As I’ve mentioned before, many people seem confused about the difference between translation and interpretation. So any articles that can help illuminate this for folks (especially clients) are welcome. Check this piece out.
“How many translations are published in English and how accurate is the often quoted figure of 3%? Which are the most translated languages and which literatures are we missing out on? A new report from Literature Across Frontiers (LAF), Publishing translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland: 1990 – 2012, finally answers many questions surrounding translation statistics. The report, prepared by Alexandra Büchler and Giulia Trentacosti, is a welcome addition to the translation reports and surveys published on LAF’s website and will be launched in electronic format on Monday 13th April, on the occasion of the London International Book Fair 2015.
The key findings presented by the report are based on analysis of two distinct data sets: raw data extracted from the British National Bibliography for the period 1990 – 2012 and processed data for the period 2000 – 2012. The raw data make it possible to produce statistics comparable to those published by other book markets, while the manually processed data provide an annual list of literary translations comprising fiction, poetry, drama, children’s books and creative non-fiction, so far for the period 2000 - 2012. The processed data sets have been further analysed with respect to genre and source language.
LAF director Alexandra Büchler said: “The report brings us, for the first time, reliable data and statistics on the publishing of translations in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Our analysis shows that the often quoted 3% estimate indeed corresponds to the established average of all translations recorded in the British National Bibliography over the past two decades. This is embarrassingly low, compared to the percentages recorded in other European countries, including large book markets with healthy domestic book production such as Germany, France, Italy or Poland. Literary translations represent a slightly higher share, consistently exceeding 4% with a peak of 5.23% in 2011. The statistics show a steady growth of literary translations over the past two decades in absolute numbers and this is very encouraging. General translations grew by 53% between 1990 and 2012 and literary translations by 66%. This is of course reflected in only marginal percentage growth due to the growth in the overall publishing output. Also encouraging is the diversity of source languages with small European languages like Swedish, Norwegian and Dutch among the top ten translated languages alongside two non-European languages, Arabic and Japanese. On the other hand, most Eastern European languages are seriously underrepresented and we are clearly missing out on entire swaths of literary landscapes in our immediate neighbourhood.”
The next step LAF plans to take will be to publish the long awaited database of literary translations for the period 2000 – 2012 and to conduct further analysis which will tell us more about the trends and patterns of publishing translations beyond the basic quantitative information brought by the present report. Another task will be to process the raw data for the earlier period and subject them to a similar analysis.”
In the last post, I
discussed Michael Erard’s book Babel No More. In the book, he offers some
resources for learning more about hyperpolyglots and about learning languages
in general. I haven’t yet been able to get any of these books/websites, but I
hope to. Here’s a selection:
Strategies in Learning and Using a Second Language
Earl Stevick: Success
with Foreign Languages
Lessons from Good Language Learners
Erik Gunnemark: Art
and Science of Learning Languages
What is a
hyperpolyglot? Someone who knows many languages. But how many? Six? Eight or
more? Eleven? Or even 30? And what does “know” mean? Being able to speak,
write, read and listen like a native speaker? Being able to talk about daily
matters? Having a basic conversation? Just saying a few words? Or…?
In Babel No More by
Michael Erard, Erard travels around the world to explore what it really means
to learn a language, how the brain deals with language, and how you can learn
many tongues. He meets researchers, neuroscientists, people who know many
languages, and others, and he visits multilingual groups, such as in India.
He shows how our view
of language in general and multilingualism in particular has changed over time.
Erard writes, “Go back to prehistory, a time of linguistic wildness, when we
can imagine that each roving band of humans grunted its own dialect, and
uncountable versions of half-congealed speech codes could be overheard at every
cave and watering hole. Any one of these codes had a range, not a center nor an
edge; not until bands clashed, merged or partnered and settled into villages
did they acquire a physical place, a homeland. Over thousands of years, these
became city-building empires that swept many languages away. On borders and in
cities, people spoke several languages…so did everyone in geographically isolated
places where trading and navigating required knowing the languages of one’s
equally isolated neighbors. All this was endangered, thousands of years later,
in the era of the nation…monolingualism became the standard model in most
places, because the boundaries of the nation were drawn to include all the
people who spoke alike. This unity was threatened by multilingualism and its
taint of barbarity, impurity and unnatural mixing.” (p. 90)
And now, he adds, many
counties just want one national tongue. I live in England, where there are
people from all over the world, but English is the only language most people
know. Young people might study other languages, but not seriously. “Politicians
lectured Britons on learning languages so they could get jobs in the European
Union, while universities removed foreign-language requirements and shut down
language departments when enrollments dropped. Further, the government was
constantly exporting English teachers, textbooks, courses, and programs,
helping the country to earn £1.3 billion a year. In other words, learning
language was for citizens of other countries-who would then compete with
Britons for jobs. The irony was underscored by the fact that by 2005,
immigrants had transformed London into a place where at least 307 languages are
spoken, making the capital of one of the most monolingual countries in the
European Union the most multilingual city on the planet.” (p. 71)
In other countries
that Erard visits, such as Germany, a number of people want to learn multiple
languages. But why? Some because it’s fun or a challenge, while others need to
for work. Still others want to understand how language works, so they see
learning languages as a sort of course in linguistics. Others learn many
languages in order to have many selves. Erard interviews some people who
dedicate their whole lives to learning languages, sometimes even to the detriment
of their jobs or families.
But how many languages
can you really know? Erard suggests we have too high expectations for our language
skills. You’ll never speak another language like a native. “If you want to be
better at languages, you should use native speakers as a metric of progress,
though not as a goal…Embrace your linguistic outsiderness-it’s the way of the
world…A language isn’t reserved for the perfectly calibrated native speaker.
Words have currency even if they’re not perfectly wrought.” (p. 261)
He also offers advice
from hyperpolyglots: “Some studies of successful language learners have
suggested that they’re more “open to new experiences” than the rest of us…we
have a self that’s bound up in our native language, a “language ego”, which
needs to be loose and more permeable to learn a new language. Those with more
fluid ego boundaries…are more willing to sound not like themselves, which means
they have better accents in the new language.” (p. 238)
So have the courage to
continue with your language studies and to dare to speak other tongues, even if
you think you’re not that good at it!
Most of us will never
know 15 or 30 languages. But it’s fun to read about them and to learn from them
in Babel No More.
The sign language interpreter for Melodifestivalen (the Swedish run-up to Eurovision), Tommy Krångh, has rightfully made the news recently. His interpretations of pop songs in the contest are fantastic; they’re moving and theatrical. I’m so glad we all can have a chance to see them and learn from them, and I’m also glad that they are bringing new awareness to sign language interpretation. Check out some of his work here and read about him in this article.
A few weeks ago, I referred to one language app, and now I’ve been told about another, the “Vocabulary Trainer”. It’s a “a mobile app to learn the most frequent words, travel phrases and slang (in total over 10,000 words and phrases) in over 30 languages.” It sounds intriguing, but I’m not sure if I think apps are the best way to learn languages. They can help in the moment, but I wonder if the material actually stays with you. What do you think?
I read a couple of interesting articles recently on bilingualism. It’s such a shame that in English-speaking countries, we generally don’t start teaching children another language until they’re on the older side. And yet we know very well from research that the earlier we start the better. When will we learn?
The first article talks about how bilingualism changes children’s beliefs. “Most young children are essentialists: They believe that human and animal characteristics are innate. That kind of reasoning can lead them to think that traits like native language and clothing preference are intrinsic rather than acquired. But a new study suggests that certain bilingual kids are more likely to understand that it's what one learns, rather than what one is born with, that makes up a person's psychological attributes.”
The second piece looks at bilingualism from an older person’s perspective to explore what advantages speaking more than one language has on our brains as we age.
I really like this visual guide to translations that will be published in English in 2015, but one thing I noticed is that very few of the books list the translator’s name on the cover, or otherwise give any indication that that these books are translations. So while it’s pleasing to see the increased numbers of translations coming out in English, it’s all still rather frustrating. Why can’t we honor the translators and promote the fact that these books are translations?
As a translator, I’m often suspicious of computer programmes or apps that purport to do what we do, and to do it as well as we do. But there are some instances when an app would be helpful, such as when travelling.
So I was intrigued to learn about this vegetarian translation app. It seems as though it would be very helpful; I haven’t eaten meat in over 15 years and I’ve often had trouble while on trips. The app includes 50 languages, including Chinese; China was probably the hardest country for me to visit as a vegetarian. I kept being told that supposedly vegetarian dishes had pork in them and that I shouldn’t worry as “pork isn’t meat”! If only I’d had this app then!
Do you know of other translation apps that are actually useful and accurate?
I receive a lot of emails from people
looking to get into translation and many of the questions I’m asked are common.
So occasionally I try to answer them here.
One that I get asked is how long the hours
are. This is one of the hardest questions to answer, because it depends. How
many hours you work depends on how much work you get asked to do, how much work
you want to do, what type of projects you take on, and how much time and energy
each assignment requires.
You could take on one short translation job
each month or you could work more than full-time as a translator.
Personally, I’ve been at both extremes, and
it’s depended on my circumstances (i.e. how dependent I am on the income from
translation and what other jobs I have). You can fairly easily build up a
career as a freelance non-fiction translator, but to work full-time as a
literary translator is generally harder.
I was recently told
about the Little
Red Schoolhouse writing method and form of writing instruction, which
was started at the University of Chicago in the 1980s. I was surprised I hadn’t
heard of it before.
“LRS is an approach to
writing instruction that proceeds from several core principles:
• Readers come to any
text with a fairly predictable set of questions and expectations. (These
expectations vary somewhat according to the community or discipline: literary
critics v. behavioral psychologists v. political scientists.)
• Effective writing
anticipates and responds to these predictable questions and expectations.
• In order to produce
effective writing, good writers employ a fairly predictable set of routines in
order to plan, draft, revise, and edit.
• Students who come to
understand readerly expectations and writerly routines produce more persuasive
arguments more efficiently.
• Most students
already have good intuitions about what readers want and what writers do: our
job is to help them articulate and define those intuitions, so that they can
more consciously control their writing.
• Our teaching begins
with intuition then proceeds to the principle.
• Students learn
routines best by "over-learning" them; that is, by practicing until
the routines are internalized and students can produce them with minimal
effort. Because reading and writing are complicated tasks, it's best to break
them down into manageable pieces, or sub-routines, for students.
• Once students are
comfortable with the routine, they can learn and practice techniques for
manipulating their writing to produce a range of effects.”
It sounds quite basic
and sensible, and worth looking into for anyone who writes and/or teaches
Many people have told me that children are essentially conservative readers and that they don’t want to read about people from other countries. That definitely hasn’t been my experience. In fact, I think children are curious and interested in the world beyond their homes and their countries.
Here’s a family reading children’s lit from around the world in 2015. It will be fun to see what they read and to follow their progress.
What world lit would you recommend for young readers?
sponsoring are major trends these days. They seem to be ways of avoiding big
companies, or minimizing stress, or trying out more unusual or avant-garde projects,
or to help pay for things that otherwise wouldn’t get paid for. I’ve helped
sponsor a book, for example, and I’ve heard of crowdfunding for clothing lines,
films, performance art, and even funerals.
I was recently told
about sponsoring translations. What do you think of that idea?
Here’s the information
I was given about this particular project:
“Haute Culture Books,
publisher of limited edition volumes is about to begin its first Book Angel
project with the first ever English translation of 'Truth & Justice' by
Anton Hansen Tammsaare.
With the support of
the Tammsaare Museum, National Library of Estonia, Tartu University Library and
Stanford University Library the project allows Book Angels to sponsor the
publication of this classic piece of Estonian culture opening it up to the
English-speaking world after a 70 year wait.
By sponsoring a
hardback print version of the book, Book Angels support the distribution of
free e-books of the text allowing a global audience to discover literary treasures
seldom seen in the English language.
More information can
be found at www.hauteculturebooks.com and www.hauteculturepress.com and if you
have any further questions don't hesitate to contact me.”
It’s the end of yet
another year. What are you proudest of in terms of your translation work? What
did you most enjoy translating?
I loved translating
poetry by Edith Södergran and also parts from Kristina Sandberg’s newest novel
(both works were originally written in Swedish). Kristina recently won the
August Prize in Sweden and is getting a lot of praise, which she deserves, so I
hope more of her work make it into English soon.
This article discusses whether people have a different personality for each language they speak. I’ve often felt somewhat different when speaking Swedish than when speaking English. It’s not just about having a different vocabulary and way of thinking about the world; there’s something about me that feels other. Do others feel the same (or, rather, different)?
A few months ago, I
was asked some questions by email by a student writing an MA thesis on translation.
They are the kinds of questions that come up a lot in regard to the publishing
industry, so I thought they’d be worth posting here. I just gave my own
opinions – what do you think?
What do you think are
the main reasons foreign authors get translated into English?
Frankly, it’s often
the bottom line. An author (often of thrillers or other genre fiction) sells
well in their native country, and publishers here see that and want to cash in
on it. That’s one reason why we don’t see as many literary works translated,
unfortunately. Another reason is the topic/genre/style – if one text does well,
publishers jump on any similar ones.
Do you think the
setting of the novel a deciding factor in publication?
Yes, it can be. There
are trends in translation, as hinted at above. For the past few years, Nordic,
especially Scandinavian, thrillers have been popular. Publishers have been
publishing all sorts of Nordic thrillers (and there has been a lot of Nordic
crime on TV too), some of which is of dubious quality. In research that I
carried out, I found that most readers didn’t differentiate between, say,
Iceland and Sweden, and didn’t really care where the book came from. In some
cases, they didn’t even know they were reading translations. They felt that all
those countries were the same, but they liked the fact that the isolated, often
cold settings seemed to reflect the crimes and the criminal mentality. Such
readers were willing to read any Nordic noir, whether the books were set in
Helsinki or Oslo. So I think the setting matters in a general sense, but that
readers may not care quite as much as publishers think they do.
Do you think foreign
authors are marketed in a different way to domestic authors?
They can be. The
covers often attest to that, showing that these books are from a particular
country (i.e. Nordic thrillers often have snowy, barren settings on their
covers). But I also think publishers try to hide the fact of translation to a
certain extent. Publishers underestimate readers and think the general public
can’t handle translated lit, so they might compare X foreign author to Y
domestic author in order to make the work seem more palatable. Or they might
keep the translator’s name in small letters.
How important a factor
is the author’s nationality?
Clearly, certain countries/ethnicities are more accepted than others,
and some languages are much more translated than others (French, German, and
Spanish come to mind). I keep referring to Nordic lit and that seems much more
acceptable to us in English-speaking countries, perhaps because Nordic people
aren’t seen as too different or too foreign. Publishers seem to feel that
readers might have a harder time connecting to characters in, for instance,
China or Latvia or Venezuela. Again, I think the public is underestimated here.
Sometimes it’s good for translators to be invisible. This article is about bad writing about sex, and it names and shames the authors and their books. However, the author (conveniently?) forgets that some works have been translated. So perhaps the translator should get some of the credit (or shame) too.
I was reading Michael
Rosen’s great new book Good Ideas – a book that is indeed filled with good
ideas for parents, teachers, and anyone really – and he has a section on
getting children interested in language or using language as a way of
interesting children in the world around them (pp. 235-9). Looking at signs in
museums or supermarkets, reading horoscopes in foreign newspapers, checking for
English among foreign words, and so on are just a few ways. I recommend the
book as a whole, but these pages in particular for those who want to start
making their children aware of linguistic and cultural differences.
I studied Latin when I was in grammar and high school and I’m so glad I did. This article discusses “taking an ancient language associated with the academic elite and reviving it as a remedy for the nation’s reading problems”.
This piece is on the word “literally”, which my students use way too often in speaking and writing.
This article is on academic writing, which is often quite poor, I think.
Speaking of academia, this post explores the crazy hours many academics work (and some just purport to work).
This list of the best love poems is quite odd. They only list some poems as translations whereas quite a number are clearly translated, so something has gone awry there. What would be on your list?
This article in the Guardian suggests that British readers are reading more translations these days. Do you think that’s true? What about in other English-speaking countries? (And yes, I’m quoted in the piece.)
One of the most common
recent questions has been what path you need to take if you know for sure you
want to get a PhD in translation studies one day. People ask me whether they
should study languages, literature, linguistics, translation studies at the
undergraduate or MA level, or some other topic entirely.
This is a very
individual choice, and I’m loathe to tell people how to shape their lives and
their careers. Obviously, to apply to and get accepted to a PhD program in
translation studies, you need to show that you have the requisite level of
skill in your chosen language/s and literature/s and other relevant subject
area/s. You’ll need to prove that you have the scholarly background necessary
for doing strong critical work in the humanities (i.e. a BA in sports science
probably won’t help). You may also need to show your expertise as a translator,
especially if you want to do a creative-critical PhD. But how you get these
skills and how you show them in your application will vary.
Personally, my BA is
in literature and creative writing and I have an MFA in creative writing. I
also worked as a practicing translator for some years before applying for my
PhD studies. That pathway worked for me, but I also know people who went for BAs
and MAs in translation first, then directly on to a PhD, and still others who
did undergraduate degrees in fields such as law or medicine and then switched
to languages and translation for their MAs. Others focused on language at the
undergraduate level and then came to literature and literary translation as MA
students. There is no one right way.
So my simple advice is
to consider what your interests are and where you eventually hope to end up. If
you want to become a pharmaceutical translator, then an undergraduate degree in
medicine might serve you very well. If you know you want to be an academic who
researches the translation of opera, then studying languages and music as an
undergraduate might be a good choice. And so on. Think about who you are and
what will inspire you, and take it from there.
translation by David
Bellos from the French translation by Jusuf Vrioni
Reviewer: B.J. Epstein
Twilight of the
Eastern Gods is, at its heart, a novel about words and writing. It’s about
telling stories, and the importance of literature. It is also an ominous tale
about politics, history, and geography, exploring the Soviet era and its
concomitant political beliefs. Since the time and place frequently are depicted
as rather creepy here, writing, too, can seem to be a suspicious activity.
The main character is
a young foreign writer who has gone to study in a literary institute in the
Soviet Union. All the students are well-known writers from their own regions,
but despite their drinking and partying, they are not typical students. “At
long last, after overcoming their adversaries, having accused them of
Stalinism, liberalism, bourgeois nationalism, Russophobia, petty nationalism,
Zionism, modernism, folklorism, etc., having crushed their literary careers and
banned the publication of their works, having hounded them into alcoholism or
suicide, or, more simply, having had them deported, that is to say, after
having done what had had to be done, they had been inspired to come to the
Gorky Institute to complete their literary education.” (pp. 43-4) Completing
their literary education, it seems, involves dedicating themselves to Socialist
Realism, which doesn’t quite work for our protagonist, who sometimes thinks
about and employs the folklore of his native country in his writing and his
In other words, though
the Institute and the harsh political situation seem to conspire to disenchant
the students in regard to literature (and also in regard to other aspects of
their lives, such as romance), the protagonist still retains his passion for the
written word, even if he just barely does so.
From a translation
angle, an interesting aspect of this book is that it is a relay translation,
albeit one that was delayed by thirty-three years. Jusuf Vrioni translated
Kadare’s novel from Albanian to French, and preeminent translator David Bellos
used Vrioni’s text to make the novel available in English (rather than
translating from Albanian to English, in other words).
Bellos includes a
helpful introduction to the novel, explaining some of the context behind it. He
notes that the work “re-creates Kadare’s experience of this strange ‘factory of
the intellect’ [i.e. the Gorky Institute for World Literature in Moscow], set
up to produce new generations of socialist poets, novelists and playwrights.”
(p. v) Kadare apparently wrote and rewrote chapters of Twilight of the Eastern
Gods over fifteen years, and the novel wasn’t first published until 1978 (the
French version by Jusuf Vrioni appearing three years later, and it included
sections that Kadare felt he had to take out of the Albanian original). Some aspects
of the novel would be hard, or harder, to follow without Bellos’s information,
or even without larger knowledge of the historical period (for example, Antaeus
the Greek’s situation, pp. 74 fwd.).
While the novel is
about the general themes mentioned above, it is based on an actual event: Boris
Pasternak being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, much to the displeasure
of the Soviet powers-that-be. Bellos discusses how “[t]he account of the
Pasternak campaign given in Twilight of the Eastern Gods has nothing fictional
about it: the discovery of a part of the typescript in the Writers’ Union
residence, the co-ordination of the press, radio and television campaign, the
roles of specific individuals, right down to the inexplicably sudden halt – all
these things really happened…it is also clear from this account of the
persecution of Pasternak that Kadare could imagine finding himself in the same
situation.” (p. ix) Indeed, Kadare did face similar charges and complaints to
Pasternak, “but in the end his real response to the constraints of living as an
international writer under a paranoid, isolationist Communist regime was the
write a novel that is also a declaration of fidelity to Albania and its ancient
folk culture.” (p. x) This duality – loyalty to both a place and to freedom of
ideas – comes through very clearly in the novel.
In short, Twilight of
the Eastern Gods is a fictionalised account of Ismail Kadare’s own experiences,
and it sheds light – even if only twilight – on a challenging historical, cultural,
and political period, while also encouraging the reader to recognise and admire
the power of literature.
On recent evening, I got
in the bath and picked up a novel that had been recommended to me. I was ready
to relax and enjoy some pleasure reading. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it past
the page of epigraphs. The reason was because the author quoted several
sentences from a variety of other novels, none originally written in English,
but of course didn’t mention the name of the translator.
In other words, the
author quoted Proust and Dante and some other writers in English, but failed to
show any awareness of the fact that these writers had been translated to
English, and that the quoted words had been written by someone else.
Originally from Chicago, I lived in southern Sweden for nearly 5.5 years, and moved to southern Wales in September 2006. I completed a Ph.D. translation studies in June 2009 at Swansea University, with a dissertation on the translation of children's literature.
Now I live in Norwich, England, where I am a lecturer at the University of East Anglia, and I also work as a translator, writer, and editor.
Contact me at bravenewwords (AT) gmail (DOT) com.