Friday, March 27, 2020

Honoris Causa

Last month I emerged from hibernation in Valencia to travel to the southern city of Malaga, there to receive an honorary degree (Doctorado Honoris Causa) on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of its university's department of translation and interpretation. The ceremony was impressive and set the seal on my academic career. But then alas I fell ill on the journey home and spent the next three weeks in bed.

Now that I have recovered, I want to express my profound thanks to the Rector and his staff not only for the honour but also for their warm reception and for their attentiveness to the needs of an old man.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Chinese doctors translate WHO coronavirus guidance

Coronavirus is all the news. As its spread goes international, translation is inevitably involved. Some of the translating is no doubt done professionally but a lot is emergency work by non-professional Native Translators who have a medical background. In any case, even among professionals, there has long been discussion as to whether it's better to have a translation by an Expert Generalist Translator or by a less expert Subject Specialist.

Anyway, here's a report just in (with emphasis added) about the work of a group of Chinese doctors.
As tens of thousands of Chinese doctors are fighting against the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), nine doctors from southwest China's Sichuan Province have offered support by translating a guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO).
In 19 hours, the doctors from a hospital in Chengdu, capital of the province, voluntarily completed the translation and proofreading of the guidance that is more than 7,400 words long and shared it online.
The guidance concerned the clinical management of severe acute respiratory infection in suspected cases of novel coronavirus infection, which can help more doctors use scientific methods to treat patients and protect themselves, according to the translators.
 "The epidemic attracted a lot of attention from people all around the country," said Yan Tong, a doctor of the translation team. "We hoped to help win the battle against the novel coronavirus through our efforts."
A total of eight of Yan's colleagues joined him within an hour after he posted a notice calling for help via WeChat. [WeChat is a Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app.]
The team managed to translate the guidance in plain language, aiming to help the medical staff find the necessary information as soon as possible when treating patients. Members of the team also invited five other doctors specializing in various fields to proofread the translation.
This is a textbook case of non-professional translators stepping in and organizing efficiently when there is an emergency.

Source, 4 February 2020.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Queen Elizabeth I of England, Lifelong Native Translator

There are translators who do it for money (salaried or freelance); there are those who do it pro bono (for friends, relatives, NGOs, love of literature, etc.); there are those who do it for their own self-improvement, perhaps as an aid to learning a language; and then there are those who do it for sheer pleasure, perhaps as a challenging word game like playing Scrabble.

When eleven-year-old Lady Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth I of England, translated a long French religious poem in 1544 as a present to her mother Catherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII, she clearly belonged to the pro bono category.

However, she may also have done it as an intellectual game inspired by her Renaissance education. In our  paper Translating as an innate skill we mentioned children who translated between their parents even though they were aware that the latter understood one another without assistance.

Here's an extract from an earlier post on this blog about Elizabeth as translator:

"[The French poem] L'âme pécheresse was only the beginning of Elizabeth's lifelong affection for translating. She must have enjoyed doing it, for itself or for the prestige it gave her in the culture in which she had been educated. Translating was a major element in Renaissance culture and its value was justly recognised. She was an impressive polyglot who knew Latin, French, Italian and Spanish. Over the next four decades, amid the tumultuous affairs of her realm, she produced a considerable body of translations.
"They include her renderings of epistles of Cicero and Seneca, religious writings of John Calvin and Horace's Ars Poetica, as well as Elizabeth's [own] Latin Sententiae, drawn from diverse sources, on the responsibilities of sovereign rule and her own perspectives on the monarchy."
To retrieve the post, enter Elizabeth in the Search box on the right.

Now another document has unexpectedly come to light that reinforces the above. The discovery is the result of some clever detective work.

"A manuscript written by Queen Elizabeth I has been discovered after lying unnoticed for more than a century.
"A literary historian [John-Mark Philo] from the University of East Anglia made the startling find in Lambeth Palace Library in London. [Lambeth Palace is the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury,]
"He turned detective to piece together a series of clues to establish that the queen was the author of the writings.
"The work is a translation of a book in which the Roman historian Tacitus wrote of the benefits of monarchical rule."
The detective work required an analysis of Elizabeth's "messy" handwriting and even her private letter paper. Her known translations were usually done in her own handwriting

"Philo noticed that the watermarks on the paper stock used for the translation – a rampant lion and the initials GB, with a crossbow countermark – were those used for the queen’s private correspondence and translations. But there was only one translator at court in the late 16th century known to have translated any of Tacitus’s Annals: the queen herself, whom her contemporary John Clapham ´[historian and poet] described taking 'pleasure in reading of the best and wisest histories, and some part of Tacitus’s Annals she herself turned into English for her private exercise'."

Perhaps she did the Tacitus translation partly for her own self-instruction. But we can scarcely escape the conclusion that it's yet another proof of how much, from childhood to advanced age, she enjoyed translating.

John-Mark Philo. Elizabeth I’s Translation of Tacitus: Lambeth Palace Library, MS 683. Review of English Studies, 29 November 2019,

Alison Flood. Messy handwriting reveals mystery translator: Queen Elizabeth I. The Guardian, 29 November 2019.

Janet Mueller and Joshua Scodel (editors). Elizabeth I: Translations, 1544-1589. University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Kerala Schoolgirl to the Rescue

Each year at the translation school of the University of Ottawa we used to host a group of sixteen-year-old students from local secondary schools and give them a chance to try their skill at interpreting. We didn`t expect an expert performance; we only wanted to give them an idea of the difficulty of the task, but sometimes we had a surprise. I always remember one girl who gave a flawless consecutive French rendition of a five-minute English speech taken from a bank of speeches that we used for training our advanced graduate students. I and my colleagues were floored. Why would we submit such a genius to even one year of classes? Therefore the following exploit doesn't surprise me as much as it seems to have done the reporters from The Indian Express and News 18.

"Rahul Gandhi lauds student for translating his speech. 
"A class 11 student earned praise from Congress MP Rahul Gandhi during his visit to Wayanad for flawlessly translating his English speech into Malayalam. He was addressing a group of students after inaugurating a new science block in the school on Thursday. During his previous visits to Kerala, Gandhi faced problems when his translators failed to articulate his speeches.
 "Fathima Safa, a 16-year-old student at the Government Higher Secondary School in Karuvarkkundu at Wadoor, stepped forward when Gandhi sought help from the audience.
"'Is there any student who would like to translate what I am saying?' Gandhi asked. 
"Safa lifted her hand and was promptly asked by the Congress leader to come to the stage.
The young student without any hesitation climbed onto the stage and translated Gandhi's speech into Malayalam without any trouble.
"Gandhi later thanked her and handed over a chocolate in appreciation.
An elated Safa later said she never thought she would get such an opportunity."

Malayalam is a Dravidian language with nearly 40 million speakers mainly in the state of Kerala. Kerala is on tte southwestern coast of India. Note that Ghandi gave his speech in English, not Hindi. English is still an official language in India, and it's still very much in use in its everyday life and its literature. It`s an enduring legacy of colonialism. which offers the advantage of neutrality, of not being associated with a particular region or the detriment of others.

Express Web Staff. Kerala student wins praise for flawlessly translating Rahul Gandhi’s speech. The Indian Express, 5 December 2019.

Kerala Class 11 Student Turns Translator for Rahul Gandhi at Wayanad School. News 18, 5 December 2019.

The above image is from a video clip that appeared in both the newspaper reports.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

News from India

Those of you who've read the 2017 guest post on this blog by Indian translator Prabha Sridevan (see photo), and especially the several of you who've sent appreciative comments, will be pleased to learn that she's just won a prestigious literary award. (To retrieve the post, enter Prabha in the Search box on the right.)

"At the valedictory of the 3rd edition of the three day literary fest ‘Valley of Words’, held at Dehradun [in the foothills of the Himalayas] on Nov. 17, Prabha Sridevan, retired judge, Madras High Court, won an award under the category ‘Translation from regional language [Tamil] into English’ for her book ‘Echoes of the Veena’.
"Prabha who retired in 2010 has been actively translating books since 2012.
"Her first book, ‘Seeing in the Dark’, a translation of late writer Choodamani’s short stories, was published by Oxford University Press in 2015.
"Her second book ‘Echoes of the Veena’, which was a translation of 18 stories written by the same author, was published by Ratna Sagar P. Ltd in July 2018.
"She has also translated the short stories of Seeta Ravi, Vaasanthi and Kavitha Swarnavalli. Stories from her translated works have been turned into plays by the Madras Players [in Chennai]. Her third book which is a translation of Thoppil Mohammed Meeran’s short stories will come out next year."
It was the sensitivity of the stories in Seeing in the Dark that first led me to get in touch with her.

This post is inserted not only as a tribute to Prabha but also to draw attention once again to the teeming translation activity in India, fed by its many languages including English. Western academics seem more interested in Sir William Jones (1746-1794) than in present-day Indian translators.

Mylapore Times, November 22, 2019.

R. Chudamani. Seeing in the Dark. Translated from Tamil by Prabha Sridevan. New Delhi: Oxford University Press India, 2015. Available from Amazon and other booksellers. A collection of short stories with translator's introduction, it was adapted for the stage and performed by The Madras Players in 2016.

R. Chudamani. Echoes of the Veena and Other Stories. Translated from Tamil by Prabha Sridevan.
Delhi: Ratna, 2018. 229 p. Available from Amazon and other booksellers. A collection of short stories with translator's introduction,

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Pageboy Interpreter

Non-professional, untrained bilinguals have sometimes been called on to translate at important events and negotiations above their normal status. Here's a little story about one of them.

The Peninsula hotel is a luxury establishment on the Avenue Kléber in central Paris. It used to be called the Hotel Majestic until it was bought by its present owners, who didn't respect its history. When the original building was put up in 1864 it had connections with the Spanish royal family. Much later, in the 1920s, it was the site of a famous dinner party that was attended by Diaghilev, Picasso, Joyce, Proust and other luminaries of the artistic world. Then in 1940 it was taken over by the Nazi conquerors and for the rest of the occupation of Paris it served as one of their headquarters. The rest of its distinguished history can be read in the Wikipedia article referenced below.

In August 1944 the Free French forces and their allies arrived to retake Paris.

"The final battle for The Majestic took place on 25 August in the afternoon as Jaques Massu and Colonel Paul de Langlande of the 2nd Armored Division (France) moved their troops from the Champs-Élysées to the heavily fortified and barricaded Avenue Kleber. One of Massu's officers worked his way around the rear of The Majestic on Rue la Perouse, which was protected by a blockhouse that could only be subdued by a bazooka, but the Germans inside the hotel said they would be willing to surrender to regular soldiers, rather than men of the Resistance. A German spokesman was brought to Massu under a white flag and with Langland'e approval, Massu went to The Majestic accompanied by Senior Sergeant Dannic. As they approached Dannic was shot dead by a sniper firing from the hotel's rooftop. Despite this, Massu continued up the hotel's steps and entered The Majestic's lobby to find fifty German officers and 300 other ranks. The Germans surrendered to Massu without further resistance, using a bilingual bell-boy from the hotel as their interpreter."

The Peninsula Paris. Wikipedia, 2019. Emphasis added.

German officers held prisoner in the Majestic.

Friday, September 13, 2019

NPIT5 at Amsterdam

The call for papers has been out for some time for the Fifth International Conference on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation. It's the most important international conference for the Followers of this blog. It will take place at the University of Amsterdam Department of Communication Science, 24-26 June 2020. The deadline for submissions is 15 October, 2019. The official website is at

It inspires confidence to see that Rachele Antonini of Bologna-Forli is on the Advisory Board, because it was she who launched the epoch-making first NPIT conference back in 2012, That we are now at the fifth conference in the series means NPIT studies are almost mainstream at last.

The following list of suggested topics gives some idea of the scope of NPIT:
Adult/child language and cultural brokering
Community translation and interpreting
Family interpreting
Natural/native translation/interpreting
Non-professional church/religious interpreting and/or translation
Non-professional media interpreting and/or translation (fansubbing, fandubbing, fanfiction, news, talk-shows, the web, etc.)
Non-professional sign language interpreting
Stakeholder perspectives on non-professional interpreters and translators
Training of non-professional interpreters and translators
Non-professional interpreting and/or translation in the field of war/conflicts, NGOs, asylum seeking, health care, community and social care, legal and police.

The conference announcement rightly sums it all up this way:
Pushing definitional and theoretical boundaries of interpreting and translation, it is a dynamic and still under-researched field that does not necessarily conforms to norms guiding professional multilingual communicative practices, though in many settings and contexts non-professional interpreting and translation is, in fact, more common in bridging diverse cultural and linguistic worlds, than professional interpreting and translation.

Rachele Antonini et al. (eds.) Non-professional Interpreting and Translation: State of the art and future of an emerging field of research.
(Benjamins Translation Library 129). Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2017. 425p..