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 people.to the detriment of others.

Sources
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.

Image
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.

Sources
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."


Source
The Peninsula Paris. Wikipedia, 2019. Emphasis added.

Image
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 https://www.npit5.com/.

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.

Reference
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..

Friday, July 19, 2019

Affective Translating




It’s widely assumed that the main function of language, its raison d’être, is to express and communicate our thoughts. That may be, but it also has other functions, conscious or unconscious.

There are, for example, what philosophers and linguists call illocutionary speech acts. An illocutionary speech act is an utterance that not only presents information but performs an action as well. For example, “The Board will meet twice a year” gives predictive information, but “The Board shall meet twice a year” lays down a by-law. Such acts are usually intentional and Expert Translators should be able to detect them.

Another function of language, the one that concerns us here, is that of affective or emotlve language.
“A cross-linguistic analysis indicates that languages dedicate phonological, morpho-syntactic and discourse features to intensify and specify attitudes, moods, feelings and dispositions.”
To these features we must add another that is equally important: the choice of vocabulary.

It follows that affective translation is the translation of such language, Expert Translators may perform it deliberately, but even Natural Translators may do so intuitively. And a corollary is that affective translation maintains the emotional effect of the source, often by using similar devices.

This function is particularly important in literary translation, because authors exploit it intentionally. It’s foremost in poetry.

One such poem has already been treated on this blog, though for a different reason. It’s Ezra Pound’s Cathay, which consists of translations from Chinese. To retrieve the post, enter cathay in the Search box on the right. One reason for the popularity of Pound’s translations lies in his mastery of affective English.

Some church interpreting is of this type. For an example, enter buea in the Search box on the right.

Let’s take as another example Edgar Alan Poe’s famous poem The Raven. Fortunately for our purpose, there’s a French translation of it, also famous, by his near contemporary Stéphane Mallarmé. It’s particularly interesting because Poe was a very conscious exponent of affective devices and he explained it himself in his essary The Philosophy of Composition. He went so far as to say that writing a poem was a methodical process.

Among the qualities Poe sought after were tone, which in The Raven is melancholy; and refrain or keynote. The refrain is his raven’s Nevermore, for which he chose a single word. The word had to have a certain character. It had to be sonorous and – since it was repeated at the end of almost every stanza  – be “susceptible of protracted emphasis.” Determining the long o as the "most sonorous vowel," Poe thought about what would connect with the most "producible consonant" to reach the desired result.

And so on. For a complete analysis, consult the Lippmann paper listed below.

Now let’s turn to the Mallarmé. The most striking thing about it is that Mallarmé did a prose translation. Prose translations have their uses – I used  Rosetti’s prose translation of Dante’s Inferno to understand the Italian – but they immediately sacrifice the affective devices of metre (i.e.regular rhythm), and rhyme, which were quasi-universal in poetry until the early twentieth century. So Mallarmé had to compensate for this loss. He did it in two ways. One was by choice of vocabulary:
“The opening lines of "Le Corbeau" provide a stylistic sampling of how Mallarmé used French to make The Raven even spookier. The familiar “midnight dreary” we associate with Poe’s version becomes the more funereal and morbid “minuit lugubre” in French. The nervous narrator’s book collection, described by Poe as “quaint and curious,” is transformed by Mallarmé into “curieux et bizarre,” infusing the lines with an even stranger, more unsettling tone.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,/ Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—/ While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,/ As of some one gently rapping—rapping at my chamber door./ "'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door/ Only this and nothing more."
 Une fois, par un minuit lugubre, tandis que je m'appesantissais, faible et fatigué, sur maint curieux et bizarre volume de savoir oublié— tandis que je dodelinais la tête, somnolant presque: soudain se fit un heurt, comme de quelqu'un frappant doucement, frappant à la porte de ma chambre—cela seul et rien de plus."

The other way was by the more surprisng device of accompanying his prose with etchings by his friend Édouard Monet. Translatologists may class this as intersemiotic translation. Monet’s image of the bird has become definitive.


To be continued.

Sources
Elinor Ochs and Bambi B. Schhieffelin. Language has a heart. Text: Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of Discourse, vol. 9, No. 1, 1989, pp.7-25. Click [HERE] or go to  https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/text.1.1989.9.issue-1/text.1.1989.9.1.7/text.1.1989.9.1.7.xml

Edgar Alan Poe. The Raven, Evening Mirror, 1845.

Babette Lippmann. EdgarAlan Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition”: an analysis of his work. Grin, 2005. Click [HERE] or go to https://www.grin.com/document/59043.

Edgar Alan Poe. Le Corbeau. French translation by Stéphane Mallarmé, illustrated by Édouard Monet. Paris: R. Lesclide, 1875, in an edition of 240 signed copies.


Jared Spears. How Poe’s French translator made The Raven even spookier. Mental Floss, 2016. Click [HERE] or go to http://mentalfloss.com/article/87072/how-poes-french-translator-made-raven-even-spookier.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Now that I am 90


Last Saturday, 25 May, was my ninetieth birthday. A good moment for reflection. I want to thank publicly and profoundly all the many people who’ve helped and encouraged me to get this far. I’ve been undeservedly lucky.

To start with, of course, my parents, who bequeathed to me their genes and made sacrifices to get me a sound education. More recently my wife, who has looked after me duiing these recent years of illness, And in between them a long succesion of relatives, friends, colleagues, clients, students and Followers, too many to list in a blog post.

Looking back over my career, I think I made a few minor contributions to translatology (itself a term I introduced into English in the early 70s), and one major discovery. The latter is Natural Translation, which I formulated in 1973 as the translating done in everyday circumstances by bilinguals who’ve had no training for it. It was extended in 1976 to the hypothesis that the human ability to translate is inborn; and later to a developmental model to bridge the gap between natural translators and expert ones. (For more, enter essential definitions in the Search box on the right or click [HERE].) Acceptance of the concept has advanced only slowly in the last 40 years, but some aspects of it are now almost mainstream. Language brokering studies, starting from the USA in the 90s, opened people’s eyes to the vast amount of translating done by children. The NPIT (non-professional translation) conferences and publications of the last decade have helped brush away the cobweb of misunderstanding in the old saying that “because you are bilingual, it doesn’t mean you can translate” (or interpret, for that matter).All around us, NGOs, manga and computer game publishers, Wikipedia and others depend on crowdsourcing their translations. Of course there’s a tradeoff. Mass production and amateurism can rarely matched skilled craftmanship, but it’s a price to pay to get the translations done. (The same can be said for machine translation, the branch of translatology in which I started my career.)

So without more ado I wish you all as long a life as mine and a long career with many discoveries.

Yours,

Translatology

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Indigenous Interpreters



Indigenous:: originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native,  eg "the indigenous peoples of Siberia."
Synonyms: native, aboriginal, local.

We’ve had two examples recently of indigenous interpreters on this blog. First the contemporary example of the Nicaraguan Akateko and Q’anjob’al speaker Carmelina, who calls herself a native interpreter (a synonym); and then the historical example of the Aborigene BungareeScroll down a few pages to find those posts. Bungaree was the first ‘Australian’ English interpreter, but he wasn’t the first Australasian one. That distinction surely belongs to Tupaia, who had originally been recruited some thirty years ealier by the British naval officer and explorer Samuel Wallis (1728-1795) and then passed on to James Cook’s expedition. Tupaia was born in the Society Islands near Tahiti. He was a very different character from Bungaree. The latter was a ‘rough diamond’, whereas Tupaia was highly educated and respected in his own culture and became a leading priest for his people. Bungaree was popular with Flinders’ sailors, whereas Cook’s crew found Tupaia too haughty. But both of them contributed qualities that made them invaluable to their European employers beyond their language skills, as often happens with indigenous interpreters. Bungaree saved lives by his courage. In the case of Tupaia,
He was also taught [by his people] how to be a star navigator. His memorized knowledge included island lists, including their size, reef and harbor locations, whether they were inhabited, and if so, the name of the chief and any food produced there. More importantly, his memory would include the bearing of each island, the time to get there, and the succession of stars and islands to follow to get there."
 His employment by Cook was, however, not all plain sailing:
“Tupaia joined [Cook’s ship] Endeavour in July 1769 when it passed his home island of Ra'iatea in the outward voyage from Plymouth. He was welcomed aboard at the insistence of Sir Joseph Banks, the Cook expedition's official botanist, on the basis of his evident skill as a navigator and mapmaker: when asked for details of the region Tupaia drew a chart showing all 130 islands within a 2,000 miles (3,200 km) radius and was able to name 74 of them. Banks welcomed the Raiatean's interest in travelling with Endeavour to England where he could be presented as an anthropological curiosity. Australian academic Vanessa Smith has speculated that Banks also envisaged conversation, amusement and possibly a genuine friendship from Tupaia's company during the voyage. As Cook at first refused to allow Tupaia to join the expedition for financial reasons, Banks agreed to be responsible for the Raiatean's welfare and upkeep while on board."
Tupaia was also an artist (see Image), and ten watercolours of his survive as well as the map he drew for CookThough he wasn’t a Maori speaker, his Polynesian language was sufficiently close for him to be able to communicate with the Maori when Cook reached New Zealand, and eventually to become highly respected by them.

On the opposite side of the globe, a few years later, there was the famous case of Sacagawea (aka Sakakawea or Sacajawea), who was pressed into service as interpreter for the Lewis and Clark transcontinental expedition of 1804-1806. She earned her fame on several counts. First because she was that rarity: an interpreter who has made it into popular history and legend. She did it by her skills, bravery and hardiness; secondly because she was a woman;  and thirdly, but not least, because she was a Native American whose aid was invaluable to the nascent United States. There was a post about her on this blog that you can retrieve by entering sacagawea in the Search box on the right.

Later in the nineteenth century, indigenous interpreters became institutionalised by government pay in the American west. Thus we read in Dee Brown’s  tragic book Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee:
“Most Indian leaders spoke freely and candidly in councils with white officials, and as they became more sophisticated in such matters during the 1870’s and 1880’s, they demanded the right to choose their own interpreters and recorders... Millions of their words are preserved in official records. Even when the meetings were in remote parts of the West, someone usually was available to write down the speeches, and because of the slowness of the [consecutive] translation process, much of what was said could be recorded in longhand. Interpreters quite often were half-bloods who knew spoken languages but seldom could read or write. Like most oral peoples they and the Indians depended upon imagery to express their thoughts, so that the English translations were filled with graphic similes and metaphors of the natural world. If an eloquent Indian had a poor interpreter, his words might be transformed to flat prose, but a good interpreter could make a poor speaker sound poetic.”

Tupaia, Bungaree and Carmina represent three phases in imdigenous interpreting: respectively the exploratory, the colonial and today’s migratory. I myself took part in some training for colonial indigenous Indian and Inuit interpreters in the Northwest Territories of Canada; but for the most part indigenous interpreters don’t receive training. One reason is the difficulty of finding teachers who know their languages. It’s basically the uncommonness of their languages that makes them indispensable.


Sources
Tupaia (navigator). Wikipedia, 2019.

Samuel Wallis. Wikipedia, 2019.

Dee Brown. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. 1970.

Image

A Maori man and Joseph Banks exchanging a crayfish for a piece of cloth, drawing by Tupaia, c.1769. Source: Wikipedia.