Monday, December 31, 2012

Nutcracker (conclusion)

This is the continuation of the previous post.

Nutcracker, for reasons mentioned in the previous post, didn't enjoy the same success as Sleeping Beauty and it therefore took longer to reach the West as a complete work. (Even the story was little known in Britain and America, though an English translation of the Dumas version had existed since the late 19th century and one by a better-known translator was published in 1919 – see References)
"Although it was not considered much of a hit in Russia The Nutcracker kept being performed throughout the theatre year (at that time it was not yet heavily associated with the Christmas season). In the West, however, it boomed... in scattered pieces, with the Arabian dance transplanted [for Diaghilev] into the Ballets Russes’s Sleeping Princess and with Anna Pavlova‘s take on The Waltz of the Snowflakes.
"The first complete Nutcracker was staged in London by the Vic-Wells Ballet in 1934, based on choreographic notation by Nicholas Sergeyev."
Sergeyev was a former dancer and stage manager at the Mariinsky who'd emigrated in 1918. The transcription of this and other ballets into systematic choreographic notations constitutes yet another example of intersemiotic translation, but we won't dwell on it here.
"Ten years later saw the first US version by San Francisco Ballet (1944) and another ten years brought George Balanchine’s blockbusting version for NYCB (1954), now staged every year by several US ballet companies. By the 1980s, 300 separate productions were touring the US."
Balanchine was another Russian émigré, who, like Sergeyev, knew Nutcracker from his younger days at the Mariinsky and stayed close to the original, although he did make changes because he was himself very creative. Indeed his greatest creation was his dance company, the New York City Ballet (NYCB), which has had a great influence on ballet in the United States. His is an example of the contribution that the flight of Russian artists after the Revolution made to the transfer and implanting of Russian culture in the West.

Meanwhile, the music that Tchaikovsky had extracted from the full ballet score to form an orchestral suite made its own successful way through the concert halls on both sides of the Atlantic. And then, in the United States, it underwent yet another surprising intersemiotic transfer.

Between 1938 and 1940, Walt Disney and his team of graphic artists made the animated film Fantasia, and it included the Nutcracker Suite. It was among the most original and pioneering films of all times for a number of innovations: the use of classical music as the basis (music film instead of film music), the recording thereof by a first-class orchestra and conductor using the best audio available at the time (it was the first American film to use stereo), its uncompromising concert length (there was a 15-minute interval when I saw it), its combination of animated and human actors, use of the most advanced animation resources in the world, and above all the free rein given to the graphic artists.
"During production, the animators were given no instructions for coloring. Walt Disney instructed them to use any colors they wanted, a first."
I was lucky enough to see Fantasia during its 1941 first release, before cuts and restorations and with the original soundtrack recorded by The Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski. Despite his Russian-sounding professional name, Stokowski himself might be considered a cultural export to the USA, since he was born Leonard Stokes in London, England. He threw himself into the project, and the result was phenomenal. Like many masterpieces, Fantasia is uneven, but at its peaks it's brilliant. For very young children, there's no doubt that its most brilliant idea of all was the casting of Micky Mouse as The Sorcerer's Apprentice. But the film was mainly pitched at older children and at adults. And that's where the music of Nutcracker came in.

Fantasia was released four years before the American premiere of the ballet, yet in the visuals of Nutcracker there is clear ballet influence.
"Over the decades, much has been written about the relationship between Disney and dance.
Upon the 1940 premiere of Fantasia at the Broadway Theatre in New York, Dance Magazine said, 'the most extraordinary thing about Fantasia is, to a dancer or balletomane, not the miraculous musical recording, the range of color, or the fountainous integrity of the Disney collaborators, but quite simply the perfection of its dancing.'”
My own mental accompaniment to the music of Nutcracker was formed and imprinted indelibly by Fantasia long before I saw the ballet or read the story.

  • Alexandre Dumas. Princess Pirlipatine and the Nutcracker. Translated and adapted from Dumas' version of Hoffman's story by O. Eliphaz Keat (pseudonym of Philip Bertram Murray Allan). London, 1919. With illustrations. The British Library has a copy.
  • Nicholas Sergeyev. Encylcopaedia Britannica, here.
  • 'Emilia'. The Nutcracker. The Ballet Bag, 2009. This very complete article is here.
  • There are full details and many comments on Fantasia at the International Movie Database (IMDb) site. Click here.
  • 'Storyboard'. Fantasia in eight parts: The Nutcracker Suite. The Walt Disney Family Album, 2012. The article is here.
From The Nutcracker Suite sequence in Fantasia. Source: cornel1801.

Goodbye 2012!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Diversion: The Nutcracker

It's become a sort of tradition on this blog to have a Christmas diversion in the form of a surprising transmigratory history, tracing how a story from another language and culture has ended up
  through translation, adaptation and changes of media  as typical Christmas entertainment for children and adults on the British popular stage.

The first was The Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Arabic folk tales from whose French translation the pantomime Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp is descended. To find it, enter aladdin in the Search box on the right. Then came another pantomime, Cinderella, the story line of which had been written in 18th-century France (enter cinderella). Last year, the outcome wasn't a pantomime but a favourite Christmas ballet, Sleeping Beauty (enter sleeping beauty). This year we continue in the ballet genre with the great rival of Sleeping Beauty for Christmas audiences in the United States as well as in Britain: The Nutcracker.

The beginning
The story in this case was written by the German Romantic author of fantastic tales, E T A Hoffman.
"In 1816 Hoffman published Nutcracker and the Mouse King (Nussknacker und Mäusekönig). Based in part on his own life experiences – he had built a cardboard castle in 1815, just as Godpapa Drosselmeier does in the story – Hoffman published the story in a children’s Christmas book. Hoffman and his friends did not consider The Nutcracker entirely a success."
But they were wrong. It was a golden age for fairy stories and folk tales in German culture. Indeed Germany is currently celebrating the first publication, in time for Christmas 1812, of the Grimm brothers' Die Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales).

From German and Germany to French and France
The transfer to French and to France came about in 1844 in the version by no less an author than Alexandre Dumas père (he of The Three Musketeers). He gave it the title Histoire d'un casse-noisette and his popularity ensured its success there. Why Dumas?
"Alexandre Dumas was a born storyteller. So writing a tale for children was bound to attract him and in fact he wrote several. What's more, he constantly sought inspiration in the popular culture of the countries and regions he visited and in the folk tale genre."
However, his version was not a strict translation but an adaptation, a retelling in his own words. It could hardly have been otherwise, given the circumstances under which he composed it:
"Dumas explains how he was obliged, at a children's party one evening where his daughter had been invited, to tell an impromptu story to the little rascals – who had tied him to his armchair while he was snoozing."
It was Dumas' version that was eventually to provide the script for the ballet.

From French and France to Russia and ballet
Switch now to late Czarist Russia.

Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the enterprising impresario of the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, was looking for a worthy follow-up to the success of Sleeping Beauty. So he thought of Histoire d'un casse-noisette and he turned again to Marius Petipa for the choreography and to Tchaikovsky for the music. It's not necessary to posit a Russian translation of the story: like all the Russian elite of the period, Vsevolozhsky and his collaborators knew French, and furthermore he himself had spent time as a diplomat in Paris. Petipa adapted the story for its intersemiotic translation (i.e., transfer between media) to the dance and the stage, and gave strict instructions to the composer, even specifying the number of bars for each dance. This irked Tchaikovsky, who nevertheless delivered the sublimely elegant music that has become so familiar. Tchaikovsky in return imposed his own conditions – but that's another story. Vsevolozhsky again contributed costume and decor designs. Meanwhile Petipa fell ill and had to be replaced by his assistant, Lev Ivanov, who therefore did most of the choreography.

In the event, Nutcracker didn't enjoy the same success as Sleeping Beauty. Only extracts were included in the Diaghilev repertoire. Some people said the it was too childish for adult audiences. Some critics considered the music "too symphonic". However, Tchaikovsky turned this latter to his advantage by distilling from the score the orchestral suite that is performed far more often than the ballet, and thus caused another change of medium in yet another part of the world – more about this later.

From Russia to the West
Next post.

  • Introduction. In E. F. Blieler, ed., The Best Tales of Hoffman, New York, Dover, 1967. The full German text of the Hoffman story is available here.
  • Kate Connolly. Grimm's Fairy Tales: 200th anniversary triggers a year of celebration. Guardian Unlimited, 20 December 2012. The article is here.
  • Delphine Dubois. Histoire d'un casse-noisette. Alexandre Dumas: deux siècles de littérature vivante. Société des Amis d'Alexandre Dumas. The article is here. The full French text of Dumas' version is available here.
  • 'Emilia'. The Nutcracker. The Ballet Bag, 2009. The article is here. It contains an English synopsis of the story.
The principal characters in the story. Source: Seiskaya Ballet.

And after reading about it, why not enjoy it? Hurry to:
Royal Ballet. The Nutcracker. Video, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 2009, approx. 2 hours. It's here, with a modern adaptation of Lev Ivanov's choreography, but only for this week. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Natural Interpreter Honored

It's rare for interpreters to be honored for their work. In Zagreb I did once meet Dr. Vladimir Ivir, who was proud of the MVO (Member of the Royal Victorian Order) that Queen Elizabeth II had bestowed on him for his services when she visited what was in those days Yugoslavia. But then he was a Professional Expert.

How about Natural and Native Interpreters? Less chance for them, of course. But here's an instance from the world of sport. (There have been other cases of Natural or Native Sports Interpreters described on this blog. For an example, enter pilota in the Search box on the right.)
"Rangers scout Joe Furukawa, who worked this year as the interpreter for Texas Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish, on Wednesday was named the 2012 Harold McKinney Good Guy Award winner by the Dallas-Forth Worth chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
"Furukawa, a Pacific Rim international scout for the Rangers, served as Darvish's interpreter for all press conferences and media liaisons in the Japanese pitcher's first season in the majors. Furukawa played for the Hiroshima Carp and Yokohama BayStars.
"Furukawa will receive his award along with Rookie of the Year Darvish, Player of the Year Adrian Beltre, and Pitcher of the Year Matt Harrison, at the 2013 Texas Rangers Dr. Pepper Awards Show, which will be held in conjunction with the Texas Rangers Fan Fest at the Arlington Convention Center on Jan. 11."
Should be quite an event. Joe is a Professional Expert Baseball Player, but there's no suggestion he ever had any training as an interpreter. He must be good at it.

He was an early bilingual.
"He was born in Yokahama, Japan, but moved to Anaheim, Calif., when he was six years old. Furukawa still has family – his parents, brother and sister – who reside in the United States.
"Furukawa doesn't just speak English and Japanese – he speaks the language of baseball. He played in Japan, spending much of his career as a minor-league shortstop, and understands the culture and how the game is played there."
Clearly baseball is something which goes against the "offsprings of The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" vision of Japan that Lionel Dersot decries.
"We're the envy of 29 teams who would love to have a guy like him," said Jim Colburn, senior advisor for Pacific Rim Operations and the point person on the club's expansion to that market the last few years.
"He's a fanatic about baseball. Any scout that goes to Japan knows who he is. It's very important for a Japanese player to have an eloquent interpreter. The English that comes out of Joe's mouth is sensitive and correct. That's what he brings to the table."
  • Kyodo News Agency. BBWAA honors Darvish's interpreter. Japan Times Online, December 14, 2012. The report is here.
  • Richard Durrett. Joe Furukawa speaks baseball. ESPN Dallas/Fort Worth, April 9, 2012. The article is here. It provides insight into how valuable this kind of liaison interpreting is.
Yu Darvish #11 of the Texas Rangers talks to the media with the assistance of his interpreter Joe Furukawa after spring workouts at Surprise Stadium on February 23, 2012 in Surprise, Arizona. Source: Norm Hall/Getty Images North America.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Whispering and the Origin of Simultaneous Interpreting (cont.)


This is the continuation of the November 24 post.

Simultaneous interpreting (SI) as we know it today was invented in the 1920s. The idea came from an American department store magnate turned philanthropist, Edward Filene (1860-1937), part-owner of Filene's in Boston, Mass. He was a supporter of the then newly established League of Nations, forerunner of the United Nations. How did he come to be involved in international affairs at time when the USA was tending to isolationism and had refused to join the League? It helps perhaps to understand his interest if we know that, although he was American, his parents were immigrants from Germany and he eventually died in Paris.
"Edward Filene drew inspiration from the scientific management ideas of Frederick Winslow Taylor... Taylor is best known for the use of scientific methods to increase workplace efficiency."
His penchant for scientific workplace methods was to prove significant for interpreting.

The League's working languages at its headquarters in Geneva were English and French, and consecutive interpreting (CI) was being used between them at its meetings along with other languages when needed. Filene observed that the CI was inefficient, because it roughly doubled the time needed to deliver each speech. In 1925 he made a proposal to the League secretariat. We know about it in some detail, thanks to the clever research done by Jesús Baigorri Jalón in the archives of the League and its offshoot the International Labour Office, which are still conserved in Geneva (see References):
"The interpreter's booth will be provided with an ordinary telephone desk stand on which is mounted a high quality close talking microphone which will be connected through another amplifier to a number of head sets located at a designated section of the auditorium. The translated speech of each interpreter would follow simultaneously with the delivery of the original speech."
Filene had a brilliant idea but he wasn't an engineer. So he enlisted the collaboration of a British electrical engineer, A. Gordon-Finlay (often wrongly written Gordon Finlay or Findlay) who was working in Geneva. Gordon-Finlay put together a system from telephone equipment of the period; for which reason SI was for many years called telephone interpreting. The original Filene-Finlay system was taken up and further developed by IBM's legendary founder, Thomas Watson Sr. Like Filene, Watson had an eye to the favourable publicity that a contribution to international understanding might generate (see the Berkley reference below).

In fact the technical side of SI was not completed by the IBM Filene-Finlay system. There was another element that's often overlooked. This was the soundproof cabin (or booth as the Professionals call it) with its large glass window facing the speakers' platform. There are photos of early booths at Geneva for the IBM system, but later at Nuremberg (see below) there were only glass side partitions between the interpreters' desks; the latter were open at the front and therefore far from soundproof. They can be seen in the photos of the Nuremberg courtroom. Not until fully soundproof booths were installed for the United Nations in New York, two decades after Filene-Finlay, did they become universal and the interpreters could speak at normal volume without fear of disturbing the people around them.

Meanwhile they either had to speak very quietly into their microphones or else use another sound-dampening device that had just recently come on the market in the USA in 1921: the Hush-A-Phone (often wrongly written Hushaphone). For a description, see the YouTube Reference below.

SI was used at Geneva and in the Soviet Union through the 1930s, but only sporadically before it emerged supreme at the Nuremberg Trials after World War II – thanks to the vision of another American with a European background and a bent for technology, Léon Dostert. But that's another story.

Let's go back to the beginning.

Something that long puzzled me was how Filene and others came to think of SI and believe that the formidable triple mental process of listening, translating and speaking was possible. (In fact, there were staff at the League who did not think it possible, and Filene's initial proposal was for the interpreting to be done from shorthand notes.) I have a suggestion. It harks back to the definition of whispering at the start of the previous post. It's that some people thought it could be done and were willing to try it because they were aware it already existed without equipment in the primitive, natural form of whispering and murmuring.

  • There's a Wikipedia biography of Edward Filene here. Filene's Department Store was merged with Macy's in 2006.
  • Jesús Baigorri Jalón (University of Salamanca, Spain). La interpretación de conferencias, el nacimiento de una profesión: de París a Nuremberg [Conference interpreting, the birth of a profession: from Paris to Nuremberg]. Preface by Jean Delisle. Albolote (Granada): Comares, 2000. 344 p. This is the standard history. There's a French translation by Clara Foz: see here.
  • Jesús Baigorri Jalón. Back to the Future. PowerPoint presentation to the Brussels 15th DG-Universities Conference. This gives the essence of the story in English. Read it here.
  • Francesca Gaiba. The Origins of Simultaneous Interpretation: The Nuremberg Trial. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1998. 190 p. Based on extensive archival research and on interviews with surviving interpreters. Available on paper or as a PDF ebook: see here. There's a review of it by Baigorri Jalón here.
  • American Museum of Radio and Electricity. The Hush-A-Phone. A brief YouTube video, viewable here.
  • George E. Berkley. The Filenes. Boston MA: Brandon Publishing, 1998. This book has an interesting page or two (p. 203f.) on the IBM patent and the relationship between Edward Filene and Thomas Watson. It’s available here.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Will Lakota Survive?

Lakota Immersion
Lakota is the language of one of the branches of the Sioux native people.
In the post here last month about Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, it was mentioned that Lakota/English interpreters were needed for internal communication between the English-speaking performers and the hundred or so Lakota Sioux in the troupe. (Enter lakota in the Search box on the right to find the post.) So Lakota was still very much a live language at the start of the 20th century.

Sadly the language declined in the ensuing hundred years until now it’s on the verge of extinction. The Sioux have recently reacted:
"The spiritual, cultural and political survival of the Lakota people is contingent upon the recovery of their language, said Bryan Brewer, president-elect of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
“As the incoming president of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, I will waste no time in debating this need,” Brewer said Thursday. “We will move with purpose and conviction, and all of our available resources to address this challenge.”
"A retired educator, Brewer, 65, addressed the fifth annual Lakota Language Summit, being held in Rapid City at Best Western Ramkota Hotel. Representatives of 23 Lakota-, Dakota- and Nakota-speaking tribes from 11 states and three Canadian provinces are at the summit.
"This is a turning point in history for the Seven Council Fires, Brewer said, referring to the seven major divisions of the Sioux Nation.
"One year ago, the state and national alliances to save Native languages declared the Lakota language in a state of emergency."
Meanwhile one man, the last fluent Lakota native speaker, is doing something practical to try and keep it alive in the next generation.
"Tom Red Bird is 61 years old. Red Bird is one of the remaining people in the world who can speak Lakota, an indigenous language spoken by Hunkpapa Sioux since time unknown. He spends his days in a large airy room with green plants in the windows among 10 boys and girls, speaking to them only in the ancient language of their ancestors... these little ones hear and speak Lakota with Red Bird and the three instructional aides in the room.
"Red Bird speaks it fast and fluently since his own childhood on the Cheyenne Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The aides speak it slowly. They, too, are learning as they go.
"It is an experimental program at Sitting Bull Community College on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border."
Let's wish him success.
  • Lauren Donovan. (The Bismarck Tribune). Program at tribal college teaches Lakota language. Daily Republic, 21 November, 2012. The article is here.
  • Andrea J. Cook. Brewer pledges to preserve Lakota language. Rapid City Journal, 16 November 2012. The report is here, with a fine portrait photo of Bryan Brewer.
Lakota immersion. Source: Daily Republic / AP photo file.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Whispering and the Origin of Simultaneous Interpreting

In a recent online discussion between Professional Interpreters about the training that's given in interpreter schools (see References), one object of criticism was the lack of training for chuchotage.
What is chuchotage?
Chuchotage is French for whispering, i.e., whispered interpreting. The Professionals’ use of the French term is a reminder of the influence of French interpreters on the development of modern conference interpreting. I’ll use the English word because, for one thing, whispering is not confined to Professionals.
“In whispered interpreting..., the interpreter sits or stands next to the small target-language audience whilst whispering a simultaneous interpretation of the matter to hand; this method requires no equipment.”
(Though “this method requires no equipment”, lightweight equipment is sometimes used to enhance it.)
The “small target-language audience” is often, indeed is ideally, a single person, because whispering doesn’t carry far. The maximum is three or four people grouped close to the interpreter. Despite this limitation, it can be used to advantage when there are only very few people in a gathering who need the interpretation. Since it needs no equipment and is usually done by a single interpreter, it’s very economical. Besides conference interpreting, it’s used in court and liaison interpreting. Like all simultaneous interpreting, it offers the advantage that it takes up much less time than consecutive. In fact it’s widely used, and many interpreter agencies offer it: see the ads on Google.
When we look at it more closely, we observe some finer distinctions. For example, besides true whispering there’s also murmuring. In whispering, besides its low volume, the enunciation is, as linguists say, devoiced; that is to say, the resonance of vowels and certain consonants is reduced or eliminated: z becomes s and so on. In murmuring, the voicing is retained and only the volume is reduced.
Another distinction is in the manner of translating. The definition quoted above says it’s “simultaneous”, and so it is in the sense that the interpreter whispers while the speaker is still talking. But the interpreter may stick very closely behind the speaker and whisper continuously, or may translate in short bursts with interruptions. There is also summarizing, where the interpreter doesn’t render all that’s said but only delivers bursts of summary. In general, whispering hasn’t been studied much and I don’t know any research that has looked into these finer distinctions.
So whispering has its usefulness, but what are its drawbacks?
First and foremost, obviously, the limitation on the size of its audience. Any attempt to increase it requires the interpreter to speak louder, and then it’s no longer whispering. Worse than that, ‘loud whispering’ disturbs the listening and concentration of people around who are not targeted, including the speaker. Nothing could be more annoying.
Second, it’s a mode of simultaneous interpreting, and like all SI it requires great concentration to listen, translate and speak at the same time, even if the translation is only summarized. Therefore it’s very tiring. Furthermore, "while it takes less effort to produce a whisper, it tires out the vocal cords more quickly." I said above that it’s commonly done by a single interpreter – unfortunately so, because that interpreter ought to have a relief if it goes on for very long. (In my experience, short consecutive interpreting is less tiring.) There was a good discussion in a Kudoz forum a while back about the load on a single interpreter and the professional pay for it (see References).
Third, the listener too has to concentrate because of interference from the ambient noise and the voice of the speaker.
What then should interpreting students be taught and practice, beyond the basic skill of simultaneous translation?
The most important extra skill, and for some people the most difficult, is prolonged voice control. If you're concentrating on listening and translation, your voice volume may rise without your noticing it and you may even slip from whispering into murmuring. In that case you'll usually be called to order by black looks from the other people around who don't want to hear you. Some people have naturally loud voices, which they must make an extra effort to dampen
It's also important to learn to place listeners and speaker in the right position vis-a-vis the interpreter, and to resist any request to 'whisper' to more than four listeners.
To be concluded.
  • What they don't teach you at interpreting schools. Interpreting Journal Club Session 23, October 27, 2012. Read it here.
  • Section on ‘Whispered’ in the Wikipedia article on 'Language interpretation’, which is here.
  • There's also a Wikipedia article on the phonetics of whispering here.
  • Chuchotage. forum discussion, 2008. Read it here.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

American Election Postscript

Dearborn Mosque
This is by way of a postscript to the previous post (November 4) about the role of Natural or Native Translators in the American presidential election. So that post should be read first.
“Election day in Dearborn [Michigan] did bring out a large number of Arab Americans to local precincts, but along with it came several issues that many voters feel need to be addressed.
“At the Salina Elementary School precinct in the south end of the city, State Representative Rashida Tlaib, who was monitoring the precinct during the afternoon on behalf of the Democrat party, says the precinct had very few translators to assist bilingual voters and many residents were at first denied voting due to errors in the system. ‘There are a lot of Middle Eastern names that are very long and some of the clerk workers are denying them the right to vote because there might not have been a hyphen in their name. We should always have translators at these locations.’
“Salina wasn't the only precinct that experienced some setbacks. There were also issues among Arab Americans at William Ford, who needed translators to help them vote. While many translators were at the precinct, there were some complaints that it wasn’t enough.
“Cindy Galea, the Election Supervisor for Dearborn told us in a phone interview that they received several complaints on election day, but she stressed that the city clerk's office tried their hardest to make sure that multiple interpreters were available at every precinct, especially on the east side. The city clerk's office had reached out to ACCESS, who gave the city at least 30-40  people who were bilingual and also understood how to work the computer system. With 50 precincts in the city, the interpreters had to be divided accordingly.
“One minor problem that occurred at several precincts was reports of soliciting from several poll workers. According to Galea, this wasn't a major issue but there were a couple of cases of bilingual poll workers who were assisting residents regardless of whether they asked for help or not, which is against voting guidelines. Interpreters are only supposed to assist residents when they ask for help.
“One issue that emerged at the Lowery precinct on the east side of the city ended with Dearborn Police having to be called onto the scene.
“A local man tells us that when he was waiting in line, he noticed that a poll worker was not communicating clearly with bilingual residents. The local man says he offered to help the poll worker interpret for residents who were confused about straight party voting. The poll worker initially agreed that the local man could help interpret for residents and he was able to assist voters for over two hours.
“However after 8:00 p.m., the poll worker had an issue with the local man still being inside of the polling location because the polls had closed. The local man said he refused to leave because people were still inside placing their votes and needed guidance. The poll worker became irritated and called the police, claiming that the local man was a disturbance. While no arrests were made, police did make a report of the incident.
“Galea stated that for future purposes, residents should know that they are able to bring an interpreter with them to assist them with the ballots [their translator of choice – see previous post].”
From this we learn that
  • It's illegal for interpreters to intervene unless voters ask them to.
  • Though Spanish is the language for which interpreters are most required in the USA, there are large communities with other languages, in this case Arabic, who also need them.
  • A "local man" stepped in to help. It's often the desire to help a stranger who has a momentary language problem that triggers Natural Translation. The "local man" should be congratulated for standing his ground.
  • Proper names in other languages and cultures present a special problem. People think that personal names don't need translating, but they commonly undergo modification even if it's only in the pronunciation or spelling. Muhammad or Mohammad or Mohamed or Mahomet? Computers are worse than humans at coping with such changes.
Samer Hijazi. Shortage of translators, mechanical problems plague local polls. Arab American News, 9 November 2012. The full report is here.

Brian Harris. The translation of names. In J.-M. Bravo (ed.), A New Spectrum of Translation Studies, Universidad de Valladolid, Spain, 2004, pp. 73-92. Available here

 Mosque at Dearborn. Source: Shakeel Ali, Peace and Collaborative Development Network

Sunday, November 11, 2012

High-School Students as Community Translators

This report comes from Dalton, Georgia, USA, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“Classroom meetings are hard enough when teachers struggle to explain curriculum, and parents press to learn why their children aren't making better marks. Language barriers makes the encounter even more treacherous.
“Schools here are turning to their own kids for help.
“Students from Morris Innovative High School are translating at parent-teacher conferences in local elementary schools. Their work eases communication difficulties, say school officials, and gives the translators real-world experience.
‘"‘When you talk about a child's grade, it can get emotional,' said Paige Watts, the teacher at Morris High School who lines up translators for three local elementary schools. "All the student translators have made things gel better between teachers and families. They've helped a lot, and I've watched them mature and grow up through the process."
“A language gap looms especially large in this northwest Georgia county, [a center of the] carpet and flooring industry. More than one-quarter of the population speaks Spanish at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than half of those are not proficient in English.
"‘They want to know how their kids are doing in school,' said sophomore [second year high school student] Estela Fuentes, who has translated in some parent-teacher conferences. ‘They want their kids to succeed, and they need to get information that would be hard to get normally. I really wanted to be part of that process.’
“Fuentes said she's happy to help parents understand what's happening in their children's classrooms. Junior Ronaldo Adame said the work also gives the translators practical experience.
“’It looks good on college applications and resumes,’ said Adame, ‘and could lead to part-time work.’
“The Morris student translators are also helping give the school exposure in the community. They've worked at a health fair and will have opportunities to work with a local carpet manufacturer and in a college admissions office. Students will also shadow translators at a local hospital."
  • The penetration of Spanish, according to the U.S. Census figures.
  • There's no mention of training, It seems the students are thrown in at the deep end.
  • Nevertheless, their work, done in a context that they know well themselves as students, appears to be effective.
  • While most of the interpreting is undoubtedly of the liaison type, some of it's conference interpreting (parent-teacher conferences).
  • The student translators are happy to help, and don't regard the work as an imposition.
  • Their ages and education: the ones quoted are 15 and 17, so they're mature adolescents. But they don't yet have a postsecondary education.
  • The work has a beneficial effect on the translators: "I've watched them mature and grow up through the process."
  • The report, being popular journalism and neither a professional nor a technical text, doesn't distinguish interpreter from translator.
 CNHI. Schools facing language barrier use students for translation. Bluefield Daily Telegraph, 8 November 2012. The full report is here.
The Wikipedia article on Dalton is here,

Morris Innovative High School students Luiz Paniagua, 17, left, and Estela Fuentes, 15, translate for students at an elementary school health fair. (Photo by Matt Hamilton / The Daily Citizen, Dalton, GA)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Translators Will Be There on Tuesday

As you may have heard, the American presidential election will take place on Tuesday.

And the translators will be there when needed, right in the polling booths.
"'Federal law allows a voter to have a translator of choice present– like a friend or a family member – even inside the voting booth. The voter absolutely has every right to bring a translator of their choice who can assist them with their ballot. The translator will have to sign an oath [at the polling location] saying he [or she] is not going to improperly influence their vote,' explained Maureen Haver, state director, Common Cause [in Houston]. 'While polling stations may provide translators,' Haver said, 'having a trusted person to provide assistance can be especially useful for voters who may be only partially literate in their own language. Time and time again, we continue to hear that poll workers are saying that only they can provide assistance to these voters. That is incorrect information,' Haver emphasized.

"Haver said, 'The assistance in the booth not only applies to the Chinese, Spanish, and Vietnamese-speaking communities of Houston, but also here in Alief, which is one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the entire city, we have Indonesian speakers, we have Malaysian speakers, we have Punjabi. We have all these other languages.' Ballots in Harris County, which includes Houston, are available in English, Spanish, Vietnamese and now Chinese as well. The Voting Rights Act has several criteria that mandate multi-lingual ballots based on Census data. Harris County was ordered by the U.S. Department of Justice to print Vietnamese ballots based on the 2000 Census which documented at least 10,000 Vietnamese residents old enough to vote but who were not English proficient. From the 2010 Census, the Harris County Clerk’s office made the same numerical determination about the Chinese community.
Note that there are no qualifications required for "the translator of choice." It's the voter who decides. One hopes that the people who translate the ballot papers are Expert Translators, for a mistranslation in the ballot papers could have widespread consequences. However, the helpers in the voting stations and the translators in the booths will practically all be Natural or Native Translators.

Khalil Abdullah. Right to translator of choice invigorates Houston voters. New America Media, 1 November 2012. The report is here.

Bilingual presidential voting paper in English and Spanish. Source:

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Unrecognized Translators: Tour Guides

Vincent Hardy
Hard on the heels of news about a conference on religious translation and interpreting (to find it, enter germersheim in the Search box on the right), come announcements of several other meetings that indicate people's conception of translating is broadening.

In chronological order, the first is a one-day seminar in London on 10 November with the title Tourist guiding - an exciting opportunity, and it's organized by the Interpretation Division of the Chartered Institute of Linguists. For the announcement, click here.

An initiative to be applauded! This blog has already included tourist couriering and guiding among the many forms of unrecognized translation, i.e., translating that goes unrecognized because it forms part and parcel of some other job. See, for example, the two posts that are retrieved by entering courier in the Search box on the right. In them I tell how I started out on my own interpreter career as a courier and guide for a London travel agency. (There's a technical distinction between courier and guide, but they're closely related.) I didn't forget my origins. Many years later, by which time I was teaching conference interpreting in Canada, an exercise I always gave my students was to interpret for one of the official guides (see photo and Image) on a tour of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. As the guides are bilingual in English and French, they could critique the students' work. The mode of interpreting was long consecutive, which requires note-taking. The exercise got the students out of their stuffy booths and away from their comfortable seats around a conference table and gave them a taste of interpreting on their feet and on the move valuable for liaison interpreting. It's true that the "exciting opportunity" in the London announcement means how Expert Interpreters can make extra money by guiding; but conversely guiding can give a toehold to newcomers in the interpreting profession.

Many tour guides are multilingual, and among them there are Native and even Natural Translators. I once heard Danica Seleskovitch, a famous teacher of conference interpreters, tell how she was helped out in an African marketplace by a young boy who interpreted for her. That's probably the closest she came to acknowledging Natural Interpreting, but let me add an anecdote of my own.

One morning some 30 years ago, my wife and I crossed the Nile by felucca from Luxor to the landing point on the opposite shore for the Valley of the Kings. We had left at dawn so as to be ahead of the crowd and the heat, but when we disembarked we were already assailed by the usual knot of guides, souvenir sellers and other suppliers to tourists. We wanted to break free of them, because we'd been to the Valley before. So we spoke only French to one another and pretended we didn't understand the lingua franca, English. We were almost out of the scrum when we heard a voice behind us call out, Msieu', Madame. Je parle français. Je peux vous montrer tout. [Sir, Madam. I speak French. I can show you everything.] We turned round to face an Egyptian boy 12, perhaps 13 years old, in very worn clothes. He was too young and too poorly dressed to be an official guide, and anyway he didn't have a badge. Yet we were so taken aback by his French and amazed by his quick ear that we agreed to take him on for the morning. His knowledge of Ancient Egyptian history was sketchy, but no worse than what many of the real guides spouted. We kept up the pretence of only speaking French. When we needed something from one of the locals, refreshments for example, he translated for us between French and Arabic. He also translated signs and information panels that were only in Arabic. He even claimed he could translate some of the hieroglyphic inscriptions. His French and his translations were far from perfect, but he got by.

Of course we were intrigued to know how he'd learnt French so well. Had he learnt it at school? Did he have French-speaking relatives? Neither of those. He told us he'd worked the previous two digging seasons for a team of French archaeologists in the Valley and that's how he'd picked it up.

We said au revoir back at the landing stage and it was the last we saw of him. We wondered how many other French-speaking tourists he would charm.

Vincent Hardy
Vincent is a Franco-Ontarian, a French-speaking native of the Canadian province of Ontario. There are about half a milliion of them. They are not to be lumped together with the Québecois (Quebeckers) in the province next door. Growing up among an English-speaking majority, most of them are early bilinguals. He studied at the University of Ottawa, a bilingual university that trains interpreters for the Canadian Parliament. He has a special fondness for Ottawa and its institutions, having worked bilingually both as a Parliamentary Guide and as a tour guide at the Mackenzie King Estate, residence of a former Prime Minister of Canada.

The Wikipedia article on Franco-Ontarians is here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Another Historic Meeting And Its Interpreter

Somewhat to my dismay, the most popular post on this blog, in terms of number of page views, has been one that has little to do with the declared topics of Natural and Native Translation. I attribute the mismatch to the browsers: many people are transported to the blog by chance when using keywords that are unrelated to translation.

And so it's probably historical terms like Hitler and Franco that have brought so many readers to the post about the meeting of the two dictators, with their interpreters, at Hendaye in 1940. To find it, enter hendaye in the search box on the right. Just this week, K. Muralidharan from India added a comment,
"I'm really thrilled to read what transpired between these two dictators during those horrid times and how Franco helped his country not to plunge directly into WW2."
Well yes, that's something Franco did right, though he continued to sit on the fence between the Germans and the Allies.

Meanwhile Hendaye wasn’t the end of that eventful journey by Hitler, nor the end of what we know about the interpreting. From Hendaye, his private train went directly to a small town in France called Montoire-sur-le-Loir.
"The location of Montoire station was chosen because of its relative isolation and also its proximity to the main Paris-Hendaye train line. Besides, in case of an aerial attack, the train could have found shelter in the nearby tunnel in Saint-Rimay."
There Hitler already had an appointment to meet Marshal Philippe Pétain, who was by then the head of state of a defeated France. Pétain had decided he had no option but to collaborate. Ever since then, Montroie has been (in)famous in French history
"as the location where, on 24 October 1940, the handshake between Adolf Hitler and Maréchal Pétain took place signifying the start of organised French collaboration with the Nazi regime."
Here's an official photograph of the handshake between the two leaders. But who's that imposing man in the middle who seems to be presiding over the ceremony?

None other than Hitler's personal interpreter Dr. Paul Otto Gustav Schmidt. Schmidt was head interpreter (Chefdolmetscher Gesandter) at the German Foreign Ministry, a Professional Expert diplomatic interpreter who participated in too many important events to tell of here. He survived the war and the Nuremberg trials to tell his version of the story (see References), and even started a school for interpreters in Munich in the 1950s  (SDI München - it's still there).

 He'd been sidelined at Hendaye because he didn't work in Spanish, but at Montroie he came into his own.

The meeting lasted until 26 October, 72 years ago today.

Paul Schmidt. Hitler’s Interpreter: The Secret History of German Diplomacy 1935-1945. Edited by R. H. C. Steel. London: Heinemann, 1951. Available from Amazon UK.

The Wikipedia article on Montoire is here.

The website of Sprachen & Dolmetscher Institut München, the school that Schmidt founded, is here.

Source: Bundesarchiv
The fourth man in the picture is Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler's foreign minister.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tahtawi : Epilogue

This is the conclusion to the preceding post, so please read that one first.

Due to a reactionary change of regime after Mehmet Ali died, Tahtawi's School of Languages didn't last long. By 1850 it was closed and its director was banished to the Sudan. The intrepid American traveller Bayard Taylor, himself a translator, met him in Khartoum and found him disconsolate and bitter. Then came another change, and Tahtawi returned to Cairo, where he finished his life in ease and honour. But he didn't reopen al-Alsun. And so it remained nothing but a memory for a century, until a famous author, Taha Hussein, when minister of education in another era, revived it in 1951. When I visited it in 1980 it had over 1,000 students and a dedicated staff, and it taught a wide range of languages. But it was housed in a rather shabby former secondary school in the Zaitoun district. Since then, however, it has moved to a modern building on main campus of Ain Shams University, where it ranks as a faculty. So the spirit of Al-Alsun lives on.

One noticeable change is that there are now as many women students as men. There were no women in Tahtawi's time, despite the fact that he believed in and argued for education for girls. But then there were no girls in the preparatory schools from which he recruited. Expert Translator training requires good prior education.

References and Further Reading
George Antonius, The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement. 1939. 492 p. A free full download is available here.

Tahtawi. An Imam in Paris: Account of a Stay in France by an Egyptian Cleric (1826-1831). Original title: takhlis al-ibriz fi talkhis bariz. London: Saqi, 2008, 416 p. This is the annotated English translation by Daniel L. Newman of Durham University. Available from Amazon. A good deal of the information above is drawn from it. There are also French and German translations.

Tahtawi. Mawaqi' al-aflak fi waqa'i' tilimak. Arabic translation of Fénelon’s Les Aventures de Télémaque. Beirut, 1867. Notice that Tahtawi didn’t think it advisable to publish it in Egypt. On Tahtawi and self-censorship, an interesting article has appeared recently:
Myriam Salama-Carr. L’autocensure et la représentation de l’altérité dans le récit de voyage de rifā’a rāfi’ al-TahTāwī (1826-1831) [Self-censorship and the representation of otherness in Tahtawi’s travelogue, 1826-1831]. TTR (Montreal), vol. 23, no. 2, p. 113–131. Abstract here.
Tahtawi. Murshid al-amin li 'l-banat wa 'l-banin. [The reliable guide for education of girls and boys]. 1873.

The Description de l'Égypte that Jomard edited, initially by order of Napoleon, is a masterpiece of engraving and printing. Alas, a copy of the precious first edition (Paris, 1809-1828) got burnt in the riots in Cairo last year. There's a CD of it if you can find it, and there are reproductions, including an inexpensive, scaled-down Taschen edition, available from Amazon.

There's a Wikipedia article on Bayard Taylor here.

The website of the modern Al-Alsun is here, but it's poorly maintained. The school is now a faculty (kulliyyat al-alsun).

The portrait of the young Tahtawi has been widely reproduced. I haven't been able to trace who drew it. I first saw it hanging on the wall of the dean's office at al-Alsun in 1980.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Remembering A Great Translation Educator


Long-time followers of this blog know that its normal course is occasionally diverted to make space for an anniversary. This time it's being done to commemorate the birthday of a thoroughly Professional Expert Translator. Furthermore he was a pioneer teacher of translation. His name was Rifaa’a Raafi’ al-Tahtawi (here Tahtawi for short), and he was born on October 15, 1801, in the prosperous town of Tahta (hence his surname), on the Nile about 500 km south of Cairo (see the Bahig Edwards entry in References).

In the 19th century a radical intellectual Arab Awakening (al-nahda) took place with lasting effect in Egypt and the Lebanon. (For a classic history of the movement, see the Antonius book in References.) Tahtawi was one of the leading figures of its Egyptian branch.
”Tahtawi was among the first Egyptian scholars to write about Western cultures in an attempt to bring about a reconciliation and an understanding between Islamic and Christian civilizations... It is difficult to overestimate the importance of the contribution made by Tahtawi to Egyptian society in the century, and the impact he had on the further development of the modern nation. He symbolized the best of the syncretism between East and West, tradition and modernity.”
His life was so full and active that it’s impossible to do him justice in a blog post. There are short, perceptive biographies of him here and here. I’ll have to make do with just one of his activities as translator and educator, namely his school of translators.

Tahtawi was a technical and legal translator, not a literary one. (He did translate Fénelon's Télémaque, but that was for its political allusions.) Indeed he was arguably the most influential Arabic technical translator and translator trainer since Hunayn Ibn Ishaq in the 9th century. One of his most important translations, for instance, was of the French Code Civil (Cairo, 1866). His school of translators, the madrasat al-alsun (School of Languages), was intended to train translators of this kind.

He set it up in 1833-34, not long after his return to Cairo from five years of study in Paris. It was one of the first schools of translators on modern lines anywhere, a century before such schools began to spread in Europe and other parts of the world. (There are now hundreds of them.) Where did he get the idea? How did he get the support?

The second question is the simpler to answer. Egypt had been taken over by an ambitious Ottoman governor, Mehmet Ali. His priority, once his power was secure, was modernization, especially of his armed forces, and technical education was well funded by him. It needed technical translations, the translating needed a constant supply of competent translators, and it was less expensive and less controversial to train them in Egypt than to send them abroad.

As for the idea, al-Alsun was just one of a range of schools that Mehmet Ali set up to train technicians. There was already a medical school (madrasat al-­tibb) and a military academy (madrasat al-tobjiyya) – Tahtawi taught at both of them for a while – as well as a preparatory school (madrasa tajhiziyya) attached to the medical school. Still, the idea of a school of translators was novel and pioneering. Tahtawi himself didn't learn translating at a school. He learnt it by mentorship under the direction of the geographer Edme-François Jomard, a member of Napoleon's ill-fated expedition to Egypt in 1798 and subsequently editor of Description de l'Égypte, the monumental publication that resulted from it.

Yet there was one other such school – languages-cum-translation – already in operation in Tahtawi's day, and it was in Paris. This was the École Nationale des Langues Orientales (known popularly as Langues O and today called Institut National des Langues et Cultures Orientales or INALCO). It was founded in 1795, taught Arabic, and there had been an Egyptian, the lexicographer Ellious Bocthor, teaching there. Tahtawi must have known about it from his Paris stay. I speculate, therefore, that it was one of his sources of inspiration.
"The venue of the Language School was a splendid palace in the sophisticated Ezbekiyya quarter. [It may be the one that appears at the bottom of the History page on the Kulliyyat al-Alsun website.] Tahtawi wasted no time in shaping the establishment to his own ideas and aspirations. The set-up was in many ways rather exceptional for the time... all of the students at the school were native Egyptians, as opposed to Turks (or Circassians, etc.) who made up the student population in other government schools. Initially, the number of students was limited to 50, and later on to 150, with the course of study being set at four years, .. most of them came, like their principal, from the south. The students were recruited from the ‘preparatory’ schools. Their ages varied between fourteen and eighteen. Tahtawi was determined to provide a broad education and in addition to languages (French, English, Italian, Turkish, Arabic), the curriculum contained subjects like geography, mathematics, history, as well as French and Islamic law. As a result, it was the only school at that time which offered a truly general education, without a direct link with military affairs. Naturally, all depended on the quality of the teaching and Tahtawi took great pains in putting together a faculty that was up to the task.
"Tahtawi displayed the same zeal and unflagging commitment and enthusiasm to his new task as he had done during his Paris student days. In addition to his duties as director (nazir), he launched himself headlong into his teaching, with classes sometimes lasting up to three or four hours, where he would sometimes teach late in the evening, or before dawn... the responsibility of producing manuals for the school also fell on his shoulders. In 1841, a translation adjunct (qalam al-tarjama) was added to the School, which was naturally also headed by Tahtawi, whereas its fifty-strong faculty consisted mainly of graduates from the Language School. His enthusiasm and the overall quality of the teaching at the Language School meant that very soon after its foundation, students began publishing their translations, albeit under the careful supervision of Tahtawi. In total, the school would produce 2,000 translations of foreign (European and Turkish) works. The choice of books clearly reflected both the latter’s predilections (with a clear dominance of historical works) and French training inasmuch as it involved works he had read in Paris.
"As the topics moved away from the purely scientific and military, Egypt witnessed the emergence of a veritable translation movement."
To be concluded. The References will accompany the Conclusion.

Monday, October 8, 2012

El Nou d’octubre 2012

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.

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.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Buffalo Bill's Liaison Interpreters

The latest issue of The Linguist has a colourful, well-researched article about Buffalo Bill's Wild West, a spectacular live show that toured Europe between 1880 and 1906 and made its creator, William F. Cody, "the entertainment industry's first international celebrity." Before my time, but my father saw it when it came to England, probably when it performed in Birmingham in 1903.
"Buffalo Bill's Wild West delighted audiences in England, Scotland, Wales and 15 countries in continental Europe, igniting 'Wild West Fever' almost everywhere it went, by offering what purported to be an authentic experience of the American frontier, complete with real cowboys and 'Indians'."
In order to reach audiences in all these countries with its advertising and programmes, the show needed translators. There are copies of the materials they produced at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming,
"...yet we have no records of the translator's name, nor indeed do we know the names of the numerous translators and interpreters who enabled Cody and company to overcome the language barriers that they faced on the continent...

"The author of most of the English language source material... was John M. Burke, the General Manager, who travelled in advance of the troupe. Although one newspaper account suggests that he was an accomplished linguist... the quality of the translations is so high that it would be a remarkable feat if they were all the work of the same non-professional translator."
We also know that the Wild West employed interpreters,
"because Charles Eldridge Griffin, who managed the exhibition's side-show from 1902 to 1906, left a memoir in which he alludes to the difficulties that they had with their interpreters in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 'Some towns would be about equally divided between four or five nationalities, and, although they all understood German, the official language, each would insist on being addressed in his native language.'"
So there's nothing new about language nationalism.

Meanwhile if we know little about the translators engaged in the show's public relations, the same is not true of its internal communications. There too there were interpreters. They were needed to ensure effective communication with the show's large troupe of nearly 100 Native American performers, called disparagingly 'Show Indians' by white officials . The language common to most of them was Lakota (not to be confused with Dakota, though it's mutually intelligible with it). It's a Siouan language spoken by the Lakota people of the Sioux tribes. The Lakota were "the nation from which most Wild West 'Indians' came and on whom [Buffalo Bill] Cody's fortunes largely relied." In their case, we do know their names, because they are listed in the employee records at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. In a few instances we know more. For example,
"In 1902, Luther Standing Bear decided to join... Cody's Wild West show as it traveled across the Atlantic and toured England... Initially hired as an interpreter for the Lakota, Standing Bear soon found himself 'playing Indian' in Cody's show as well."
He performed before King Edward VII.

There was apparently no training for the Lakota interpreters. They were, in a double sense, Native Interpreters; and by the nature of their work between two languages and two cultures, they were Liaison Interpreters.

References and Further Reading
Chris Dixon. On the trail of Buffalo Bill. The Linguist, vol. 51, no. 5, October-November 2012, pp. 10-11. You can reach it through the website of the Chartered Institute of Linguists here. At the time of writing, this issue isn't posted up yet but it will be shortly.
Dixon, who reportedly speaks ten languages, is writing a book on the Lakota-English interpreters 1851-1891, so we can look forward to learning much more about them.

There's a Wikipedia articles for Lakota here.

Ryan E. Burt. 'Sioux Yells' in the Dawes era: Lakota 'Indian Play,' the Wild West, and the literatures of Luther Standing Bear. American Quarterly, vol. 62, no. 3, 2010, pp. 617-637. There's an abstract here.

Buffalo Bill's Wild West banner, c.1899. Source: The Authentic History Center, 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

El Libro de Mormon

Melitón G. Trejo

Among the religions and sects that deserve to be represented directly or indirectly at the Germersheim meeting (see last post) are certainly the Mormons. This blog has already reported about the vast conference interpreting operation they run (enter mormons in the Search box on the right for the posts). They’re also prolific written translators, and they have a key sacred text to start from, The Book of Mormon, which says even of itself that it’s a translation. The latest translation to appear is into Lao (see Reerences).

At some time you’ve probably been approached in the street or on your doorstep by their missionaries: clean-cut, soberly dressed young people, some natives some foreigners but all speaking the language of the country. For the Mormons believe in reaching out to people in their own language, and the young missionaries they send around the world as a religious duty are enjoined to learn it. I’ve met them in the village where I live on the outskirts of Valencia, Spain. And of course the tracts they hand out and the copies of The Book of Mormon that they offer here are in Spanish.

Last week there was an article in a Spanish magazine about Spanish Mormons (see References). There are approximately 50,000 of them, mostly ex-Catholics. It led me to the story of the first Spanish translation of The Book of Mormon. It was made by a Spaniard, but curiously enough not in Spain and not for his fellow Spaniards. Since it involves a trio of Non-Professional Native Translators, I’ll retell the story.

The principal translator was named Meletón González Trejo, and he was born in 1844 in Extremadura, then a poor. parched region of Spain. Son of a schoolteacher who gave him a good education, he joined the army and was posted to the Philippines, which in those days was a Spanish colony. On the way, he passed through France and there he first heard about the Mormons. A French translation of The Book of Mormon had been published as early as 1852 (see References). In the Philippines he developed religious doubts and had a dream that prompted him to leave the military and set out to see Salt Lake City. Sailing from the Philippines to San Francisco, he made his way from there through the Rockies and met the Mormon leader Brigham Young, who took him under his wing. Trejo had to be very tough to survive in Utah in those pioneer times. He took part in the heroic rescue of parties of handcart trekkers lost in a winter storm in the mountains.

In 1874 Brigham Young was preparing a mission to nearby Mexico, so he needed a Spanish translation of The Book of Mormon as soon as possible. He commissioned Daniel Webster Jones to produce it with the assistance of Henry Brizzee and Melitón Trejo. Jones knew Spanish from having lived for several wild years in Mexico and Brizzee could speak Spanish although his written Spanish was weak. However, though he got help understanding the English, and perhaps also doctrinal guidance, from his two English-speaking collaborators, Trejo was the only native Spanish speaker on the team and he’s generally credited with being the principal translator. None of them were Expert or Professional Translators. As Jones tells it in his autobiography (see References):
"Brother Brizzee had associated more with the people than I had and talked quite fluently and understood Spanish very well but had not studied the written word so much as I had. It was arranged with good feelings all around seemingly, as soon as I was settled at home that Trejo would live with me and we would work together translating. When brother Trejo came, I rented an office for him where he would be undisturbed through the day. In the evenings we would read and correct together."
A first, incomplete version was published the following year (see References).

At that point Jones departed to serve as a missionary in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico, and Trejo was left to complete the translation. It was published in 1886.

Trejo died some 40 years later cultivating fruit trees in Arizona.

References and Further Reading
The Wikipedia article on The Book of Mormon is here.

Publication of the Book of Mormon in Lao announced. LDS Living, 2012. The press release is here.

Virginia Drake. Los "Romney" españoles (The Spanish Romneys). XL Semanal, 2012. The article is here.

Le Livre de Mormon, récit écrit de la main de Mormon sur des plaques prises des plaques de Néphi (The Book of Mormon in French). Translated by John Taylor and Curtis E. Bolton. Paris: John Taylor, 1852. For an image of the title page, click here.

Trozos selectos del Libro de Mormon; que es una narración escrita por la mano de Mormon, sobre planchas tomadas de las planchas de Nephi (Selections from the Book of Mormon in Spanish). Translated by Daniel Webster Jones with the help of Henry Brizzee and Melitón G. Trejo. Salt Lake City: Deseret Press, 1875.

El Libro de Mormon relación escrita por la mano de Mormon, sobre planchas tomadas de las planchas de Nefi (The Book of Mormon, related by the hand of Mormon on tablets taken from the tablets of Nefi). Translated by Melitón G. Trejo and others. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1886. 1 vol. The Library of Congress and the University of Utah Library have copies of this edition.

Daniel W. Jones. Forty Years Among the Indians, a True Yet Thrilling Narrative of the Author's Experiences Among the Natives. Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1890. Full text downloadable here. The account of the translating is in chapter XXXIV.

The Deseret News is still published. It's so named because it was the newspaper of the ephemeral State of Deseret that preceded Utah. There's a Wikipedia article for it here.

Source: Meliton Trejo Genealogy, here.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Wake-Up Conference?

Many people have an irksome bee in their bonnet. Lionel's, over at The Liaison Interpreter, is AIIC and the supercilious, crème de le crème attitude of conference interpreters towards the other breeds. Mine, you may have noticed, is Academia and more particularly academic Translation Studies, with their conference rituals and priesthood, publication norms (I'm struggling to turn my Forli PowerPoint presentation into an article), fashions and careering (pun) bandwagons, university beancounters who use computers to count the beans – and yawning gaps.

One gap that this blog has complained about several times is the scant interest in religious translation compared with literary translation, although religious translation has been incomparably important throughout history, more than literary translation, which is so fashionable with graduate students and has produced so many publications in recent years. Religious texts and preaching reach out to all classes of society. Of course in Translation Studies there was Nida, but even he has fallen out of fashion and there's no longer a obligatory quotation from him in the opening chapter of every thesis as there used to be 30 years ago. At the Forli NPIT conference, I called the commemoration of the 400th centenary of the King James Bible "the academic non-event of the year in Translation Studies." Fortunately the popular press and publishers in the English-speaking countries did much better.

So to cut the tirade short, it now gives me pleasure to relay the announcement of a mini-conference called Translating and Interpreting in Religious Settings, to be held at the University of Mainz at Germersheim, on the Rhine near Karlsruhe, Germany, from 29 to 31 August, 2013. The link is here.

Mind you, it's just one panel (Panel 19) of a much bigger jamboree, the 7th Congress of the European Society of Translation Studies (ESTS), but let's hope it's a wake-up call.

Notice particularly the inclusion of Interpreting, a concomitant of preaching. As the conference organisers say, "Interpreting in religious settings has received little attention." That's putting it mildly, though there were two papers on church interpreting at Forli (see Further Reading), and you can find a series of posts about it on this blog by entering church interpreters in the Search box on the right.

Most church interpreters are Non-Professional Advanced Native Interpreters. So I might consider going to the conference myself if only I weren't so anti-Academia.

Further Reading
For more about Nida, enter eugene nida in the Search box on the right.

The website of the famous translation school (FTSK) at Germersheim, which opened in 1947, is here. It has nearly 2,000 students.

Sari Hokkanen (University of Tampere). Simultaneous interpreting as service: the case of a Finnish Pentacostal church. Paper to the First International Conference on Non-professional Interpreting and Translation, Forli, Italy, 2012.

Angelina Hild (State University of New York). Interpreting the prophetic: loyalty, authority and inspiration. Paper to the First International Conference on Non-professional Interpreting and Translation, Forli, Italy, 2012. Abstract here.

About the King James Bible on this blog, enter king james in the Search box on the right.

FTSK Germersheim: the original 1947 building, formerly a barracks. Photo by Natalie Bartges, 2008.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Battle Creek Emergency

Battle Creek, Michigan, is a typical American Midwest city. It's famous as the birthplace and headquarters of Kellogg's corn flakes. Like most typical American cities these days, it's home to a sizable community of Spanish-speaking Latinos, and hence there's language brokering. Here's part of a newspaper article that's just arrived from there.
“'Can you imagine?' said Flores, executive director of Voces, a nonprofit organization seeking to provide assistance to Latinos in the Battle Creek area.
“The memory still makes Kate Flores shudder.
“She recounts the story of a local Latino woman who was in the midst of a miscarriage, could not speak English and had no way to make herself understood at the hospital because there was no interpreter.
“So instead, she relied on her English-speaking 13-year-old son in the emergency room, the only person she trusted to make herself understood to doctors.
“It’s that story, and others too much like it, that convinced Flores and others concerned about the local Spanish-speaking community to get behind Voces, Spanish for 'voices'.
“Indeed, language was, and probably still is, the major barrier for immigrants coming to a new country. In this case, children educated in the American school system have a better of chance of communicating than their parents.
“In this story, Flores was amazed that a boy had to be involved in a situation so intimate and private because there was no other choice.
“‘Not only is it illegal, but it’s inappropriate,’ Flores said.
“In the perfect world, Flores hopes Voces will help make sure such a situation rarely happens again."
This is the kind of story that riles professional health care interpreters, of whom there are many in the USA. Of course the hospital ought to have had an interpreter available. But let’s do a different take on it.
  • There’s no suggestion that the boy involved couldn’t interpret or caused dangerous misunderstanding. 
  • Inappropriate perhaps, but that’s a matter of mores and the boy was “the only person she [the mother] trusted to make herself understood to doctors.” It was her choice.
  • "In the perfect world,..." says Flores. But it isn’t a perfect world. There will always be emergencies where an Expert, or even an Advanced Native Interpreter, isn’t available in time. If it can happen in Battle Creek, how much more is it likely to happen in less developed parts of the world?
Conclusion: Instead of having their ability ignored or underestimated, bilingual immigrant children and adolescents should be taught what to do and what to say if they’re called on to interpret in an emergency, and they should be given a basic ‘first aid’ bilingual vocabulary to learn. (Perhaps, in an ideal world, they would also carry a consent form from their parents.) Most children are proud to help. And thanks to TV and the internet, they're much more worldwise than children of their age used to be, which is also a great help for interpreting. But 'what to say' includes telling people they should call in 'a proper translator' if the interpreting is difficult or sensitive.
 Chuck Carlson. Voces establishes itself in B.C. Latino community. Battle Creek Enquirer, September 12, 2012. The article is here. The emphasis is mine.
For another incident where a bilingual boy helped out in an emergency, enter pre-dawn crash in the Search box on the right.