The Masked Translator, ‘Zorro of the translation blog world’, has posted a list of the top 5 contemporary women translators here, along with some excellent links to interviews and other details. The list includes Sawako Nakayasu (Japanese into English), Sevin Okyay (English to Turkish), Nora Gal (French to Russian), Tiina Nunnally (various Scandinavian languages into English) and Edith Grossman (Spanish to English). This is excellent stuff, do check it out.
Can you imagine how it must feel to spend weeks, months or even years finding just the right words to tame your thoughts onto a page, only to have someone else completely rewrite those words? And in a way that you, the owner of those thoughts, will never truly grasp? This is what happens when an author is granted an elusive foreign book deal, and with it, sees their work in translation.
Many writers are understandably thrilled by the whole process. Meg Cabot, for example, offers an amusing insight when she described opening her mail to find the latest translated edition of one of her books, with its unrecognisable cover art and not even a cover note to let her know which language it was in. Meg Gardiner is delighted by how even her name changes on the cover of her books in Czech.
Others are disappointed that their foreign covers seem to be completely unrelated to their book’s content, sometimes to the point of being misleading. Trudi Canavan explains how frustrating it is to have so little imput into the artwork on her foreign book covers, yet also acknowledges that it is job of the overseas publisher, not the author, to understand how best to market the book in their particular market.
There are even a couple of interesting collections by fans of American authors, in particular. For example, an excellent study of Gore Vidal‘s foreign covers, and a beautifully catalogued collection of Jack Kerouac‘s On The Road.
The heady heights of a foreign book deal is clearly the ultimate dream for many authors. Yet the artwork on the book cover is often an author’s only insight into the way their labour of love might be perceived by readers with a whole other set of cultural, social and linguistic frameworks. Because when you read a translation, you’re not reading the words of the author. You are reading the words of the translator who has tried to re-write the thoughts of that author in a way that you, the reader, will understand. It’s not surprising that so many English–speaking authors comment on the foreign covers of their novels, yet as fellow wordsmiths, it’s also disappointing to see how many of them fall into the trap of using this as a means to judge the quality of the translation within.
Authors with foreign book deals are often asked by less experienced authors whether they worry about the quality of their translations. Because without a knowledge of the foreign language that at least equals your knowledge of English, how on earth can you judge, right? But here’s the catch – there is no way to know, not really. An element of blind faith on the side of the client is often inherent in the translation process, which is why you have to be very, very sure you can trust your translator.
One of the most insightful pieces I’ve seen by an author on the reality of a foreign book deal is by Janet Berliner over at Storytellersunplugged. Her comments on translation are all the more credible because it’s clear that her linguistic background extends beyond a couple of years of high-school French. Here’s an author who genuinely understands the lot of the literary translator.
My advice to authors would be to take an interest in the translation process from the beginning. Make yourself available to your translators and answer their questions – and if your translator is not asking you questions, ask why. This is the single biggest thing you can do to influence your translation for the better. In fact, insist on being involved, because no-one knows the meaning behind your words better than you. And it is this meaning, as much as the words themselves, that a translator has to translate.
Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr
I was pretty chuffed to see The Weekend Australian Magazine last week led with an article on swear words, featuring the very same set of linguistic experts I wrote the previous week in Swear-way the heaven: everything you ever wanted to know about cussing. Not only am I sure this is more than mere coincidence, I’m also convinced it has nothing to do with the fact that the ABC’s brilliant Lingua Franca featured them in January…
So, hello to the TWAM, if you’re reading! 😉
Image via Wikipedia
Catching up on past episodes of Lingua Franca, I was amused to hear a pair of experts in linguistics, Dr. Keith Allan and Prof. Kate Burridge, describe taboo subjects and the way in which we use slang and swear words to censor our language. It can’t be easy for academics to speak about such delicate matters without sounding utterly ridiculous, given the necessary real life utterances as examples, but this pair manage it. I’ll even admit to an instinctive titter at the sound of some of the “rude words” – although, of course, this may also have been a simple expression of glee at those wonderful Australian vowel-sounds.
Unfortunately the audio file is no longer available on the ABC website, so here’s a brief summary of some of the things they discussed:
WARNING: Please don’t read this post if you are offend by coarse language.
I’ve tried to avoid being gratuitous, but this post does contain occasional references to coarse language.
How to tell your euphemisms from your orthophemisms
- Euphemism: a mild, inoffensive expression for something which is unpleasant or embarrassing, e.g. poo
- Dysphemism: a harsh, blunt, deliberately offensive expression, e.g. shit
- Orthophemism: a term coined by Allan and Burridge to account for direct or neutral expressions that are neither euphemist nor dysphemistic, e.g. faeces
- X-phemism: a collective term, referring to a set of all the above. E.g. the x-phemism for poo, shit and faeces refers to the same thing, but the individual terms are used in different ways to denote different styles and connotations.
- Euphemistic dysphemism: expressions which are seemingly at odds with the sentiment that lurks behind them, e.g. golly gosh, goodness me, strewth, cor blimey, etc. Apparently, many of these sprang up during the Renaissance when there were laws against using blasphemy on stage.
- Dysphemistic euphemism: using a dysphemism as a term of endearment, e.g. g’day you old bastard, hi bitch, etc.
The power of the forbidden
Did you know that English has more than 1,000 terms for penis, 1,200 for vagina, another 800 for copulation and an extraordinary 2,000 to describe “wanton women”?!
Of course, language is in a constant state of change, and taboo words rise and fall with it. Studies have clearly proven what we all instinctively know, i.e. that while forbidden words are more memorable and evocative than other word stimuli, they lose their punch through frequency of use. Interestingly, too, studies on bilinguals have shown that taboo words are more evocative in a person’s first language than their second, regardless of the degree of fluency.
The evolving shock-value of a term has legal implications too. Allan and Burbidge mention a defendant recently charged with using offensive language, whose case was eventually dismissed. Consideration was given to the extreme prevalence in the community of these particular, albeit savage, swear words and their frequency in the general media. Given all this, the magistrate concluded that while the language used was indeed offensive to good taste and manners, it could not in this day and age be considered intrinsically offensive in the legal sense. The point was made that any form of racist language, on the other hand, would not have been dismissed, in lines with the sensibilities of society today.
Such is the power of taboo words that some of them even contaminate similar words with completely unrelated meanings. For example:
- Coney (to rhyme with honey) was originally the English word for rabbit, until it faded from popular use around the 1800s. It began to be considered obscene as it sounded like a word (still used today) to refer to female genitalia.
- Feck has absolutely no etymological connection to the versatile F word we all know and love, but is still no longer used in its original sense.
- Niggardly is another innocent bystander which has suffered decreased use as a result of connotation leakage.
There’s also a discussion of the power of the use of FCUK as a brand name for a popular clothing line.
Anyway, if you’re interested in all this talk of swear words (and judging by the keywords readers use to find this blog, many of you are), Burbidge and Allan have written a book called Forbidden words: taboo and the censoring of language. There’s a thorough review of the book here and a more general introduction to the linguistics of cussing here, if that’s what you’re after. Finally, Wikipedia do an excellent run-down on profanity, including a short section on the topics most likely to be the subject of bad words in a range of different languages and religions. Knock yourself out.
Personally, I’m interested in why I’ve long had the feeling that it is more acceptable to use frequent and colourful swear words (within a set of specific, unspoken circumstances) in certain circles of Irish society, while this same behaviour has… I mean, would produce mild shock or horror among otherwise equivalent circles of, say, British or Australian society. Does anybody know if there’s a word for this, or an area of study which examines the different frequency and impact of taboo words within regional variations of the same language??
I’ve noticed a few peculiarities to Australian English since I’ve arrived (colourful slang aside, of course). For example, on the train up the coast the other day, we heard “… Passengers for Caloundra, please detrain here.” Detrain??! As in, disembark or alight?!
Detrain doesn’t get too many Google references (most of them are French, “…de train”, etc). And it’s not just me who finds it strange, either. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) News had a reader write in and complain about it here, and had the following to say about its origins:
The Macquarie lists “detrain” as meaning “to alight from a railway train” – and says it[‘s] chiefly military slang. Although it’s not listed in either D.H. Dowling’s Digger Dialects or in Amanda Laugersen’s Diggerspeak – so it’s not Aussie military slang. The opposite (getting on board) is covered by another military word “entrain”… And similar words are used in the military of aircraft: if you get on board you “enplane” and if you get off you “deplane”.
It even gets a mention in the online Urban Dictionary, but with very specific Australian (and even more specifically, Brisbane) references:
A newspeak-esque term QRail train conductors use to describe the act of getting off a train.
Train conductor: Passengers for the Ipswich, Beenleigh and Gold Coast lines, please detrain at Central. Make sure you collect all of your belongings before detraining. Thank you.
The whole misuse of English debate is often levelled at terms like this, but I don’t buy it. (I’m sure being native to a country with a “non-standard” form of English plays a part in my opinion too.) Here we have an example of a word with valid origins being used as management jargon by Queensland Rail. That’s not misuse, it’s re-use. So pretty standard language behaviour, then.
Mind you, I’ve yet to hear the average Joe use it, but given it’s short, snappy and does the job, it seems to fit the requirements of Australian English just nicely!
While I’m mostly enjoying the switch from being an into-English translator to being an active language learner, I’d forgotten just how exhausting it can be 🙂 And how slow and steady a process it is to move knowledge from the passive to the active part of the brain! Evidence indeed, if any more were needed, of the entirely different skill sets we use as linguists, as opposed to as professional translators.
Overall, I’m surprised and really pleased about how much progress I feel I have made in polishing and refining my knowledge of Spanish over the past two weeks. I don’t think this is simply because I am here in Spain, although we all know that when push comes to shove, absorption is the way to go. I’ve had other absorption experiences which were not this successful. I think my success is down to a combination of things which seem to be really working for me:
- the school has some excellent language teachers who are clearly experienced in teaching ELE (Spanish as a foreign language) to advanced level and/or experienced language learners. I’ve noticed this before too – at this stage of the game, the average language school or language class is simply not going to cut it when it comes to helping me maintain and/or further master my working languages.
- I’m really focussed on purely language skills. No trips to flamenco shows, concerts, sightseeing or other “cultural” events this time – I’ve had plenty of chances for all that 🙂
- I’ve enrolled to sit the DELE exam, and the fear of showing myself up by getting a bad mark is the best motivation ever! Now interestingly, there’s a couple of reasons why this shouldn’t make a difference to my motivation levels. Firstly, in theory it shouldn’t be much of a stretch for me given my background. Secondly, I don’t even need to tell anybody I’m doing it – so what if I do badly? Thirdly, my performance is no reflection of my abilities as a translator as plenty of professionals do a good job of working from their passive or C languages without ever learning to speak or write them. But for some reason, as a matter of personal pride, I just don’t feel I can afford myself these excuses… whatever works, eh?!
- I’m not sure why, but I’ve been very aware of what works for me as a language learner during my stay. Now, I’ve always considered myself to be an active language learner as I’m constantly striving to perfect and indeed maintain my second-language skills in various ways. But I’m not usually so hyper-aware of my learning processes, and especially not in relation to other learners in the class, e.g. the areas in which I am different from and/or the same as them, the things I know I’ll need to go away and work on myself because no amount of explaining will make clear even as everyone else in the class is nodding their heads in agreement, etc. I feel more in control of my learning than I have ever been and it’s a nice feeling, even if it takes a little getting used to. Maybe this is part of growing up 🙂
- My expectations have been pretty realistic in terms of what I want to achieve. I used to get very frustrated thinking about how much more Spanish I felt I “knew” when I lived here years and years ago, and the sense of grief would almost overwhelm me. But it’s not bothering me anymore. I can clearly see how what I knew then is quite different from what I need, and want, to know now. I think it helps to be studying with a small group of other learners who are all at different stages of life and who have very different reasons for studying Spanish. I can almost see the ghosts of my past, present and future language-learning selves in that one small room and it’s funny how that clarifies how I’m looking at things!
- It’s all about timing! While I know three weeks is nowhere near ideal, I firmly believe you can make a LOT of progress with your language skills within this relatively short period of time. My model of two weeks of classes and just under one week of self-study and consolidation is just right for the way I learn, but I’d also consider taking classes over three weeks but on a less intensive basis to really give things a chance to bed in (although this depends on what the school is offering too, of course). However regardless of your learning style, based on the discussions I’ve had with other students it seems that one week of classes is simply not worth it – your brain has scarcely even registered that you are in intensive language-learning mode by the time you’ve finished. If you really are limited to only one week of classes either due to financial and/or time constraints, I’d recommend thinking long and hard before enrolling in a language school.
… falls fast and furious, and causes endless power cuts!
Yes, I know it’s been a while. I have another week to go in the rainy but frankly rather gorgeous city of Malaga, and hope to be settled Down Under and back to blogging regularly by early March. I’d planned to continue blogging over this period actually, and even went so far as to have a couple of half-completed posts on stand-by. As usual, things keep getting in the way and let’s face it – real-life fun trumps cyber fun every time 🙂 (Things would be a bit tragic if they didn’t).
My language course is going well and it’s really great to blow the cobwebs off my spoken Spanish again. As expected, my written skills really aren’t being stretched but I plan to work on that via distance learning over the coming year.
The first time I ever lived away from home was in 1997, when I spent a couple of months in Granada as part of my university studies. I’d been to Malaga before both on my own and with family, but the experience was still very “foreign” and frightening at times, and I struggled with the culture shock of it all. So it somehow feels right to be here again more than ten years later, feeling very much at home even as I prepare to relocate to Australia!
The latest issue of the Chartered Institute of Linguist’s magazine has an article about the renaissance in Irish language learning amongst those with no roots or connections to Ireland. It’s great to see that word getting out that Irish is very much alive and kicking. Journalist Siofra Brennan also does a good job of outlining the way in which these adult learners have acquired a good degree of fluency in the language, despite living in the UK.
However, for me, this article missed the point. As a linguist, I’m not surprised at why these people chose to learn Irish. It’s a fascinating language, with a complex grammar that makes it very different to the other languages most Europeans learn at school. It also has a fascinating (and often highly romanticised) history as the oldest spoken literary language in Europe.
I’m not even surprised about the where. There’s a wealth of beginners Irish language-learning material to be found both online and offline, especially in north London. I would even argue that there are more resources available outside of Ireland than there are in, but that’s a post for another day.
What I am curious to know is how hundreds of thousands of Irish adults at home and abroad, having learnt Irish throughout their compulsory education and possibly beyond, can ensure they maintain or even further build on their existing language skills.
I suppose I found this article particularly timely as I’ve grown increasingly frustrated over the years in my own attempts to maintain my Irish. I actually dropped into the offices of Gael Linn, an organisation which claims to support Irish language learners, during a recent trip to Dublin. I quizzed them on the options available for people like me, who have more than a beginners level of Irish but who are unwilling or unable to spend weeks at a time living in one of the Gaeltachtaí. Incredibly, for anyone unable to commute into the centre of Dublin for classes three hours, two evenings a week (so, quite a few Irish people, then…), there is nothing. No suitable books, worksheets, online classes or distance learning materials. Nada. Zilch.
(Please don’t email me to tell me about the embarrassingly gammy “multimedia language course” (i.e. DVD) called Turas Teanga, which features a blonde woman driving around Ireland in what’s supposed to be a sexy car, having unlikely and inane conversations in Irish along the way. Not even the most committed Gaelophile could find something to love there.)
I acknowledge that there is a range of Irish-language broadcast media which is the envy of minority language promoters the world over, with plenty of freely available TV, radio and internet content (I can especially recommend this podcast and this website). But not everyone has the skills or motivation levels to base their entire language exposure on reading and/or listening, especially when it doesn’t form part of a broader learning experience.
How can an organisation like Gael Linn claim to promote the language when they have completely ignored a huge tract of learners, people who have already acquired the basics but just want to brush up or maintain what’s already there?
Having said all this, I can certainly understand the need to divert resources towards beginner language learners. In a country where the percentage of immigration has risen faster in 10 years than over a half century in Britain, the Irish language could offer an exciting point of national unity on the changing face of the Irish Republic.
But I’m not asking for national funding. This is a service I’m willing to pay for and I’d bet I’m not the only one, which surely denotes a real gap in the market.
And this is where I think the real problem lies with the Irish language today. It would seem that to the Irish government, it’s not about how well you speak the language or the confidence with which you use it, it’s about increasing the number of people who claim an undefined level of “competence” in the language. But that’s just not good enough.
Anyone who has been through the Irish education system will have achieved a reasonably good level of competence in Irish. The chances are though, these skills will have fallen quite quickly into a state of rusty disrepair as attentions turn to developing other more marketable skills on leaving school. Fair enough.
Yet once further education has been taken care of, jobs have been secured, and the humdrum of daily life takes over, many of us remember Irish very fondly and with great pride, and – I believe – would gladly return to using it more regularly. But aside from the small numbers of speakers living in the Gaeltachtaí, there are very few structured learning opportunities to help us achieve the confidence required to whip out the cúpla focail once again.
We’re not talking about an insignificant number of people either. We’re basically looking at most Irish adults living in the Republic outside the Gaeltachtaí. Plus, a potentially significant number of the over 1.2 million Irish-born immigrants worldwide, who arguably may be even more motivated to re-learn a language that reminds them of “home” and of their childhood.
Attitudes towards Irish among Irish people
One of the learners featured in Brennan’s article spoke about the apathy she sensed towards the Irish language, especially among young people in Ireland. I would argue that the situation is a lot more complicated than that.
First, it’s a compulsory part of the education system in the Republic, and these are young people – of course she’ll sense a degree of apathy, especially if the curriculum is anything as dull as what it was when I was in school. (Remember, our education system is similar to the International Baccalaureate in style, with 6 – 7 subjects taken to Leaving Certificate level, i.e. English, Irish, Maths, another foreign language, and two optional subjects.)
Second, and most importantly, Irish people living in the Republic feel a strange mixture of emotions when it comes to the Irish language.
Over 40% of people surveyed in the Republic of Ireland census last year claimed they were competent in the language, and although the reality of this figure is frequently disputed (and indeed ridiculed), it still speaks volumes. Not of our actual language levels but of the pride we feel towards our first national language. Yet even among the most committed of Irish speakers, there is also a sense of unease around the practicality of making Irish an official language of the EU. I would also guess at feelings of guilt (a compulsory component of Irishness, after all :)), and maybe even shame and quiet despair too. The Irish government has spent millions to promote the language and gain it the recognition it deserves, yet those who live in Ireland often have very little confidence in their ability to use it, despite years of education. Surely all the more reason to provide this group with suitable language learning resources.
My call to arms
So to the Irish government, I say: the Irish people have had enough of the Irish language being hijacked for political purposes – give us a break and let us sort out for ourselves what our language means to us, away from all the political posturing.
To volunteer language organisations such as Conradh na Gaeilge, Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, Gael Linn, Coláiste na bhFiann, Glór na nGael and Comhluadar, I say: Don’t forget about the rest of us! We’re waving our wallets at you, if you’d only care to look.
Finally, with a nod to a particular pet peeve of mine, to everyone else (including the Irish) I say: stop referring to the Irish language as “Gaelic”. It’s sloppy and inaccurate. French is a Romance language, but you wouldn’t call it Romance, would you? The same applies to Irish. It’s Irish, Gaeilge, or if you must use generalisations, one of several Goidelic or Gaelic languages.
This was posted to the ITI’s French Network egroup last year, and I’ve just come across it again while trawling my archives. It’s been circulating the internet for some time now and although its origins are a little suspect (as explained in painful detail here), I reckon it’s still quite amusing:
The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are this year’s winners:
- Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period.
- Ignoranus : A person who’s both stupid and an asshole.
- Intaxication : Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
- Reintarnation : Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
- Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
- Foreploy : Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
- Giraffiti : Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
- Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
- Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
- Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.
- Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
- Karmageddon : It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.
- Decafalon (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
- Glibido : All talk and no action.
- Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
- Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.
- Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
- Caterpallor (n.): The colour you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.
Of course, if I were really eager, I’d come up with a few more of my own (think of how it would enhance my professional image!) But I’m not…