Monday, December 31, 2012

Translation and Resolutions

Last year around this time, I wrote that I wanted to spend more time promoting some of “my” authors in translation in 2012. So how did I do?

Well, that certainly was not an easy task I set myself. As we know, the English-speaking world is generally pretty resistant to translation, and that is indeed what I found when trying to promote some of my favourite authors. I did get some translations accepted in literary magazines, and I wrote some articles about translation in order to help make translation more visible. So while I would have loved to do more, I feel pretty pleased with what I have accomplished.

As for 2013, I’d like to continue what I was doing in 2012. And I also want to continue with the campaign I wrote about a few posts back, to make editors and writers more aware of translation and translators. And finally, I want to do my best for the next generation of translators, which means I try to improve my teaching methods and style.

What goals will you set for the next year of translation?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Creative Translation Blog

Eugenia Loffredo and Manuela Perteghella, who both have connections to the university where I work (the University of East Anglia), have started a new blog on translation.

This is how they describe it:

This is a “blog on creative translation and the art of text making in general, which we hope will become a useful and exciting resource for everyone interested and passionate about writing and translation.

The blog is envisaged as a 'studio' where issues about text making are discussed, theorized and put into practice. In fact, creations are possible and encouraged. We actually ask our readers to contribute by sending us their experimental and creative translations which will be published on the blog.

The studio will also build a list of resources and links to relevant events, conferences and experiments.”

Check out this new blog.

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Campaign to Acknowledge Translators

I’m something of a known curmudgeon, but I do feel I get annoyed about things for sensible reasons for the most part. One of the issues I find most annoying is how book reviews so often ignore the fact that they are reviewing translations or articles talk about translated texts as though they were just written in the target language. Frequently, they don’t acknowledge that the word choices or the style they so admire actually comes from the translator, not the author. Sometimes they don’t even bother to mention the translator.

I previously wrote here about my annoyance with a food magazine that quoted from my translations and didn’t see the need to mention that the Swedish dishes they so admired had been written in, um, Swedish, and that the chef they thought had a fun way with words was, um, actually translated by yours truly. The magazine didn’t care when I wrote to them to tell them.

A picture book I use in one of my classes at the university was translated from the Dutch, but no translator’s name is given in the book. When I wrote to the publisher, I received the very helpful response that “it wasn’t [their] problem” and they couldn’t even tell me who the translator was.

A few weeks ago, on the train back from London where I’d been giving a lecture, I read the Evening Standard. Reviewer William Leith reviewed two translated books and failed to mention the translator in both cases. He commented on the lovely language, but clearly without a thought as to how that language made its way into English. I sent him an email and also “Tweeted” the newspaper on Twitter, but without getting a response.

You might think that I ought to give up. You might tell me that people won’t change so I’m wasting my time.

But I don’t believe that. There have been quite a few times when I have gotten a response that said, “I never thought about it. Thanks for opening my eyes.” Or, “That hadn’t occurred to me.” Or, “You’re right. I’ll improve.” So people can learn and they can change their treatment of translators. And helping to make translators visible is important work.

So here’s my suggestion. Let’s all write to editors, authors, and publishers every time we see translators ignored. We might not change all minds, but we can certainly change a few.

Let’s make translation more visible, one person at a time.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

When to Give Up the PhD

I was really delighted to have a post accepted on the Thesis Whisperer website, because it’s a site that offers a lot of thoughtful, helpful analysis of the process of doing research and writing a PhD dissertation/thesis.

So this post on giving up the PhD was originally published there in early November. Do check that fantastic website out.

When to give up the PhD

You’ve been plugging away at your PhD for a while now, maybe a year, perhaps a couple of years. But you don’t seem to be making that much progress. The prospect of getting up in the morning to go to the university or to continue work on a chapter doesn’t thrill you the way it did during the first few months of your studies. But you force yourself to do it, because you have to, right? Or maybe you can’t force yourself and instead you spend the day surfing the internet, chatting with friends, occasionally looking at an academic article, and when evening comes, you feel depressed and guilty.

Time to give up the PhD?

No, you think. You can’t give up on your doctoral studies. What would people say? How would you feel about yourself? Would your supervisors be disappointed? What kind of job would you be able to get if you can’t finish your PhD?

Those are all natural concerns, but there are some situations where you’re actually better off letting go of the PhD and moving on with your life.

If you are doing the PhD for the “wrong” reasons and you aren’t enjoying it or getting much out of it, then it’s time to let go. There are many possible wrong reasons. I’ve talked to students who decided they wanted a PhD because they didn’t have anything else going on in their lives. Some have actually said, “I don’t have a spouse or children, and all my friends are married with kids. I needed something, too.” If you want to have a partner and/or children, concentrate your efforts on that, and don’t use your thesis as a substitute. If you don’t want those things but you are lonely and/or you feel you need something equally important in your life, carefully consider whether a PhD is actually that meaningful to you. It might be that you’d be happier if you made some new friends or found a new hobby or changed jobs.

Other students have said that they couldn’t get a job, so they decided to continue with higher education instead. Think about whether a PhD will in fact help you get a job you want. If it isn’t leading you in the direction you want to go in and/or if it is just piling you with debt, then you might be wasting time. Similarly, if you are doing it because you think having “Dr” in front of your name will get you a job and/or other benefits, that isn’t a strong reason to continue.

If you are no longer interested in your topic and you’ve lost your passion, it might be time to give up, but you need to ask yourself a few questions first. Most researchers go through phases where they are more or less excited about their work. Indeed, all workers have tasks to do that are less enjoyable than others. Have you temporarily lost your academic mojo? If so, what can you do about it? For some people, taking a short break (whether an actual holiday or a “staycation”) can be enough to reignite their love for their subject. Sometimes reading books on another topic altogether can help. Also, other activities – teaching, volunteering, going for a walk, spending time with friends – generally can help with research-related stress, and this in turn can help re-focus you. It may even be that moving on to a different chapter or working on a different part of your research is enough to help. Maybe approaching your topic from a new angle is all you need. Talk to your supervisors about this.

But if you’ve been feeling disengaged from your work for a long period of time and nothing you try makes you care about it again, it is probably time to consider leaving it behind. If the thought of continuing with your research strikes you as drudgery that you just can’t face, that is telling you something, and you should listen to your feelings.

An issue that can come up, however, as I mentioned above, is that some doctoral students worry that they would be ashamed if they scrap their thesis and their studies, and that others will be disappointed in them. While it is true that  people generally feel better if they accomplish what they set out to and while it is also often the case that we are very aware of others’ expectations and desires for us, none of this constitutes a reason to make yourself continue on a path that is bringing you little joy or satisfaction. Also, your supervisors won’t want to waste time chasing you up to do work you promised but never delivered, and they, your friends, and your relatives would much rather you be happy than not.

It is a hard, but brave, decision to make, and yes, it may involve disappointing yourself and/or others. There may be other implications as well (having to pay back student loans, needing to move, looking for a new job, a loss of prestige, and so on). But these all pale in comparison when you consider the fact that this is your only life, and you don’t want to waste it by pressuring yourself to do things that aren’t right for you.

People claim that “quitters never win”, but actually, for some, quitting a PhD is the best choice they can make.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Meaning of Place Names

My friend Annie sent me this interesting link. You can learn the meanings of place names from the graphic. It’s fun to click on different parts of the world.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Translation and Graphic Novels

In the past few years, I’ve gotten really interested in comics, graphic novels, and graphic memoirs, and I’ve read tons of them. My favorite series is Fables, which I was introduced to by one of my MA students, but there are many others that I enjoy, and I teach Alison Bechdel’s work.

One of my PhD students loaned me Craig Thompson’s fantastic graphic memoir, Blankets. It is one of the best graphic works I’ve read, and I can’t wait to look for Thompson’s other work.

There are many interesting points about comics/graphic texts and translation to make (and the aforementioned MA and PhD students have made some of them in their work), but here I just want to point how pervasive translation as a topic is. In Blankets, one of the issues is Thompson’s religious faith. In part, it is down to translation that he loses the Christian fundamentalism that he was raised with. He writes, “I had been taught the words of the Bible came straight from the mouth of God. If indeed they were subtly modified by generations of scribes and watered down by translations, then for me their TRUTH was cancelled out. It suddenly struck me as absurd that something as divine as God’s speech could be pinned down in physical (mass-produced) form.” (p. 549)

While Thompson’s wonderful, moving book is not about translation per se, it is about words and finding/defining self and what we say or don’t say or can’t say, and of course, as in that quote, translation thus is part of it.

I refer to this book both because I want to recommend it but also because it makes a larger point. For those who think that graphic novels are “childish” or “low-brow”, the range of topics that feature in those books – as in Thompson’s Blankets – is anything but. It’s well worth getting to know the field, not just in relation to translation, although obviously that’s important too.

Monday, November 26, 2012

What it Takes to Be an American Sign Language Interpreter: Guest Post

What it Takes to Be an American Sign Language Interpreter: Guest Post

This post was brought to you by Affordable Language Services, the nation’s most experienced translation, transcription and interpreting service provider of over 150 languages, including American Sign Language.

If you’re interested in becoming a certified American Sign Language interpreter, there is good news. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for interpreters is on the rise at a rate that’s faster than the average career. Certified sign language interpreters convert information from a spoken language into sign language. Alternatively, they may interpret what an individual is signing into a spoken language.  The greatest demand for this profession exists primarily within medium and large cities, but small and rural communities also benefit from the services an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter provides.

Career Background

ASL incorporates the use of one’s hands, arms, head, body language and facial expressions to communicate without the use of sound. The language is used throughout North America and is completely different from British Sign Language. In fact, ASL evolved from French Standardized Sign Language (SSL) because this is where the language has its origins. The Italians and French began to standardize sign language as early as the 1700s.

In the 18th century, the birth rate of deaf people on Martha’s Vineyard was abnormally high and ranged from one in every 25 births to one in 155 births. This “founder effect” led to the creation of Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language. Public sign language interpreting later began to grow with the help of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, an individual who wanted all churchgoers to receive the messages preached. Gallaudet traveled to France to learn more about SSL and convinced one of his teachers to come back to the United States to help teach at the American School for the Deaf, where ASL was born. It wasn’t until 1955 that ASL became a recognized independent language.

Sign language interpreting has grown from communicating at home, church and school to providing educational, vocational, medical, social and other essential services to those in deaf communities. There is no limit to the application of ASL.

How to Learn American Sign Language

There are a variety of ways to learn ASL, including:

  • Online resources
  • Videos
  • Classes at community centers
  • Classes taught at schools that serve deaf communities
  • Learning from friends or family members who know ASL
  • College classes
  • Books

When you learn ASL, it’s important to remember that classes or programs may be designed specifically for children, teens or adults. A great way to enhance your ASL skills is to practice with those who actively use it to communicate.

How to Become a Certified American Sign Language Interpreter

Simply knowing how to sign doesn’t qualify you to be a sign language interpreter, but it goes a long way toward earning a certification. After you graduate from high school, the following path will help you become a certified interpreter:

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree. While a degree in any field is acceptable in order to obtain a professional certification, it’s a good idea to consider a degree in ASL interpreting. 

2. Complete an ASL interpreter training program. The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf provides a list of programs. Such programs will help advance your ASL skills as well as the skills needed to be an effective interpreter, such as understanding inflections, simultaneous speakers, cultural differences, slang and more. You’ll also learn how to advance your own cognitive and technical skills.

3. Obtain a National Interpreter Certification (NIC). The essential certification to seek is the one provided jointly by the National Association of the Deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. In order to earn this certification, you must pass a test that consists of performance, written and interview components. Advanced and master certifications are also available.

Note: Your respective state may require you to also obtain a state-issued certification in addition to a National Interpreter Certification if you wish to work as an interpreter.

American Sign Language interpreters make communication possible. There are a variety of situations in which ASL interpreting is necessary, and you can help become an invaluable asset in bridging communication gaps.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Call for Papers

Reading the Target: Translation as Translation University of East Anglia School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing School of Language and Communication Studies 23rd and 24th March 2013 The fifth Postgraduate Translation Symposium at the University of East Anglia aims to examine translation as a form of literature in its own right: since Lawrence Venuti’s influential work on the translator’s visibility (1995), much progress has been made in the academic study of translation in this regard, but many critics and publishers remain reluctant to acknowledge the translator’s involvement in the creation of a new text or the status of these texts as anything more than a duplicate in another language. The symposium aims to explore the following questions: what are the effects of cultural contexts, literary systems and philosophical and ideological cues on the appreciation of translated literature? What are the power structures and hierarchies that translated literature must negotiate in order to achieve acceptance? What are the benefits to a culture that acknowledges the presence of translations within its literary canon? We invite submissions for presentations by postgraduate research students and academics across a wide range of disciplines. Fields of particular interest include, but are not limited to, the following: - Performance and adaptations - Cross-genre translation - The diversity of overt forms of translation - Concepts of authorship in translation - The translation of poetry - The role of translation in religious texts - Pseudo-translation - Ethical and political considerations in translation - The visibility of translation in modern forms of text and media (Subtitling, Films, Games) Please send proposals of no more than 250 words (with bibliographical references and a short biographical note) for 20-minute papers to by Friday 7 December 2012. Please address all correspondence to: Lina Fisher University of East Anglia School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing Norwich NR4 7TJ The Organising Committee: Nozomi Abe, Moira Eagling, Lina Fisher, James Hadley

Saturday, November 17, 2012

British Sign Language

My partner and I are taking a British Sign Language course together and we’re really enjoying it (although my partner is much better at it than I am!). Here’s a very useful website if you want to learn or refresh your skills in BSL.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Café Conversations

If you live in or near Norfolk, you might be interested in this free series of discussions that I've organized. Each conversation is hosted by an academic or a graduate student from the University of East Anglia and they are all free to attend.

Café Conversations on Literature, Culture, and Language
November 2012 to May 2013
Run by staff and students in LDC, AMS, and LCS at UEA

All cafés take place at 2 pm in the White Lion Café at 19-21 White Lion Street in Norwich.

19 November
Can Writing be Taught?
Professor Andrew Cowan
UEA pioneered the teaching of creative writing as a university subject in 1970, and for the next 25 years it remained almost the only university to offer an MA in creative writing, despite the enormous success of some of its alumni, such as Ian McEwan and Kazuo Ishiguro.  In the last 15 years, however, the subject has really caught on, until there is barely a university anywhere that doesn't offer creative writing in some form.  And yet still the question is asked, Can writing be taught?  Andrew Cowan is a graduate of the UEA MA, where he was taught by Malcolm Bradbury and Angela Carter.  He is now the Director of the UEA programme.  And he is asking the same question.

28 November
Through the Looking-Glass: The Origins and Afterlife of Nonsense Literature
Dr Thomas Karshan
What is a snark? what is a boojum? must they be something, or nothing? where do they come from? and do we need to know, if we are to enjoy and appreciate nonsense literature? This café conversation will explore nonsense literature, especially through Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky”, saying a little about its origins, and exploring the philosophical issues around sense and nonsense with which Carroll was concerned. We’ll think together about why all great literature, and not just nonsense, needs to invent its own words, and we’ll look a little at a passage of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, much influenced by Carroll’s Alice, which is only invented words. And then we’ll have a go at inventing our own words - and ask if in doing so we have invented, if only for a moment, our own new world.

5 December
God Loveth Adverbs
Philip Wilson
Why does God love adverbs? And why does Stephen King hate them? And what does this tell us about literature? This session explores the contention that literature is about showing, not telling, and investigates ways that writers approach their task and the difference between literature and genre fiction.

14 December
Alex Valente
Just how political can comics be? Can they (or have they) be used for propaganda purposes? We will discuss the ideological messages that the comics medium can convey. The texts we will look at range from the most explicit (e.g. Palestine, by Joe Sacco, or V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore and David Lloyd) to those that hide their political agendas a little deeper.

16 January
American Ghost Towns
Dr Malcolm McLaughlin
All across the United States there are eerily abandoned towns - where tumbleweeds roll along empty Main Streets, where only the shells of buildings remain. These so-called ghost towns are familiar cultural references and seem to say something about the other side of the American Dream. Some are former mining settlements, which boomed and declined with  equal rapidity. Some are towns that were left stranded when interstate highways cut through the land in the 1950s, and passed them by. But, since the 1970s, some of America's once-famous cities have been equally stricken by depopulation: when factories packed up and left town, so did the people. Even "Motor City" Detroit has been shrinking. What can we learn about America from looking at its historical ghost towns and modern-day shrinking cities? And how have the people who remain been working to reinvent their cities and make them liveable for the twenty-first century?

30 January
“Bearing Witness”: Seen but not Witnessed
Dr Rachael Mclennan and Dr Rebecca Fraser
This cafe will reflect on how we talk about and understand traumatic experiences that we have not borne direct witness to. It will consider to what extent representations, both visual and scholarly, of traumatic events distort or assist in understanding such experiences. Dr Rachael Mclennan and Dr Rebecca Fraser will be drawing on their own research concerning the Holocaust in American literature and culture and slavery in the United States respectively as case studies for further exploration of these issues.

6 February
The Pleasures and Politics of Historical Fiction
Dr Hilary Emmett
This café will engage the problem of how to balance our pleasure in reading historical fiction with some of the ethical issues that arise in rewriting the past to entertain audiences of the present.  Possible novels for consideration include historical fictions that are closely aligned to verifiable historical events (such as Hilary Mantel’s recent Booker Prize-winning blockbusters in comparison with more controversial re-imaginings of history like Kathryn Stockett’s The Help) as well as novels that seek to tell forgotten, repressed or traumatic stories such as Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved or Caryl Philips’ The Nature of Blood.

18 February
Meet the Pastons: An Introduction to Norwich’s Best Known Medieval Family
Elizabeth McDonald
Norwich’s medieval past can simultaneously seem a palpable and enigmatic part of our city’s history: we are surrounded by stunning examples of medieval architecture but imagining or understanding who used these buildings can be challenging. Thankfully the Paston family left us numerous letters, written between 1425-1495, in which we get a vibrant glimpse of what life in Norwich was like for a wealthy (but socially insecure) family. These letters provide a rich tapestry of personalities: surprisingly strong, willful, female characters; respectable men of the Law; feckless sons and problematic daughters.  We find the family concerned with castle defenses, “keeping up with the joneses,” life at court, and poorly made love matches. We will look at some of these letters and come face-to-face with life in Medieval Norwich.

27 February
Telling it Well? Mourning Autobiography
Dr Rachael McLennan
This cafe attempts to account for the popularity of autobiographies of illness and grief. These might be understood as a subgenre of the ‘misery memoir’, which has been especially successful since the 1990s. With reference to Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) and Blue Nights (2011), Dr Rachael McLennan will consider the following questions: what pleasures and risks do such autobiographical projects present for writers and readers? How might autobiographies of grief, in particular, challenge traditional definitions and understandings of autobiography?

6 March
Introduction to Translation
Dr B.J. Epstein
What is involved in translating a piece of writing from one language to another? Why is translation one of the most fascinating and important careers? Why does translation matter?  After a general background to what translation is, we will practice a short translation/adaptation exercise together, either into another language or from English to English. Then we will discuss the joys and challenges of translation.

13 March
Who Do You Think You Are and Should You Care? Genealogy and the Pitfalls of Family History
Dr Rebecca Fraser
With the explosion of accessible material tracing one’s own family history through genealogical sites such as everybody can be an amateur historian. Yet, what is we dig back into our own histories and discover things about our ancestors that we find uncomfortable, disturbing, or even damaging to our own sense of self and who we are? This cafe will reflect on the very real value of genealogical research but also consider the limitations of the resources available and the possibility that we might not always like what we find. Dr Rebecca Fraser will be drawing on her own research concerning tracing the life story of Sarah Hicks Williams, a relatively unknown woman, living in nineteenth century America.

21 March
Norfolk Noir
Henry Sutton
I'll be talking about my new novel My Criminal World, which is being published by Harvill Secker on 2 April 2013.  The novel addresses issues of violence and entertainment, genre writing and so-called literary writing and what makes popular fiction work. It is also effectively set in Norwich/Norfolk, and it/my talk will look at aspects of provincialism, and what I'd like to call Norfolk Noir.

2 April
Proving Beauty
Dr Ross Wilson
We can prove that the chemical properties of water are H2O; we can prove that the earth orbits the sun; but can we prove that an object is beautiful? This conversation will discussion this question by working, in particular, with a number of poems that may or may not be 'beautiful'.

17 April
Writers, Interviews and Journalism, with Henry James
Dr Kate Campbell
It’s easy to take interviews for granted although they are central to modern life. Most of us will have had job interviews and we will at times have read interviews with famous writers and other celebrities. The kind of interviews that we know in journalism have been around for considerably less than two hundred years. After glancing at their history, this conversation explores some of the issues that interviews by writers and with writers raise, with discussion of two or three interviews, including the response of a famous writer, Henry James, in a rare interview that might have been a hoax.

26 April
What’s the Point of Holocaust Poetry?
Professor Jean Boase-Beier
We will look at a poem about the Holocaust by Rose Auslaender and ask why she and others chose to put their experiences of the Holocaust into poetry. How does it make us feel? Can we relate to things that happened so long ago and in another place?

1 May
Here Be Monsters
Dr Jacob Huntley
Vampires and zombies stalk the contemporary cultural landscape, more prevalent and popular than ever before. What is it that makes these modern representations of monstrosity such a pervasive force – and what do they mean? Monstrosity has always provided a valuable way of expressing fears or taboos, providing symbolic representation for what is unknown or misunderstood, or as a way of designating Otherness. Whether they are social metaphors – such as Romero’s shopping mall zombies – or figurations of unconscious forces – such as, incubi, Lamia or Mr Hyde – these demonstrative presences are all around us.      

8 May
Can Machines Translate?
Dr Jo Drugan
This cafe builds on BJ Epstein's event on 6 March (but attendance at that session is not a prerequisite). How far can machines carry out the ‘fascinating and important’ task of translation? Even before modern computers were invented, authors such as H.G. Wells and popular science fiction such as Star Trek had imagined ‘Universal Translators’, enabling communication across all languages. Do recent advances such as Google Translate and smartphones bring these technologies within our grasp? What are their uses and limits? Feel free to try out free translation apps online or on your phone before the cafe.

15 May
The Writing of Disaster
Dr Wendy McMahon
It has been said that disaster shuts down language, renders words meaningless and art inadequate, for how can we describe or depict the indescribable, put words to suffering and trauma when it is so total? This café considers the role of the writer and writing in a decade marked in America by 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. The café will pose questions such as, what kind of cultural representation of disaster is possible, or, indeed, necessary? What role do ethics play in the writing of disaster? What can words really achieve in light of such trauma? It is hoped, by the end of the café, that we will have worked some way towards answering these types of questions, and considered the place of culture in national healing narratives.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Most Popular Languages on the Internet: Guest Post by Today Translations

For people who run online businesses, knowing what the most popular languages on the internet are, is extremely important. Sociologists can also benefit a lot from this, as they can analyse how people’s thoughts and perspectives have changed in just several years.  Gathering accurate data is not that easy, and it is only specialist language related services that have access to it. Today Translations, a London based translation agency, has looked at the data collected by Internet World Stats and has noticed that Internet usage has grown nearly 500% in the last 11 years. This is absolutely amazing.

Some of the data that is available in this infographic is not just interesting, but also surprising. For instance, although Japan represents just 10% of Asia’s internet population, it has one of the highest rates of internet penetration – 78% (the percentage of the population who uses the internet). Germany’s percentage is of 79, while that of Russia’s is of 43.

English remains one of the most used languages on the Internet, followed by Chinese and Spanish, while on Facebook, English is the first, and Spanish is the second. Knowing this data is very useful for all those involved in social media campaigns aimed at targeting traffic to certain businesses.

Perhaps one of the most interesting details of this infographic is that Arabic has increased in popularity a lot, as a direct consequence of the increased number of internet users.

It is common sense to recognise that in the very near future the data will change. Some of the languages will rank higher in the hierarchy, making room for others, maybe less common.

From the perspective of the internet, no language is to be ignored. It can become the language of a very successful business, that is why more specialised translation services like software translation and localisation will increase in popularity and demand.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Archipelago Books

I’ve recently had a chance to read some books published by Archipelago Books, a “not-for-profit literary press dedicated to promoting cross-cultural exchange through international literature in translation”, and I can definitely recommend them.

It’s wonderful to see a publisher dedicated to translation, so do read their books. And who knows? Maybe it’s a place to send those books you’d love to see translated to English.

Monday, October 29, 2012

On Fonts

I originally published this review in Wales Arts Review, a publication I regularly review for. But I thought it was worth posting it here too.

Just My Type by Simon Garfield

Why does font matter? How does the choice of font affect the way people read text or what impression they get of a website or a film? Who creates fonts, and how, and why? Simon Garfield explores all this and more in his new book, Just My Type.

You might think that this sounds dull. In fact, this book about fonts is highly entertaining. It gives short histories (“font breaks”, as Garfield phrases it) about various fonts and the people who shaped them, while also exploring the history of print and the importance of fonts in general. Garfield manages to impart information while also giving juicy titbits of information about the often eccentric people and/or circumstances involved in the development of new fonts.

The author ranges all over the field in this book. Garfield discusses why legibility/accessibility/readability are such essential concepts in the field of fonts, how they have been understood in different ways over time, and how some appear more honest than others (such as Gotham, as discussed on p. 209). And he explores why particular fonts have become successful and now appear all over the place (such as Helvetica, which he says is everywhere in urban settings (p. 132)). Then he moves easily into giving background about some of the people behind the fonts, such as Margaret Calvert, who developed many road signs (p. 149), or sixteenth-century Frenchman Claude Garamond, who offered “the first real flight of fancy” in text (p. 96). Sometimes, Garfield even offers gossip about others, such as Eric Gill, the creator of Gill Sans, who was also known for his “dramatically outré [sexual] meanderings with his daughters, sister and dog” (p. 48). Gill was influential in the way he created typefaces without serifs (i.e. sans serif, hence the sans in Gill Sans). Since Garfield has already explained what serifs are and how bracketed versus unbracketed serifs differ, and what x-height is (as on p. 45), the reader feels part of the world of the typographer and understands the lingo. This is the case even if the average reader is unlikely to become obsessed by identifying particular fonts, which Garfield says is a problem for font designers that is “far worse than trying to identify a song from a snippet of lyric or melody.” (p. 174)

Garfield also explores the influence of font on particular types of text. For example, he talks about the fonts used in comics and how the typographer of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns “achieved that near-sublime melding of visuals and text, where one didn’t swamp the other, and both could be absorbed simultaneously” (p. 21). Staying with the theme of media, he explores how anachronistic some historical films are, because they show signs in fonts that didn’t exist at the time when the film is set (an example is Ed Wood, which is set in the 1950s but uses a font developed in the 1980s (p. 72)). But in a rather more serious and dramatic section, Garfield analyses fonts in Nazi Germany, and how Gothic was “outlawed by decree”, because it was viewed as Jewish and also was hard to read, especially by foreigners, which was a problem as Germany wanted to invade other countries and expected the people there to read any signs and materials they published (pp. 191-2). Instead, the regime switched to a roman type.

In short, this book is packed full of detail about a topic that should fascinate just about anyone. After all, whenever we read, we are being subconsciously influenced by the font the text is printed in, and we get ideas about the author, the content, and the context from it. This review is printed in Century Gothic. What do you think that’s doing to you as you read it? For one thing, I hope it encourages you to go out and get Garfield’s book.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Round-Up of Articles

It’s time for another round-up of articles!

What’s interesting to see is that more and more large publications are talking about translation, language, and related topics. In this round-up, there are pieces from the New Statesmen, the BBC, the NY Times, and Nature, and I’ve written on translation myself in the Huffington Post, among others (see here for the most recent one). So the topic that’s so important to those of us who work with translation is finally becoming more visible.

This is the first of the New Statemen’s two pieces, which discusses, among other things, how reviewers should analyze the translation (and thus be bilingual), which is something I’ve long thought but I know isn’t always practical.

And here’s the second, on the “trials and tribulations” of translation.

Here’s a piece from the BBC on obscure words.

Also in the BBC, an article on a language in Nepal.

And a story on India’s contribution to the English language.

This article explores how Native American tribes try to save their languages.

And, finally, an article on how the shape of a country can shape its languages.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Save the Words

My friend Persy sent me this link. Try to use some words you’ve not used before, or not in a long time!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Delighted Beauty: An Interview with Tom Cheesman

Dr Tom Cheesman at Swansea University runs a fantastic website, Delighted Beauty, on the multiple translations of great writings, and the differences between the translations, and what that can tell us about the work in question.

 You can try out the site/tool here and you can read about it in this article.

 How to use a 2-minute introduction:

 • Sign in top right of home page, as guest (instructions provided). Select Corpora > Othello corpus > Open.

 • On the right of the ‘Base text’ pane, the buttons lead to various visualisations. (Another is accessed by clicking any name in the corpus.)

 • First choose ‘E & V’ (Eddy and Viv): and for a good example of what’s on offer, locate Brabantio’s ‘Here is the man, this Moor’, click on it, and then try the ‘Sort by’ and ‘Order’ options above.

Dr Cheesman agreed to answer a few questions for Brave New Words.

Q: Why did you decide to start this project?

A: A few years ago I was working on a very interesting and controversial trans-adaptation of Othello, by Feridun Zaimoglu and Günter Senkel. They said in an interview that they’d looked at “more than a dozen” other German translations. I’d no idea there were so many. Thinking of comparing their translation with earlier and contemporary ones, I started collecting books and scripts. Soon I had about 40: far too many! Studying multiple translations throws up problems of presentation, scale and navigation. They’re all acts of interpretation both of the translated work and of their own cultural contexts; they differ in countless details, all of which can be significant and interesting; it’s difficult to present a study of such a mass of texts without demanding far too much of your reader. You can study how a tiny sample gets differently translated; I did that, with one couplet, and I also created a website for crowd-sourcing the same couplet in any language. But really I wanted to find a way to explore whole texts and whatever aspects we want to. In 2010 my colleague David Berry convinced me of the potential of computational methods. Amazing work such as Ben Fry’s Traces made me realise that web-based digital tools, especially data visualization techniques, can help anyone explore multiple translations of anything, any way they want. Instead of being piled on shelves, digitised translations are available for anyone to look into (subject to ©). Text data visualisations (textviz) can work with full text contents (like the ‘parallel view’ on our site), or with representations derived from texts (using non-words, like our ‘alignment maps’, or words, as in things like Wordles). So textviz can bypass language barriers to some extent: I can find things out about Chinese translations compared to Russian ones, without knowing either language. In our ‘Eddy and Viv’ view, we use machine translation, which cries out for a user correction and discussion option, in a Wiki or whatever: still, it’s useful. -- ‘Eddy and Viv’ was a key conceptual breakthrough: at some point I worked out that formulae from information retrieval and stylometry could be adapted to put a mathematical value on the ‘distinctiveness’ of a translation in relation to others (a lot of retranslations are often similar, but some are more dissimilar than others); and that, if you first break a translated text into segments (sentences, play-speeches, or whatever), and then calculate distinctiveness values for all the translations of each one, then you can derive a value for the amount of variation among translations which a segment provokes. Where in a text do translators disagree more and less? Which speeches, which character parts? That’s the idea behind the tool we call ‘Eddy and Viv’.

Q: Was it a challenge to find funding? What about to find collaborators/contributors?

A: The idea might take a few minutes to explain but is basically simple and powerful, and funders like that. I’ve been very lucky with collaborators here in Swansea. David Berry put me in touch with a Computer Scientist, Bob Laramee, a specialist in Data Visualization. He’d not worked with texts before but was intrigued by the idea, and he and his PhD Zhao Geng have done some great work – as yet offline. Then we came across some fascinating text visualisation work by Stephan Thiel, doing just the kind of things we were interested in: ‘Understanding Shakespeare’. Obviously here was a designer we could work with. And Stephan was up for it. Our university’s Research Institute for Arts and Humanities funded a pilot project – an RA, Alison Ehrmann, copied and scanned my collection of German Othellos. We had a really good break when I requested a free trial of OCR software from ABBYY, and their UK sales manager Colin Miller got in touch personally and offered to help. He gave us free use of their Recognition Server, with Gothic fonts recognition and a suite of historical and modern dictionaries. And finally, along came the AHRC with their ‘Digital Transformations’ funding opportunity, just as my head of department, Andy Rothwell, recruited Kevin Flanagan to do a PhD here on Translation Memory. Kevin just happens to have all the skills and attitude needed to build a corpus management database and segment/align tools from scratch in order to make a ‘Translation Array’ actually work, feeding data to cool interfaces designed by Stephan at Studio Nand. I can’t code for toffee. It could all have gone horribly wrong.

Q: What has been one of your most interesting findings/realisations?

A: Lots! At the level of ‘Tell me about German Othellos’, my one-couplet sample study showed that in the 1950s and 60s, translations briefly became more distinctive or perhaps ‘daring’ than ever, then more conservative than ever, and then around 1990 they became really quite wild. The Array confirms that overall pattern but with some adjustments. Now the translator Hermann Motschach, in the 1990s, turns out to be right at the top of the scale, or to put it another way, his version is wildly wilful in almost every line. There is no public information at all about Hermann Motschach, except that he has translated almost all of Shakespeare’s plays and his scripts are used quite a lot by German theatres. Needs studying!

I found out a lot of interesting things when I researched the short descriptions I wrote for each translation. The stories behind them tell the 19th-, 20th- and 21st-century history of Germany and Austria. Check out Bab/Levy and Zeynek, for instance.

More broadly, I keep finding out about more and more examples of multiple translations, sometimes quite astonishing, all grist to the Arrays mill of the future. For example, Project Yao is a database of American fiction in Chinese, co-created by Joe Lockard, who tells me that some canonical novels such as Call of the Wild, published in 3 or 4 translations until about 1990, have since been published in up to 40 translations: that’s different translations, not re-editions. The sheer volume of versions of Shakespeare is crazy, too…

Q: What have you enjoyed the most about this project? And the least? A: The worst thing is that now that we’ve created this site with its array of Othellos, I have no time to use it for research, to explore the texts and find out how they vary and what that might correlate with. (Do translators translate Othello’s part more differently than other parts? is one question raised by what I’ve been able to do so far.) The priority now is to get more funding. When I’m not teaching, preparing teaching, or writing for you, BJ, I’m working on the next grant proposal.

There are many good things. Working with my collaborators. The delight of Jan Rybicki at seeing the platform: as soon as it was launched he started using it to work on his English-Polish novels corpus. The sense of exciting new horizons. What we have is a proof of concept prototype which just demonstrates the potential in a small way. This could become a big deal, not just for translation studies, comparative studies, language studies, cross-cultural studies, but beyond ‘studies’: for public understanding of translation and language, and for creative translation practice. If you’re doing a new translation/adaptation of a classic, and 300 versions are explorable online, in umpteen languages, with interpretative tools and a global social network around them, then of course you can ignore that. But you have some interesting new options too. 

Thank you so much, Dr Cheesman! And good luck with Delighted Beauty!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Nobel Prize in Literature

This year’s Nobel Prize in literature goes to Mo Yan.

What do you think? I must confess I'd never heard of this author!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Guest Post: Online Universities and Resources Look to Increase Bilingualism Around the World

Learning a language is a very valuable skill in a globalizing and increasingly competitive economy; however as this post discusses, it is something few Americans have managed to do. As technology improves, online language classes are becoming a viable option for people to use when learning a new language. Brave New Words visited the issue of a lack or language training in the United States in a guest article about 5 years ago. But since then, many more options have become available through the Internet for Americans who wish to learn a second language, as Jennifer Jenkins writes below. Jennifer is well-versed in all issues related to technology and online learning. Frequently, she contributes to, a resource for students who are considering attending school online.

Despite the need for bilingualism within our globalized society, most Americans only speak one language. Today, many US citizens are turning to web-based resources in order to learn another language – and many experts agree that these measures are highly effective.

According to a Gallup survey, roughly three-quarters of Americans believe that English fluency should be compulsory for US immigrants. However, the poll also revealed that only one quarter of the population could hold a conversation in a language other than English; the majority (55 percent) spoke Spanish, followed by European languages like French (17 percent) and German (10 percent). Rates of bilingualism did seem to increase with education; while one-fifth of high school graduates are bilingual, the percentage rose for college students (25 percent), college graduates (33 percent) and those with postgraduate degrees (43 percent). However, nearly 70 percent of all Americans believe that bilingualism is either essential or valuable in today’s job market.

According to a March 2012 article in The New York Times, employment opportunities are merely one of the benefits of bilingualism. Recent studies indicate that learning another language improves mental and cognitive skills – and may even ward off dementia and other conditions that come with age. Additionally, those who speak two or more languages are also more aware of their surroundings, says Spanish researcher Albert Costa. “Bilinguals have to switch languages quite often — you may talk to your father in one language and to your mother in another language,” he noted. “It requires keeping track of changes around you in the same way that we monitor our surroundings when driving.” There are also social benefits, due to the diverse social fabric in this country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of children (ages 5-17) who spoke a second language at home rose from 10 percent in 1980 to 21 percent in 2009. In the coming years, bilingualism will play a major role in the way Americans communicate with one another.

The solution to improving widespread bi- and multilingualism may lie with the Internet, writes Eric A. Taub of NYT. As connectivity has risen on a global level and the advent of social media has essentially brought the world together, many companies have unveiled language programs for the masses. Breaking away from traditional curricula, these programs utilize interactive media, social networking and other unconventional tools to teach new language fluency. Many of these programs are free, though experts note that even the most expensive ones are far less costly than college tuition. And while brick-and-mortar courses typically require a substantial time commitment from students, e-courses allow learners to acquire language skills at their convenience.

The most popular electronic language program in recent years has been Rosetta Stone. For $1,000, students receive structured lessons, live video chats with native speakers and access to a web-based discussion forum; Rosetta Stone currently offers 30 language programs. TellMeMore is another popular online program. For an annual fee of $390, users can access extensive glossaries, communicate with native speakers via video and complete practice exercises for up to six different languages. Less expensive options include LiveMocha, which offers free lessons and charges a small fee for live tutorials with native speakers, and Babbel, which offers free trial lessons in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian, followed by a fee of $12 per month. Free programs include BBC Languages, which features audio and video media for more than 30 languages, and Busuu, an interactive course that utilizes online communities. Finally, smartphone apps are available from Lonely Planet Phrasebooks, Oxford Translator Travel Pro and World Nomad.

For years, Americans have earned a negative reputation among the international community for their low collective levels of bilingualism. Now, thanks to electronic media, US citizens are learning foreign languages at an unprecedented rate. 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Guest Post: Translated Fiction Favourites

For myself, the joys of being an avid fan of fiction come not just in reading, but also in discovering books and authors. It may be something that’s new, passed me by before, or come before my time.

Fortunately in this sense, the last decade or so has seen translated fiction widen as an avenue which to explore. My knowledge of the publishing industry is limited to say the least, so I’m not sure whether this is mostly down to a conscious effort on some part or just the way publishing and the literary world has evolved; all I know is that translated fiction accounts for some of the best books I’ve read in recent years.

I obviously only get to greedily enjoy the end product of translated fiction as a monolingual reader (ashamedly, I might add!) who never sees nor would understand the original text. The translation process is never far from my mind when I’m reading, though. A lot of the time the prose flows so naturally that it’s unnoticeable that someone has gone to agonising lengths to capture the essence of the source text. Other times you detect evidence of a translator’s work, which often serves to give the novel a special charm that only a translation can give. Certain words and phrases stand out which you realise must have been derived from words wholly unique to the source language. Take fictional French detective Commissaire Adamsberg for instance, who is frequently referred to as a ‘cloud shoveller’ in the novel listed below. It’s a translated phrase you’ll never hear in the English language, yet it has a unique meaning in French which is described by Fred Vargas (translated by Sian Reynolds) and perfectly epitomises Adamsberg’s character. And no, I don’t know what the original French term is!

Below are some of my all-time favourite translated works and some recently published ones well worth a place on your bookshelf or kindle. There is a particular emphasis on the Latin American fiction that has captivated me since first reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. Grizzly Scandinavian crime fiction seems to have got the sort of exposure only topped by ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ lately, so doesn’t make the list!

Purgatory by Tomas Eloy Martinez (translated by Frank Wynne)

An absorbing and deeply personal semi-ghost story from Tomas Eloy Martinez, underpinned by the fascist regime in 1970s Argentina. An Argentine woman in exile in the States finds a man in a restaurant identical to her husband presumed killed in conflict thirty previously, and from there unfolds a stunning narrative that proves why Martinez is one of Latin America’s most celebrated literary greats.

The Milkman in the Night by Andrey Kurkov (translated by Amanda Love Darragh)

A pessimistic portrayal of a Russia saturated with greed and corruption is all too relevant in these turbulent times for the country. Kurkov intertwines several bizarre storylines, including a man having an affair in his sleep and a cat arisen from the dead, in this compelling combination of black humour and social commentary.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron (translated by Lucia Graves)

You’ll be unlikely to question why this tale stemming from young a boy’s discovery of a mysterious volume in a labyrinthine library has sold 15 million copies and counting sold worldwide after reading it for the first time. It has the style and suspense you would expect of an international bestseller, whilst at the same time being thought-provoking and capturing the claustrophobia of Franco-era Spain.

The Blue Hour by Alonso Cueto (translated by Frank Wynne)

A wealthy lawyer serves as the The Blue Hour’s main character, but this is no bland legal thriller. Similar in ways to Purgatory in that the past of a bloody civil war catches up to engulf those in the present, Cueto unlocks the horrors of Peru’s history to a dramatic yet beautiful narrative.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Marcia Marquez (translated by Gregory Rabassa)

South American literature shines just as brightly in Colombia, too. This classic from the country’s most acclaimed author isn’t always easy to follow and is one of those novels in which you will notice new subtleties each time you read it that escaped your attentions previously. It’s magical in a way that detracts nothing from the realism of the events that hugely inspired it.

The Islands by Carlos Gamerro (translated by Ian Barnett)

Carlos Gamerro tackles more dark South American themes in a full-on action-packed and at times even hilarious fashion not attempted before, as the protagonist Felix still suffering from the traumatic effects of the Falklands War is drawn into an explosive present-day narrative. Perfect for those who want a thrilling page-turner that doesn’t sacrifice literary prowess.

Death and the Olive Grove by Marco Vichi (translated by Stephen Sartarelli)

Who would of thought that Italy would eventually come to rival the English in producing classic murder mysteries and detective novels? You know roughly what you’re going to get from detectives like Inspector Montelbano and Inspector Bordelli, the latter of whom on this occasion is tasked with finding the culprit of a series of gruesome murders. Still, it’s a genre that never gets tiresome if delivered with the panache, humour and wit with which Vichi writes.

Wash This Blood Clean from My Hand by Fred Vargas (translated by Sian Reynolds)

Fred Vargas’ Commissaire Adamsberg series is a refreshingly quirky alternative to so many ultra-slick modern crimes series knocking about these days. The award-winning fifth installment sees Adamsberg forced to clear his own name while a trident-wielding serial killer runs amok – a plot that brings about a surprising amount of laugh-out-loud moments and philosophical musings. 

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (translated by Archibald Colquhoun)

The oldest title on this list and perhaps the most prestigious. The Leopard is the ultimate historical novel, set amidst the turbulence in Sicily during the Rigordimento and navigating themes of class, loyalty and family. The labour and skill that must have gone into producing such a layered and intricate masterpiece – and translating it – is difficult to comprehend.

Robert Davies is Marketing Manager at London Translation Agency.  

Friday, September 28, 2012

Chambers Thesaurus, 4th Edition

I just got a copy of the new fourth edition of the Chambers Thesaurus and I can say that this is definitely a keeper. It has over 1100 pages of fantastic information and it is the kind of reference book that you just want to spend time skimming. Here are some of the things I like about this thesaurus.

It explains synonym nuances, so you understand the difference between, well, “difference” and “dissimilarity”, “diversity”, “variety”, “distinction”, “unlikeness”, “contrast”, “discrepancy”, and “divergence”. This will be especially helpful to people who are learning English as a foreign language, I think. When I taught English as a foreign language, I noticed how common it was for people to simply use synonyms they found in a thesaurus without actually understanding these nuances. But of course even native speakers need this sort of information.

The book also includes idioms, so you can find ways of varying them (“once in a while” or “sail through” or “a sticky situation”). People tend to overuse clichés, so being able to look them up in a thesaurus is really helpful.

The Chambers thesaurus also says if a term is technical, old-fashioned, formal, or colloquial, which is essential information when writing or translating. I have found that university students often get confused about formal versus informal language, so I will recommend that they check this thesaurus to get advice.

Another helpful feature is that the thesaurus gives extra information. “Carriage” doesn’t just give synonyms but also offers a list of forty different types of carriage, which can be especially helpful for writers or translators who need just the right kind of carriage in their text. Similarly, “zodiac” also gives the signs of the zodiac and their symbols, and you can learn which “rhetorical devices” exist.

The thesaurus also has quotations. For example, Harper Lee’s “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience” illustrates “conscience” very well, but it is also a quotation worth knowing.

One of the most entertaining parts is the “word lover’s gallimaufry”, which has over 50 pages of lists and explanations. What’s the difference between a flexitarian and a pescatarian? How can you express disbelief (“what a load of cobblers!” or “pull the other one!”)? What terms might an estate agent or a gamer use? What are some global English words you can use to spice up your language usage (“bergie” or “pom”)? What do you call someone who collects cigar bands and who is a “vecturist”? What are some types of extreme sports (“tombstoning” and “zorbing” are among them)? This section is fascinating and amusing.

Since the Chambers thesaurus is so big, it covers a lot of territory. That means the book takes up quite a bit of space on the shelf, but I think it’s worth it.

In short, this thesaurus (or “lexicon”, “dictionary”, “wordbook”, “vocabulary”, “repository”, or “wordfinder”) is really practical (and “valuable” and “worthwhile”). It is definitely the thesaurus I’ll be using from now on, and the one I’ll recommend to my students and my fellow writers, editors, and translators.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Word Nerds and Scrabble

I can’t help it – as a word-lover, I’m a big fan of Scrabble. Travel Scrabble accompanies me on many trips and I regularly play Scrabble online with my mother, who lives 4000 miles away.

Scrabble and Bananagrams are favorite games to play with some of my other word nerd friends. And I play Alfapet (also now called Scrabble), the Swedish version of the game too.

It’s not just that it’s a fun game. It also helps teach me new words and keep other words fresh in my mind. So it’s beneficial and relaxing and enjoyable all at once.

So when my partner showed me this video with tips for how to improve at Scrabble, I had to watch.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Revising and Editing for Translators

It can happen that we translators sometimes have to work with editors. But before we get to that stage, we have to edit ourselves. Brian Mossop’s book Revising and Editing for Translators is about what it means for a translator to be a proofreader and/or editor him- or herself, and the book explains it all in an easily understood and interesting way.

Sometimes translators hire other translators and have to check their work before the customer gets it, and sometimes a translator is employed by a company to proofread someone else’s translation. But despite translators proofreading our own work (we should do that anyway, but I know not everyone does) before sending it to the customer, we do not know always how to work with someone else’s texts.

Mossop discuss why a proofreader may be needed (there may be errors in the text, for example, or text style is not appropriate for the subject) and the types of proofreaders/editors available (subject-matter reviewers, copy editors, etc.) and various types of proofreading (scanning, spot-checking, etc.). Then he explains what it means to look for and fix typographical errors, grammatical mistakes, idiomatic errors, typos, punctuation mistakes, logic errors, factual errors, problems with the structure, among other things, and how to think about how a writer/translator uses language and style, and how readers influence a text (their background, for example, and why they read the text).

Mossop also provides issues to consider (such as when and where a translation is to be read or what errors a particular translator usually makes), and he gives advice on how to work with the translator whose texts you are proofreading (it is important to explain why changes are being made, rather than simply pointing out that they are necessary, so that the translator learns). So there is useful information in this book, although much of what he discusses is not actually that specific to translation.

The book also includes exercises, questions for discussion, suggestions for further reading and a glossary, so it is particularly suitable for students and new translators. But it is also worth reading for advanced translators. It contains information that is useful for both translators who are proofreading texts translated by others but also for translators who want to be better at editing their own texts.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

New Academic Year

As the new academic year gets closer, I start thinking about who the new students will be and how it will be best to teach them. I try to improve my teaching style and techniques each year and to adapt how I teach specific material.

Besides making some of the obvious changes, such as changing which texts I’ll be using and how I’ll approach them and what activities and assignments each class will contain, this year I’m also working on encouraging my students to be more active about their learning processes.

Usually, I ask my students at the beginning of the semester to think about their roles as students and classmates. In other words, I ask them what their contributions to class should be, how they should behave, how they should treat one another, how they should work on their assignments, and so on. (It generally takes a while for them to start coming up with responses to my questions, but once they start, they can’t stop. Come to class, listen respectfully when others speak, take notes, do the homework, use correct grammar, come see the teacher to discuss work, and so on.)

I also ask them to discuss what my role as a teacher is. This often surprises them, because they don’t generally consider the fact that I also have responsibilities. I find it quite helpful for us all to remember that we all have duties towards each other and towards the course, and to spell out what those duties are.

Then, at the end of the semester, I remind them of what we discussed and ask if we met all our responsibilities. Students generally are very pleased to realize how much they actually have accomplished over the course of the term. Also, it is a reminder that they are active members of a joint project (i.e. the course) and that they can contribute towards making the class a success.

This year, I’ve decided to add to this by asking them to write down several goals for themselves. These goals will be seen by no one but themselves but they will revisit them a few times over the course of the semester in order to insure that they are actively taking charge of their learning and their lives.

What changes are you making for this academic year?

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Market Research

This list of journals that accept literary translations is definitely worth looking at, since it provides plenty of potential markets.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Shoot the Puppy

Even if you have a particular language as your mother tongue, there are always words and phrases that you do not know. I am an American-English-speaking person but I live in England and it sometimes happens that my partner, friends or students use British English words and phrases that I cannot understand. It can certainly feel a little weird sometimes that I don’t know common English words, even though it’s my native language. And if I translate into British English, which I do often, I must know those. For those who translate from English, it’s also key to understand such expressions.

But I’ve got a book that can help us. A friend gave it to me for my birthday in 2010; sadly, she got ill and passed away soon after that, which is probably why I’ve taken so long to write about it. The book is called Shoot the Puppy and it’s by Tony Thorne, who works at King's College London and writes about slang, among other things. He is described as a slang detective, who does research on and explains many interesting English phrases.

Many people know the word moonlighting, which means you have another job at night (i.e. when the moon is shining), for example, but how many understand the word sunlighting? Well, it means you have another job one day a week. If you moonlight or sunlight, you can do so by sitting next to Nellie; that means to learn on the job by watching what others do. We have to knife-and-fork it. What? We’ll use a knife and fork to what? That means we have to deal with a problem one piece at a time. Aye, aye, Shepherd’s pie! Yes, I'll do what you want and thereby knife-and-fork situation.

You may have prochtoheliosis, a problem we can try to knife-and-fork. What is it that you have? Helios is the Greek word for sun and proktos means rectum, so someone who has prochtoheliosis thinks the sun shines from his or her rectum, and that he or she is the most important person in the world. Such a person may also be luxorexic, which means that he or she enjoys the finer things in life and always wants to pamper him- or herself. Thorne’s book contains many words and phrases and gives examples of how to use them.

He also includes information on how the term came to be and on similar phrases. There is a glossary as well. The book is funny and interesting but also useful. Come on, shoot the puppy – dare to do the unthinkable – and buy Tony Thorne’s book.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Academic Writing

Academic writing is a very particular form of writing, with strict rules about how you can write and what you can write about. It also tends to rules the lives of academics (if you’ve ever heard of “publish or perish”, you know what I’m talking about), even though our writing is only one part of what we do (teaching, admin work, supervision, engagement, enterprise, outreach, and so on are also important aspects of our jobs).

So it’s interesting to see that there are some tentative moves afoot to challenge the system. I’m personally not convinced that it really makes sense for there to be just a few top journals per field and for the system to be such that if you don’t get your articles published there, it is hard to get tenure and/or promotion.

Check out this piece and this one to learn about a possible academic strike and some of the greater issues there are with this system.

With the Research Excellence Framework looming over us and scaring many, perhaps it’s time to rethink the system.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Translationness and “Writers Who Translate”

Many months ago, I attended the London Book Fair, as I have done a number of times in the past. It’s an exhausting but fun trade event, and there are always some good nuggets of information or new ideas.

Daniel Hahn, my colleague at the British Centre for Literary Translation, and Turkish-to-English translator Maureen Freely had a Q&A session about being a translator.

Danny commented at one point, “The target text is the thing.” He spoke about how he wants readers to read his work as though it had been written in English and for them not to consider that it is a translation. Obviously, I disagree with this to a certain extent (read this). But it’s clearly a fine balance.

And meanwhile, Maureen said she thinks about translators as “writers who translate”, so their writing skills matter more than their source language skills.

Both of these are interesting ideas that are highly debated in translation studies. What do you think?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Tolkien and Translation

I was never a J.R.R. Tolkien fan as a child and for whatever reason I was quite reluctant to read his works until the past few years when, encouraged by my Tolkien-fan partner, I gave it a go. And I discovered that I actually really quite liked his writing.

So then I got interested in learning more about him and I read Humphrey Carpenter’s good (if sometimes a bit too fawning or overly detailed) biography. I was amazed to find out just how learned he was (although the books should have been a pretty clear indication) and especially how good with languages he was (both actual tongues and those he invented).

Tolkien, it turns out, also did some translation. And he had some very strict views about the art of translation. Although I haven’t yet been able to find the introduction he wrote to a translation of Beowulf, Carpenter explains that in that text, Tolkien says that translators must adopt a “high style” when translating texts about so-called “heroic matters”. Carpenter goes on to connect this to Tolkien’s own writing style, particularly in regard to the famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, which he was working on at the same time.

The film version of the trilogy is very good (and I’m eager to see The Hobbit when it comes out later this year), but I urge you to read Tolkien’s works and to pay close attention the language. And click here to read about how his trilogy was translated to Swedish.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Alpha Beta by John Man

John Man’s book Alpha Beta is on the history of the Roman alphabet, as you might be able to guess from the title. He covers a range of related topics, such as non-alphabet systems, symbols, rebus, archaeology, orality, and history, and his book is imaginative and exciting. He includes many interesting titbits of information, such as how some of what we think is Roman is actually Etruscan and how Cyrillic is named after Cyril but wasn’t created by him. He refers to languages as diverse as Chinese, Egyptian, Sumerian, and Korean and he explains “why Czechs and Slovaks today look to the West, and use the Latin alphabet.” (299)

One of the major points Man makes in this enjoyable work is that what alphabet is used where and how is often about power. “Script, status, power, identity: the four were indissoluble.” (100) He analyses hieroglyphics and the Greek alphabet to explore their importance to their own societies as well as to later ones. “With this new-fangled intellectual device [writing], the Greeks could aware their own though processes, become self-aware, refine ideas, exchange them, build upon them, create systems of ethics, philosophy and science, evolve new forms of poetry, pioneer history. In brief, it was the alphabet that allowed the ancient Greeks to lay the foundations of civilized discourse as Europe and its descendant cultures came to know it.” (21)

He also explores why alphabets change, or don’t. “Change, it seems, does not arise spontaneously from within. Something has to happen to release a new creative impulse.” (81)

He has what he terms three Working Theories of Script Evolution:
“1 In a writing system, complexity knows no bounds and imposes none.
2 A writing system will last as long as its culture, unless changed by force.
3 New writing systems emerge only in new, young, ambitious cultures.” (82)
In other words, much is required before a language will change.

Another interesting section in this book is where Man discusses four assumptions about literacy and culture and explains how they are false. The assumptions are:
“that alphabetic literacy must have spread from the top levels of society downwards;
that the alphabet would immediately be considered a superior achievement, and be instantly taken up by anyone with a claim to intelligence and culture;
that non-literate cultures are necessarily simple and inferior;
that poetry is more refined than prose and must therefore come later.” (231) Man demolishes these ideas.

While some people might think that one alphabet is better or more sensible than others and while Man does comment that Korean is perhaps one of the most sophisticated and successful of all alphabets, he also writes, “the alphabet is an intellectual device with which to symbolize speech, and it is a mistake to equate it exactly with anything in the real world. Since it exists in minds, any physical representation is only one of an infinite variety. There is no Absolute Alphabet.” (114) There are many possible alphabets, with no single right one.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Wales Arts Review

In a bit of shameless self-promotion, I can point out that I’ve been publishing some book reviews in Wales Arts Review lately. There are plenty of other good articles there, so do check out the magazine.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Robert McCrum’s Globish

In Robert McCrum’s book Globish, he discusses the history and meaning of English, and its relevance today. This is a book that feels longer than it actually is because it covers a lot of ground, looking at history (slavery in America, the Seven Years War, etc), current events and situations (India’s Silicone Valley, for example), and important people (Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, V.S. Naipaul, Barack Obama, etc), and the connections to language. It goes back and forth in time and sometimes the book feels too detailed. Despite that, it shows the history of English and makes predictions about where it is going.

As McCrum explains, “‘Globalization’ is a word that first slipped into its current usage during the 1960s; and the globalization of English, and English literature, law, money and values, is the cultural revolution of my generation, before and after the ‘credit crunch’. Combined with the biggest IT innovations since Gutenberg, it continues to inspire the most comprehensive transformation of our society in five hundred, even a thousand years.” (3)

He explores England and the development of the English language from the Normans and old English (for example, “The cultural revolution of Christianity both enriched Old English with scores of new words (apostle, pope, angel, psalter) and, just as importantly, also introduced the capacity to articulate abstract thought.” (26)) through medieval and Renaissance periods (Shakespeare plays a starring role, of course), up to modern times, with stops along the way in creole, black English, Indian English, texting, the influence of cyberspace, and more. He even includes some discussion of translation, particular in you regard to Alfred, King of Wessex during the ninth century, and of course in terms of the bible.

Today, he points out, “global English, floating free from its troubled British and American past, has begun to take on a life of its own…the twenty-first century expression of British and American English – the world’s English – is about to make its own declaration of independence from the linguistic past, in both syntax and vocabulary.” (6)

It’s worth quoting one of McCrum’s final paragraphs in full, as it sums up his thoughts about where English is going: “The enemies of English culture will criticize its guile and greed, but the outcome is beyond question. In the first decade of the twenty-first century English-speaking people and their culture are more widespread in numbers and influence than any civilization the world has ever seen. Globish, a world dialect, will be less a language and more a means to an end. It will continue to enfranchise millions who lack the benefits of a formal education into a global economy and provide a means of communication that will, for the most part, leave local languages unscathed. Globish might seem to have imperial roots, but it is not imperious. It derives its character from a language that has always been hospitable to change, from the roots up.” (257)