Thursday, January 28, 2010

Translation as a Profession

I am always quite excited when it seems that more attention is paid to translation and to translators. Our profession needs more understanding and recognition. And it needs more talented people. I encourage people to learn more about translation. But sometimes I wonder about some of the people who join the field, or who attempt to join it, or who show interest in it.

I get many emails asking for advice about how to become a translator. In the past year or so, perhaps along with the economic crisis, I’ve been disturbed to see an increase to the number of messages I get where people tell me that they need a job and think their language skills are pretty good, or that they’ve lived in a certain country and believe they could translate that country’s literature, or that they really would rather do something else, but this is a good option because they could do it from home, in between taking their kids to school, and so on.

Translation is not an easy profession. It’s a satisfying and thrilling and stimulating one, in my opinion, but it isn’t right for everyone. Nor is everyone right for translation. It is not a job to do because you happen to know a particular language sort of well. It’s not a field you can just break into by deciding that it’s the best option. It’s not something you can do while waiting for something better to come along, or even while waiting for your kids at their sports events or dance classes. It’s a profession, which means translators must be professional. Ideally, they’d also be passionate.

So if you are unsure about translation as a career and you think it is a fast and simple way of earning money, let me assure you that you are wrong. It isn’t and you’d be better off picking another job. However, if you are truly linguistically talented and knowledgeable about languages and cultures, this might be the right career for you.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dryden Translation Competition

You might want to submit work for the Dryden Competition, which is run by the British Comparative Literature Association and administered here at the University of East Anglia, in part by yours truly. You can find more details on the BCLA site or on the Dryden's Facebook page.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Books on Language

Last year, Brave New Words had our first giveaway. As part of this, we asked readers for suggestions for books on language. Here is the compiled book list:

Maya wrote: There was a classic book on language called The Mother Tongue. It must be out of print by now, but it was what started my passion for language and its history, way back in the early seventies.

Pennifer suggested: How about Horace Lunt's "Old Church Slavonic Grammar" one of my bibles when I took an OCS graduate seminar back in the day?

From Debs: I recommend David Crystal's "Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language". Covering everything from gender issues to regional variations, this gold mine of information is a definite asset on anyone's bookshelf.

S. Borei wrote: With a library full of books on language with some dating back to the early 1700s it is no easy task to choose just one or even two. So instead of picking an out-and-out reference work, let me recommend one that has given me both insights and pleasure - the latter a somewhat rare commodity for someone who struggles constantly with language. So for that then, I recommend Karen Elizabeth Gordon's "The Deluxe Transvestite Vampire – the ultimate handbook of grammar for the innocent, the eager and the doomed." It's a wondrous window on the winsome, winning ways of words.

Susan King recommended: I grew up in a house filled with books. I don't remember the exact title but I loved browsing through Menken's American Language when I was in Junior High. I didn't understand much of it, but it was fun.

Jaax suggested: My bible for paper-writing: The Little, Brown Handbook by H. Ramsey Fowler and Jane E. Aaron.

Nina wrote: _In the Land of Invented Languages_ by Akira Okrent discusses non-naturally occuring languages like Esperanto, Klingon, Bliss Symbols (an early communication system for people with disabilities who are nonverbal. This is perhaps an unconventional choice, but I read it some time ago, and found it interesting.

A. Argandona recommended: I recently bought in France 'Le Pourquoi des Choses' by Anne Pouget. It is a very entertaining read about word origins, expressions and curiosities.

From Liz Nutting: One of my favorites is Sin and Syntax, by Constance Hale. She gives the grammar and syntax rules--then tells you how to break them for more effective prose!

From Luella Goodman: I still think "Eats, Roots and Leaves" by Lynne Truss is a winner in terms of presenting idiosyncracies of English punctuation in an entertaining read that appeals to both professional and lay linguists. Its tongue-in-cheek style dares any wannabe writer to flex their punctuation muscles!

Stephen wrote: Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language by Steven Pinker. Steven Pinker examines a rather narrow topic (irregular and regular verbs) and the cognitive processes behind these verbs. In it, Pinker explores how language is stored, produced, learned, etc. The book is more technical than his more famous work, The Language Instinct, but for anyone who wants to understand regular and irregular verbs and the many language oddities that come along with these verbs, it is a wonderful read. It will teach you more about language processes than almost any other mainstream book on the market.

Ben Boblis recommended: I love Native Tongues by Charles Berlitz. I can read it over and over and always find something new and interesting. It has a little bit about a lot. :)

Lauren Redman wrote: I'd like to recommend a fairly new book titled 'The Secret Life of Words' by Henry Hitchings. It's about the 'promiscuous' English language and how it came to have so many words - and synonyms - from over 350 other languages! It's entertainingly written and includes a bit of history too. Lots of interesting tidbits to drop into the dinner conversation!

Mehregan suggested: Halliday's An Introduction to Functional Grammar is a quite fruitful book. It is the basis of My M.A. thesis. I found wonderful notions about different languages especially English. I am not an English native speaker but this book took me to the depth of English.

From Prof Adam: I would recommend Bill Bryson'a book, "mother tongue" as it is a truly fascinating book about the Development and history of the English Language. I would also recommend "Troublesome Words" by the same author as it highlights interesting uses and misuses of modern English.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Sontag Prize

Some readers may be interested in applying for the Sontag Prize. Here is the information:

This $5,000 grant will be awarded to a proposed work of literary translation from Swedish, Norwegian, Danish or Icelandic into English and is open to anyone under the age of 30. The translation must fall under the category of fiction or letters, and the applicant will propose his or her own translation project. The project should be manageable for a five-month period of work, as the grant will be awarded in May 2010, and the translation must be completed by October 2010.

Acceptable proposals include a novella, a play, a collection of short stories or poems, or a collection of letters that have literary import. Preference will be given to works that have not been previously translated. (Previously translated works will be considered, however applicants should include an explanation for why they are proposing a new translation.) Applicants wishing to translate significantly longer works should contact the Foundation before sending in their applications so that supplementary materials can be included. The prizewinner will be notified on May 14, 2010 and results will be announced online at

The recipient will be expected to participate in symposia on literary translation with established writers and translators, as well as public readings of their work once the translation has been completed.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Happy 2010, and a Holiday Peeve

Ah, the holidays! Personally, I'm glad the season is over now, but I hope all you readers had a good time, and that 2010 is wonderful year for you, filled with translation and literature!

As is my custom, I recently donated money to a charity run by a major organization for the holiday season. I received a card in thanks and this card had grammar and punctuation errors! It's enough to make me not want to donate to this organization again. I've also chosen not to go to restaurants whose signs or menus have errors or to shop at stores that use apostrophes incorrectly, and so on.

This is a lesson to all of us who work with language -- we must make sure all our materials (business cards, websites, pamphlets, emails, etc) are impeccable! Otherwise, clients may choose someone else to take on the assignments.