Hamlet as Rosetta Stone

Following up on yesterday’s discussion about using Shakespeare to teach foreign languages, I spotted a pattern that gave me an idea.  “To be or not to be” is fascinating on a number of levels – in this case it is a very simple string of very simple words, repeated, that also happen to represent several core language concepts — “be”, “to be” (infinitive), “or” (conjunction), “not” (negation).

So with that in mind and some help from NiceTranslator.com  I typed that sentence (using “To be or not to be, that is the question” in case there were grammatical considerations in some languages) and asked it for a translation into some 50 different languages.  I’m not sure how well this is going to handle all the special characters, but we’ll worry about that later. Right now I’m fascinated by the languages that fit a sort of “B O N B” pattern, where B is their word for “to be”, O for “or”, “N” for not.  

I imagined something like a Shakespearean Rosetta stone, where you knew that the language in front of you, that’d you never seen before, represented Hamlet.  How much of that language’s rules, vocabulary and grammar might you be able to discern?

The similarities, rather than the differences, are most fascinating.  Consider Dutch:  Zijn of niet zijn, dat is de vraag. Fits my “B O N B” pattern quite nicely.  Now consider Turkish : Olmak ya da olmamak, bu soru için.  With a slight change to the second instance of B (olmak -> olmamak), it still fits.  But would you have ever imagined similarities in language between Dutch and Turkish? Or Czech: Být či nebýt, to je otázka, where the negation is written as a single word, Být becoming nebýt.

I’ve included the entire list here for reference. What other interesting similarities leap out at you? Which languages are clearly evolved from the same roots?

Disclaimer : I’m aware that these probably go under the heading of “literal translation” and thus are more subject to matching the pattern in the original source, than if you were to ask a native speaker to translate it more freely.  Understood.  But there are still plenty of languages on this list that don’t fit the pattern, so clearly there’s some level of reasoning that goes into the translation.

Afrikaans

Om te wees of nie te wees nie, dit is die vraag.

Albanian

Për të qenë apo jo që të jetë, kjo është pyetja.

Arabic
أن تكون أو لا تكون ، تلك هي المسألة.
Belarusian

Быць ці не быць, вось у чым пытанне.

Bulgarian

Да бъде или да не се, това е въпросът.

Catalan

Ser o no ser, aquesta és la qüestió.

Chinese
要或不要,这是个问题。
Czech

Být či nebýt, to je otázka.

Dutch

Zijn of niet zijn, dat is de vraag.

Estonian

Olla või mitte olla, selles on küsimus.

Filipino

Upang maging o hindi na, na ang tanong.

Finnish

Ollako vai eikö olla, että on kysymys.

French

Pour être ou ne pas être, telle est la question.

Galician

Ser ou non ser, velaí a cuestión.

German

Sein oder nicht sein, das ist die Frage.

Greek

Για να είναι ή να μην είναι, αυτό είναι το ζήτημα.

Hebrew
להיות או לא להיות, זו השאלה.
Hindi

हो सकता है या नहीं होना है, कि सवाल यह है कि करने के
लिए.

Hungarian

Kell vagy nem kell, hogy ez a
kérdés.

Icelandic

Að vera eða ekki vera, það er spurning.

Indonesian

Untuk dapat atau tidak dapat, bahwa pertanyaannya.

Lithuanian

Būti ar nebūti, tai yra klausimas.

Portuguese

Ser ou não ser, eis a questão.

Spanish

Ser o no ser, esa es la cuestión.

Yiddish
צו זייַן אָדער ניט צו זייַן, וואָס איז די פֿראַגע.
Ukrainian

Бути чи не бути, от у чому питання.

Slovenian

Biti ali ne biti, to je vprašanje.

Polish

Być albo nie być, oto jest pytanie.

Latvian

Būt vai nebūt, tas ir jautājums.

Korean

가이되고, 그 질문하십시오.

Japanese

されるかどうかに、それが問題だ。

Italian

Essere o non essere, questo è il problema.

Irish

Chun a bheith nó gan a bheith, go bhfuil an cheist.

Vietnamese

Để được hay không được, đó là câu hỏi.

Swahili

Kuwa au si kuwa, kwamba ni swali.

Swedish

Att vara eller inte vara, det är frågan.

Thai

เป็นหรือไม่เป็นที่เป็นคำถาม

Turkish

Olmak ya da olmamak, bu soru için.

Slovak

Byť či nebyť, to je otázka.

Serbian

Бити или не бити, то је питање.

Russian

Быть или не быть, вот в чем вопрос.

Romanian

Pentru a fi sau a nu fi, aceasta este întrebarea.

Malay

Untuk dapat atau tidak boleh, bahawa pertanyaannya.

Maltese

Biex tkun jew li ma tkunx, li hija l-kwistjoni.

Norwegian

Å være eller ikke være, det er spørsmålet.

Persian
بودن یا نبودن باشد ، که سوال.
Croatian

Biti ili ne biti, to je pitanje.

Welsh

I fod yn neu beidio, bod yn y cwestiwn.

Danish

At være eller ikke være, det er spørgsmålet.

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