Friday, October 24, 2014

The Typical Lament

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.


How can we educate people even more?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Translated Literature for Children

Listen to this brief radio program on translating for children by translator, writer, and chair of Society of Authors (and my former colleague) Daniel Hahn.

I have said much of what he says, but I suspect he says it better!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

More on the Nobel Prize in Literature

If you can read Swedish, this article on the Nobel Prize gives a bit more insight. Thank you to Duncan Large, now the head of the BCLT, for sending me the link.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

2014 Nobel Prize in Literature

This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to Patrick Modiano.


Is this what you expected? What do you think? I must admit he wasn't on my radar!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Hispabooks

I’ve recently learned about a new publisher based in Madrid, Hispabooks. I’m currently reading some of their first publications and hope to report back on them soon, but for now I thought I’d just give some information about the publisher.

Hispabooks aims to translate Spanish literature to English and to promote it abroad. Here is some information I was sent:


“Here in Spain around 30% of what's published every year is in translation, very specially from English, but as you may well know, the English book market has a much lower rate of books in translation, with their infamous 3% rate. Within that, books from Spain are only in the fifth place, behind titles from German, French or Italian. With our deep knowledge of our own literature we were dismayed to see how very few of our literary fiction writers managed to get a translation into English of their work and how sometimes English or American publishers seem to make a somewhat strange selection of the Spanish titles to translate, taking on some minor works/authors and leaving out others, to us, more distinctive of what contemporary Spanish fiction from Spain has to offer nowadays. We have also seen a trend from publishers abroad to translate more Latinamerican authors than Spanish ones. All that gave us the feel there was some work to do there, and we decided to go ahead with Hispabooks!

We released our first titles last summer and have published 10 so far. All books are by the best literary fiction writers in Spain (most of them multi-awarded authors such as Marcos Giralt Torrente) and our translations are by the best native English-speaking translators (Margaret Jull Costa, Peter Bush, Nick Caistor, Thomas Bunstead, Jonathan Dunne, Rosalind Harvey and so on) and thoroughly copyedited, if I may say, to great effect. Anyway, I hope you like how all this sounds and I invite you to visit our web (www.hispabooks.com) and facebook page (www.facebook.com/Hispabooks), where you may get a first hand feel of what we do. In our web there are samples of the first pages of all the books and in our facebook page a somewhat messy track record of our past events and collaborations, namely taking our authors abroad to literary festivals.

Also, here is the direct link to our catalog: http://www.hispabooks.com/Catalog.html.”

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

International Translation Day

Today is the feast day of St. Jerome and as he’s the patron saint of translators, that means today is International Translation Day. There are lots of events going on around the UK (and elsewhere, of course). How will you celebrate?


Let’s all find a way of honouring translators and translations today!

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Round-Up of Articles

Here are a few articles on language that might be of interest.

This article discusses how learning languages is good for your brain.

If that’s the case, then what language should you study?

Why is studying grammar or, rather, understanding language, important?

And what grammar rules can you break?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Historical Linguistics by Lyle Campbell

Like many of you translators, I’m a language nerd, and I like learning more about languages – both specific tongues and also languages and linguistics in general. So I enjoyed Historical Linguistics by Lyle Campbell; it’s a textbook, really, and you wouldn’t want to read it before bed, but it is a fun and interesting book to dip into.

Campbell writes on the first page: ”A number of historical linguistics textbooks exist, but this one is different. Most others talk about historical linguistics; they may illustrate concepts and describe methods, and perhaps discuss theoretical issues, but they do not focus on how to do historical linguistics.” (p. xv) In other words, the book is quite practical and it’s an introduction to historical linguistics. It has more than 500 pages about topics including sound change, linguistic reconstruction, lexical change, language contact, quantitative approaches (for example, “glottochronology”), and more, with examples from loads of different languages, including some I’d never heard of before, such as Mednyj Aleut, Karuk, Cholti, and Uto-aztecan.

If you are interested in how language changes and develops over time, you know that sound change is a big part of this. Campbell talks about different ways for this to happen, such as syncope (“The loss (deletion) of a vowel from the interior of a word”, p. 28), or anaptyxis (“a kind of epenethsis in which an extra vowel is inserted between two consonants”, p. 30), or haplology (“in which a repeated sequence of sounds is simplified to a single occurrence,” such as how some people pronounce “library” as “libry”, p. 34). Campbell then shows how we can see which changes have taken place and when. “In the history of Swedish, the change of umlaut took place before syncope...From Proto-Germanic to Modern Swedish: *gasti-z > Proto-Scandinavian *gastiz > gestir > Old Norse gestr > Modern Swedish gäst...We can be reasonably certain that these changes took place in this chronological order, since if syncope had taken place first (gastir > gastr), then there would have been no remaining i to condition the umlaut and the form would have come out as the non-existent X gast.” (p. 39)

In another chapter, he discusses different models, such as family trees (“the traditional model of language diversification” which ”attempts to show how languages diversify and how language families are classified”, p. 187) and dialectology (which “deals with regional variation in a language”, p. 190), or sociolinguistics (which “deals with systematic co-variation of linguistic structure with social structure, especially with the variation in language which is conditioned by social differences”, p. 193). In still other chapters, he discusses Pidgins and Creoles, endangered languages, how children speak (“mamma” or “baba”, p. 354), and writing. Campbell claims that you can reconstruct a language that doesn’t have a written form (p. 396), but, as he puts it, it is often “a matter of luck, a matter of what happens to show up in the sources” and sometimes you have to make guesses (p. 398). But obviously spelling and pronunciation can help in reconstructing the history of a tongue. For example, in English, there are words such as “marcy/mercy ‘mercy’, sarten/certein ‘certain’, parson/persoun ‘person’, and so on..that /er/ changed to /ar/ in the pronunciation of the writer of these forms. (This change was fairly general, though sociolinguistically conditioned, and it was ultimately reversed, but left such doublets in English as clerk/clark, person/parson, vermin/varmint, and university/varsity.)” (p. 398)

Every chapter also has exercises, in case you want to try your hand at what you’re learning.


This isn’t an easy-to-read book, but it is a good one for learning a little (or a lot!) more about linguistics.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Frustrating

Not long ago, a journalist phoned me. She was writing an article about translated literature and she wanted some quotes from me. So far, no problem.

She brought up the infamous 2% number – i.e., only 2% of the books published each year in English are translations. Yes, I agreed, we aren’t great at publishing translated literature and we should try to learn from other countries/cultures. However, I also pointed out that that figure does seem to be going up, and I mentioned some of the publishers, literary magazines, and other organizations (such as the British Centre for Literary Translation) that are working hard to get translations out in English. The journalist muttered a bit, then cut me off.

A few days later, I saw the final article. I wasn’t quoted, which was fine, but what was irritating and frustrating was that she ignored all the positive things I told her. Instead, she wrote that just 1% of the books published each year in English are translations! She didn’t refer to any of the new translation-centered publishers or anything else. Instead she just lamented how sad this state of affairs is.


Sad, yes, but not for the reasons she claimed!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Illustrated Guide to Becoming a Translator

I really liked this illustrated guide to becoming a translator. It’s fun and simple, and it has lots of good tips for people starting out.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Monday, September 01, 2014

Idioms

Idioms/proverbs/clichés can be one of the hardest bits of a language to learn, and they can also be really challenging to translate.

If a Swedish text says, “Don’t sell the bearskin before you’ve shot the bear,” should the translator keep that phrase as is (to retain the Swedishness of the text) or replace it with, say, “Don’t sell your chickens before they’ve hatched” (to make the text fit the English language better)? Or is there another, better solution (a footnote, for instance)? Interestingly, when I go to schools to talk to young people about translation, they are always evenly divided on this topic, with half the people wanting to keep the Swedish phrase and half wanting to replace it with an English equivalent.

When someone recently sent me a link with a list of Swedish idioms, I found it very interesting.

I then found a bunch of similar sites for English-language idioms, and I quite liked this one.

Perhaps you can add additional links for other languages in the comments.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Illustrated “Untranslatable” Words

I really liked these pictures of untranslatable words, but I do have to question the premise: if the words/concepts aren’t translatable, how can they be turned into illustrations? Drawing is a form of translation too, right?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Word Crimes

By now, many of you will have seen Weird Al Yankovic’s music video “Word Crimes”, but I couldn’t help linking to it anyway. It’s way better than the original song it is parodying (I won’t give any publicity to the song and artist by naming them), and it’s a funny, tongue-in-cheek treat for word nerds.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Market Research

You might be interested in this journal. Here’s the info I’ve received:

Asymptote's Summer issue was launched this week. Our Latin American Feature includes heavyweights César Aira, Sergio Chejfec, Rául Zurita, and Cristina Perri Rossi alongside new and heretofore untranslated voices; there’s also:
● an interview with Amit Chaudhuri on the Nobel winner Rabindranath Tagore
● an excerpt from Violette Leduc’s now-uncensored 1954 novel, championed by Simone de Beauvoir
● fiction by the 2013 European Union Prize for Literature Winner Faruk Šehić, accompanied by a video of the author reading the text.
● Japanese surrealist poetry newly translated by Yuki Tanaka & Mary Jo Bang (who recently translated Dante’s Inferno)
● a survey of contemporary Thai fiction, and much much more.

The edition, beautifully illustrated by Singaporean guest artist Robert Zhao Renhui, is available for free at http://asymptotejournal.com.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Studying Children’s Literature

Children’s literature is, happily, a growing field of study (and a growing field for publication, including in translation). People often ask me where they can go to study the subject, so I’m pleased this helpful list now exists. It even includes my undergraduate course.

Friday, August 08, 2014

The Translator Writes Back

In my last post, I mentioned scholar and Chinese-to-English translator Lucas Klein. Lucas told me about The Translator Writes Back, a new blog where translators can respond to reviews/reviewers. There isn’t yet too much action on this blog, but it looks promising and I hope more people contribute.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Lucas Klein and Chinese Lit

In June, there was an East Asian translation studies conference held at my university. While attending some of the interesting sessions, I got a chance to catch up with Lucas Klein. Lucas and I went to high school and worked on the literary magazine together in Chicago and he subsequently went on to become a translator from Chinese to English. He lives, teaches, and translates in Hong Kong.

Lucas told me about an event he participated in, which involved a fascinating series of translations. You can read about it in this article. You might also want to check out Lucas’s blog on translation and Chinese literature.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Market Research

Check out Verse Junkies, “an international journal dedicated to the study and practise of inter-semiotic translation - put simply translation across mediums”.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What Can You Study When You Do a PhD in Translation?

I’m often contacted by people who are interested in doing a PhD in translation, but they want help coming up with ideas for topics. This is a bit odd, I suppose, because if you’re going to do research, you should have enthusiasm for your topic, which generally means there’s something that intrigues you that you want to devote three or more years of your life to.

Nonetheless, here are some general, broad suggestions for topics/approaches for a PhD dissertation:

--creative-critical (you do a translation and then write a critical commentary on it)

--philosophy/ies of translation

--the translation of a particular text/author/field

--interpretation in specific a context/field

--subtitling of a particular text/media/field

--translation theory

--comparative literature

--history of translation

--translation as an art/craft

--translation and literary criticism

--translation and critical theory

--translatorial strategies for particular types of texts or specific challenges in translation

--an analysis of the translation of a text/author to one or more languages

--translation and ethics

--translation as a professional practice


I’m sure you can think of some more. Are there any additional suggestions?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tips for Translators

English-to-Hebrew translator Gili Bar Hillel recently asked other translators, including me, for tips for new translators, which she then posted on her blog. Her original post was in Hebrew, but due to popular demand, she’s now put an English version up.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Round-Up of Articles

It’s time for another round-up of interesting articles and other links.

I love Oliver Burkeman’s weekly column in the Guardian (and his two books based on the column). A recent column was on writing. He notes: “It’s the writer and reader, side by side, scanning the landscape. The reader wants to see; your job is to do the pointing.”

The New Yorker questions whether literature should be useful.

The BBC notes that young people are lacking language skills. “The UK’s education system is failing to produce enough people with foreign-language skills to meet a growing need from business, the CBI has said. Nearly two-thirds of about 300 UK firms surveyed by the business lobby group said they preferred staff with these skills. French, German and Spanish were highly prized but Arabic and Mandarin were growing in importance, it said.”

Test your vocabulary knowledge.

Check out these fascinating graphics on language in the U.S.

And, finally, a piece on slang.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Gulf Coast Translation Prize

Here is some information about a new translation prize you might be interested in submitting work for. Also see https://gulfcoastmag.org/contests/prize-in-translation for more details.

We Are Now Accepting Entries
For the Inaugural Gulf Coast Translation Prize!
Deadline: August 31, 2014

Gulf Coast is now accepting entries for the inaugural Gulf Coast Translation Prize. In 2014, the contest is open to poetry in translation. The winner receives $1,000 and publication in the journal. Two honorable mentions will also appear in issue 27.2, due out in April 2015. All entries will be considered for paid publication on our website as Online Exclusives.

This year’s contest will be judged by Jen Hofer, a Los Angeles-based poet, translator, social justice interpreter, teacher, knitter, book-maker, public letter-writer, urban cyclist, and co-founder with John Pluecker of the language justice and literary experimentation collaborative Antena. Her recent translations include the homemade chapbook En las maravillas/In Wonder (Libros Antena/Antena Books, 2012); Ivory Black, a translation of Myriam Moscona’s Negro marfil (Les Figues Press, 2011, winner of translation prizes from the Academy of American Poets and PEN); and two books from Dolores Dorantes by Dolores Dorantes (Counterpath Press and Kenning Editions, 2008). Her essays, translations and poetry are available or forthcoming from numerous small presses, including Action Books, Atelos, Counterpath Press, Kenning Editions, Insert Press, Les Figues Press, Litmus Press, LRL Textile Editions, Palm Press, Subpress, Ugly Duckling Presse, and in various DIY/DIT incarnations. She teaches bookmaking, poetics, and translation at CalArts and at Otis College.

Guidelines
Poetry: Send up to 5 pages of poetry translated into English. Preference will be given to contemporary work published within the last fifty years.
As part of your submission, include the text in its original language, provide a brief synopsis (no more than 200 words) of the author you are translating, and indicate whether you have, and can grant us, permission to publish the original work and the translation. If you have rights to reprint the original text in the U.S., please let us know that as well.

Demonstrations of Permission
We will not consider submissions without permissions. In your submission, please provide one of the following:
            --A document stating that the original text is in the public domain.
--From the copyright holder: Written permission granting you right to translate the work in your contest submission. Permission should name the work being translated, date consent was given, and identify the copyright holder.
--Please let us know if you have rights to reprint the original text in the U.S.

Contest Guidelines for Online Submissions
-       Submissions accepted via Gulf Coast’s online submissions manager.
-       Submit up to five translated poems, including the original text, single .doc, .docx,
.rtf, or .pdf file.
-       Only previously unpublished work will be considered.
-       The contest will be judged blindly, so please do not include your cover letter, your name, or any contact information in the uploaded document. This information should only be pasted in the “Comments” field.

Contest Guidelines for Postal Mail Submissions
-       Only previously unpublished work will be considered.
-       Please address postal mail entries to:

ATTN: Translation Prize
Department of English
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204-3013
-       The contest will be judged blindly, so your contact information should appear only on your cover letter.
-       Please include your $17 reading fee, payable in U.S. dollars to “Gulf Coast.”


Thursday, July 03, 2014

Town of Love

This review was originally published in Wales Arts Review. It’s worth republishing here not just because it’s about an interesting book in translation but also because the story of the book’s translation is intriguing in and of itself!

Town of Love
by Anne Ch. Ostby
278 pp., Victoria, Australia: Spinifex, 2013.
translation by Marie Ostby

Reviewer: B.J. Epstein

Town of Love by Anne Ostby tells a story that arguably has not previously been discussed quite so openly, beautifully, and sorrowfully in literature before. It is a depressing read, yes, but it also has a welcome aura of hope, and belief in the human spirit. Human trafficking and prostitution are issues that must get more attention; while this novel is set in India, this is not just an Indian tale. Early on, the narrator notes, “Principles were a luxury that no one in Prem Nagar could afford.” (p. 23) Again, this could apply to many other locales around the world.

This is Ostby’s description of the women principles in Prem Nagar who are unable to afford: “Girls sitting on chairs in doorways, on covered wooden platforms, or on benches under the thatched roof, in the semi-dark entrance to what they called home. Dressed in dazzling, sequined saris, tight blouses in feisty red or elegant peacock blue, with their shining hair oiled and newly combed. Heavily made-up eyes fixed in a distant gaze, long earrings gleaming in the afternoon sun, aggressive, pink lipstick. Slouching shoulders over small, pointy breasts. The workforce of the Town of Love.” (p. 7)

If that doesn’t both break a reader’s heart and draw a reader in, it’s hard to know what would.

Norwegian novelist Anne Ostby became engaged in this topic by chance. As she wrote to me by email, “I lived in Iran at the time [in 2007], and my husband had an Indian colleague. I knew he was married, but his wife was not there, and I had heard something about her running an NGO back home in India. But she visited Tehran now and then, and during one of those visits I met her: Ruchira Gupta, founder and President of the anti-trafficking NGO Apne Aap, which has helped thousands of women get out of a life of prostitution and violence. She has received all sort of international honours for her work, the UK Abolitionist Award and the Clinton Global Citizen Award among them. Ruchira is an incredibly brave and inspiring woman, and I am honoured that she has written an afterword to the book. But back to Tehran: at our very first meeting, I asked Ruchira about her work. The more I listened to her, the more I wanted to know, and when all of a sudden she said, ”Why don’t you come visit me in India and see what we’re doing?”, I immediately thought, ”Yes, I want to do that.””

Anne did go visit Ruchira in India. She ended up making multiple trips, meeting women, seeing the work Apne Aap carried out, doing research, and, eventually, writing the novel. Anne notes that she was especially touched by the situation of Nat women in India; their families often had multiple generations of prostitutes, and Ostby, as the mother to three daughters, thought, “How it must be, how it must feel, to give birth to a baby daughter, and know, holding that tiny body in your arms, that this is going to be her future?”

That concern for the women (and even a concern for the men who pimp them out and live off them) comes through clearly in the novel. “Something had been shattered forever. All she could do now, all anyone could do, was to wrap gentle arms around what was left. Cradling, rocking, softly kissing the wound.” (p. 117) These women have a very hard life, but some of the do finally find a way forward.

A reader can sense the research that has gone into this book, but that doesn’t mean that Ostby is showing off, the way some writers do. Her novel feels authentic, and not as though she is simply cramming as many facts and details as she can into it. “The first puri halwa-vendor wheeled in and parked his cart, the aroma of deep-fried bread and coconut-sprinkled sweets drew in a breakfast-hungry crowd around him. Smells and sounds coloured the morning…” (p. 255) Such sentences set the scene and bring the story alive, serving as a vibrant backdrop to this sad tale of prostitution.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the production of this book, besides the research, is the translation. The translator is one of the novelist’s daughters, Marie Ostby. Anne told me by email that Marie is a PhD student in English at the University of Virginia in the US and is fully bilingual. Anne wrote me, “I knew she would "get" the book, and my language, down to the slightest nuance and detail. ..I knew no one could do it better. She has an extremely fine-tuned ear for both Norwegian and English language, and she was touched by the story and wanted to convey the exact sentiments that she felt were present in the Norwegian ms. Additionally, I wouldn't have been able to cooperate as closely with any other translator as I did with Marie. During the process, which took months, we were in touch over every chapter and every paragraph, at times down to detailed discussions over a word. I think she felt no pressure to consult me like this, it was more a matter of really wishing to convey the exact same sentiment in the English text that she felt in the original Norwegian one. It was a slow and at times painstaking exercise, but I couldn't have wished for a better translation of my text.” It isn’t often that one hears about a child translating her mother’s literary work, and judging by the excellent English version here (I’ve also looked at the original Norwegian text), Marie Ostby is a skilled translator, and we will hopefully be seeing more of her translation work (perhaps she’ll translate more of her mother’s books).

In an afterword by Ruchira Gupta, she notes that this book “is an important voice in the history of slave resistance…The women of Apne Aap want a world in which it is unacceptable to buy or sell another human being, and they want to imagine an economy in which one is not forced to sell oneself. This book is about such women, and also shows that any one of us could be a Rukmini or Darya.” (p. 278). And as Anne Ostby has pointed out, “we are talking not only about a gender issue, but also about a social issue, and a poverty issue. Human trafficking is complex in its cruelty, with so many players involved, and yet it is so alarmingly simple: it’s a violation of human dignity, an unacceptable trade with human beings as merchandise.”


This is indeed an unacceptable violation of human dignity. We must bear witness to it, by reading works such as Town of Love, and we must help organisations such as Apne Aap as they attempt to ameliorate the situation for these women.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Found In Translation

I hadn’t heard of this great organization, Found In Translation, before, but thanks to my fellow Bryn Mawr College alumna Enid and her son Noah, I’m pleased to have now done so.

The organization’s mission is: “To help homeless and low-income multilingual women to achieve economic security through the use of their language skills” and “To reduce ethnic, racial, and linguistic disparities in health care by unleashing bilingual talent into the workforce”. It sounds fantastic, and I recommend that you look into the work they do.

Monday, June 23, 2014

True North: Literary Translation in the Nordic Countries

In April 2013, I ran the second Nordic Translation Conference. Based on that event, I’ve now edited a collection of articles about Nordic literary translation. The book has just been published and I think it looks great. Check it out: True North: Literary Translation in the Nordic Countries.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Spolia and Edith Södergran

Check out the most recent issue of Spolia magazine. I have some translations of poems by Edith Södergran in there, along with an introduction to her work. It's generally a great magazine too; I love how it highlights translation!

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Lost

There are many reasons why I’d recommend Daniel Mendelsohn’s wonderful book The Lost, but for now I’ll just mention Mendelsohn’s exploration of translation. He is a translator, so perhaps it makes sense that he has a particular interest in translation, but it also feeds into his story.

First of all, during some of his trips, he has an interpreter/guide with him. Few books actually acknowledge the use of interpreters, so I appreciated that he did. Many authors simply act as though they were able to communicate with local populations through their own abilities, never acknowledging that there was a layer of interpretation between them.

Also, and more importantly for the story, Mendelsohn talks about different editions of Jewish books, and the way the translators interpret the works differently, thus making the readers see them from varying perspectives. Mendelsohn’s analyses of religious passages and their interpretations are fascinating counterpoints to his travels and his explorations of his family history. For example, he discusses the story of Cain and Abel and how Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Ittzhak) and (Rabbi Richard Elliot) Friedman translate the story, and how they analyse the story and their own translations. Sometimes Mendelsohn even says which version he prefers and why. The biblical tales he chooses always fit with the themes of whatever he is thinking about or going through at the moment, and this has the effect of highlighting just how essential translation is.


I found it hard to put The Lost down, and I definitely recommend it, both for the translatorial aspects and as a generally fascinating read.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Break

Well, the semester has ended, and I feel exhausted by all the classes I’ve taught, essays I’ve read and marked, students I’ve met with, and articles and translations I’ve produced. So I’m going to take a short break. See you back here in a few weeks!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Reading at the Book Hive

If you’re in Norwich, come hear a reading of literary translations at the Book Hive bookstore on London Street on 3 June at 6.30 pm. The reading is free and will include work translated by UEA staff and students from German, Spanish, Italian, French, Swedish, Russian, Greek, and Latin. There’ll be free snacks and drinks too.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Phoneme Press

I’ve just learned about this new press, Phoneme, which is a non-profit publisher interested in translation. I hope to read at least one of their books in the near future, but for now, it’s worth looking at their website, which has some interesting media and information.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

A Round-Up of Articles

This is an interesting post about why some translators fail. You should check out the rest of the blog, too.

This article is about the mispronunciations that changed English.

This piece discusses linguistics.

Whether academic English should be quite so academic is a really fascinating debate. This article seems to argue for it remaining as it is. I, however, believe that accessibility is important. I think academics ought to try to write clearly and simply; sometimes people simply hide the fact that they have no or few ideas behind overly complex language.

This fun animation is on the history of English.

Finally, here’s a piece on English borrowing/loaning words.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Learning a New Language

Many of us who are translators are pretty obsessed with language. For some of us, this means we’re real linguaphiles, and we can’t stop ourselves from wanting to learn more tongues and take more language classes and buy more “teach yourself” language books.

I’ve been told by some people, however, that translators should just specialize and should focus on the one or two languages that they really know best. They say you can confuse yourself or spread your brain cells too thinly across the language zones. They say you no longer look like an expert but rather something of a dilettante.

I don’t agree. Yes, I think you need to continually improve your skills in your source and target languages (and this means reading, writing, speaking, and listening in them as often as possible, ideally every day). But I also think that the more you learn about other languages, the more knowledge you have about how language works generally, and how things sound in your source and target tongues in particular. You’re more open to the possibilities.


What do you think? How many languages do you know or have you studied? And out of those, how many do you work with regularly?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Market Research

Check out this journal, Tongue of the World. They say on their website that they’re not currently accepting submissions, but the journal looks intriguing, and it might be worth keeping an eye on.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Dalkey’s Certificate in Applied Literary Translation

Some of you may be interested in learning about Dalkey’s Certificate in Applied Literary Translation. Here is the information I received:

“The Dalkey Archive Press and the University of Illinois are offering a summer session of its Certificate in Applied Literary Translation from 9 June to 5 September in Dublin. The program is an intensive training experience that will result in a full-length translation and publication by the Dalkey Archive Press. The program is aimed at translators just starting their careers, and we've already had a successful track record with students in the program.

Recent publications from students include: Brendan Riley, Spanish (Final project: Hypothermia, by Álvaro Enrigue [Mexico], published 2013) Eric Lamb, French (Final project: My Beautiful Bus, by Jacques Jouet [France], published 2013] Lauren Messina, French (Final project: Origin Unknown, by Oliver Rohe [France], published 2013) Darren Koolman, Spanish (Final project: The No Variations, by Luis Chitarroni [Argentina], published 2013) Rhett McNeil, Portuguese (Final project: The Splendor of Portugal by Antonio Lobo Antunes [Portugal], published 2011)”

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Teaching about Translation/Translated Literature

Last month, I had an article in the wonderful Words Without Borders about how I try to raise awareness of translation and translated literature in my classes.

What about you? How do you think we can educate people about translation?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Thinking about Translated Texts

Literary analysis is difficult even for the most confident readers; people sometimes find it hard to get past visceral “I liked it” or “I hated it” reactions when it comes to literature. Perhaps not surprisingly, it seems even more challenging for some to think critically about translated literature.

So I’ve developed a set of reading guidelines/discussion questions, which I use in reader workshops and reading groups. I’ve included a section specifically on translation. Here are the questions I have so far:

Who is the translator?
Where is s/he from? Does that influence the translation?
What is his/her background? What education does s/he have? What languages does s/he work with? What other texts/authors has s/he translated?
What is the context s/he is translating in and what role does that play?
Is the translator also a writer? How do those two roles influence one another?
Has the translator written about the art of translation? What are his/her views on it?
How has his/her translation work been reviewed/judged/critiqued?
Can you detect the translator’s voice in the text?
Are you aware that you are reading a translation? Why do you think you notice the “translationness” of the text?
How do you think this translator has managed to maintain the author’s voice, style, rhythm, positioning of the words, relationship of words to each other, and all the other factors that make up a creative work?
Is this a “good” translation? What would that mean and how could you tell?
What makes this text international and in what ways does its “internationalness” matter? Also consider whether and how the text enhances (or, alternatively, diminishes) your understanding of the author’s or book’s cultural background.


What other points for analysis/discussion would you add?

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Common Grammar Mistakes

Okay, this video is really silly, but it does helpfully explain some common spelling/grammar mistakes, so it’s worth checking out.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Name the Translator

Lucas Klein, a translator and academic (who, coincidentally, attended the same high school in Chicago I did), wrote a great piece on naming translators in reviews.

This is such an important issue. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve written to editors or journalists to ask them to acknowledge the translator (and no, they usually don’t respond).

What can we do? We need to keep educating people, but are there other practical steps we can take?

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Story of English in 100 Words

The Story of English in 100 Words by British linguist David Crystal is a fascinating and well-written book in an easy-to-read format. Each chapter deals with only one English word that Crystal thinks is very important and that explains something about the history of English and/or English-speaking countries. Crystal explores words in detail, in an almost archaeological manner.

Some of the words he discusses are roe, riddle, bone-house, pork, grammar, undeaf, bloody, billion, polite, trek, dude, schmooze, doublespeak, blurb, sudoku and chillax. As this list shows, the words come from different time periods (the 6th century up until today), different languages (Old Norse, Latin, Yiddish, Japanese, etc.) and different aspects of life (food, politics, science, slang, etc.). The history of English is broad and interesting.

Crystals book is different from other language books because he talks about the history of the language through individual words. Most language books either just tell the story of the language through the people (i.e. the Vikings came in this year and they changed the language like this…) or through just describing the important words; Crystal does both here, at the same time. He explains, among other things, that after 1066 in England, when the Normans came, “Anglo-Saxon words could not cope with the unfamiliar domains of expression introduced by the Normans, such as law, architecture, music and literature. People had no choice but to develop new varieties of expression, adopting continental models and adapting traditional genres to cope with the French way of doing things.” (p. xv) New words included chattels and dame.

Another good example of an interesting history is the word “hello”. Crystal writes, “It’s such a natural expression, used every day as a greeting. Surely this is one of those words which has been in the language for ever? In fact, its first recorded use is less than 200 years old.” (p. 163) During the 14th century, people said hal/hail, which meant be healthy. Then they started to say hallo, hella, hillo, hollo and hullo, but now it’s most often hello and sometimes hallo. But why? “The word was around in the early 1800s, but used very informally, often as part of street slang. The more formal usage seems to have emerged when the telephone was invented. People had to have a way of starting a conversation or letting the other person know they were there, especially if they were using a line where the connection was always open…Thomas Edison, the inventor of the telephone, evidently preferred Hello. This was the word he shouted into the mouthpiece of his device when he discovered a way of recording sound in 1877.” (p. 165) Technology has influenced the development of language in many ways.


Crystal has written many books on language, including about texting language, the Bible and language, Shakespeare’s language, and dialects, and his books are always fun and interesting. You can dip into The Story of English in 100 Words as you like and learn something new about English. It’s an enjoyable read.