Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy Holidays

I hope you have a lovely and relaxing holiday season. Personally, I plan to take some time off to read for pleasure and to work on my own writing and translating.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Charitable Feelings and Translation

Though most of us who translate need to earn a living from our work, there are times when we will take on translation, editing, or writing jobs for no money. Mostly this is when we are feeling charitable and want to donate to an organization and when our donation comes in the form of our time and effort and not tangible money.

For example, I organized and edited the Bryn Mawr College Cookbook, a project that took months. All the proceeds went to my alma mater. I must confess that I was a bit surprised and offended when the college wrote me later that year to urge me to donate money to the school; I did a quick calculation and found that the time I’d spent putting the book together equaled several thousands of dollars worth of donations to the school, and that didn’t even include the time others had donated to the project or the proceeds the school received. Still, I was happy to do it.

But a university is not a charity. I’ve also done writing, editing, and translating for charitable organizations and for individuals, as a way of offering them some professional help that they might otherwise have had to pay for.

During this holiday season, I urge you to do likewise. If you can spare just a little of your time and your talents to help someone or an organization, I am sure that would be much appreciated.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Gillian Lathey and The Role of Translators in Children’s Literature

A few months ago, I published a review of Dr. Gillian Lathey’s latest contribution to translation studies. Her work on children’s literature is both important and fascinating, and she’s also a passionate speaker. Dr. Lathey, who teaches at Roehampton University in London, gave a great talk to my students this semester about the influence of translators on children’s literature and she also led a workshop for my MA students, encouraging them to look at various issues in regard to translating children’s lit. Here is the review:

The Role of Translators in Children’s Literature: Invisible Storytellers. Gillian Lathey. New York: Routledge, 2010. 241 pages. £76 (hardcover). ISBN: 078-0-415-98952-7.

Gillian Lathey’s latest contribution to the field of children’s literature in translation looks at the history of children’s literature in translation into English. Lathey provides an overview of translators and the role of the books and genres that they translated. As she points out, “Evidence from these biographical, bibliographical, and historical sources and from translators’ prefaces, afterwords, notes, and other writings has yet to be organised into a chronological account of translations and their resonance in English-language children’s literature. This book can only offer a starting point for such a major undertaking.” (5) It is an excellent starting point, and one can only hope that there will soon follow such histories of other languages.
Lathey’s book traces how early translators translated, without considering any particular special needs that children as an audience might have. Works for adults were read by and/or told to children, and this primarily included the Bible, romances/adventure stories, and fables and fairy tales. Even through the late 15th century, “[c]hildren were not yet regarded as separate consumers of texts other than books of instruction on courtesy and manners or schoolbooks.” (32) As Lathey points out, books became cheaper and more easily accessible via travelling booksellers, so children were able to read books not written or translated with a specific child audience in mind. Thus, children read what was available, and because such works were so popular, these were the ones that were most often translated. The style of translation generally seemed to include adaptation to the target culture. Lathey writes that “[i]t is hardly possible to speak of children experiencing cultural difference through these early translations of fables and romances, since multiple retellings had removed most cultural markers, but they did bring new kinds of stories to young readers. That novelty lay in the form of the short fable with its attached moral, or in the alternative, unsanctioned pleasures of the dramatic and episodic sixpenny romance.” (42)
Later on, writers and translators began to consider children as audiences with particular needs, and this led to the concept of writing works that could educate and improve children, while also entertaining them. A very popular book was Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which was then translated and/or adapted in many countries. “Mapping and thereby controlling the natural world in fictional form was the province of the many European editions and reworkings of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, following Rousseau’s endorsement in Émile in 1762 of Defoe’s novel as the only text suitable for a child. The ‘robinsonnade’ was an unprecedented cross-cultural phenomenon in children’s literature, originating in Rousseau’s recommendation of Defoe’s novel as an exemplification of man’s autonomy and ability to improve his situation through intelligence, reflection, and hard word.” (62) This is a typical example, then, of adults using literature as a way of teaching children, and translators in turn felt they could change texts as needed, to better suit the target culture. The idea that the “child is a being whose natural instincts are not to be trusted, who is in constant danger of moral failure, disobedience, or succumbing to prejudice” (77) influenced how people then wrote or translated for children.
Things have changed today, so translators are very aware of who they are translating for. Instead of “religious persuasion, entertainment, and moral educational” (111), translators and theorists are more interested in a focus on child images and on appealing to what children want, rather than what adults think they need. “At the same time [as there has been increased academic interest in the topic] there has been an increase in the number of instances where translators directly address child readers, rather than their parents or teachers, in prefatory remarks.” (175) This affects what gets translated, by whom, and how.
Besides looking at which genres have been translated and how, Lathey also offers histories or case studies of some translators, such as William Caxton, Samuel Croxall, Helen Maria Williams, Thomas Holcroft, Mary Wollstonecraft, Edgar Taylor, Arthur Ransome (most people are unaware of his translation work), and Wanda Gág. She also has interviews with several more recent translators, Anthea Bell, Patricia Crampton, and Sarah Adams, about issues such as payment, working with editors, and methods for translation.
In this book, Lathey also briefly discusses topics such as the role of the Batchelder and Marsh awards, how the US and the UK were different in terms of translatorial strategies and practices in the 1930s, relay translations, women as translators and the related issue of the low status of translation, and more. Not all of these matters are covered in the detail that they deserve, but that is understandable given the scope of this work. Lathey aims here to “to trace in outline the chronology and impact of translators and translation on the history of children’s literature written in English and, wherever possible, to give an account of the motivation and methodology of translators working for a child audience.” (8) As such, her book is an important first step and it fills a gap in the field of translation studies. One can only hope that soon there will be such books for other languages/cultures as well, and that other researchers will pick up where Lathey has left off.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reverso Website

Here’s yet another from the growing array of online translation websites. This is called Reverso and it includes a slightly different selection of languages, including Hebrew, Russian, and Arabic, than many other such sites.

Friday, December 09, 2011

End of the Semester Reflections

In just another week, the semester ends. It’s amazing how quickly the time goes by.

My teaching this semester has focused on children’s literature and on literary translation. I had 60 undergraduate students studying children’s literature and of course I made sure that we looked at texts for children from cultures other than English-speaking ones and that we discussed translation issues. In the MA course in literary translation, we looked at different genres, including children’s literature, drama, and detective fiction, with a brief foray into historical texts.

Besides the slight overlap in subjects, I noted that there was an overlap in the discussions the various classes had. Something that came up over and over again was power and the related issue of ethics. For example, in children’s literature, adults (in the form of authors, editors, translators, publishers, booksellers, librarians, parents, and teachers, among others) have power over the child readers (or the read-to) in terms of deciding what texts are available for them and how those texts tackle different topics. In translation, translators have power over their target audience in terms of what texts we make available to them and how, and editors and publishers and authors frequently have power over the translators in regard to strategies and approaches to translation.

That is to say that we must be aware of ways in which we might abuse our privileged positions, especially as adults and as translators. It’s easy to forget that we have this power, because we often complain about being overworked, underpaid, and invisible. But after having spent three months interrogating this subject in detail with my students, I am reminded that we would do well to always consider how our actions might affect others, whether in a translation or in some other way.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Market Research

The literary magazine Absinthe focuses on contemporary European writing and would be a good market for those who translate from European languages.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Translation on QI

On Stephen Fry’s wonderful QI, on the episode about “Inequality”, he recently mentioned that Louis Pasteur so hated the Germans after the Franco-Prussian war, that he would never allow his work to be translated to German. That then influenced the beer industry. See how translation crops up in the unlikeliest of places?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Funding and Grants

I’ve noticed that more and more often these days, publishers are contacting translators and asking us to find funding for books they want to publish but don’t want to pay for (or, to be fair, can’t pay for). Getting funding and applying for grants is not something we learn in university programs in translation and it’s not really something that many of us consider part of our jobs (see this article I wrote on getting grants awhile back). But it is something we have to learn more about; at the very least, we have to know how to advise publishers to go about finding and applying for the grants that governments and cultural institutions offer, even if we don’t do the actual applications ourselves. Sometimes we’re even asked to translate grant information (usually for free) and occasionally we’re begged to forgo part or even all of our fee so a book can get published.

Getting grants is not easy. It’s also quite a different skill from translating. Whose responsibility should it be? Personally, I’d like to be left to do what I’m good at (translating, editing, and writing), but I know that in this market, we have to be more willing to go into the business side of things and to help get the grants that will pay for our labor and get our work published. What do others think?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Iowa Review

The Iowa Review wrote me quite awhile back to tell me about their new translation and literature forum. I only recently got around to looking at the site and I’m pleased to see such a high-profile literary magazine show translation some attention. You can check it out on the Iowa Review’s website.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Linguee Reference Site

The Linguee website might be of use to some of you, as it is an online bilingual dictionary for the language pairs English-German, English-French, English-Spanish, and English-Portuguese. It’s become quite popular and it might help those of you who work with those languages. Perhaps Linguee will expand beyond those tongues in the near future.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Translation at the European Parliament

The Terminology Coordination Unit at the European Parliament contacted me (and lots of other language professionals, I’m assuming) to tell me about their work translating between 24 languages. thought it was quite interesting. They wrote, for example, “Our activities also include maintaining external contacts with university departments, entities dealing with terminology and language specialists, informing more than 800 translators at the Parliament on various terminology- and language-specific conferences, organising three seminars per year under the general title "Terminology in the Changing World of Translation" as well as giving presentations in Luxembourg and abroad for terminology professionals and students.”

They run a website with information about their work and it’s worth having a look. Remember, the EU needs translators, so if you aim to be a full-time professional translator, this might be a place where you could work.

Friday, November 04, 2011

A PhD From the Other Side: Working with Supervisors

The past few posts were about getting a PhD, and they were from a student’s perspective, but here’s a link from the other side, i.e. your supervisor’s perspective. It talks about how to handle your supervisor.

I haven’t been on the other side that long (I only got my PhD in 2009) and I haven’t supervised that many PhD students, but I’ve learned a lot in that time. One is that it is incredibly enjoyable to work with PhD students and to help them on their journey.

But perhaps more relevantly for you, I’ve seen how things can go pretty wrong. Here is some simple and perhaps obvious advice.

If your supervisor asks you to submit work by a certain date, do it. If you don’t do it and your supervisor follows up (which, incidentally, is an annoyance for both of you and a waste of your supervisor’s limited time), respond to the message. Your supervisor cares and wants to make sure everything is okay. Your supervisor has an obligation to you, but you also have an obligation to him/her. Follow through and follow up.

When you submit work, make sure it is clean and clear. No grammatical or orthographic mistakes. No half-sentences. No unfinished ideas. No outlines (unless you were asked to submit an outline). Do the work that was requested and make sure you edit it carefully before turning it in. Be professional about your PhD; it is, after all, your job at this stage in your life.

If you are asked to submit your work in a certain format (by email, for example, or in hard copy), do it. Different teachers have different preferences for how they read student work. I prefer emailed documents, so I can use Microsoft’s Track Changes feature and edit the work in a neat fashion. But others prefer hard copies. So listen to what your supervisor requests and follow the instructions.

If you have a meeting scheduled, prepare for it. This means having the work finished and submitted on time, as discussed above. This also means that you come armed with questions and/or discussion points. Your supervisor will generally direct the meeting, but you should have some comments as well. This is your chance to get advice, so take advantage of it. Also, this should be needless to say, but come to meetings on time. It’s so irritating and inconsiderate when students are late or don’t show up at all.

Also in meetings, make sure you take notes. You’re not going to remember everything that was said, so make the most of your opportunity and write down the ideas and critiques you get. I’ve been in supervisions where a student just says “Yeah, yeah, yeah” and doesn’t write anything down. It won’t surprise you that such students don’t generally make the changes that have been suggested in the meeting. This means that the supervisor then has to repeat all those comments another time, and what’s the point of that?

You don’t have to agree with or do everything your supervisor says, but you should at least listen to it with an open mind. It’s pretty rude for a student to make faces, sigh, or interrupt while the supervisor is talking, and yet I’ve seen this more times than I would have liked.

Don’t waste time in meetings talking about your personal life, unless this is directly relevant to your studies (if you’re going through a divorce or you’ve had a death in the family or another difficult situation, you may need a break from your studies or an extension to a deadline).

Do be polite at all times. This means thanking anyone who exerts time and effort on your behalf, not just your supervisors but admin staff, other teachers, interview subjects, and so on. It’s just good manners. And to be crass about it, you’ll probably want or need a reference from your supervisor later, so it doesn’t hurt to make a good impression.

Good luck working with your supervisor!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Getting a PhD

The past two posts were about good and bad reasons for thinking you might want to get a PhD in translation studies. Here I want to write a bit more about what kind of person you should be in order to succeed in a PhD program.

I won’t lie to you. It is difficult to get a PhD and it takes a lot of effort, motivation, and perseverance, but if you are passionate and hard-working, you can probably manage it. You have to be willing to spend three or more years really focused on your topic and that means you have to choose a topic that you truly care about. It is easy to let yourself get swayed by what a supervisor suggests or wants or by a grant opportunity you spot (there are sometimes grants for people who agree to research a particular subject or agree to take on a certain job in exchange for having their PhD paid for), but I would personally recommend that you pick a topic you are fascinated by, or you will find your motivation dropping partway through the program.

You also have be able to work independently and to push yourself. You spend a lot of the time in a PhD program researching by yourself, reading and taking notes by yourself, writing up drafts by yourself, editing by yourself, and struggling by yourself. If you’re very sociable and can’t handle spending time on your own and/or if you find it hard to motivate yourself, then a PhD is not for you. If you can set goals and hunker down to make them happen, then you’d probably do well in a PhD program. A PhD is not like a BA, in that teachers won’t chase you to find out why you’re not attending seminars or turning in your work (or, okay, your supervisors will chase you a bit, but not as much as if you were an undergrad or a high school student). It’s all up to you to make sure things happen.

You also have to be the kind of person who can handle criticism. Your supervisors want to ensure that your work is as good as possible and that it will pass muster when it comes time for your defense/viva and for any possible publications. In most cases, they aren’t trying to be mean, but they may sound harsh (especially if you keep making the same mistakes and don’t seem to listen to what they are telling you). I’ve seen students cry over the criticism they get or go into a panicked spiral of self-doubt. That doesn’t help anything, although of course it’s okay to pity yourself a bit now and then. You have to learn how to hear what is useful in the feedback you get and to be able to brush yourself off, make changes, and carry on.

On the other hand, you have to believe in yourself and know how and when to defend your ideas or your way of writing. Your supervisors aren’t always right, even if they want you to think they are, and sometimes you have to tell them, “Thanks for the suggestion, but I think I’ll actually continue on in this way because…” or “I’m not so sure about that because…” You’re not always in the wrong and you have to know when to give in and when not to. You also have to learn how to defend your ideas and methods, as this is an important part of academia.

You also have to be fairly academic and interested in the theoretical side of things. You can’t just write a PhD thesis/dissertation on why you translate in a particular way or on suggestions for translators. While the practical aspect is essential and while there should be less of a practical-theoretical divide than there currently is, a PhD is pretty theoretical. I’ve talked to MA students who say they’re interested in doing a PhD, but “only if there’s no theory”. It doesn’t work like that, I’m afraid.

Mentioning the obvious, you have to know at least two languages. I’ve actually been contacted by people who’ve proposed that they study the translations of a particular author or book but without knowing the source language. Of course looking at target texts is essential, but that can’t be all you do. It’s not called “studying translations” but “translation studies” and there is a big difference there.

Ideally, you’d also be a translator yourself or at least have some experience translating. I’m sometimes surprised and dismayed by the number of people in translation studies who profess to be able to comment on what translators do but wouldn’t know how to translate themselves. An art critic has to know something about color and perspective and an expert in translation studies should know something – on a practical level – about words and context.

So, if you have many of the skills and qualities mentioned here and if you are interested in academia (whether for just a few years or for your entire career), why not apply to PhD programs? You sound like you could be a good candidate!

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about what you actually do in a PhD program in translation studies, so you might want to check that out for more information.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why Not to Get a PhD

This is a companion post to the last one. Here I’d like to mention bad reasons for thinking you might want to get a PhD in translation and/or signs that you are not suited to a PhD. These include, but are not limited to:

--You simply want “Dr.” before your name and “PhD” after it. Sorry, but a desire for titles is not a good reason to spend 3-10 years working on another degree. I’ve met people like this and I think they’re just wasting their time, because they don’t have the right sort of motivation.

--You aren’t interested in one particular topic. I know some people who are quite smart and engaged, but like to constantly change the subject they are engaged with. That doesn’t work in a PhD. Here you must be willing to work intensely on one subject.

--You don’t know what to do with your life, so getting another degree seems like a sensible option. Getting a PhD is a huge investment in terms of time, money, and effort, so actually, in many ways it’s not a sensible thing to do. I know people who’ve started graduate degrees because they didn’t know what else to do and partway through lost their enthusiasm. They ended up realizing that they wasted their time and money when they could have been finding a job they really enjoyed.

--You don’t enjoy translation theory or any sort of theory. If you’re purely a practice-based person – and there’s nothing wrong with you if you are! – then you probably don’t want to spend a number of years thinking on a theoretical level.

--You know you want to work solely as a translator and you already have a number of customers and/or a niche in the market. In this case, a PhD probably won’t help you too much, as you don’t seem to need much in the way of marketing your skills and services.

--You are the type of person who doesn’t like working independently. In this case, it’s hard to imagine that you will do too well as a translator, and you definitely won’t survive a PhD program, where you have to work on your own and be very motivated.

Again, as with the reasons for getting a PhD, these reasons can apply to many fields, not just translation.

See the next post for more on getting a PhD.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Why Get a PhD

I get quite a few emails from people who are considering getting a PhD in translation but want some sort of confirmation that it’s a good idea. While I obviously can’t offer that, because decisions about what to do with one’s life are extremely personal and context-dependent, I can say some of the reasons why you might want to get a PhD in translation. These include, but are not limited to:

--You want to go into academia. In most cases, you will need a PhD to get an academic job.

--You have a passion for a particular subject and want to explore it in depth. This is what a PhD is about.

--You want a qualification that will help you stand out from other translators. I know a number of translators with PhDs and they certainly say that in a glutted market, any extra qualifications or skills can help you get work instead of someone else.

--You want a qualification that will help you stand out from other writers. Some people get a PhD because they then want to write “the” book on a particular subject. Many PhDs do lead on to books based on the thesis/dissertation and having another qualification will help ensure a publisher that you are the right expert for the book.

--You love learning and would thrive in an academic environment for a number of years. Some people really enjoy attending classes, seminars, and workshops, spending time in the library, debating and discussing ideas with others, and so on. If that’s you, then getting another degree might very well suit you.

Obviously, many of these ideas are applicable to areas other than translation!

In the next two posts, I’ll write some more about getting a PhD in translation.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Diacritics Blog

I was recently sent the link to Diacritics, a new blog run by former linguistics students who are now in law school. They have posted a number of long, interesting pieces. Through their blog, I also read an interesting article about the speed of languages, and that led me to another article on how knowing more than one language can help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. Lots of stuff to read here!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Translation Matters

I read Edith Grossman’s book Why Translation Matters and quite enjoyed it.

For those of us in translation already, Ms. Grossman is preaching to the choir, but she preaches so beautifully, so I recommend her book. She argues for the significance of translated work: for example, there are thousands of languages out there, though not all of them are written. Who would ever be able to read books in even a small percentage of those languages? Translation makes works available to us.

She also refers to the usual question of whether translation is possible. She writes, “It would never occur to anyone to ask whether it is feasible for an actor to perform a dramatic role or a musician to interpret a piece of music. Of course it is feasible, just as it is possible for a translator to rewrite a work of literature in another language.” (12) The question we should focus on, perhaps, is how well it can be or has been done.

Ms. Grossman also discusses xenophobia in the US and how this affects translation and, a related issue, how this is the case in the UK too. She points out that UK publishers “Anglicize” translations so they seem more British.

Other topics discussed here are how she translated Cervantes (she did not compared previous translations and she did decide to use footnotes), her work translating other authors, translating poetry in particular, her list of what she considers to be the most important translations, and her idea of how translations are never final (finality is bestowed by publishers’ due dates), among other things.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

And The Winner Is...

It's time for yet another Nobel Prize in literature. This year's winner is Tomas Tranströmer. See the Nobel Prize website for more details.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Not So Delicious

I love to read food magazines to get inspiration for my own cooking. One night a few months ago, I was having trouble sleeping, so I was reading an English food magazine called delicious.

I was quite shocked to suddenly see my own words on the page. delicious was doing a feature on a cookbook that I had translated, but there was no reference to the fact that this book had been translated, and there was certainly no mention of my name.

I often think that food is a way of bringing different cultures together; it’s a low-risk way of getting to know people. But we wouldn’t be able to do that without translators; translators are the ones who make recipes available to people outside a particular culture. My own translation practice has included many menus, recipes, and cookbooks over the years, and I’ve even written an article about the challenges involved in translating food.

After seeing that article in delicious, I wrote to the editor. I received a response that said that the publisher didn’t tell them it was a translation, so it wasn’t their fault. Personally, I wouldn’t accept an answer like that from my students (at the very minimum, you might look inside a cover and note who was involved in the production of a book), but I thought delicious could use the experience to learn something new, so I suggested they do an article about the translation of cookbooks. Many cookbooks in the UK are translations, but no one ever comments on that. delicious didn’t bother responding, but perhaps another food magazine will pick up the topic at some point soon.

So that was really disappointing – so disappointing, in fact, that I won’t be renewing my subscription to delicious – and it shows how much work we translators still have to do to promote our own visibility.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


This is not a post about odd English phrases or bad translations but rather about a play I saw when I was last in my hometown of Chicago,

The play is Chinglish by Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang and while it does include some funny or awkward English sentences and some humor at the expense of translation or language skills, that isn’t the main point. Really, I think the play is about the translated self, and how communication changes and selves change when we speak another language. As someone who spent a number of years living in another language, I could really understand the characters and their attempts to make themselves understood in a different culture/language.

Chinglish is heading to Broadway next and I definitely recommend it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

International Fiction Reading Group

I run an international fiction reading group at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library here in Norwich, England. It meets once a month, on the second Wednesday of the month at 1.30 – 2.30 pm. The group is relaunching for the new academic year on 12 October and the first book we’ll be reading and discussing is Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller. Everyone is welcome.

You can read more about it on the library’s blog.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Good Review

I’ve sometimes felt that reviewers of translated books don’t seem to really understand translation. They might write that a review is “fluent” or “poor”, but they don’t say what they mean by those terms, and they don’t usually compare the source text to the translated text. They often appear to judge translations based on how they read in English.

So I was really pleased to see the recent review in the 29 August issue of the New Yorker by Daniel Mendelsohn, whose work I always find worth reading. In this article about Arthur Rimbaud’s career, Mr. Mendelsohn names various translators (sometimes even that is beyond reviewers), compares translations, and shows knowledge of the source text, which helps him to analyze the translations.

This is a well-done translation review and I wish more reviewers would review and think like Mr. Mendelsohn.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Eugene Nida

As many of you in translation studies will already have heard, Eugene Nida has died. While he worked in the field of bible translation, he had an influence on translation studies in general due to his work on dynamic and functional equivalence.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A Round-up of Articles

Here’s another round-up of articles to read.

Here is a piece on funny movie title translations.

My lovely cousin Chad Lieberman sent me this article on untranslatable words.

Thanks to Jens Hillman for this piece on language.

We translators already knew about the bilingual advantage, but it’s nice to read about it again.

My friend, the Swedish-to-German translator Dagmar Brunow, sent me this article about the first translation from Swedish to Yiddish.

What are the 50 foreign words every English-speaker should know?

Here’s an article about the 10 most lucrative languages.

The next piece is on invented languages.

And finally, here’s an article about reviewing literary translations.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Words Per Day

We know that how many words you can translate per day depends on what sort of text you’re working on. Some texts are so difficult a translator counts him- or herself lucky if 500 words get translated in one day. Other texts are a breeze.

I’ve heard from a number of people that 5000 words are about the maximum any translator can do in a day. Beyond that, our brains just get tired. But then I have a friend who claims to whizz through 1200 words per hour.

What do you find your average daily counts are? What’s a good day of translating for you?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

FIT Conference Redux

Last month, I wrote about how I was looking forward to the FIT translation conference in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I must report back that it was probably the worst conference I ever attended. Were any of you there? What did you think?

Here are a few of the reasons why I was disappointed:

--The organization of the conference was very poor. For example, no lunch was provided. Although many attendees had breakfast at their own hotels, the organizers chose to provide a continental breakfast at the conference. Presumably the cost of this is why they did not offer lunch. Instead, we had one and a half hours to find a reasonably priced lunch in the neighborhood, which created a stressful lunch time when we could have been networking and discussing. Considering the cost of the conference ($500), lunch really should have been included. I have never attended a full-day conference that did not include lunch.

--Another organizational issue is in regard to technology. I gave a presentation and was shocked to learn that laptops were not provided. When I complained, I was told that this was because it was “too expensive” to rent laptops and that it was already costly enough for the organizers to rent the screens. Again, given the high price of this conference, I was stunned that such basic amenities were not provided. I was told to borrow a laptop from someone in the audience. Obviously, this is not appropriate, especially given that many attendees brought their computers with the aim of taking notes on them.

--This was also the first conference I attended where there were no chairs for the sessions. Chairs are essential parts of talks, I believe, because they ensure that everything goes smoothly. They introduce the speakers, help run question sessions, and ensure that the audience does not get out of control. I was in talks where speakers never bothered to say who they were or where they were from, where audience members simply shouted out questions or comments in the middle of the presentations, and where questions were posed rudely or in the form of a boastful monologue. All of this could have been avoided by the simple organizational tool of having chairs.

--Similarly, there were a number of talks that had no question sessions at all, including the keynote lectures. We attend conferences to learn and part of the learning process is dialogue. It is very unusual to attend a talk that does not include time for questions. This, too, was an organizational issue that could have been rectified.

--The keynotes were distinctly lacking in import and relevance. I got the impression that the speakers had been invited for reasons other than their expertise in translation, because they did not have much to say about translation. It is unacceptable to attend a major international conference and to feel that attending keynote talks was actually a waste of time.

--Quite a few of the sessions were cancelled, sometimes five or ten minutes after they were due to start. While it is not the fault of the organizers that people were unable or unwilling to attend the conference, it is rather suspect, and it shows poor organization that the audience was not informed of the cancellation until it was too late to slip into another session.

--There were scarcely any exhibitions and there were no poster presentations. Along with all the other lacks, this contributed to an overall feeling of a weak conference with little to offer attendees.

--When I asked for an evaluation form, so I could offer some of this feedback immediately after the conference, I was told that the organizers had “decided [they] didn’t want any feedback”. Again, this is a rather odd decision, and suggests a deep sense of apathy in regard to the conference and no concern about the attendees.

--I emailed some feedback to the organizers and got a response that suggested that they had scarcely read my email and didn’t really care what anyone thought anyway. My impression was that they had gotten their money and that was all that mattered.

So while I really enjoyed the FIT congress in Shanghai in 2008, I was deeply disappointed in the FIT congress in San Francisco in 2011. Given the lack of concern on the part of the organizers, this has made me decide that I won’t attend another FIT event again, and that’s pretty sad, since FIT is supposed to be an umbrella organization that really looks out for translators and promotes our translation work.

Incidentally, I’m not the only one to feel this way – many people I spoke to during the conference expressed these disappointments and a few said they were going to write letters to the organizers too. It’s just too bad that the organizers show no remorse or concern.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize 2011

You still have time to submit an entry to The Joseph Brodsky/Stephen Spender Prize 2011. See this website for details about this contest for the translation of Russian poetry into English.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Translator and Writer Piotr Rawicz

Due to my work researching how the Holocaust is written about and translated in children’s literature, I recently read A Thousand Darknesses by Ruth Franklin. I recommend the book to anyone interested in literature about the Holocaust. But for readers of this blog in particular, you might want to learn about Piotr Rawicz.

As Franklin writes, Piotr Rawicz was born in 1919 in Lviv and was imprisoned in Auschwitz (although he was Jewish, he managed to hide that fact, and he was put in Auschwitz as a Ukrainian). He committed suicide in 1982. In between World War 2 and his death, he had a variety of jobs, including as a translator. Franklin writes, “After settling in Paris in 1947, he earned degrees in Sanskrit and Hindi; in addition to those languages, he also spoke Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, German, French, English, Yiddish, and Hebrew.” Besides being a linguist, he was a novelist, and Franklin calls his novel Blood from the Sky “one of the most original works of fiction ever written about the Holocaust.”

I’d never heard of Piotr Rawicz until I read Ms. Franklin’s excellent book. I was fascinated and saddened to read about him and his life.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Point of Rescue

I don’t usually write reviews of fiction on here, but I do want to mention Sophie Hannah’s The Point of Rescue.

But first a little background. Ms. Hannah, who is known as both a poet and crime novelist, has kindly agreed to come talk to my MA students in literary translation in the autumn. There are a couple of reasons why she’ll be an interesting guest lecturer. One is that her work has been widely translated, so she can talk about translation from the perspective of an author who might get contacted by her translators. The class she is coming to speak to spends a few weeks looking at the translation of crime fiction, so it will be exciting for them to meet a talented mystery writer. Also, she has worked on translations herself. Although not a translator, she has had texts literally translated and then she has written versions of them. So Ms. Hannah should have plenty of useful insight for my students. The same day she meets them, I have also co-arranged an evening about the translation of detective fiction at Norwich’s lovely independent bookstore, The Book Hive, and Ms. Hannah will be appearing there to discuss her work being adapting for TV. But I’ll tell you more about that event as it gets closer (in December).

So to prepare for her visit, I wanted to read her work. I thought The Point of Rescue was well written and engaging and it had plenty of surprising twists. One of the most exciting twists even hinged on translation, but I won’t say more about that, so I don’t spoil it for you. I would recommend this novel, especially if you’re looking for a fast, entertaining read with a somewhat poetic style.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Certificate in Localization

I don’t do any work with localization myself, but I know quite a few translators who do deal with that as well as their other translation work. So I was interested to learn about a new certificate program in localization at the University of Washington. We translators often need qualifications to help set us apart from the competition, so this might be a useful program for some of you to attend. Here is the info I received:

The University of Washington Professional & Continuing Education is offering a Certificate program in Localization which provides an overview of and practical experience with this rapidly growing field through a 3-course, 9-month program. The courses are offered in the evening and can be taken in the classroom as well as online. They provide a strong foundation in terms of concepts and tools, engineering practices, and project management. Students gain valuable practical experience, hear from guest speakers working in the industry, research and use current translation & localization tools, as well as delve into both the engineering and the project management side. The classroom section is a traditional offering while the online section uses AdobeConnect to allow online students to hear the instructor live, see the instructor’s presentation, and interact with the class via chat. Online sessions are also recorded.

General program areas include linguistics & translation, business norms & cultural issues, user-interface design, formatting, project workflow & roles and an overview of the technology & tools. In addition, the program includes guest speakers and a panel of practitioners some of whom graduated from the program to talk about their career and what is needed to get a job in the field. Specific consideration is given to topics such as alphabets & scripts, character encoding, text processing, graphical representation of text, spelling variants for different countries where the same language is spoken, cultural appropriateness, language translations, symbols, aesthetics, local content as well as customs considerations.

Past students have come from diverse backgrounds, including foreign language learners, translators, software testers, technical writers, linguistics, software developers, project managers, and localization engineers.

The program has an advisory board which includes UW faculty & staff, as well as industry representatives from Microsoft, Lionbridge, Adobe, Getty Images, Google, MultiLingual Magazine, Adaquest, and several others. Students who complete all three courses receive a Certificate from UW Professional & Continuing Education. From a career perspective we can also attest to the fact that students who enrolled in the program received both internships & jobs soon after completing the program. These positions included companies such as Microsoft, Real Networks,, SDL, Big Fish, Nintendo, Übermind, and Moravia.

Applications are now being accepted for the program starting October 5, 2011. Additional program details and course descriptions can be found here:

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

No to Peanuts

This is a great site on payment for translators that I’ve recently discovered. The slogan tells you all you need to know: “If you’re NOT a monkey, stop working for peanuts!” Indeed! Payment is a big issue for translators, so check out the site.

Monday, July 25, 2011

FIT Conference

Once again, it’s time for the triennial FIT conference and this year it’s in San Francisco. I’m really looking forward to it, because I enjoyed the last congress, in Shanghai in 2008. I especially enjoyed the mixture of people who attended – academics and full-time translators, people from agencies, students, politicians, etc. I found that stimulating.

I’ll be giving a talk on translating thrillers (and of course I’ll discuss Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy) – detective fiction is quite different from my previous work on children’s literature, and I’ve been having fun doing the research.

Perhaps I’ll see some of BNW’s readers there!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Job at UEA

We are looking for a new lecturer in literature and translation at UEA. See this website for more details. Apply to come work with us!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Taking a Break

For once, I am taking some of my annual leave from work. So I plan to disconnect completely and see if I can actually manage a real holiday. See you back here in a few weeks!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

La Rassegna del traduttore

I’ve recently learned about La Rassegna del traduttore, a site that is a collection of blogs and other online texts about translation. You can see the list of feeds, which is quite extensive and happens to include Brave New Words. It’s a good resource!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reading at The Book Hive

If any readers of Brave New Words are located near Norfolk (England), feel free to come along to a reading I’ve organized. It will take place at the wonderful independent bookstore The Book Hive in Norwich on 23 June at 7 pm.

The MA students in literary translation at the University of East Anglia, where I teach, will be reading from their translations. This is a chance to hear books/authors that have not yet been translated to English. And there’ll be drinks as well, which always appeals to literary crowds.

Hope to see some of you there.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Linguaphiles Unite

Oh, it’s wonderful to be a linguaphile. For each new language you learn, you gain a whole new perspective on life, access to an entire culture, including the literature, and insight into a place and a people, among many other benefits.

I would imagine that a number of us linguaphiles long to learn as many languages as we can, even if we can’t or don’t learn them all fluently.

So what languages do you know and what’s on your languages-to-learn list? And why?

As for me, I started out with Latin (okay, technically I started with English, my native language), which I think is a great place to begin because it’s the basis of the Romance languages and has had a big influence on English as well. I moved on to Spanish and then Swedish. Swedish became my first love, linguistically speaking, and it’s still the language I work most with now, as a researcher and a translator. I’ve also worked a bit with Norwegian and Danish. In the past few years, I’ve taken classes or studied on my own Portuguese, Italian, and Finnish. And I’ve got Japanese, Polish, and German textbooks at home that I’ve scarcely touched yet. So I can’t claim to be all that good at most of those languages, though I’ve enjoyed my exposure to them. I often feel that I ought to try to learn some French and I’m fascinated by and drawn to Faroese and Icelandic. But I seem rather stuck in Europe for the most part, so at some point, I’d like to take a class that would move me to another continent in terms of my language skills. Any suggestions?

You might want to check out this list of difficult languages. Do you agree? Are those some of the hardest ones out there?

I’m lucky to be able to work with language and literature. Hurray for linguaphiles!

Sunday, June 05, 2011

World Literature Weekend

I recently learned about the London Review of Books’ World Literature Weekend. It sounds like a fantastic event, with sessions on and with writers from around the world, plus literary translation workshops. I wish I could go and I hope some of you can make it.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I recently learned about Memidex, which calls itself “the Internet's first definition, audio, and etymology index of its kind”. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Vote for Brave New Words

Brave New Words has been nominated as one of the top language blogs. Please vote for BNW.

Thank you!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Few Articles/Websites

Here are a few articles/websites you might find interesting.

The first website has a list of TED talks on language.

Then here is an article about the history of language, using mathematical modelling and analyzing the number of phonemes a language has.

You might enjoy the Macmillan dictionary blog.

Here’s a short piece on how far 100 words of English would get you.

And finally, here is a blog post on what it means to do an MA in children’s literature.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Winner of the Give-Away

The winner of the give-away is Dagmar, who wrote: “There was the person who sent ten different puns to various people, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.”. Please send me an email with your mailing address, so I can make sure you get a copy of the book!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Give-Away of The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack

The last post reviewed a great new book on the history of the pun, The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack. The publisher, Gotham Books, is giving away a copy of the book to one lucky Brave New Words reader.

To win a copy of the book, post a comment here with your favorite pun. Make sure you include your name and location too. You have five days to post; the winner will be chosen randomly and announced on 16 May. So get thee to a punnery!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack

This new book by John Pollack (I accidentally spelled his last name Pollock, but luckily noticed there was something fishy about that) is all about the pun and its role in human history.
As he explains, no one is certain where the word comes from but it seems possible that it is from the word pundit, which means “a learned Hindu versed in Sanskrit” (5), and Sanskrit is a complex language that has many puns in it. Another suggested etymology is that it comes from the Latin punctilio, which means “fine point” (9). Besides the issue of etymology, it is also hard to clearly define what a pun is. It’s not exactly the same as wordplay; rather “a pun transforms one thing into another by relating them through sound or, in the case of visual puns, sight. A play on words only works if the two things it relates are already intrinsically connected, either by etymology or function.” (9)
From the word itself, Pollack moves into detailed discussions of brain research, how we hear sound/language, and how the evolution of human bodies primed us for the ability to crack jokes. Evolution made people walk upright and then because of the change in gait, which caused a concomitant change in hip size, there were lower birthrates. All this “required compensatory survival skills to make up the difference. Among those that emerged, most likely about 150,000 years ago in East Africa, were the interrelated capacities for language and for abstract thinking.” This eventually also led to a sense of humor, which obviously also helps in difficult times, as Pollack points out. (49)
But puns have had their ups and downs throughout our history. At one point, it was thought to be the sign of intelligence to use puns, and there were even pun duels (such as there were sword fights), whereas at other times, it was argued that puns were inappropriate and that they shouldn’t be part of intellectual discourse. Another point of contention has been whether they are appropriate for children (this is, incidentally, something that has been part of my research). But as Pollack writes: “it’s this very wordplay that exposes children to the mechanics of semantics, long before they every tackle grammar in a classroom. Studies also indicate that children’s facility with language has a major impact on their ability to excel in other subjects, too, including math and science. Playing with language helps them discover similarities, differences and patterns, as well as how to make bold conceptual leaps” (105).
One of the major misconceptions about puns is that they have to be funny. In fact, as Pollack explores in his work, puns can be used to make people think about language and meaning, or to refer to taboo issues (“the more rigid a society becomes, the greater its reliance on subtexts, especially puns, to address sensitive or taboo topics.” (140)), or to serve a range of other functions. Pollack writes: “One should remember, though, that puns are at their core defined by multiplicity of meaning, not always humor. The common expectation that puns should always be funny, or die in the attempt, is a relatively modern development.” (65)
Pollack also discusses why people have negative feelings towards puns and why some groan when they hear one. He says that “if a pun’s secondary meaning does not clearly echo or reinforce a conversation’s greater context, such wordplay can come across as deliberate and disruptive nonsense. This is likely a principal reason why many people who strongly prefer order to ambiguity often express such antipathy, even hostility, to any and all puns.” (145)
If you’re expecting a joke book, look elsewhere (although you can watch Pollack on a pun safari). If you want to learn about puns through history and how puns influence culture, this is the book for you. Still, Pollack does offer some puns, including one of my favorite jokes: “A distraught patient rushes into a psychologist’s office. ‘Doctor, doctor! I think I’m a wigwam, then I think I’m a teepee. I’m a wigwam, I’m a teepee. I’m a wigwam, I’m a teepee…’
‘Relax,’ the shrink says. ‘You’re just too tense.’” (43)
If you’re too tense, why not take a break and read this book? It’s fascinating and funny, and it proves that there’s always something new and worth learning under the pun.
And if you want to win a copy of this book, check back here for the next post!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

FAQ – References on Allusions

As I’ve said before, I get a lot of emails from people who ask me to tell them where to find books or articles on particular areas of translation studies. I do think research means that you should do the research, but of course it can be helpful to get book suggestions from other people.

So here are some reading subjects on the topic of allusions/intertextuality in general and on translating cultural/political/literary/religious/other references:

Graham Allen, Intertextuality (London: Routledge, 2000).

Richard Bauman, A World of Others’ Words (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004).

Mieke K.T. Desmet, ‘Intertextuality/Intervisuality in Translation: The Jolly Postman’s Intercultural Journey from Britain to the Netherlands’, The Translation of Children’s Literature, ed. Gillian Lathey (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 2006).

B.J. Epstein, “Life is Just an Allusion,” in Crossing Textual Boundaries in International Children’s Literature, published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, spring 2011

B.J. Epstein, “Manipulating the Next Generation: Translating Culture for Children,” in Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 41-76, autumn 2010
Belén González Cascallana, “Translating Cultural Intertextuality in Children’s Literature”, in Van Coillie, Jan, and Walter P. Verschueren, eds., Children’s Literature in Translation: Challenges and Strategies (Manchester: St. Jerome, 2006), 97-110.

William Irwin, ‘Against Intertextuality’, Philosophy and Literature, vol. 28, nr. 2, (October 2004), 227-242.

Ritva Leppihalme, Notes on Culture Bumps: An Empirical Approach to the Translation of Allusions (Clevedon: Multilingual Matters, 1997).

Ulrike H. Meinhof and Jonathan Smith, eds. Intertextuality and the Media: From Genre to Everyday Life (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000).

Mary Orr, Intertextuality: Debates and Contexts (Cambridge: Polity, 2003).

Isabel Pascua-Febles, “Translating Cultural References: The Language of Young People in Literary Texts,” in Van Coillie, Jan, and Walter P. Verschueren, eds., Children’s Literature in Translation: Challenges and Strategies (Manchester: St. Jerome, 2006), 111-121.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Market Research and a Good Website

Not only is Carcanet a publisher that is interested in receiving translated poetry, but their website also has a lot of great resources, such as an audio library (poets reading their work), reviews, interviews, and “free poem of the day, a Poet on Poet of the week, and an author of the month services”.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Market Research

Here is a new bilingual magazine, which focused on poetry. It is called The Black Herald and is looking for poetry translated between French and English.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Few Articles on Languages

Here are some articles on languages.

The first one is an article about Esperanto.

The second is on Hebrew and how an ancient language can be kept modern.

The last article is, sadly, about the most endangered languages.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

London Book Fair

It’s that time again – time for the London Book Fair. While it’s mostly a trade event, and not the book paradise bibliophiles might imagine, it is certainly worth going to. For the second year in a room, there will be a translation center, with talks on translation offered every day. Besides those events, I also like the cooking demonstrations (as I am an avid cook myself) and the display of cookbooks from all over the world, plus I enjoy meeting fellow translators as well as editors from publishing companies who publish translated literature. Hope to see some of you there!

Thursday, April 07, 2011


Here is a new literary website with “English-language reviews, interviews, articles, and opinion on German and French books and events.” It’s Berlin-centered, but not limited to Berlin, or even to Germany. I wish there were sites like this based in many countries – imagine how that would increase our knowledge of and access to various countries and their literatures!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

An Unusual Lexicon

I really like this blog, which defines unusual (okay, and some slightly more common) words, because “poetry is language made strange.”

Monday, March 28, 2011


One of the issues that’s often raised in terms of literary translation is the role of footnotes. I personally don’t like footnotes or endnotes in translated literature, because I feel it takes the reader out of the story. On the other hand, sometimes you have to explain something that you can’t get across otherwise in the text. So my own view is that they are best avoided unless there’s no other choice. How do you feel, as readers and/or translators?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

And Other Stories

Check out this new publishing company, And Other Stories. It was started by Stefan Tobler, who got his PhD in translation from UEA, where I teach, and it is definitely a worthy and interesting venture.

Friday, March 18, 2011


I often think that academics who work in translation studies need to learn more about the practice of translation (some have never translated!) and also that translators might want to read more of the research that’s carried out in the field of translation studies. In terms of the latter, you might want to read some of the articles available online at Meta.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


I love learning about different languages, so I was intrigued by this site on Ladino. I found the link on Erika Dreifus’s site My Machberet.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Most Beautiful Word

What word do you think is the most beautiful one in English? You can vote on it here. What about your favorite words in other languages?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Call for Papers

Call for Contributions:
'It just doesn't sound right.' - Translation and Intuition
Translation is a problem with two horns: to be caught on the point of free and apparently
subconscious decision; or to be pinned by the mechanical application of theory. But perhaps
this is not a helpful dichotomy. Rather, we would like to ask where in the muddle translation
actually happens, and how balance is struck between conflicting thought processes.
'It just doesn't sound right' is both the catchphrase and bane of the practising translator. A lot
stands behind these apparently throwaway words, and we would like to invite considerations of
how they might be unpacked.
Areas of interest include, but are not restricted to:
- spirit and affect - how can poetics account for the sublime, or literature's affective
power, the hairs that stand on the back of the neck?
- intentionality - the relationship between translator and author.
- preservation of non-standard features, especially in texts written to be read as if spoken.
- critical reception of translations, and the intuitive approval of translations that read smoothly.
- what is strange about translated language, and why?
- the stuff and substance of language - can we understand or only intuit the iconicity of sound?
Submission details
Please submit your papers to
Deadline: Friday April 29th, 2011

Format: Word documents or Rich Text Format (.rtf). Please follow the Harvard style of
referencing. Articles should be between 4000 and 5000 words long, written in English.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lost in Translation

For my birthday in October, one of the gifts I received was Lost in Translation by Charlie Croker. It’s a funny collection of odd English phrases and sentences from around the world. Some of the mistakes come from bad translations, but many are simply due to people trying to write in English even though their language skills aren’t quite up to it.

A Chinese hotel tells guests: “We serve you with hostiality.” A Japanese shopping bag offers this message: “Now baby. Tonight I am feeling cool and hard boiled.” In the Czech Republic, people are warned: “No smoothen the lion.” An Australian dish is “dumping soup” while an Indian restaurant includes “Aborigines” in their brinjal bhaji and a Greek dish is “chopped cow with a wire through it and bowels in sauce.” Yum.

This is a light, fun book that made me giggle. I wish people took translation more seriously but if they did, we wouldn’t have these mistakes to laugh at.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Holocaust Literature

Last month, I attended a one-day workshop at my university on Holocaust literature and translation. I gave a talk on how the Holocaust is portrayed in books for children and what challenges might lie in translating those books (the challenges, incidentally, are manifold – linguistic, cultural, historical, and ethical – but I won’t go into that in more depth here now).

Someone then sent me a list of the top books about the Holocaust. I’m not sure I agree with the list (I really didn’t like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, for example), but it is an interesting starting point. What do others think of this list? Which books on the Holocaust would you recommend?

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Top 50 Linguistics Blogs

Someone sent me this list of the top 50 linguistics blogs. I’m happy to see Brave New Words there and I also enjoyed looking at some of the other links mentioned in the list.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Shameless Self-Promotion

I have two recent publications that readers might be interested in. The first is an issue of the journal In Other Wordsthat I edited. In Other Words is a journal on translation that is published by the British Centre for Literary Translation. The BCLT is house at the University of East Anglia in England, where I teach. The issue I edited explores the theme of Translating Queers/Queering Translation. Translation studies has looked at concepts such as how colonialism influenced what was translated and how, and some of us who work in children’s literature have similarly looked at how adults’ power over children has influenced which texts are translated for children and in what ways. Queer studies is the latest field to explore translation from this perspective, developing on from feminist analyses of translation.

On a related subject, I have a piece in the newly published anthology Queer Girls in Class.

Hope you enjoy this reading!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Four Ways to Manage "Foreign Words" in Fiction

In 2002, I met Erika Dreifus because we were studying in the same MFA program. From the time I met her, I was impressed by her intelligence and talent. We've kept in touch in the years since finishing our degrees and I am so pleased for her that her first collection of short stories has just been published. I've read and enjoyed her work and I recommend it to you.

Erika has graciously agreed to write a guest post for Brave New Words. Congratulations on your collection, Erika!

Four Ways to Manage "Foreign Words" in Fiction

One challenge that some English-language fiction writers face--I, for one, have encountered it numerous times while working on the short stories in my collection, Quiet Americans--is how to manage the use of non-English ("foreign") words in one's work.

Although it's not my ideal, one possibility is to append footnotes or a glossary. I was willing to add such information when one anthology editor asked me to do so for the story I had contributed. Perhaps I was persuaded, in part, because this editor seemed semi-apologetic about his request and emphasized the educational nature of his book's project. But when the same story has appeared elsewhere--including in the new collection--I have omitted the glossary.

I prefer other approaches. Here are three more that I have found helpful:

1) Characters can be translators and interpreters. In an important section of my (unpublished) novel, an interpreter listens to one character speak in French. The actual French words are, for the most part, suppressed. But the speaker's body language, facial expressions, and other details give some idea of the content. The interpreter then summarizes what has been said in English for the benefit of an American-born character who does not understand French (and, oh-so-cleverly, for the reader).

2) Brief explanations can work, especially in cases where a cultural or linguistic exchange or encounter is itself a part of the fiction. For example, my new short-story collection, Quiet Americans, features a story in which the "quiet American" narrating the piece, a U.S.-born granddaughter of German Jews who is visiting Germany, listens to a local tour guide:

Your guide--an unusually petite woman named Greta who is wearing a string of green beads and whose lined face suggests she might be in her fifties, like your parents--lets forth a stream of words in German and then she says, in English, that this is how she runs things: she will tell the group everything in German and then repeat it for the English-speakers. You smile. You've already forgotten nearly all the German you learned that summer you needed to acquire proficiency for graduate school.

Except for one word. And it's not a day of the week or a month of the year or a color or anything so simple.

It's Vergangenheitsbewältigung. It's a word that means, roughly, "coming to term with the past."

3) Trust the reader. Whether it's a single word or a longer phrase, some readers will understand what you've written. Others may actually take the time to look up something they do not understand. This is the choice I made with the title of my short story, "Lebensraum." Although I hope that readers will be familiar enough with 20th-century European history to recall the term, I realize that it's unreasonable to expect all readers to know it. Still, it's easy enough to find an adequate definition.

Managing "foreign words" in fiction remains, for me, a fascinating topic. I'm curious: As a reader, have you noticed other techniques practiced? If you're a writer, how have you negotiated this challenge? As a translator, how do you decide when a given word simply must remain in its original (if italicized) form, rather than in the target language? Please share your thoughts in comments here. Thank you in advance.

Erika Dreifus lives and writes in New York City. She is the author of Quiet Americans: Stories, which was recently released by Last Light Studio Books. Please learn more about Erika, her book, her blogs, and her newsletter for writers at

Friday, January 21, 2011

Subbed vs. Dubbed: Where do you stand?

This is a guest post by TeachStreet writer Kenji Crosland. TeachStreet is a website dedicated to providing local and online classes, including foreign language classes in languages like Spanish and French.

There’s a lot lost in translation: humor, depth, and sometimes even the basic meaning of words themselves. Although great translators can manage to capture the spirit of the original, it can take them years to do so. I have even heard of some translators spending days pondering the nuance of a single phrase! Because of strict deadlines, however, film translators don’t have that kind of luxury, and thus the translations aren’t as good as they could be.

A very clever joke in English, for example, might go flat when translated into Japanese. With time, a translator might be able to think of a way to make a joke work, but usually they can’t. I had this experience myself when I watched the movie “Dodgeball” in Tokyo. I must have laughed out loud several times at intervals when the crowd was silent. It was not until I had read the subtitles that I realized why. Oftentimes certain jokes weren’t translated at all, and were replaced with lame Japanese jokes that were similar in nature but failed to hit the punchline.

I was able to forgive the translators their terrible work because I knew just how difficult a job it was. A year or two back I had read a Japanese news article (Sorry, the title escapes me) about how hard it is to translate for movies. You can’t have subtitles crowding half the screen, so you’re limited to a certain amount of characters (just like twitter). When the actors are talking rapid-fire, sometimes you have to cut out part of what they’re saying from your translation just to keep up with the flow. Jokes, which often require cultural and linguistic context, often don’t stand a chance.

If you’re dubbing, however, you have a little more freedom. Although dubbing has a bad reputation in the States because the voice acting for most dubbed movies is horrendous and the words often appear out of sync with mouth movements, we must remember that the budget simply isn’t there to make dubbing better (by hiring better actors, sound technicians, etc). When done right, however, dubbing can be a good alternative to subtitles. First of all, you’re able to add more colloquial language which can be less stilted than subtitles. If you have a comedian voice actor, for example, they might be able to ad lib a joke or even use a certain voice inflections which carry a joke’s meaning much more effectively than a stale sentence would. Furthermore, although you have a time limit, you have no character limit, so you may not have to cut short dialogue in order to fit the screen.

Personally, I haven’t seen many good dubbed movies myself, although some animated movies seem to do a fair job at it. I have heard it’s possible, however. I can’t speak for myself, but a friend of mine told me that the dubbed Italian version of the first Spiderman movie was done so well it was hard to tell that they weren’t the original voices.

If I had a choice, I’d probably choose subtitles over dubbing most of the time. In some movies, however, the subtitles can be so distracting from the action that you’ll spend more time reading than actually watching--especially when you don’t know one word of the original language (I had this experience with “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”).

My guess is that most people prefer subtitles to dubbed movies. I’m wondering, however, if the vote wouldn’t turn out differently if more time and money was spent improving the quality of dubbed films. So what do you think? Subbed or Dubbed?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Translation Advisor

Some readers might be interested in Translation Advisor, a new website aimed at promoting transparency and quality in professional translation.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Positive Progress

I received the following press release not that long ago, and I thought it represented a positive step forward for translation.

Words without Borders announces a $44,000 grant from to fund translator and author costs.

New York City, New York, December 1, 2010—Words without Borders (WWB) announces a generous grant from underwriting the costs of publication for 2011.

Words without Borders is a nonprofit organization and monthly online magazine dedicated to the translation, publication, and promotion of literature in translation. Each month we publish eight to ten new pieces of literature in translation from around the globe. The grant will cover the author and translator fees for all twelve issues of Word without Borders: The Online Magazine of International Literature in 2011, including an upcoming issue on Pashto and Dari literature and works by winners of the Russian Debut Prize.’s grant provides significant and much-needed operating support to the organization and allows Words without Borders to raise its payments to authors and translators.

This marks the fourth grant from to Words without Borders. It is the largest grant they have awarded to any organization to date.

Alane Salierno Mason, WWB’s founder and president, stated, “’s ongoing support has been critical to our financial health. This most recent grant not only provides major support for the organization’s financial foundation, but allows us to do just a bit more for the authors and translators whose work forms the heart of Words without Borders.”

In addition to WWB, has awarded grants to a diverse range of not-for-profit author and publisher groups dedicated to fostering the creation, discussion and publication of new writing and new voices, including the Council for Literary Magazines & Presses, Milkweed Editions, Poets & Writers, WriteGirl, 826 Seattle, The Loft Literary Center, Voice of Witness, Seattle Arts and Lectures, The Moth, The Kenyon Review, Richard Hugo House, Artist Trust, Hedgebrook, Copper Canyon Press, Girls Write Now, Lambda Literary Foundation, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. A number of the recipients- such as Open Letter, Ledig House, Archipelago Books, the Best Translated Book Award, Pen American Center, and the Center for the Art of Translation- are, like Words Without Borders, committed to supporting the international exchange of literature and the work of translators and foreign authors.

Words without Borders is grateful for the continued partnership with and their ongoing work to support literature in translation.

Founded in 2003, Words without Borders is a 501c3 nonprofit organization that has translated over 1,200 pieces of literature and poetry representing 80 languages by writers from 111 countries. WWB has been featured in the New York Times, the New York Times Book Review, the Boston Globe, the Guardian (UK), Vanity Fair, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, as well as in various foreign-language papers and numerous literary blogs. We were selected as a featured “pick” by Yahoo immediately after our launch issue and voted one of Time magazine’s “Fifty Coolest Websites” in July 2004.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year

Happy new year! What are your translation goals for the upcoming year?

There is a wonderful Swedish novel that I think deserves to be published in English. I am working on translating an excerpt from it and I hope to see the excerpt published by the autumn. I also hope to work with the author on finding a publisher in the UK or the US, using this excerpt.

Anyone else?