Sunday, December 25, 2016

My Greek Interpreter

For light reading during the holidays, I've put a short article on my page. It relates an incident from my 20-year career (1970-1990) as a freelance conference interpreter in Canada, and incidentally it quotes a story that throws some light from an unexpected source on professional interpreters in Victorian England. To read it, click [here] or go to The title is My Greek Interpreter.

The reason I think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had a real-life model for the character of Mr Melas in the quoted story is the verisimilitude of the latter's description of his work. He says that he knows "all languages – or nearly all," (Conan Doyle obviously describes him with tongue in cheek) and this reminds me of an interpreter who used to work in the Toronto courts. His first language was Russian, but he claimed that he could interpret all the Slavic languages. Eventually he was found out by a lawyer of Polish extraction who then had to do the interpreting himself for one of his Polish clients. (It was admissible in those days.) It was the lawyer who told me about him.

Illustration by Sidney Paget for the first publication of The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter in The Strand Magazine, 1893. Mr Melas is on the right.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

From Fairy Tale and Folk Story to Ballet and Pantomime by Translation and Adaptation

Once upon a time, in the early years of this blog, there used to be an annual Christmas Diversion. It took the form of a history that traced how a foreign folk tale or fairy story came to be transformed by translation and adaptation into a popular Christmas entertainment for children and their parents in British theatres. Some of them became a unique British form of musical comedy called pantomime (or panto for short). Others provided the story line and characters for ballets. Their traditions endure.

The Diversion posts are still available on the blog but they are scattered and difficult to find if you aren't adept with the Search function. So this year I've compiled a single cohesive document of them. It's too long for a blog post, so I've transferred it to my page, which you can reach in a twinkling by clicking [here] or going to,

The stories are Aladdin, from the Arabic of The Thousand and One Nights; The Nutcracker from the German stories by E T A Hofmann; and Cinderella and The Sleeping Beauty, both from the French tales by Charles Perrault.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Translator's Affinity

Translator's affinity (TA) isn't a new term, but it hasn't been used much. It may mean the translator's empathy with the text or with its context, as in Ali Darwish's book (see Sources):
"... the translator's affinity to either the source text or translation… and situational affinity may act as a reinforcing positive or negative factor in defining the overall translation strategy."
In this post, however, I will use it to mean empathy with the original author.

I first became conscious of it when discovering Ezra Pound's Cathay. It's a Modernist American poet's very free translation of poems by the classical Chinese poet Li Bai (701-761, known as Rihahu in Japanese). It's been widely admired by such great English poets as T. S. Elliot, W. B. Yeats and Carlos Williams. Ford Maddox Hueffer declared,
"The poems in Cathay are things of supreme beauty. What poetry should be, that they are."
T. S. Elliot opined,
"[He is] the inventor of Chinese poetry... through his translation we really at last get the original... translucencies."
And what is especially relevant to Pound as a translator is that he has been widely admired by Chinese critics too:
"Hsieh Wen-tung, for instance, has ignored the obvious mistakes Pound has made and said that Pound's poetic acumen made up for the loss."
Here's a brief sample:
***The Jewel Stairs' Grievance***
The jewelled steps are already quite white with dew,
It is so late that the dew soaks my gauze stockings,
And I let down the crystal curtain
And watch the moon through the clear autumn.
Yet there's a mystery about Pound's translating. He didn't know Chinese. He worked from notes by Ernnest Fenellosa. Fenellosa was an outstanding authority on Japanese art, but he didn't know Chinese either. His notes were really lexical glosses, not translations. Wai-Lim Yip (see Sources) says,
"One can easily excommunicate Pound from the Forbidden City of Chinese studies, but it seems clear that in his dealings with Cathay, even when he is given only the barest details, he is able to get into the central consciousness of the original author by what we may perhaps call a kind of clairvoyance."
What Yip called clairvoyance, I attributed to TA. But how to explain it? I thought I found an explanation in Chinese graphic art. By the early 1900s Pound was living in London.
"Between June 1910 and April 1912 the British Museum held a comprehensive 'Exhibition of Chinese and Japanese Paintings' housed in the museum's newly-constructed White Wing. There were 108 Chinese paintings and 126 Japanese paintings reflecting the persistent interest in the aesthetic sources for the fashionable Japonisme and Chinoiserie of the time – plus an aesthetic attraction to the colour, precision, unity, imagery and techniques of oriental art."
Moreover the curator of the exhibition was Laurence Binyon, director of the department of Japanese and Chinese paintings and prints at the museum, with whom Pound formed a long-lasting relationship of friendship and admiration.

Therefore I concluded that the bridge from Pound to Li Bai was Chinese graphic art, and that in positing any TA one should not only look at the translator and the author but also seek out the bridge that links them.

A much more recent example of TA that I have encountered is translator Prabha Sridevan's empathy for Tamil author R. Chudamani. Part of a post on this blog in June was about Prabha. To find it, enter Prabha in the Search box on the right. Here there's certainly a cultural link, since both translator and author are Indian Tamils living in their homeland. But there is also another bridge. I was once asked in a radio interview whether a work by a woman author would be better translated by a woman translator. On the spur of the moment I couldn't think why, but now I see a reason in TA between women, in this case mature women.

For a final example, I turn to something from my own ongoing experience. For 20 years now I've been translating and retranslating an Arabic poem called Al-Talaasim / The Talismans and I'm still not satisfied. "Retranslating" because there's already a published translation in an anthology (see Sources); and a student once floored me by declaring in class that she preferred the published translation to mine. Yet there's something that draws me back to it, and I think it's a case of TA. The poet was Elia Abu Madi (1890-1957), a member of the Lebanese diaspora in the United States. To understand the bridge between me and him you need to know something about the structure and content of the poem. It has five stanzas and all of them end with the same short line lastu 'adrii / I do not know; and the final stanza ends with the couplet
lastu 'adrii. Wa limaadhaa lastu 'adrii?
lastu àdrii. /
I do not know. And why do I not know?
I do not know.
The first stanza, in one of my several attempts, goes like this:
I don't know where I came from but I arrived,
And I beheld a pathway in front of me, so I started walking.
And I shall go on journeying whether I like it or abhor it.
Where did I come from? How did I see my way?
I don't know.
The bridge IMHO is the poet's agnosticism, something rare in Arabic poetry and indeed in any poetry.

Can what has been said about Translator's Affinity be extrapolated to Interpreter's Affinity? I think it can, but that's another story.

Note that TA is a feeling. It can't be taught, though it can perhaps be cultivated once it's formed. It's something intuitive, natural.

Ali Darwish. Translation Applied! An Introduction to Applied Translation Studies: A Transactional Model. Melbourne: Writescope, 2010.

Ezra Pound. Cathay, Translations by Ezra Pound, for the Most Part from the Chinese of Rihahu, from the Notes of the Late Ernest Fenellosa, and the Decipherings of the Professors Mori and Ariga. London: Elkin Mathews, 1915. The text of this edition is available online by clicking [here] or going to

Ernest Fenellosa. Wikipedia, 2016.

Wai-lim Yip. Ezra Pound's `Cathay'. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969. Available from Amazon.

Ira Nadel (University of British Columbia). Cathay: Ezra Pound's Orient (Penguin Specials). 2016.

Mounah A. Khouri and Hamil Algar (translators and editors). An Anthology of Modern Arabic Poetry. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974. Available from Amazon.

Elia Abu Madi. Click [here] or go to

Ezra Pound in 1913. Photo by Alvin Langdon Coburn. Source: Wikipedia.

This post is now available for downloading at Click [here] or go to

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Update: A Royal Chlld Translator

A few posts ago I bemoaned the "deluge" of translation studies writings these days that no translatologist, least of all an old one like me, can hope to keep up with. Yet I must confess that I am complicit in it. There are now nearly 400 posts on this blog, that's at least a quarter of a million words, and even I can't remember all that's there. While much of it was ephemeral, there were some enduring nuggets. The thought was triggered by a reader's comment received this week on a post published on December 31, 2011. You can read the comment at the end of the present post.

So I've decided to salvage some of my favourites from oblivion from time to time by republishing them, and this is the first. A Postscript has been added.

Today is December 31 [2011].

On this day in the year 1544 – in the words of Anne Lake Prescott, a distinguished American scholar of the English Renaissance –
"the eleven-year-old Lady Elizabeth presented Catherine with her own beautifully bound and embroidered translation of Marguerite's long poem Le miroir de l'âme pécheresse."
This was a red-letter day in the annals of child translators. Lady Elizabeth was the future Queen Elizabeth I of England. Catherine was Catherine (or Katherine) Parr,
"the sixth and last wife of King Henry VIII, destined to outlive the mercurial ruler... She was an admirable wife to Henry and a loving stepmother to his two youngest children, Elizabeth and Edward. She was also the most intellectual of Henry's wives, caught up in the turbulent religious climate of the times."
Marguerite was Marguerite de Valois (aka Marguerite d'Angoulême, 1492–1549),
"queen consort of Henry II of Navarre. Her brother became king of France as Francis I, and the two siblings were responsible for the celebrated intellectual and cultural court and salons of their day in France... As an author and a patron of humanists and reformers, she was an outstanding figure of the French Renaissance."
As for her poem Le Miroir de l'âme pécheresse (The Mirror of the Sinful Soul), it is
"an outpouring of surprising intensity: over 1,400 lines of self-accusation and self-abasement. The Reformist orientation is apparent in the poem's Pauline-Augustinian bent, as in the prominence of biblical allusions. The speaker of the poetic monologue presents herself as a wretched sinner, who has so violated and betrayed her relationship with God that she is totally unworthy of his grace. Parsing out that relationship into a series of familial paradigms - daughter, mother, sister, wife - she explores each area of defection through an exemplary episode from the Bible."
So the translator may have been a child, but the text was no children's poem.
"Scholars sometimes assume that Elizabeth chose to translate this poem. In fact... someone older, possibly Catherine herself, would very likely have known of the book and pressed it on her.... Elizabeth could hope that by obediently translating the Miroir she could please an influential and affectionate stepmother....
“Neither do we know who, if anyone, helped Elizabeth with her translation. It seems unlikely she was utterly on her own, yet her errors and omissions suggest inattention (or inadequate French) on someone's part. She opens with a letter to Catherine. She knows of the queen's 'affectuous wille, and fervent zeale... towardes all godly learning.' So, to avoid idleness, she has turned 'frenche ryme in to englishe prose, joyning the sentences together as well as the capacitie of my symple witte, and small lerning coulde extende themselves.' Her effort is merely a beginning, so she hopes Catherine will not show it to anyone ‘lesse my fauttes be knowen of many.’ Maybe Catherine can amend it. Happy New Year."
Who might have helped Elizabeth? Let’s not underestimate her. She'd been put through a thorough Renaissance Christian education that included learning, Italian, Spanish, Greek and Latin besides English rhetoric and French. So she no doubt had capable teachers. We know, for instance, that her tutor in Greek was Henry Savile, later one of the King James Bible team of translators. By the time she was eleven, we can suppose, on the basis of this education and the translation itself, that she was an Advanced Native Translator.

In spite of Elizabeth’s reticence about the quality of her translation, once she became queen it was obviously in some courtier’s or bookseller’s interest to publish it and that’s what happened. See References below.

There are some other noteworthy things about this translation:
* Author, translator and intended reader were all women, unusual for its time but indicative of a breakthrough by women into the literature of the Renaissance
* The important role of religious translation, about which I've often commented elsewhere
* The constant flow of ideas and literature between France and England, aided by translations
* It's a translation from rhymed poetry into target-language prose, a not uncommon technique used even by Expert Translators
* Elizabeth's self-criticism, her meta-translational awareness (pardon the term)
* The proof that sophisticated translations by children at the Advanced Native Translator level are by no means a modern phenomenon. This example pushes it back by nearly five centuries. Elizabeth was very intelligent but she was surely not unique. How many other literary and religious translations by children have been done over the centuries, and then lost because the child was not famous or royal?

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."
This quotation comes from the most complete currently available book about her translations, Janet Mueller and Joshua Scodel's Elizabeth I: Translations, 1544-1589 (see below). It contains a far more profound analysis of L'âme pécheresse than was possible in a short blog post, and it speculates as to how and from whom she learnt her languages. Yet it only deals once and very briefly with the related question: How did Elizabeth learn to translate?
"The Huguenot Jean Bellemain may have already been tutoring Elizabeth in French… the translation could have been his or Elizabeth's idea; in either case he would have been likely to oversee her efforts."
So we are left without a satisfactory answer to the question. Nevertheless the detailed analysis in this book provides interesting material for the study of child Native Translation.

Anne Lake Prescott. The Pearl of Valois and Elizabeth I: Marguerite de Navarre's Miroir and Tudor England. In Margaret Patterson Hannay (ed.), Silent but for the Word, Kent OH, Kent State UP, 1985, pp. 61-76.

Kaherine Parr.

Marguerite de Navarre. Wikipedia.

Marguerite de Navarre. Le Miroir de l'âme pécheresse. 1521. The full text is available on Wikisource,

Susan Snyder. Guilty sisters: Marguerite de Navarre, Elizabeth of England, and the Miroir de l'ame pecheresse. Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 50, 1997, pp. 443-458.

The Miroir or Glasse of the Synneful Soul. Elizabeth's manuscript in her own handwriting. The dedication reads:
"From Assherige, the last daye of the yeare of our Lord God 1544 ... To our most noble and vertuous Quene Katherin, Elizabeth her humble daughter wisheth perpetuall felicitie and everlasting joye."
Elizabeth probably also embroidered the binding. The book is now in the Bodleian Library at Oxford. The binding is illustrated in Wikipedia,

A Godly Meditation of the inwarde loue of the Soule.Compiled in French by Margaret Queene of Nauerre translated by Princesse Elizabeth, Queene of Englande. London, circa 1570. There are three versions of this publication in the British Library in London.

Janet Mueller and Joshua Scodel (editors). Elizabeth I: Translations, 1544-1589. University of Chicago Press, 2009. Two volumes. You can read a long extract from it by clicking [here] The section on L'âme pécheresse begins on page 25.

Elizabeth at age 13. Painter unknown. Source: Wikipedia.

Anonymous Comment received November 2016
I've written a couple of papers on this subject and done extensive comparative work between the original French and Elizabeth's translation. Not only was she well versed enough in French to complete the translation, there is also the point to be made that at that time foreign language was largely taught through grammar translation techniques. This would be revised and have a resurgence under the Neo-Grammarians of the 19th century. So, Elizabeth would work on correct pronunciation of the language, but the main vehicle of instruction was translation, rather than the communicative methods or total physical response (TPR), which is common in French language instruction present-day. One also shouldn't forget that the nature of this text is religious and reflects Biblical exegesis and mysticism. Elizabeth would also have received instruction in the Biblical studies. The final point to be made is that, rather than present day, Elizabeth was trained by some of the top scholars.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Roma Update

There was a post on this blog back in July about Young Interpreters and Roma Children in the UK. To find it, enter roma in the Search box on the right.

Now an enlightening new article has appeared about interpreting and translating Romanes (aka Romani), the Roma language; and surprisingly it comes from Canada. It appears in the latest issue of Circuit, the prizewinning magazine of the Quebec professional translators and interpreters association OTTIAQ, and it's available online (see Reference).

Truly times have changed. I didn't even know there were Roma in Canada, far less that there were these services for them. Thank you, Deborah.

Deborah Folaron (of Concordia University, Montreal). Interpreting Romani – A Canadian Overview. Circuit, No. 132, Autumn 2016. Click [here] or go to

Monday, October 31, 2016

Welcome, Follower 200!

The number of registered Followers of this blog has now reached and surpassed 200. Follower No. 200 is Constantina Triantafyllopoulou of the Metaphrasi School of Translation Studies in Athens, Greece. Welcome Constantina! The other Followers are portrayed in the panel of miniatures on the right and its extension.

Two hundred isn't a large number by Google standards, or even for blogs about translation, but it's respectable for a blog that's so specialised. It's probably a better indicator of interest than the number of page views (403,000) because pages are often viewed by people who hit on the blog by chance when they are really looking for something else; perhaps natural translation in one of its other meanings. The Followers like Constantina who have a professional or academic interest in translating are a minority; but I don't mind because I want to improve ordinary people's understanding of translating. Translators constantly complain that their role is undervalued, but they need to do more themselves to make it understood to the general public, even though the situation is slowly improving – thanks, not least, to the newspapers and the spread of machine translation.

No less impressive than the number of readers of this blog is their distribution. I get an indication of it from my other website at, which records provenance. In the past week it has had visitors from Germany, Denmark, Armenia, Saudi Arabia, Austria, Poland, the USA, Zambia, Japan, Turkey and Yemen. No print publication can match this.

So thank you Blogpost and Academia, and thank you my enlightened Followers. Rest assured that you are a tremendous encouragement to me.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Child Language Brokering Exhibition in London

Sarah Crafter and team will exhibit film and art work from their child language interpreting project.

Free event.

Source: Sarah Crafter, Institute of Education, University of London

Update: Photos from the meeting are now online at

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thank you, Gideon Toury

The sad news has just come of the death of Gideon Toury, one of the leading thinkers and most cited authors in contemporary translatology. Also one of the most influential publishers of other researchers in that field through his journal Target.

There will be an outpouring of tributes to him in the coming days and weeks, so this post will be limited to his connection with this blog's proclaimed mandate of "Natural Translation and Native Translation." Natural Translation was my coining and Native Translation was his. There are several of his publications listed in my Bibliography of Natural Translation Studies. I particularly recommend Excursus C: A Bilingual Becomes a Translator: A Tentative Development Model (see References below). The following is a quotation from it.
Nature vs, nurture in the training of translators
It was in 1973 that Brian Harris first argued for the importance of natural translation, 'the translating done in everyday circumstances by people who have had no special training for it…' Unaware of this proposal, I myself put forward, a few years later, a seemingly similar notion, that of native translator (Toury 1980b), within the applied framework of translation teaching.
The logic underlyng my proposal was simple enough. As I was to learn, it was also very much akin to the justification which Harris had given for his own notion. For one thing, translation was seen as having obvious precedence over any formal teaching (and learning) of it, both chronologically and logically, in phylogenesis as well as ontogenesis.
As the quotation shows, Gideon was generous in his acknowledgements. He also backed me in my little spat with Hans Krings in Target. In those days, the 70s and 80s, when non-professional translation was not yet recognised by the vast majority of academics and he was already famous, his devotion to descriptive translation studies was enormously encouraging to me.

Goodbye Gideon. Your family, your followers and your students will be eternally grateful to you.

Gideon Toury (1942-2016). Excursus C: A bilingual speaker becomes a translator: a tentative developmental model. In G. Toury, ed., Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond, Amsterdam, Benjamins, 1995, pp. 241-258. Available online [here] or go to

Brian Harris. An Annotated Chronological Bibliography of Natural Translation Studies with Native Translation and Language Brokering, 1913-2012. Available online [here] or go to

Brian Harris. Natural translation: a reply to Hans Krings. Target vol. 4, no.1, pp. 97- 103, 1992. Followed by a reply by Hans Krings, Bilinguismus und Übersetzen: eine Antwort an Brian Harris, Target vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 105-110.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

El Nou d'octubre 2016

Today’s the National Day of Valencians, commemorating the entry of King James I of Aragon into the city of Valencia on October 9, 1238 and its bloodless rendition by the Moorish ruler. A 14th-century stone cross in the village where I live marks the area where James's army camped.

It’s been celebrated on this blog in previous years, with some connections to language and translation. To find the posts, enter nou d’octubre in the Search box on the right.

Image and Sound
The Senyera, the Valencian flag.
And for a rousing rendition of the Valencian anthem, click here. The lyrics are in Valencian and Spanish.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

School Language Brokering

The arrival of the latest bulletin from Young Interpreters (see References [1]) is a reminder of the extent and vitality of language brokering (LB). It has news about culture brokering as well as language brokering.

It's in the nature of organising knowledge that as a field of study matures it sprouts subfields. This has happened abundantly in interpreting studies. Whereas 50 years ago it was rare to see more than the two terms interpreting and translating, today we recognise all the many subfields that were categorised in my paper All of Interpreting.[2] And now LB is a field where we can see it happening. In the beginning, some 20 years ago, for instance in the writings of Lucy Tse,[3] there was just LB. (I never liked the term, because brokering suggests negotiation and even a commercial activity, and LB is neither. Its competitor language mediation is not objectionable in this way. But LB, with 24,000 English Google mentions, is here to stay.)

Originally LB was conceived of as a behaviour of children in immigrant families in the USA, especially Hispanic families, who served as intermediaries with English speakers and with Anglophone communities. Then it was observed that there were also adolescents and even adults performing this function, so the children were distinguished by the term child language brokers (CLB), which is widely used today. So how about the older LB people? There should be a specific term for them too: adolescent and adult language brokers (ALB), but it hasn't emerged yet.

Then LB/CLB studies crossed the Atlantic and were brought to the UK by Nigel Hall of Manchester Metropolitan University, according to Rachele Antonini, the Italian pioneer of non-professional translation studies. (See the lively interview with her on YouTube and see also the recent post on this blog about child cultural brokers.)[4] On the eastern side of the pond, however, there has been more interest in LB in rhe school environment for communication between students and between students and staff or parents. The Young Interpreters movement is a prime example. There it has flourished enough to warrant another neologism: school language brokering (SLB).

Are there others? One which merits a term of its own is LB in the prison environment, a clear variant of ALB. Its prevalence has been shown in the studies by Aida Martínez Gómez and Linda Rossato [enter prison in the Search box on the right].

Meanwhile we still need unqualified LB as a cover term for CLB, ALB and all the other subtypes present and future. For there will surely be more. For instancw I'm waiting for studies of migrant language brokering or refugee language brokering.

[1] Astrid Dinneen (ed.) Young Interpreters Newsletter. Issue 25. Basingstoke: Hampshire EMTAS, September 2016. Click [here] or go to!topic/eal-bilingual/BOlTDfibw38.

[2] Brian Harris. All of Interpreting: a Taxonomic Survey. Click [here] or go to

[3] Lucy Tse (University of Southern California). Language brokering among Latino adolescents: prevalence, attitudes, and school performance. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 180-193, 1995. For an abstract of this influential article, click [here] or go to

[4] Rachele Antonini. Child Language Brokering. YouTube, 2015. click [here] or go to

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Translating as Conversion

This post is for theorists. If you don't like theory, highly speculative theory at that, just skip it.

A new article by Brian Mossop, a very experienced professor of translation at Toronto's York University, raises again the question of what is and is not translation (see Mossop 2016 in References below). It makes me think once more about my own concept of it.

In my ongoing quest for the fundamental nature of translating, my 1976 paper The Importance of Natural Translation was the first to postulate that translating is a triple competence:
"All bilinguals can translate. In addition to some competence in two languages L1 and L2, they all possess a third competence, that of translating from L1 to L2 and vice versa."
The 1978 paper Translating as an Innate Skill made a case for the third competence being inherited.

Then in 2009 I suggested that what bilinguals inherit which enables them to translate is not specifically a language competence but some more general ability. I called it conversion; it might have been called transformation (and indeed the transformations of transformational grammar are a good example of it), or substitution, etc., but having used conversion I'll stick with it. My inspiration came from the Bulgarian semiotician Alexander Ludskanov (1926-1976, see References). He devised a model of translating that was valid for both literary and documentary translation, two types that had been considered fundamentally different by the Russian linguists he studied with, as well as for machine translation; but conversion goes much further. As Ludskanov might himself have said - for it was a favourite expression of his - it went to "a higher level of abstraction."

So what is it? Here's a definition.
Conversion is the passage from a mental representation to another that preserves the information and feelings from the former which the converter wishes and has the capability to preserve.
Let's analyse it.

Why mental representation?. Because nothing in our minds is itself. Our little brains aren't big enough to contain even a fragment of the real world. And as for our thoughts and imaginings, they don't float like clouds in our brains. They have to be represented there in code, an encoding structure of neurons. Anyway the information; I'm not so sure about the feelings. Computers provide an analogy; there are no pictures in our computers, only coded digital patterns representing pictures.

Why feelings? Because we remember sensory and emotional feelings, either by themselves or attached to information. So they too have to be represented.

It is the converter, the human whose mind it is, who decides, consciously or unconsciously, what is preserved in the conversion. A typical criterion is perceived importance but there may be other considerations. Much of the original representation may be abandoned. To take an extreme example, the converter who is writing the abstract of an article will be obliged to abandon many of the details in the original. The converter may also add to the original.

Has the capability to preserve: The converter may not have the competence needed in order to preserve some elements of the original. For instance, in converting a verbal description to a drawing, the converter may just not be good at drawing. And there may be other obstacles.

The advantage of the conversion hypothesis over the translation hypothesis is that the former covers all forms of what theorists sometimes call translation (intralingual translation, intersemiotic translation, etc.) and not only what is commonly understood by it, that is to say interlingual translation. And it covers much else, for instance the passage from a visual representation to a musical one; operations that are often called adaptation. By the Occam's razor principle, it's better to assume one competence rather than many.

In interlingual translating, of course, the conversion is from a verbal expression – word, utterance, text – to another verbal expression. The conversion may be direct or it may proceed by conversion first from the source expression to an intermediate representation – imagining what is referred to or described for instance – and from that to the target expression; or both (see the Mossop 2003 reference below).

A subsidiary question is whether conversion is peculiarly human. Some animals may well possess it. But that's another story.

In the absence of empirical proof, both hypotheses, the specific translation one and the general conversion one, are equally possible. As for Occam's razor, "There is little empirical evidence that the world is actually simple or that simple accounts are more likely to be true than complex ones." Indeed nature is profligate. But the way in which my concept of conversion covers all types of what the theorists call translation, and more, is attractive. Perhaps a physical analogue for it will one day be found in the brain.

Brian Mossop. An alternative to 'deverbalization'. 2003.
Click [here] or go to

Brian Mossop. 'Intralingual translation' - a desirable concept? Across Languages and Cultures, vol. 17, no. 1, pp.1-24, 2016. Click [here] or go to

Aleksander Ludskanov. Prevezdat chovekat i machinata [Human and Machine Translation]. Revised edition edited by Elena Paskaleva. Sofia: Narodna Kultura, 1980. In Bulgarian; there are French, German, Italian and Polish translations.

Brian Harris. The importance of natural translation. 1973. Available online at or click [here].

Brian Harris (as Translatology). Essential definitions. Unprofessional Translation, 2009. To retrieve it, enter essential definitions in the Search box on the right.

Source: 123RF

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hiroshima and Translation

It's now more than half a century since the horror of the first atomic bomb was unleashed on Hiroshima. But it's just 50 years today since the classic book about it, John Hersey's Hiroshima, was published as a long article in The New Yorker. Both events have a connection with translation.

First the bombing. This connection is well known to historians of the Second World War. It concerns the English translation of a single Japanese word in the Japanese government's reply to the ultimatum sent to it from the Allies convened at Potsdam (the Potsdam Proclamation). The ultimatum threatened Japan with "prompt and utter destruction" if it did not surrender unconditionally, and the word in question in the reply was mokusatsu. Unfortunately it's polysemic. It's derived from the word for silence. It can mean to take no notice of; treat with silent contempt; ignore by keeping silent; but also to remain in a wise and masterly inactivity, ie (in the context) withhold comment for the moment.The meaning chosen by the Allied translators and the media was the former one; but quite likely the Japanese prime minister Kantaro Suzuki meant the latter one. Faced with what appeared to be an outright rejection, American President Truman ordered the bombing. It's been described as "the worst translation mistake in history" and it's been argued over ever since. My own opinion is that whichever was the correct translation, Truman would have gone ahead anyway in order to save American lives and impress the other Allies, not least Stalin. He says in his memoirs:
"Let there be no mistake about it. I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used."
The second connection is, on the contrary, little known. Today. 31 August 2016,
"70 years will have passed since the publication of a magazine story hailed as one of the greatest pieces of journalism ever written, Headlined simply Hiroshima, the 30,000-word article by John Hersey [in The New Yorker] had a massive impact, revealing the full impact of nuclear weapons to the post-war generation,"
Hersey's approach, which he probably picked up from reading Thornton Wilder's novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey during his journey to Japan, was to relate his story through the eyes of six of the survivors. One of them was the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Methodist Church in Hiroshima. On the morning of the bombing he
"had been helping a friend move some stuff to a house in the suburbs for safekeeping (since Hiroshima itself was in constant threat of being bombed)... While they were out there they saw a bright flash of light. Knowing that something bad had happened, and being far enough from the city that they had time to react, the two men dove for shelter before the concussion from the blast could reach them.
"When they were able to emerge from hiding, Mr. Tanimoto kicked into rescue mode immediately. After helping some passersby, he surveyed the damage in the city from a hill. Instead of running as far from the disaster as he could… he ran toward the city, where he ran around tirelessly helping those who were injured or stranded."
Inevitably he was affected by radiation sickness, but he survived and became one of the people known as hibakusha in Japanese.

By November 1946, Hiroshima was published in book form. It was translated quickly into many languages and a braille edition was released. In its book format it has never been out of print since. One translation lagged, however: the Japanese one.
"In Japan, Gen Douglas MacArthur - the supreme commander of occupying forces, who effectively governed Japan until 1948 - had strictly prohibited dissemination of any reports on the consequences of the bombings. Copies of the book, and the relevant edition of The New Yorker, were banned until 1949,"
When the Japanese translation did come out, it was by a Native Translator, none other than the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto. He had become fluent in English during his training as a minister in Atlanta, USA. However, by a technique that is fairly common in literary translating, his text was revised by a professional target-language author. He didn't publish any other translations but wrote other books on religious topics and he became well known as an advocate for victims of the bombing, and he appeared in that role on American television. The annual Kiyoshi Tanimoto Peace Prize is named after him. His translation of Hiroshima is surely one of the most poignant translations ever by a Native Translator.

For an explanation of the term Narive Translator, enter essential definitions in the Search box on the right.

Mokusatsu: one word, two lessons. National Security Agency, 2016. or click [here].

Harry S. Truman. Memoirs. Volume One: Year of Decisions. or click [here].

How John Hersey's Hiroshima revealed the horror of the bomb. BBC News, 22 August 2016. or click [here].

John Hersey. Hiroshima. Translated by Rev. Kiyoshi Tanimoto and Kin'ichi Ishikawa. Tokyo: Hosei Daigaku Shuppankyoku, 1949. There are a few copies left in libraries: consult WorldCat. (Revision of a Native Translator by an established writer is done not only to ensure the quality of the target text but also to put a well-known name on the cover as well as an unknown one.)

Kiyoshi Tanimoto. Wikipedia, 2016.

Shmoop Editorial Team. Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto. Shmoop, 2016. or click [here].

Kiyoshi Tanimoto on the American TV program This Is Your Life, 1955.
Source: Christian Greco,

Friday, August 19, 2016

Infant Translators: the Salamanca Twins

In the collection quoted from in the preceding post there is another article that deserves to be saved from drowning in the flood of literature about translation that sweeps past us these days, It's by a team of linguistic researchers, Esther Álvarez de la Fuente and Raquel Fernández Fuertes, of the Language Acquisition Lab at the University of Valladolid, Spain. The data for it was harvested from a pair of English/Spanish bilingual twins at the old university city of Salamanca, not far from Valladolid. (It's unusual to have twins as subjects, but Esther and Raquel don't follow up that aspect of the situation.) The data was videotaped and is deposited in a computerised corpus, the FerFulice Corpus, which is incorporated in the CHILDES database.

The article analyses the spontaneous and elicited translating in the speech of the boys, named Simon and Leo, from the age of 1 year 11 months to 6 years 3months; an impressive total of 178 sessions were video-recorded at regular intervals. Their mother was American, their father Spanish. Each parent always spoke to the children in her or his or own language, following the OPOL (one parent one language) principle for avoiding confusion between languages. The recordings were made in natural settings while the boys were engaged in normal play activities.

For the analysis, a matrix of variables devised by Esther was used (and modified slightly here): COMPLETENESS (complete, incomplete, null), STIMULUS (requested, spontaneous), DIRECTION (towards English, towards Spanish), ORIGIN (self-translation, translating what was said by others, situational), MAPPING BETWEEN LANGUAGES (equivalent with communicative function, equivalent without communicative function, expanded, reduced). Other researchers may care to use it. What is very desirable is to arrive at a commonly accepted set of variables in order to facilitate comparison between studies.

So let's look at some examples.
1) Mother: Can you say water?
Mother, holding up the cup of water: What is this?
Leo, reaching for the cup: Ahi! [There!]
Mother: Water?
Leo: Agua.
(Age 1 year 2 months)
This was remarkably young, indeed before the age of speaking in sentences; but it replicates Jules Ronjat's observation made a hundred years ago (see References) that his son Louis composed French/German bilingual word pairs at that age. Obviously the situation helped in the present case.
2) Simon, trying to get his toy to make a noise: Está loto [a mispronunciation of roto].
Mother, not paying attention to Simon: How about…?
Simon: B(r)eak mommy b(r)eak.
(Age 2 years 3 months)
Now he was at the stage both of sentences and of communicative intent. Still remarkably young. Furthermore he differentiates between his languages and understands the language need of his interlocutor.
But not all the children's translation attempts are successful. That would be too good to be true. Thus:
3) Mother, pointing to an elephant: Look, look, show me that animal.
Mother: What's it called?
Leo: Elefante [Spanish for elephant].
Mother: Can you say that in English?
Leo, with a trace of tears in his voice: No, elefante.
(Age 2 years 7 months)
There are several things to note in this example. First that Leo's translating – like all Natural Translation – is limited by his proficiency in the two languages. Natural Translators don't use dictionaries. Secondly that he wants to translate and feels frustrated at not being able to do so. And thirdly that his mother doesn't ask him to translate (a word that was probably not yet in his vocabulary) but to say it in English.

Without a doubt this study ranks in importance, by its length and thoroughness, with the earlier studies by Harris, Swain and others right back to Ronjat. (For more about them, enter their names in the Search box on the right.) It's one of only a handful of such studies.

One final piece of good news is that you no longer need to fork out 50 euros to buy the book in which the article appears, because Esther has posted a collection of that and other related articles in the invaluable repository and you can download free them by clicking here or from Some of the articles are in English some in Spanish.

The children involved in child language brokering are usually of school age and socialised beyond the family. For much younger translators who are still confined to the family, like the ones cited above, I propose infant translator. Hence the title of this post.

Esther Álvarez de la Fuente and Raquel Fernández Fuertes. How two English/Spanish children translate: in search of bilingual competence through natural interpretation. In M.A. Jiménez Ivars and M.J. Blasco Mayor (eds.), Interpreting Brian Harris: Recent Developments in Translatology, Bern, Lang, 2012, pp. 95-116.

The address of the Language Acquisition Lab is\uvalal.

Jules Ronjat. Le développement du langage observé chez un enfant bilingue [Language development in a bilingual child]. In French. Paris: Champion, 1913. 155 p. Available online by clicking here or at

Left: Esther Álvarez de la Fuente. Right: Raquel Fernández Fuertes.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Child Culture Brokering

In 2012 some well-wishers of mine at the Jaime I University in Castellón, Spain, put together a collection of articles related to my work on Natural Translation (see Reference below). The one that still stands out in my mind is Nigel Hall and Zhiyan Guo's Child language and cultural brokering. For several reasons, of which the main one is the concept of child culture brokering (CCB), which it introduces as an extension to the more familiar child language brokering (CLB). CLB, for any of you who don't already know it, is the interpreting that children of immigrants do between the new communities around them and members of their own families and friends who aren't yet fluent in the new language. Hall and Zhiyan enrich CLB with observations that show how such children not only convey language but also social mores. This is of course important for adaptation to a new life.

(Note that Hall and Guo were at Manchester Metropolitan University, not the University of Manchester, from where most of the Mancunian publications about translation emanate. This may help explain their originality. Hall is an authority on childhood literacy. It is noteworthy too that their data comes from England and not from the USA, which is where most of the research on CLB has been done.)

The story that they tell to illustrate their point is one that did something research papers rarely do for me: it made me laugh, Well anyway, chuckle. It's the tale of a Chinese couple from Taiwan who come to live in England with their little girl and who get caught up in the ritual of children's birthday parties, something unknown in Taiwan. The girl and her mother are faced with many new decisions: what to wear, what to give as a present, etc. But it is the child who is in contact with the English community through her school and has constantly to inform and instruct the mother. With the result that it is the child, as in most CLB situations too, who runs the show.
"The cultural impact of the children's behaviour at an accommodative level was that the parents' views and beliefs about childhood were constantly being challenged In many respects everyday living it was like living on a frontier between Chinese notions of civilized child/parent relationships and British children's autonomy and freedom. Many things the children said or did, things that they had adsorbed unquestioningly from their school and peer communities, created dissonance and discomfort for their parents."
Fortunately there was a happy ending.
"The parents were very sensitive to their children's need to fit in to the school and peer community, and the result was that there was considerable compromise on the part of the parents."
And the story ends with a father saying, "If I go back to Taiwan I would start having birthday parties for my children."

And Hall and Guo's conclusion:
"We may have put less attention on language to give more attention to these children's other mediating behaviours, but like Harris we believe in the importance of studying people in their everyday lives, and there is nothing more fascinating and informative than the everyday lives of children."
Child culture brokering is a virtually untilled field that cries out for more investigation.

Nigel Hall and Zhiyan Guo. Child language and cultural brokering. In M. A. Jiménez Ivars and M. J. Blasco Mayor (eds.), Interpreting Brian Harris: Recent Developments in Translatology, Berne, Lang, 2012, pp. 51-75. Available through Amazon.

Source: Bricks 4 Kidz. Spot the Chinese kid.

Sunday, July 31, 2016


Long-time Followers know that my second major interest after Natural Translation is Machine Translation. An apparent contradiction, but I have explained elsewhere how this came about many years ago and led me to become a member of the International Committee on Computational Linguistics or ICCL. (For more, enter ICCL in the Search box on the right.)

The ICCL sponsors the biennial COLING conferences in a different part of the world each time. The last COLING took place in Dublin in 2014. The upcoming COLING is scheduled to take place in Osaka, Japan, from December 11 to 16 of this year.

The latest news is that a record number of papers have been submitted: more than 1,100. Of these, 93 are specifically about MT; and many that are listed in other categories are relevant to it; for example speech recognition, which is now linked to translation in systems like Skype. So if you're passionate about MT and ways to improve it, Osaka in December is the place to be.

It's a tradition of COLING that one day of the conference is taken off for an excursion to help participants get to know each other. This time the excursion will be to Nara.

The website for COLING Osaka is at or click here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Witness: Nadia Comaneci's Perfect 10

I don't normally talk about my professional interpreting career on this blog, but today merits an exception. It's the anniversary, the 40th anniversary, of what for me was an unforgettable moment. And paradoxically it happened to me because at that very moment I was not interpreting.

It came about this way. In the summer of 1976 I was recruited to the large team of 60-odd conference interpreters who serviced the multitude of press conferences, committee meetings, etc., that accompanied the Montreal Olympic Games just as they always surround the Olympics. The public isn't aware how much of these activities goes on. I consider it was the high point of my career as an interpreter. I got the job because I had previously done work as a freelance interpreter for the Canadian government, I moved for a month into one of the apartments that were provided for us at great expense in Montreal and commuted most days between morning press conferences in the city and the afternoon equestrian events at Bromont, Quebec.

But at the very start of the games, just before the opening ceremony, we interpreters discovered a serious mistake had been made. Everyone on the staff of the games was issued with an identity tag to wear around their neck; it bore their photo, their name and their function. You had to show it to get to work. No tag, no admission. However, the people in charge had forgotten to prepare tags for the interpreters. Panic! In desperation, the official responsible issued an order: "We have press tags left over. Issue them all press tags." And then he was so busy that he forgot to ask for them back.

The unintended result was that the interpreters could get into the press enclosure at any event merely by flashing their identity tags. It was too good an opportunity to miss.

One evening, back from Bromont with no interpreting to do until the following morning, I walked up St Catherine Street to the Montreal Forum. The Forum is usually Montreal's premier ice hockey arena, vast, but it had been taken over for the Olympics. That evening it was hosting the gymnastics. I flashed my tag and eased myself into the front row of the press enclosure.

I had arrived just in time to witness history in the making. Between the spotlights and the camera flashes, and from a distance of barely 30 metres, I saw dainty, diminutive, precise, untrembling Nadia Comaneci, 14 years old, make her perfect score of 10. The first perfect score in Olympic gymnastics. As we onlookers stopped chattering, she, as she says in her BBC interview, was thinking only of what she had to do next. Her event barely occupied a quarter of the floor space but it was the corner nearest to where I was standing. I was there too when, to the initial bewilderment of the reporters and the crowd, the board flashed up 1.00 because it hadn't been designed to display 10.00.

Simon Watts, et al. The first Olympic gymnast to score a perfect 10. BBC Witness, 20 July 2016, or click here. This revealing video interview shows Nadia in childhood and as she is today – still graceful.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Young Interpreters and Roma Children

Followers of this blog are familiar with the Young Interpreters movement in UK schools. If you aren't, enter emtas in the Search box on the right. EMTAS channels the abilities of school children to act as language brokers for immigrant fellow pupils. The June issue of the YI Newsletter brings the usual cheery reports of success and expansion. Pupils at Hylands School in Chelmsford, which has just joined, express their feelings:
"I feel happy that I am a Young Interpreter as I can help out people who are struggling with English and who look lost around the school. - Paige, year 11.
"I think being a Young Interpreter is about putting the EAL student first and not myself. I am very excited about joining the Young Interpreters because I will meet new people and help them to understand what it is like to be at Hylands. Also I am a little nervous because I have never done this before. My mum says I would be excellent for this because I am a natural carer for others and will help in any way possible. - Mia, year 7.
And so on. Notice that these children see themselves as more than just language conduits, and such empathy is perhaps typical of Natural Interpreters. Our Followers are familiar with such sentiments. However, this issue of the newsletter also contains what for me anyway was a surprise, and I urge you to look at it via the link provided or by clicking here. It is that among the dozens of nationalities in Hampshire schools there are now Roma children. Do you know who the Roma are? EMTAS answers the question, insisting that they are not Gypsies.
"Most Roma families prefer to identify themselves by their country of origin, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania being the most common ones. They do this because of their fear of discrimination and prejudice.
"The linking of 'Gypsy' and 'Roma' in adscription documents is an unhelpful pairing as many Roma do not want to be allied with Gypsies. Their adscription as 'White Other' (WOTH) or 'Any Other Ethnic Group' (OOTH) means that Roma children in Hampshire schools do not receive support for their Roma background and all the cultural barriers to learning…. We need to be aware that many of these children will have no formal experience of schooling or a very interrupted education. Many find it difficult to settle in one area and are at risk of becoming 'lost in the system' because of their relatively high mobility. We should also be aware that our Roma communities are themselves diverse in terms of language, culture and religion (they may be Roman Catholic or Muslim, quite different from our indigenous Traveller groups)…
"Roma do not regard themselves as Gypsies and do not like to be classified as Gypsies although many of their customs are similar. European Roma call their language Romanes and UK Gypsies call theirs Romani. Whilst English Romani and European Romanes have vocabulary in common, the grammatical structures used may vary considerably and the languages are not necessarily mutually intelligible.
"It should be noted that although many of Hampshire's Gypsies and Travellers have a predilection for living in caravans and mobile homes, many Roma… have always lived in housing,"

Roma community development worker Alexandra Bahor who is working with Roma children in the Lodge Lane area of Liverpool on an arts project in a bid to promote cultural cohesion in the neighbourhood.
Source: Liverpool Echo

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Gregory Rabassa and Other Literary Native Translators

Recently this blog deplored the absence of literary translation from the International Conference on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation (NPIT 3). It's true there always have been literary translators (LT) who were Professionals, for instance Karl Marx's youngest daughter Eleanor Marx Aveling. It's also true that a few LT became Expert Translators through the degree courses in literary translation studies that are offered by a handful of universities, for instance the MA in Literary Translation that used to be offered by the University of Alberta in Canada. However, academically trained literary translators are the exception.

There was a reminder of this last week in the sad news of the death of Gregory Rabassa, one of the most eminent of contemporary LT, He was of course by the end of his life a much sought-after Professional Expert for translating Latin American literature. Yet according to the obit in the New York Times, "His renown in the field was even more striking in that he had never intended to become a translator at all." He was already nearly 50 when he made his name and fortune by his translation of Julio Cortázar's Rayuela (Hopscotch). He went on not only to do translations but also to write as a practitioner about translating. His preparation for his success began already in his early bilingualism. He was born in New York into the family of a Cuban émigré. Then he taught Spanish and Spanish literature for several decades at Columbia University and at Queen's College of the City University of New York, His career therefore exemplifies two characteristics of the Advanced Native Translator – that is to say, the translator who does not study or receive training in translating but absorbs how to do it by living among translations done by predecessors: namely, fluent bilingualism and a close familiarity with and love for the literatures of the two languages. I heard Rabassa say that his success was due to his many friendships with Latin American writers.

The result is not necessarily a Professional Translator as in Rabassa's case. It may be altruistic. I've recently been reading a translation by an American university professor of Spanish from another generation. It's an English translation of Vicente Blasco Ibáñez's Cañas y Barro (Reeds and Mud) by Lester Beberfall, B.A., M.A., Ph.D. [sic on the title page], He lived from 1911 to 1973 and was Professor of Spanish at Wisconsin State University in the 1960s. I'm reading it for what is probably the reason Beberfall translated it: it paints a fascinating, realistic picture of rural life around Valencia a hundred years ago. I see vestiges of it every day, especially the rice fields. But far from being a Professional, Beberfall didn't publish any other translations.

Yet another Ádvanced Native Translator who has brought me great pleasure is Prabha Sridevan, a native of Kennai (formerly Madras) in South India, who translates from Tamil to English. She is not a Professional Expert Translator by training or study, but a retired judge of the Madras High Court who has turned late to translating. Like many Indians, she grew up bilingual in Tamil and English. She studied literature as well as law. Now she has discovered for the delight of English readers the stories of Tamil woman author R. Chudamani (1931-2010). She was a prolific short story writer: more than 500 of them, yet we don't know her in the West. Subtle, sympathetic cameos set in a different family culture and translated into a perfect but faintly different English that goes with them admirably.

Prabha's book has introduced me not only to Chudamani but also to the rich world of translating in India. It is fostered by the multiplicity of native languages to which is added a surprisingly persistent prevalence of English as a literary lingua franca. The translation journals in the West carry many articles about translating in China, Japan, the Arab world, etc., yet little about that seething activity in India. A gap to be filled.

Gregory Rabassa. Wikipedia, 2016. There is a full list of his translations.

Margalit Fox. Gregory Rabassa, a premier translator of Spanish and Portuguese fiction, dies at 94. New York Times, 15 June 2016.

Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. Reeds and Mud. Translated by Lester Beberfall. Boston: Brandon Press, 1966.

R. Chudamani. Seeing in the Dark. Translated with introduction by Prabha Sridevan. New Delhi: Oxford University Press India, 2015.

Gregory Rabassa in 2007. Source: Washington Post.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Los distintos tipos de interpretación

Have you been frustrated by going to my page ( or click here) in search of the above article and finding that it was unreadable? I'm sorry. It was due to a problem that occurs more and more with old texts. The word processing software, in this case Microsoft Word, has changed over the years and there are applications, in this case Scribd, that don't accept all the conversions. I've now put it right for this article, I hope, so please try again. Nevertheless the conversion has left some typos and I don't have the patience to correct them all for the moment.

It's the Spanish translation of an English article that's also on my page. The Spanish version was published in its day but the English one never was. However, an Italian professor who read the English version recently, Gabi Mack of Bologna-Forli, tells me that it's still of interest. Tha could be, because it aimed to be all-embracing and up to date at a time (1994) when most of the recent developments in interpreting had already appeared. What has changed, I think, in the twenty years since it was written is the relative importance of certain types. Distance interpreting, and especially telephone interpreting, have become more widespread and accepted. Yet they are still surprisingly little taught in university training courses. There's a serious time lag.

'Panorámica de los distintos tipos de interpretación', translated by M. G. Torres. In P. Fernández Nistal and J.M. Bravo (eds.), Perspectivas de la Traducción Inglés/Español: Tercer Curso Superior de Traducción, Instituto de Ciencias de la Educación, Universidad de Valladolid, Spain, 1995, pp. 27-48.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Who I Am

Last year a distinguished translator and reader of this blog, Chris Durban, chided me for not revealing my real name. It's true I've always posted under the pseudonym of Translatology, a name for which I have a certain affection. All you could learn about me from that was the little that's in the potted profile on the right hand side of this page together with what you might deduce from my writings here and on my page. But now my cover has been blown because a kind Italian friend has put a fairly full biography of me in Wikipedia, the modern hall of fame. The editorial staff of Wikipedia aren't happy with the style of the entry, but I've checked the contents and they're accurate. So if you're curious, go to Wikipedia (English edition) and look for Brian Harris (translation researcher). But beware! Be specific or go directly to, because there are several other Brian Harrises in Wikipedia. And none of the Brian Harris photos on Google Images is me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Birthday Post (No. 363)

I don't usually write about myself on this blog, but today calls for an exception. It's my birthday, my 87th. I'm statistically and medically lucky to be alive. Average male life expectancy in Spain, where I live, is 79.6 years; and though I'm not completely well, I'm in much better health than I was a year ago. Physically I attribute it to my parents' genes, my wife's vegetarian cuisine and some good Spanish cardiologists. Mentally it may have something to do with racking my brains about translation every day.

It so happens that I also have some other anniversaries to celebrate. It's just 50 years almost to the day that I first saw and worked with a computer. In a sense it was a rebirth. It happened in the summer of 1966. The computer was a new CDC 6400 at the Université de Montréal(see photo), where research on machine translation had recently started. It was a fast machine for its time, but it filled a space as large as a lecture hall though it was less powerful than my present-day laptop. Its input was on punched cards and its output on a line printer. No terminals.

Therefore it's just 50 years since I first became involved in machine translation and its concomitant corpus linguistics. We had received a corpus of English from Brown University on large spools of magnetic tape, and my first task was to scan a KWIC concordance of it for usage of English prepositions. But I didn't really know anything about computers, and a few months later I was humbled at a meeting of leading MT researchers in Ottawa. I scuttled back to Montreal to learn a little programming and Boolean logic.

And skipping a busy decade, it's 40 years since, as secretary of the 1976 COLING conference in Montreal, I was coopted to the International Committee on Computational Linguistics, of which I still am a member.

As well, in a different compartment of my career, conference interpreting, it's just 40 years since I interpreted for Lord Killanin (the IOC president) and Princess Anne of England as one of the team of interpreters at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. (For the princess it was at the equestrian events in Bromont, Quebec, and in my off time I saw Nadia Comaneci make her perfect score of 10 at the Montreal Forum)

And finally, for this post anyway, in another and more enduring compartment of my career, I was working 40 years ago with my assistant, Bianca Sherwood on the data for our joint paper Translating as an Innate Skill. I gave it the following year to the historic NATO Symposium on Language Interpretation and Communication held on San Giorgio Maggiori Island in Venice in the presence of such legendary luminaries as Jean Herbert, Wallace Lambert, Danica Seleskovitch, Patricia Longley, Barbara Moser and many more. I'd already given its forerunner, The Importance of Natural Translation, at the AILA World Congress in Stuttgart the previous year.

That's all for this post. More next year, I dare hope.

To all who helped me, my heartfelt thanks.

A Control Data Corporation 6400 installation circa 1966. The central processing unit is in the background, the magnetic tape memory units are on the right. It's probably the card reader in the foreground.
Source: CERN.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

362. NPIT3 and NPIT4

NPIT3 has passed into history. Alas, I was unable to attend, but echoes have reached me. I hear it was not an unmitigated success, because a sharp difference of approach arose between those who accept NPIT as a fact of life to be studied and taken advantage of, and those who consider it a bane to be cured with professional training and accreditation. More about this in later posts.

No arrangements have been made for publishing proceedings. It would be a great pity if the contributions (and the contributors?) were to vanish into oblivion, so for the record I've posted the programme of the conference on my page: click here or go to From it you can get an idea of which way the research is tending. Health care interpreting was well represented, but there were some notable gaps: for instance court interpreting and the translation of literary and scientific writings (see the recent post on this blog about Einstein's translator). It would be too limiting if NPIT were to be regarded only as a public service and community phenomenon.

The venue for NPIT4 in 2018 has already been announced. It's the Institute of Advanced Studies at Stellenbosch University (STIAS) in South Africa. We have to wait a little for the exact dates and the call for paper. The person in charge is Prof. Christine Anthonissen, Vice-Dean of Languages. Quite a change after three NPITs in Europe! Apart from the change of scenery and culture, it will hopefully encourage attendance from new regions and bring in more languages. Stellenbosch may sound a long way away for Europeans, but it's close to Cape Town, to which there are fairly reasonable air fares.

Stellenbosch University.

Monday, May 2, 2016

La Traduzione naturale

One of the earliest papers about Natural Translation, The Importance of Natural Translation (1973), has just been translated into Italian. The translator is a Professional Expert Translator, Marilena Lucchini, a student at the Civica Scuola Interpreti e Traduttore in Milan. She did it as her thesis for the Diploma in Mediazione Linguistica, which I'm glad to say she was awarded cum laude. Congratulazioni! Furthermore it's an aligned translation with the English and Italian displayed side by side, sentence by sentence.

Now I know what it feels like to be the translated (can we say translatee?) instead of the translator. Honoured and grateful.

Marilena's thesis adviser was Prof. Bruno Osimo, the most prolific and far-reaching contemporary Italian writer on translation. Just look him up on Amazon. Where I write articles or blog posts, he writes whole books. It shows his discernment that he's the Italian translator of Alexander Ludskanov's book Human and Machine Translation. Ludskanov was the first translatologist to declare categorically that all bilinguals can translate.

You can find Marilena's translation on my page,, or click here. She is a founding partner in the Aqua Network: "Contact us and tell us how you want to change the world - we will find the right words for you." She is on Lnkedin.

For Bruno Osimo's translation of Ludskanov, enter osimo in the Search box on the right.

Marilena Lucchini. Source: Linkedin

NPIT3, Winterthur (near Zurich), 5-7 May 2016
International forum for Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, the latest paradigm in translation studies.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Ekvall, Old Mac, Emotional Nuance and Whispering

If you look at the comments on this blog's post about Panmunjom (enter panmunjom in the Search box on the right) you will see there an exchange between me and Ron McKinney, aka Old Mack, who was actually at the Geneva conference in 1954 that ended the Vietnam War. An unexpected link with the past after 60 years! In those days Ron was a US Marine security guard. There he got to know Robert Ekvall, the Chinese/English military-cum-diplomatic interpreter for the American delegation. Later Ekvall published a classic autobiography about interpreting that is essential reading for the history of Professional Expert interpretation, not least because the Geneva conference was one of the last major international conferences that was conducted entirely in consecutive interpretation and whispering The book has long been out of print but now it's available free on the internet (see Reference). Ekvall remarked to Ron that it was important for the interpreter to render not only the meaning of the words of the source speech but also its "emotional nuance". Yes, that is one of the several not-so-obvious things that an Expert Interpreter should be capable of doing. Yet examiners at interpreter examinations are rarely asked, "Did the candidate render all the emotional nuance?" Ekvall was thinking of diplomatic interpreting, but it's also important in religious interpreting, theatre interpreting, even court interpreting, and so on.

On the subject of whispering, it's something else that is neglected in interpreter training, Ambassador Arthur H. Dean, who wrote the foreword to Ekvall's book, remarks:
"The system of not having simultaneous translation is not quite as time wasting as is often supposed. While the Chinese tirade went on, Colonel Ekvall used to whisper to me its general nature and purport so I could begin to write out my reply and pass it back to Colonel Ekvall and Lieutenant Campen, my Korean interpreter, so that they in turn could begin to put my reply into the Chinese and Korean languages."
Whispering is one of the most basic and most natural modes of interpreting, though it's not easy to do it well. For more about it, enter whispering in the Search box.

Colonel Robert B. Ekvall (US Army Retired) (1898-1983). Faithful Echo. New York:Twayne. 1960. Available free on the internet: click here or go to;view=1up;seq=8.

Ron McKinney. Old Mac's Tales. Blog. Click here or go to
It's good reading.

The Geneva Conference in session. Source: US Army photograph.

NPIT3, Winterthur (near Zurich), 5-7 May 2016
International forum for Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, the latest paradigm in translation studies.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Presidential Natural Translator: Malia Obama

When do you get to be interpreter for the president of the United States without any training or official examination? Answer: When you're the president's daughter.
"President Obama may be the leader of the free world, but he's relying on his daughter Malia as his personal interpreter during his historic trip fo Cuba. Malia was captured translating Spanish for her father on Sunday night in a photo that's since gone viral.

"'You know, her Spanish is much better than mine,' Obama said in an exclusive interview with ABC News' David Muir. 'And I'm hoping that she has a chance to get entirely fluent.'"
Malia is a few years older than George Thomas Staunton, who was the subject of the preceding post on this blog. She is 17. Nevertheless she is still in high school and therefore out of range of the American university translation programs. It's interesting that she can serve as interpreter though her Spanish isn't very fluent. Her father did opine, though, that "as a proud father I have to say that her Spanish is getting very good. It helps that she's smarter than I am." We aren't given a verbatim sample, but her father seems pleased; so we can conclude that her interpreting was 'fit for purpose'. In the photo, "the teenager appears to be confident and happy to be helping her father, as she put her high school Spanish education into use."

The purpose was informal conversational exchanges in "a visit with locals", not official negotiations. The definition of Natural Translation says that it takes place "in everyday circumstances." Admittedly interpreting for the president is hardly an everyday circumstance, but we can take the definition as referring here to the nature of ths discourse.

The Wikipedia article on the Obama family doesn't mention Malia's language education. Her father's bilingualism in Englsh and some African languages may have encouraged her. She did visit Oaxaca on a school trip last year. It may actually be an exaggeration to classify her as a Natural Translator, since she may have had translation instruction during her Spanish courses. But if it's an exaggeration, it's only a slight one.

Rarely has an interpretation performance, natural or professional, received so much press mention. All the American news networks mentioned it.

The President and Malia share a laugh as Malia translates Spanish to English for her dad at a restaurant on Old Havana. Photo by Pete Souza, chief White House phoographer.

NPIT3, Winterthur (near Zurich), 5-7 May 2016
International forum for Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, the latest paradigm in translation studies.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Young Interpreter In Another Era: George Thomas Staunton

The penultimate post on this blog was about the contemporary Young Interpreter movement among schoolchildren in England. Before them there was an ample literature about the child interpreters of immigrant families in the United States especially, called language brokers. And going back further, we have accounts of child interpreters as early as Jules Ronjat's groundbreaking book Le développement linguistique d'un enfant bilingue published in 1913. But earlier than that, nothing – or almost nothing. Finding a pre-1913 description of a child interpreter is like turning up a rare coin in an untilled field. There are two reasons for this scarcity. The first is one that affects all the history of interpreting: the fact that interpreting, unlike written translation, left no material trace of itself prior to modern recording technology. So we have no interpretation comparable with the Lady Elizabeth's sixteenth-century Le miroir de l'âme pécheresse for example (enter lady elizabeth in the Search box on the right). And the other is that translatologists, even if it was occurring under their noses, didn't think it was significant (and there are many like that even today).

Which is what makes the case of George Thomas Staunton so interesting for us.

George Thomas was the son of George Leonard Staunton (1737-1801). The latter was secretary to an English nobleman, Earl Macartney and he was an accomplished descriptive writer. He was both a physician and a lawyer, had travelled widely and was friendly with prominent literary and political figures of the time. Macartney was an experienced colonial administrator in the days when, as he himself said, Britain controlled "a vast empire on which the son never sets." By the late 18th century, that empire had been pushed eastward by the British East India Company till it confronted China. The prize was trade. Europeans had developed a taste for that country's export ware, including porcelain and tea. So the British sought better organised, more open trade relations with China. But the proud Chinese turned out to be a hard nut to crack. Several British embassies to the Chinese emperor had failed. Then in 1792 it was decided to have another try. Macartney was sent out as Ambassador Extraordinary. He sailed on several ships with a large delegation that included, naturally, his secretary. George Leonard was in effect Macartney's right-hand man. Far more unusual was that Staunton senior decided to take his son along with him to see the world. The younger Staunton's presence was covered by having him appointed as page to Macartney. The embassy reached its destination, the imperial court, the following year.

It seems extraordinary that for such an important embassy so little attention had been paid to the language barrier and the need for interpreters. It may have been because the East India Company, which had been pressured into paying for the expedition, had previously suffered a bad experience with one of its interpreters and was even openly hostile to training more. So Staunton brought along two Chinese Catholic student priests from the Collegium Sinicum (College of the Sacred Congregation for the Propogation of the Faith) in Naples, where Chinese was taught to missionaries; but they didn't know English. They were accustomed to interpreting Chinese and Latin. During the long ocean journey, George Thomas, who was good at languages, studied Chinese with them. Prior to trip, he had already started to learn Chinese in London.

The result was that when Macartney and his entourage finally had their audience with the Emperor Qianlong, only George Thomas was capable of conversing with him.

George Thomas Staunton was 12 years old. What an adventure for a young boy! It may be an exaggeration to say that he acted as Macartney's interpreter, though some sources say he knew Chinese well enough to do so. There was in fact a Chinese interpreter present, one of the Chinese students, but communication through him had to be relayed through Latin. George Thomas's conversation was brief. But the Emperor was charmed by the little foreign boy who could speak Chinese, and thereby the latter helped foster the friendly relationship that we always establish when we take the trouble to learn the language of our hosts. The Emperor showed his appreciation by a mark of special favour, a personal present.

Macartney Embassy. Wikipedia, 2016.

George Leonard Staunton. An Authentic Account of an Embassy from the King of Great Britain to China... Dorothy Sloan Rare Books, 2016.

Seán Golden. From the Society of Jesus to the East India Company: a case study in the social history of translation.

Ruth A. Roland. Interpreters as Diplomats: A Diplomatic History of the Role of Interpreters in World Hstory. 1982, republished Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1999. See Staunton in the index.

Macartney's first meeting with the Emperor Qianlong. George Thomas Staunton can be seen on the lower right. A sketch by the embassy's artist William Alexander. Source: British Library.

NPIT3, Winterthur (near Zurich), 5-7 May 2016
International forum for Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, the latest paradigm in translation studies.