Friday, March 28, 2014

The Story of English in 100 Words

The Story of English in 100 Words by British linguist David Crystal is a fascinating and well-written book in an easy-to-read format. Each chapter deals with only one English word that Crystal thinks is very important and that explains something about the history of English and/or English-speaking countries. Crystal explores words in detail, in an almost archaeological manner.

Some of the words he discusses are roe, riddle, bone-house, pork, grammar, undeaf, bloody, billion, polite, trek, dude, schmooze, doublespeak, blurb, sudoku and chillax. As this list shows, the words come from different time periods (the 6th century up until today), different languages (Old Norse, Latin, Yiddish, Japanese, etc.) and different aspects of life (food, politics, science, slang, etc.). The history of English is broad and interesting.

Crystals book is different from other language books because he talks about the history of the language through individual words. Most language books either just tell the story of the language through the people (i.e. the Vikings came in this year and they changed the language like this…) or through just describing the important words; Crystal does both here, at the same time. He explains, among other things, that after 1066 in England, when the Normans came, “Anglo-Saxon words could not cope with the unfamiliar domains of expression introduced by the Normans, such as law, architecture, music and literature. People had no choice but to develop new varieties of expression, adopting continental models and adapting traditional genres to cope with the French way of doing things.” (p. xv) New words included chattels and dame.

Another good example of an interesting history is the word “hello”. Crystal writes, “It’s such a natural expression, used every day as a greeting. Surely this is one of those words which has been in the language for ever? In fact, its first recorded use is less than 200 years old.” (p. 163) During the 14th century, people said hal/hail, which meant be healthy. Then they started to say hallo, hella, hillo, hollo and hullo, but now it’s most often hello and sometimes hallo. But why? “The word was around in the early 1800s, but used very informally, often as part of street slang. The more formal usage seems to have emerged when the telephone was invented. People had to have a way of starting a conversation or letting the other person know they were there, especially if they were using a line where the connection was always open…Thomas Edison, the inventor of the telephone, evidently preferred Hello. This was the word he shouted into the mouthpiece of his device when he discovered a way of recording sound in 1877.” (p. 165) Technology has influenced the development of language in many ways.

Crystal has written many books on language, including about texting language, the Bible and language, Shakespeare’s language, and dialects, and his books are always fun and interesting. You can dip into The Story of English in 100 Words as you like and learn something new about English. It’s an enjoyable read.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Translating Dialects (Yet Again)

Dialect has long been one of my special interests. I still think it’s one of the most difficult parts of a text to translate. Not long ago, someone sent me a this link, which features a summary of a talk I gave on translating dialects.

That article also talks more generally about translating accents and notes, “Because accents and dialects are so often used as a way of portraying the character’s social standing, using the standardised form of the target language in a translation can remove much of the texture of that character. Yet, when you’re worried about misleading or even offending the reader this can seem like the only option.”

It can seem like the only option, that’s true, but I’d argue that often that’s not the option that best serves a text or the audience. What do others think? What tips do you have for translating dialects and accents?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


This website is dedicated to international literature. It has news, reviews, and events, and might be useful if you’re looking for something new to read.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Market Research

This journal is based here in Norwich, England, and the editors are open to literary translation. Check them out.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Young Adult Lit

Young adult literature is a fairly new field, and many people look down upon it or don’t understand it. Here are a couple of recent articles that explore it.

The first article is from CNN.

The second piece is by an adult who appreciates YA lit.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Working for Free?

Following on from my “How’s the Pay?” post a few days ago, I thought I’d mention working for free. 

Recently, someone asked on Facebook about doing work for free and that reminded me of this great list from Katy Derbyshire. (Her whole blog is worth looking at, incidentally.)

Someone on Facebook also posted this website in response to the question about working for free.

Both links are helpful, I think.

In my opinion, when you’re starting out, yes, do some stuff for free or for discounted prices, but be careful about what you do and who you do it for. Later in your career, you might want to do work for free for a charity or because of the connections it might lead to or for some other reasons. But just like in any industry, translators are highly skilled professionals and there’s no need to do high quality work without getting paid. It’s not fair or right.