Sunday, April 29, 2007

Three Lacks and a Partial Solution

In this Chronicle of Higher Education article, three distinct lacks are highlighted: the lack of trained translators and interpreters in the United States, the lack of translation and interpretation programs there, and the lack of funding for such programs.

An interesting partial solution to these problems is that the National Virtual Translation Center sends “unclassified government documents to translation professors at several universities to give to their students as course work”. That means that students get more translation practice and the government gets its documents translated. It seems to work well as an additional way of training new translators, even though more funding is needed.

The United States is pretty far behind Europe in terms of the number and content of translation training programs (not to mention translation studies programs, which are not the same thing). The little interest shown there for languages has already been discussed on this blog, but clearly this is a problematic situation.

The next post will be about another way of training translators, this one a program in the Netherlands.

Thank you to Erika Dreifus for sending me this article!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Fairness in Payment Practices

I recently came across this website, which compares English texts with their translations. It claims to give information on how 100 English words translate to other languages. I can’t attest to the truthfulness of most of the figures here, but as for the Swedish amount given (103), I have to disagree. Generally, an English text becomes shorter, in terms of word counts, in Swedish, because Swedish allows for longer words (created by putting two or more words together into one).

Despite the possible inconclusiveness of the numbers on this site, it relates to an interesting and important issue. Since translators get paid by the source word, should the pay be different depending on which direction a translator works in? How does, or should, this asymmetry in word count affect translators’ fees?

For example, if a Swedish to English translator gets 12 cents per source word, should an English to Swedish translator get a lower amount per word (since s/he will have more source words)? Or should the English to Swedish translator get paid per target word instead? Or is the system fair as it is?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Revise inglish spelling by Guest Blogger Theo Halladay

Recently, I began a correspondence with Theo Halladay about English spelling. Ms. Halladay graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1948 and is a “retired Montessori scool teecher, artist, art teecher, composer of 30+ songs & coral anthems” with “riting credits in 23 publications.” You will notice from that description that Ms. Halladay uses simplified spelling. That’s why I asked her to be a guest blogger and to tell us about spelling reform. I hope readers will respond to her post about reforming English spelling!

Revise inglish spelling by Theo Halladay:

Brett has askd me to rite sumthing about the movement to update & reggularize inglish spelling. I am activ in the Simplified Spelling Society, based in London, England & founded in 1908. We ar a group of educators & uthers in inglish-speeking cuntrys all over the world, who ar concernd about the massiv illiteracy problem – between 20 & 40 million functional illiterats in the US alone. We note that uther european cuntrys hav updated their spelling sistems so words ar speld the way they sound. English has never dun this, with the result that italian children, for example, lern in 2 yeers wot menny anglo children fale to master in 12, namely how to spel their own language corectly. Unemployment, crime & the high cost of scooling ar the results.

Eleetists & stubborn “inglish traditionalists” jellusly gard a mishmash of uneddited spellings from 4 difrent language roots - words wich must all be individdualy memmorized, since spelling patterns ar not at all consistent. e.g. do we realy need 11 difrent ways of spelling the sound ee?

We solicit ideas from people like yurselvs as to wot & how menny changed spellings would be tollerated the best, not only by angloes but also by foreners. Chek out our magnificent archives on the history of spelling reform, & join us as we argue the subject & plan for our CENTENNIAL convention in England next yeer!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The London Book Fair and the Case of the Missing Rights

Yesterday, as I was reading this article about the London Book Fair, learning how the agents and editors “schmooze,” as the article puts it, and make deals at this fair (which doesn’t seem to include many actual writers, not to even mention translators), I came across the following sentence: “They do so [that is, schmooze and make deals] every fall at the Frankfurt Book Fair, but increasingly London is their gathering place in the spring, above all for the lucrative part of the publishing industry that involves selling foreign rights for English-language books.”

“Foreign rights for English-language books.”

So what happened to the English rights for foreign-language books? Does anyone else find it sad (but, unfortunately, not surprising) that a major international book fair is focused on spreading English-language material rather than (or in addition to) on making it possible for publishers to expose English-speaking audiences to all the great books in other languages? I’ve said before, I find it lamentable, and worth working to change.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

More on Translating Harry Potter and Other Children’s Literature

Awhile back, I posted a link to an article on translating the Harry Potter books. Here is another article (in two parts) and it goes into some specific issues more in-depth. I still haven’t read the books in question, but I nevertheless find that this article gives me a lot to think about.

Thank you to Gili Bar-Hillel for sending these links to me. Ms. Bar-Hillel is the Hebrew translator of the Harry Potter books and other works and I met her at the conference recently described. She is mentioned in this article: “Gili Bar-Hillel, the Hebrew translator, agrees that the pressure is intense but in her case believes that this actually contributes to the quality of her translations, for two reasons: first, she must by necessity be single-mindedly focused on the task, and second, everyone around her—including her family—is geared to helping her work as fast and as effectively as possible.” Lucky Gili to have such a supportive family and to be able to work so well under pressure!

Here are a few comments on part one of this article:

“…translations of the first four volumes into Russian had been widely criticized for inaccuracies, a lack of fantasy, and inserted moralizing…” – I find it interesting that children’s books (okay, adults read Harry Potter, too, but they are still children’s books) have added moralizing. This has been a common issue in the translation of children’s literature (which happens to be my primary research field), but I would have liked to believe that translation these days had moved beyond this idea of adults thinking that they know best what children ought to read, and what they ought to get out of their reading. Would this happen in a work of fiction for adults? In my experience, generally not. I wonder if this has occurred in any other translations of these books.

As for cultural issues: “Translators have several options, including de-Anglicizing the text, leaving names and concepts as they are (but including explanations of particularly difficult notions, such as Christmas crackers, Halloween, and Cornflakes—the latter having earned a footnote in the Chinese translation, to indicate that these are consumed immersed in milk for breakfast), or some combination of the two.” I’d be curious to know if any readers of the Harry Potter books in other languages have noticed any particular strategies for cultural topics. Some people think that domestication (the term for when a translator removes the foreign elements from a text and adapts the work to his or her own culture) might be more common in texts for children, because of the idea that children will find “exotic” items, such as kinds of cereal or holidays, confusing. My personal view, however, is that exposing people – whether children or adults – to new things is generally beneficial.

A somewhat related topic is UK versus US English. J.K. Rowling’s comments here are interesting (though I am not sure why American children would be confused by the idea of a philosopher – does that say something about the US educational system?): “Along with her American editor, J.K. Rowling decided that beyond Americanizing the spelling (flavour/flavor, recognise/recognize, etc.), words should be altered only where it was felt they would be incomprehensible, even in context, to an American reader. “I have had some criticism from other British writers about allowing any changes at all, but I feel the natural extension of that argument is to go and tell French and Danish children that we will not be translating Harry Potter, so they’d better go and learn English,” Rowling says. Thus dustbin becomes trashcan and a packet of crisps is turned into a bag of chips. Dumbledore is barking in Britain but off his rocker across the Atlantic. Most importantly, at the suggestion of the American editor, the title of the first book was altered from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, both to avoid what might be thought of as a reference to misleading subject matter, and to reflect Harry’s magical powers. The choice of Sorcerer’s Stone was Rowling’s idea.”

As for part two of the article:

I found this comment somewhat odd: “Contact with J.K. Rowling is not an option, as the author has generally not made herself accessible to the translators, nor has her agent been especially forthcoming on problematic areas of the translations.” – One would think an author would want to be helpful, in order to help make the translations of his or her work as good as possible. Some may expect the work to speak for itself, but the fact is that translators may still have questions, and thus contact with the author would be a great book.

And, finally, let’s end on a slightly depressing note: “Torstein Hoverstad, the Norwegian translator of Harry Potter, is among the many who have described the experience of being a literary translator as that of attempting something inherently impossible, being badly paid, and remaining virtually invisible—and that’s if you’re successful.”

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Translation Issue of Poetry Magazine

Poetry magazine’s April issue is all translation. A few of their poems are online (including one by one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda) and what I especially liked about the issue is that the translators (including Paul Muldoon and Robert Pinsky) have written notes to go along with the poems.

Charles Simic jokes in his note that hell is full of translators of poems, but one of the things that I found interesting here is the variety of ways the translators view their work – some took liberties (Michael Hofmann added what he termed an “opportunistic refinement,” a reference to Fox News in Gunter Eich’s poem, which I found jarring, and A.E. Stallings felt more liberty because she made the translation for someone who knew Alcman’s original poem in Ancient Greek), while others, such as Mr. Simic, seemed anxious to not make any changes or additions at all (he frets over having broken one of Novica Tadic’s lines into two), though most are somewhere in the middle.

In their notes, the translators discuss word choices, the sounds of the poems (such as the sensuousness of Coral Bracho’s Spanish), the formal qualities of the work (Robin Robertson says that Pablo Neruda’s ode to tuna is shaped like Chile, and Peter Cole describes Yitzhaq Alahdab’s “four monorhymed distichs in the Hebrew deployed in a quantitative meter”), and how their languages compare to English (Shawkat M. Toorawa, the translator of Adonis’ poem, mentions that Arabic has no capital letters, which means that it differentiates between God and god by using different words, while J.M. Coetzee feels that Afrikaans and English are both Germanic and thus there are no structural difficulties). Also described are their roles as translators (Kathleen Jamie minimizes her efforts, since she says all Gaelic writers know English and could easily translate their own work), how they work (Mr. Robertson apparently referred to a previous translation of the same poem, and others worked with the poet and/or with a rough English draft provided by the poet), and even why they translate (Ewa Hryniewicz-Yarbrough writes in the note to her translation from the Polish of Janusz Szuber’s poem that “Reading a poem and loving it aren’t enough for translators; they have to translate it, since translation brings them closest to owning the object they love. But the translator’s love has nothing selfish about it: he or she desires to possess the object of that love only to share it with others.”)

It’s also nice to see a variety of languages included, even some less common ones, such as Korean, Belarusian, Gaelic, Swahili, and Hungarian. I, of course, would have liked to see one of the Scandinavian languages represented, however.

Perhaps more literary magazines will begin to focus on translated works as well now; if so, publishing the original text alongside the translation and commentary from the translator seems like the ideal situation. Reading the translators’ notes on the poems added to my understanding and enjoyment of the work.

Thanks to Erika Dreifus for telling me about this issue of Poetry and also to the kind person who sent me the issue!

A Year of the Blog

Today is the blog’s first anniversary, so I want to thank you for reading, and also for all the responses I’ve gotten, some on the blog itself, but mostly by e-mail. It’s great to see how many people are interested in translation!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

More on the Conference

In the last post, I wrote about what I presented on at the Child and the Book conference in Istanbul. Now I’d like to tell a little more about the conference in general.

The keynote presentation was by Professor Zohar Shavit from Israel. She spoke about the development of children’s literature and children’s culture. Initially, children were viewed simply as small adults with special needs, and gradually childhood became a concept of its own, and children were recognized as distinct from adults in many respects. However, Professor Shavit pointed out that among the upper classes, both children and the lower classes (often service people) were viewed as dependent, and in need of help. This connection between children’s culture and people and things that were service-related or on the (espeically lower) periphery of adult culture is primarily what she discussed. Examples include the trend for sailor outfits for children and rocking horses as toys. One positive aspect of all this, she thought, is that the ambivalent status of children’s literature allows it to discuss issues that are not considered appropriate in literature for adults.

The guest author at the conference was Swedish writer Åsa Lind, whose work has been translated to many languages, but unfortunately not English. She told many entertaining stories about her background and career and how she writes, but also mentioned the literary hierarchy and how children’s authors are often lowest. Little importance is attached to children’s literature, for a variety of reasons. But on the contrary, Ms. Lind thought, this shouldn’t be the case, since writing for adults excludes children, while people who write for children include everyone. Children’s literature is thus inclusive and deserves more respect. She also said, “Stories are essential for kids. It’s a question of democracy. When you have the language, you can be part of the society in which you live.”

Throughout the conference, there were parallel presentations on a multitude of issues related to the translation of children’s literature. Many of the lectures sounded interesting (although despite the fact that the theme of the conference was translation, a surprising number seemed only tangentially related), so it was hard to choose which to attend, and perhaps the conference should have been longer so there were fewer choices to make. My favorite presentation was by Belgian Professor Jan van Coillie, who spoke about translating poetry for children, which he views as “the ultimate challenge”. He identified several strategies for translating poetry: repetition (literal translation), addition, deletion, submission, and transmutation. Poetry is especially challenging because the translator must pay careful to attention to the formal, semantic, and pragmatic levels, whereas in other kinds of translation, there isn’t as much interplay between the three levels, nor necessarily as much emphasis on each of them. In addition, Professor van Coillie mentioned how literature can be used for the transmission of norms or morals, and also how there are many different possible text functions (such as recreative, creative, emotive, and educative). He is working on creating a general comprehensive methodology and strategy for translating poetry for children, so his research is fascinating.

Besides all the academic presentations, during the conference, there was also a panel on the history of Turkish children’s literature, a performance of karagöz (traditional shadow puppet theater -- see the photo below), and a presentation on a special Turkish anthology used to educate teenagers about violence.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Child and the Book Conference and Translating Dialects

I am back from Turkey now and eager to tell you about the the Child and the Book conference, which is an annual conference on children’s literature that focused on translation this year.

I gave a presentation on the translation of dialects in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Alan Garner’s The Stone Book Quartet. In my analysis of those books and their Swedish translations, I identified four major strategies for translating the dialects: standardization (removing the dialect and using standard language in its place), orthography and grammar (using grammatical and orthographic ‘mistakes’ and/or eye dialect), replacement (replacing the source dialect with any target dialect, or one that is geographically, socioeconomically, culturally, or stereotypically a relatively close match), and compensation (employing temporal or regional dialect in different places/amounts). Another possible strategy is omission (deleting any phrases or sections containing dialect), but I didn’t notice that in those two books, probably because not much would have been left if the translators had done that.

What is especially interesting to study in the translation of dialects in children’s literature versus that in literature for adults is whether translators feel more freedom and/or responsibility. Many adults – parents, writers, librarians, teachers, publishers, and so on – believe that children ought not be exposed to dialects; they think that the standard dialect of a language is the only correct one, or the only useful one to know. So I wonder if authors of books for children might feel more hesitant about employing dialects and also if translators of such books might be more likely to standardize the language. My opinion is that if an author has chosen to use a dialect, the translator should attempt to find a way of portraying it in the target text, but that is unfortunately not what always happens.

In the next post, I’ll write more about the conference in general.