Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pirated Translations

I recently started getting the bi-monthly email newsletter called “Annogram”, sent out by Ann Cefola, whom I met at the AWP conference in January. The newest issue has the following interesting information:

Free translations lead to book sales

Thanks to translator Ruth A. Gentes Krawczyk ( for this fascinating piece of marketing insight:

Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho has grown his readership with free translations. Fortune says, "Intrigued by his growing sales in Russia, Coelho used the Bittorrent site—a favorite for illicit distribution of media—to seek out and download online translations of his books as well as audio versions. By 2006 he was hosting an entire sub-site he called The Pirate Coelho, with links to books in many languages."

His newsletter is said to have 200,000 subscribers and Coelho indicates he gets about 1,000 e-mails from fans every day. "I don't understand why publishers don't understand that this new medium is not killing books," Coelho says. "I'm doing it mostly because the joy of a writer is to be read. But at the end of the day, you will sell more books."

I’ve heard a lot about the music and software industries being upset about torrents, but there hasn’t been as much news about how the publishing industry is dealing with this technology. So it is interesting to see what one author is doing with pirated trans
l├Ąted editions.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

An Editor’s Rant: On Using Foreign Languages in a Text

Today’s post is more of a rant. Why do authors who want to include words or phrases in foreign languages not check that they are using the correct spelling and grammar (unless, of course, there is a reason for using something in the wrong way, such as to show that a character is pretentious but really ignorant)? Why don’t editors check these things?

In recent weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of work in Swedish. In Sweden, it can be considered cool to include English in a poem or short story, or an author may genuinely find that there is something she or he must say in English rather than in Swedish. But often, I find serious mistakes. And to be honest, the author has lost me as soon as I see that she or he (or the editor or publisher) couldn’t be bothered to have an editor check over the text.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Round-Up of Articles

For the next week, I am going to be away attending a workshop and there is apparently no internet access there. I am sure I will go through withdrawal, but I’ll look forward to posting upon my return.

Here are a few articles for you to read in the meantime.

This article is about learning specialized vocabulary and includes the following quote: “Sailing is just one more thing I’ve taken up as an adult but wish I’d begun doing as a child. The reason for wishing that isn’t just the experience that would have accrued by now. It’s the innateness you feel for things you have been doing a long, long time, the utter lack of self-consciousness with which you inhabit a language that seems outlandish to newcomers.”

The next piece is a review of Indo-European Poetry and Myth by M.L. West and it discusses the language of asterisks, i.e. the ur-Indo-European language:
“West reconstructs the Indo-European world on increasingly complex levels: first language (grammar and vocabulary); then poetry; then myth. Poetry, with some of the formal solidity of language and some of the inspirational idiosyncrasies of myth, mediates between them. The poetic parallels can be quite striking, and West makes the most of them. Of a certain pattern of three proper names, for instance, he says: ‘It is hard to avoid the inference that this was a traditional formula from the common poetic inheritance. Here we seem to find a remnant of the Indo-European storyteller’s building work: a recognisable structural component, with the lineaments of its verbal patterning still in place.’”

Finally, this article discusses a way of writing that might become popular in the future. Here is the man who wrote 200,000 books!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Translation Subsidies

For my initial description of the London Book Fair see Erika Dreifus' blog Practicing Writing. In this post, I just want to expand on something I mentioned in the other one: translation subsidies.

Many of the literary organizations I spoke to, such as Finnish Literature Exchange, Arts Council of Sweden, Norwegian Literature Abroad, Icelandic Literature Fund, and Danish Arts Agency’s Literature Centre (I am just mentioning the ones from the Nordic countries here, since I know the most about them, but I spoke to others as well), offer subsidies to publishers for translation, sometimes for as much as 75% of the cost. Usually, only publishers are allowed to apply, though translators (especially those who have a contract with a publisher) can sometimes apply for grants, too, such as to travel to meet the author whose work they are translating.

In The Deal, the magazine of the book fair, Israeli author Amos Oz is quoted as having said: “As you read a foreign novel, you are actually invited into other people’s living rooms, into their nurseries and studies, into their bedrooms. You are invited into their secret sorrows, into their family joys, into their dreams. Which is why I believe in literature as a bridge between peoples. I believe curiosity can be a moral quality.”

So, I suggest all you translators to find books you love in whatever languages you translate from, and then to try to get publishers to publish these works; telling them about these subsidies, information about which is not always easily accessible, may encourage them to take a chance on books they would otherwise claim not to have money for. Subsidies may also ease the translator’s work, too.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Two Years On

Well, Brave New Words is celebrating its second birthday today with its 232nd post.

I thought it would be nice to spend the day laughing (or maybe crying, depending on your point of view), so here's a
link to some badly translated signs.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Can We Can-Can With Cans? Or, Educating Customers About Machine Translation

A few weeks ago, someone from a publishing company sent me an email. She said that a book she was working on included one sentence in Swedish and she wondered if I could edit that sentence (for free, natch).

So, though I had a lot of (paying) work and was out of the country, I looked at the original English and compared it to the Swedish. It was bizarrely bad. It was one of those sentences that includes words that can have multiple (non-related) translations and it was as though someone had just picked the first possible word from the dictionary rather than paying attention to the context and to parts of speech (for example, in the sentence I just wrote, I used the word "can" as a verb. "Can" can also be a noun, as in "a can of beans". And then there's the "can-can", but that's a different story.). There was no way that the sentence she sent me could have been translated by a professional translator.

I asked the editor who had done the translation and I also mentioned how terrible it was. She responded that it was, of course, from the internet. She didn't seem at all aware that machine translations might not be reliable. And she told me, rather shortly, I felt, to just fix it up right away.

Now, I am someone who believes in always responding to emails I receive and I am also someone who believes strongly in educating customers and consumers whenever possible. But in this case, I was so annoyed by her attitude (just assuming I was going to do work for her for free, especially given that I was out of the country and away from my desk, which she knew from the fact that I had an away message on) and by her somewhat snobby ignorance that I just couldn't bring myself to reply to her. I should have turned it into a lesson for her, but I had so much else going on and was so offended by her messages that I let it go. I regret that now.

But my regret is not really the point here. The point is -- how can we wean people off machine translations? How can we teach them what translation really is and what it involves? And how can we get people to understand that our time and expertise don't come free?

Just think about this -- everyone reading this will know what I meant by those questions. But if you run them through a machine translator, you'll probably get some nonsense about tin cans instead. That's simply not good enough.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Creoles and Pidgins

This is a topic I have not yet mentioned on this blog.

First, here is a definition of pidgins and Creoles, as offered in this review of Bastard Languages by Derek Bickerton, who sounds like an interesting man who has written what promises to be a fascinating book.

“Pidgins are contact languages invented by people who don’t share a language to use. Pidgin speakers, Bickerton explains, will “use words from your language if they know them; if not, they’ll use words from their own, and hope you know them, and failing that, words from any other language that might happen to be around.” Some pidgins, like Chinese Pidgin English (once spoken along China’s coast) or the Chinook jargon of the American Northwest, originated in voluntary trade contexts. Others arose from the slave trade and plantation economies.

Compared with pidgins, Creoles have bigger vocabularies and more grammar; the conventional view is that they are pidgins that became someone’s native language (though some linguists disagree). Many Creoles — like Saramaccan, an English/Portuguese Creole spoken in Suriname, and Seselwa, a French Creole spoken in the Seychelles — have more features in common (like their verbs) than you’d expect from languages that have never been in contact. Is this because they were created when English, French or Portuguese words were laid onto the same bed of grammar as African languages? Or because later generations learned both the pidgin and their parents’ languages, mingling the two? Or because a pidgin was created once, perhaps in a West African slave trade outpost or by sailors, and then transmitted elsewhere?

Bickerton swats down all these theories and explains how he arrived at his own solution, the language bioprogram hypothesis, which he elaborated in the book “Roots of Language” (1981). According to this idea, a pidgin becomes a Creole when children learn it, filling in the grammatical gaps with patterns and words that come not from any specific language but from some universal language template they all carry in their heads. This was an extension of Noam Chomsky’s influential claim for an innate universal grammar possessed uniquely by humans.”

Next, here is an interesting article on Sranan Tongo, one of the languages in Suriname.

Finally, this website offers information and many useful resources for teaching and researching about Creoles and pidgins. I couldn’t find anything on this website about translation, however, and it seems that if a language is translated to, that gives it more legitimacy in some ways. Perhaps that is an area for future research.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Hans Christian Andersen and Translation

At the Nordic Translation Conference last month, our featured Danish author was Stig Dalager, who read from his novel Journey in Blue. This novel is about Hans Christian Andersen, who is, of course, most famous for his fairy tales. Mr. Dalager’s novel did not exactly make Andersen seem like the kind of man I’d want to be friends with, but I did enjoy learning about the person behind “The Little Mermaid” and other such works.

So I found it interesting to read about Andersen in today’s
Writer’s Almanac, especially because the information includes a brief discussion of translation, and how translation affected our pereception of his work.

Here is a long quote:

It's the birthday of the author of many of our best-known fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen, born in Odense, Denmark (1805). His mother was an uneducated washerwoman and his father was a shoemaker who died when Hans was 11 years old. He grew up in poverty.

At the age of 14, he moved to Copenhagen to start a career as a singer, dancer, and actor. He knocked on doors of famous producers and directors, introducing himself as a poet and a playwright. Finally, he landed a spot in the Royal Theatre singing school and later the Royal Theatre ballet. The director of the theater saw that Andersen was a talented child and paid for him to go to grammar school when he was 17. There he studied with 10- and 11-year-olds and made up for his lack of an education as a younger child. He had a beautiful soprano voice, but had to leave the Royal Theatre school after his voice began to change.

He was extremely neurotic. One of his fears was that he would be buried alive, and to reassure himself each night he would prop a note next to his bed that read, "I only appear to be dead."

Andersen finished his first novel, The Improvisatore, in 1835. He was waiting for it to be published and he desperately needed money for rent, so he quickly wrote and published a pamphlet containing four fairy tales. It was such a big success that he published a new collection of fairy tales every Christmas for the next few years. They were cheap paperback editions, and they grew to be extremely popular. He started off by retelling the stories he had heard from his parents as a child, but then he began making up his own. Between 1835 and 1872, he published 168 fairy tales, including "The Little Mermaid," "The Emperor's New Clothes," "The Snow Queen," "Princess and the Pea," and "The Nightingale" and "The Ugly Duckling."

People often think of Andersen's fairy tales as light-hearted and optimistic, but he wrote many tragic tales with unhappy endings. The first English translations of the tales were done by a woman who deleted disturbing passages and made them more sentimental than Andersen intended. Many children today only know the fairy tales through cartoon movie spin-offs or simplified versions in children's picture books.