,
Schädel voller Schandtaten, Taschen voller Pfandmarken
Geh' nach Haus, schlaf' dich aus, es ist schon spät...

Interlingua in Google Translate

Machine Translation is the master discipline in the computational linguistics; it was one of the first major tasks defined for computers back in the times of Post-World War II. Warren Weaver, an American science administrator stated in a famous memorandum called "Translation" in 1949: „It is very tempting to say that a book written in Chinese is simply a book written in English which was coded into the 'Chinese code'. If we have useful methods for solving almost any cryptographic problem, may it not be that with proper interpretation we already have useful methods for translation?

After many ups and downs in the coming decades, the first real breakthrough came with fast PCs, fast web connections and the possibility to compile and process immense language data sets. But instead of compiling grammar sets in order to define one language and than another and their relationships, the use of statisical models became en vouge: Instead of years of linguistical work, they used some weeks of processing with similar results. While rules based systems created nice looking sentences with often stupid word choiced, statistics based systems created stupid looking sentences with good phrase quality. One thing, linguists as well as statisticians were always dreaming about was the so called Interlingua. A kind of a neutral language in between which would allow to translate the pure meaning of one sentence into this Interlingua and afterwards to construct a sentence in the target language that bears the same meaning. There is a common three step pyramide to the describe the raising quality of machine translation:
First level: Direct translation from one language to another
Second level: Transfer using one elaborated way or another, e.g. rules, statistics, etc.
Third level: Using an Interlingua.

There were many attempts, from planned languages as Esperanto up to semantic primes and lexical functions - the result was always the same: There is no Interlingua. "Meaning" is a to complex concept to model it in a static way.

In 2006, Google released Google Translate, a nowadays very popular system of MT that was statistics based originally, created by the German computer scientist Franz Josef Och (not at Human Longevity). This was an event that inspired me in a very personal way to focus my linguistics career on computational lingustics and inspired me to write my Magister Thesis with the Title "Linguistic Approaches to improve Statistical Machine Translation" (Linguistische Ansätze zur Verbesserung von statistischer maschineller Übersetzung) at the University of Kassel. This is 10 years ago. Recently, I talked to a friend about the success of the Google AI beating of the first Go-Master Lee Sedol using a neural network. Would this be able to change Machine Translation aswell? 

In September, Google announced in their research blog that they are switching their Translation system from statistics based to the Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT), "an end-to-end learning framework that learns from millions of examples, and provided significant improvements in translation quality". This system is able to make zero shot translation, as they write in an article published three days ago, on November 22th. A zero shot translation is a translation between two languages while the system does not have examples of translation between those two, e.g. it is trained by examples to translate between English and Japanese and between English and Corean, a zero shot translation would be between a data-less translation Japanese and Corean.. As Google state in their blog:

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time this type of transfer learning has worked in Machine Translation. 
The success of the zero-shot translation raises another important question: Is the system learning a common representation in which sentences with the same meaning are represented in similar ways regardless of language — i.e. an “interlingua”?

This is indeed hard to tell: Neural networks are closed systems. The computer is learning something out of a data set in an intelligent but incomprehensible and obscure way. But Google is able to visualize the produced data and you've got to take a look at the blog post to understand this in detail, but: 

Within a single group, we see a sentence with the same meaning but from three different languages. This means the network must be encoding something about the semantics of the sentence rather than simply memorizing phrase-to-phrase translations. We interpret this as a sign of existence of an interlingua in the network. 

Google, this is awesome! Thank you so much for sharing!

Image: Mihkelkohava Üleslaadija 

Game of Thrones: Hodor Translation

One of my favorite characters in Game of Thrones is Hodor, the so called "gentle giant" although there are more nameworthy giants in GOT aswell. Hodor is only able to say his name, but as actor Kristian Nairn statet, he has found 70 different ways to do so. But, to be honest, his leaked script does not emphasize the one or the other way to pronounce it.

In the course of the show it became revealed, that Hodor was not always simple minded but that some incident in his past changed the stable boy to the Buddha-like Hodor we know. What happend, was revealed in Season 6 Episode "the Door". If you don't know it yet and don't want to be spoilered, you should avoid reading about GOT in the web. Otherwise you can see here a nice example of a classical translation problem: A word (the name "Hodor") reveals a hidden meaning a long time after you used it the first time so you have had no possibility to adapt the word in a way that allows to reveal the hidden meaning adequatly in the target language aswell - and now you've got to deal with this. How could one ever know, that "Hodor" is kind of an abbreviation of "Hold the door"? For languages similar to English as German, it was a comparatively easy task as the word "Hold" in German is "Halt" and the word "Door" may be translated with the related word "Tor" (which actually means "gate" but it may be tolerable to be used for doors aswell), so you can make "Hold the door = Hodor" to "Halt das Tor = Hodor" without problems. Other languages as Russian have had bigger issues with this, as you may see in this interesting overview or even hear in this "language test". 


Image: Kristian Nairn speaking at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con International in San Diego, California by Gage Skidmore