Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Round-Up of Articles and Videos

Time for a round-up of interesting articles and videos.

Here is an
article on words meaning what they say/how they sound.

The next
piece is on standardizing English and it relates to a guest post featured on Brave New Words last year.

brief video is about how Aramaic is still being used in some villages today.

Ars Magna,
short documentary, is about about anagrammist Cory Calghoun.

Finally, this
parody song, “I Am Thesaurus,” is a play on the Beatles’ “I am the Walrus.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Learn Vocabulary and Help Others

I freely admit that I love word games. Scrabble is probably my favorite (and if you’re on facebook, feel free to join me in a game – scrabble is about the only good thing I think facebook has - but make sure you let me know who you are when you "friend" me!).

Anyway, a word game I found not long ago is Free Rice and it is addictive and also is a way of donating to charity. You correctly define words and rice is donated through the UN World Food Program. That’s a game worth playing!

Friday, May 23, 2008

On Loan Words

An article in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet about Finland Swedish claims that “loan words are the spice of a language.” On the other hand, some languages are staunchly against loan words and try to create new words rather than borrow ones from other tongues. What do you think?

What are your favorite loan words? Or words that you think should be loaned from one language to another?

I have written here before about my desire to see the Swedish word “sambo” adopted to English. Share some of your favorites!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Summer School for Translators

Here is some information on a summer school for translators:

The British Centre for Literary Translation has been offering the International Literary Translation Summer School, the highlight of our annual programme of activities, since 2000. Every year acclaimed writers and translators are gathered together for an intense week of translation workshops, panel discussions, and talks, culminating in multilingual readings of the work accomplished. This residential programme takes place from 20-26 July at the University of East Anglia, with participants coming from many different countries. The languages represented change from year to year, and in 2008 will include the following:

Arabic to English
Translator/Workshop Leader: Paul Starkey. Writer: Hassan Daoud

English to Italian
Translator/Workshop Leader: Susanna Basso. Writer: Giles Foden

German to English
Translator/Workshop Leader: Shaun Whiteside. Writer: Lena Gorelik

Translator/Workshop Leader: Paddy Bushe. Poet: Gabriel Rosenstock

Portuguese to English
Translator/Workshop Leader: Daniel Hahn. Writer: José Eduardo Agualusa

Spanish to English
Translator/Workshop Leader: Cecilia Rossi. Writer: Carmen Posadas

Registration is now open and bursaries are available.
For more information and registration details, please visit the BCLT website: .

Friday, May 16, 2008

Avoiding the Influence of English

I’ve recently discovered a great site for those who translate to Swedish or use Swedish in any way. It looks at English words that are being used unnecessarily in Swedish and gives the Swedish equivalents of these words. While some countries reject the influence of English and other languages, others, such as Sweden, seem to absorb too much, to the point that people use English words rather than perfectly acceptable Swedish ones. This site tries to rectify that. I wonder if there are websites like this for other languages.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Writing for Young Adults

Writing for young adults is a relatively new genre (a genre, some say, that has been created by the pressures of marketing) and recently, I've had two opportunities to learn more about it. The first was a workshop I attended several weeks ago at the Arvon Foundation (at their center in beautiful Yorkshire), taught by writers Linda Newbery and Nick Manns (with the entertaining, controversial Melvin Burgess as a guest speaker), and the second was a lecture yesterday by Scottish writer James Jauncey, the author of a new book for young adults entitled The Witness.

What I've found is that authors themselves aren't always certain they are writing for young adults. They feel they are just writing books, period. That the texts may have characters who are young adults does not necessarily mean the work should be limited (in terms of marketing and readership, that is) to young people. Mr. Jauncey pointed out that if books such as The Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird had been labelled as being for children or young adults, they might never have become as popular or well-read as they did. The label limits the work.

What all the writers I heard or spoke to in recent weeks have mentioned is that creating a category of books for young adults is generally a choice made by publishers, teachers, parents, and other adults, and some believe that it stems from two major issues: the desire to make money and the idea of reducing risk. For the former, having another genre creates more opportunities for marketing (and also for producing side products, films, tv shows, etc.). As for the latter, people today do not want to make choices or to have to be accountable. A parent may not have the time or interest to read and vet their children's reading choices. So a little label on a book that says which age group it is suitable for removes responsibility from the adults. And it also supports publishers; some parents complain to the publishers if their children are exposed to words or themes they do not deem appropriate. Now, publishers can say, "Well, there was a label on there, so if your child read a book that was not age-appropriate, that was your fault, not ours."

Besides the genre reducing responsibility, it also imposes limits. Many authors say their publisher makes them aware of words or topics they must avoid. Mr. Jauncey claimed he did not consider language or appropriateness; all he thinks about when writing is being honest to the story and the characters and telling the tale as authentically and truthfully as he can. Other writers are not so lucky, however, and this is something people must consider when working on a book that they think may be aimed at children or young adults.

A point Ms. Newbery made is that children tend to read up, so they can learn what is coming next in their lives. She felt that 9-12 year-olds wouldn't read the books labelled as being for that age group; instead, they'd books for the 13-15 year-old set, because they are looking towards that time in their lives.

But does all this mean that children and young adults don't read about adults? Or that adults don't read about young people? I really don't think so, even if publishers seem to believe that. Why is there so much separation in literature now? Mr. Jauncey reminded us that there are no books for 30-year-olds or for 80-year-olds. In a way, of course, one can understand that the childhood and teenage years are a challenging time and that young people like and need to read about others their age. But when I was young, I certainly read voraciously about people of all ages, not to mention all backgrounds, religions, genders, races, and so on, and I know I am not alone in this. Are we underestimating young people? Are we doing them a disservice by deciding what books and topics they should have access to?

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Bad President Under a Crowd

Not long ago, I was somewhere that had several flat-screen televisions lining the walls. The volume on the tvs was off, but programs were playing anyway, and closed-captioning was used so those watching could know what was being said.

I know that closed-captioning, unlike subtitling, is generally in real-time, but I was still surprised by the number of mistakes -- there were errors in nearly every sentence. Some were really odd, though many were clearly based on phonetic confusions. Sometimes a caption was corrected, but usually the viewer was left to puzzle it out (and to giggle, as in my case).

Here are a few of the wrong captions I recall:

“This sets a bad president” instead of “This sets a bad precedent”
“Now things are under a crowd” instead of “Now things are under a cloud”
“This is about award” instead of “This is about a war”

Bad closed-captioning and bad subtitling can definitely set a bad president.