Wednesday, October 30, 2013

NPIT2 Deadline

Just received:

"The deadline for abstract submission for the Second International Conference on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation has been extended until Sunday, November 10."

For the Call for Papers, enter NPIT2 in the Search box on the right.

I hope this doesn't mean what it would seem to mean, namely that there aren't yet enough papers for NPIT2. After the resounding, hopeful, innovative success of NPIT1 - which would be confirmed by anyone who participated - there ought to be stacks of them.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Naive and Not So Naive Readers

 This is the continuation of the previous post, which please read first.

Before leaving the Expert Readers, there's one kind that I probably wouldn't have listed, because the texts that they read are so different, if it weren't that there's an in-depth study of how they think by a well-known German translatologist, Hans Krings. Krings is best known for his use of think-aloud protocols (TAP) in translation studies (see References). His book is about the readers and revisers of raw machine translation output, called post-editors. His fundamental assumption is that the post-editors must themselves be translators, because only experienced translators can judge the accuracy of a translation. McElhany and Vasconcellos, quoted in the Krings book, have this to say about them:
"The translator is the one best able to pick up errors in the machine translation (e.g., misparsed or unparsable ambiguities), he has a fund of knowledge about the cross-language transfer of concepts, and he has technical resources at his disposal which he knows how to use in the event of doubts... An inexperienced translator to say nothing of the non-translator is apt to waste precious time unnecessarily reworking passages or trying to deal with a problem whose solution would be obvious to a seasoned professional."

Let's go now to the opposite end of the spectrum of competence: the Naive Translation Reader (NTR). NTRs know nothing about translation; they haven't been taught anything, and they're probably monolingual. Even if they're bilingual, they're not so in the languages of the translation they're reading. They may even be unaware that what they're reading is a translation. I had no idea the legends and adventure books I was reading as a child - from the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to the travels of Marco Polo and Sven Hedin - were written by foreigners in another language or adapted from translations of them. The blog has commented earlier on people who think the Bible was composed in their own language (enter rednecks in the Search box). That kind of  mistake is encouraged by the publishers who still don't mention that the publication is a translation or don't name the translator. NTRs are therefore obliged to read translations as original writings in the receptor language and to judge them by the literary and stylistic canons of that language. It can lead to serious misconceptions, for instance that The Arabian Nights, because of the way it was bowdlerised by 18th and 19th century English and French translators, is a collection of stories for children. But for the NTRs, ignorance is bliss.

Between the NTRs and the Expert Readers there's an Intermediate class. Let's call its members ITRs. They're a mixed bag but they have some characteristics in common. They know translations exist and what they are. They may be able to tell a translation when they read one, notably by conceptual features or because it contains segments of translationese, i.e., hangovers from the vocabulary and phraseology of the source language. For instance, when I was at this stage at school, I constantly wondered why so many sentences in the King James Bible began with And when we were being instructed in our English class not to do so. I realised it wasn't a native English text.
ITR's are often interested in translations only for extraneous reasons. Take the case of the publisher's readers whose job it is to select among manuscripts submitted to them for publication. The translations that come to them are declared as such. But their selection criterion won't be the quality of the translation. They read translations with an eye to whether the work will sell to their employer's market.

The authors of reviews of new publications often fall into this category. For example, an article appeared recently in the New York Times Review of Books purporting to review four English translations of contemporary foreign literature. The title of the article is 'Chronicle: fiction in translation'. So the reporter was certainly aware of translation; what's more the names of the translators are given. However, while there's a description of each story there's not a single word about the translations. In one case it's clear that the original language was Chinese; in the other three cases we're left to our own devices to work out  what it was. The reviewer certainly didn't know all the languages. And that's The New York Times.

Finally, before this post becomes too long, there are the readers, voluntary or captive, of the masses of translation that are produced as official documents or announcements by governments or by law. Often the original and the translation of such texts are displayed side by side. If the translation is well done, it takes an ETR to detect which is the original. ITRs know one of them is a translation because the law (as in Canada) dictates that government documents must be translated, but no more than that. The page layout conventions help too.

And so on.

As a reader of this blog, you're probably an ETR or at least an ITR. But let's not underplay the NTRs. They're the ones who are mainly responsible for Professional Translators lacking recognition and appreciation. Yet without them, the market for translation would be much smaller.                                                                        
Silvia Bernardini. Think-aloud protocols in translation research: achievements, limits, future prospects. Click here.

Hans P. Krings. Repairing Texts: Empirical Investigations of Machine Translation Post-Editing Processes. Translated from the German Texte reparieren by Geoffrey S. Koby, Gregory M. Shreve, Katja Mischerikow, Sarah Litzer (another collaborative translation!). Kent OH and London: Kent State University Press, 2001. 633 p.

Sven Hedin. From Pole to Pole: A Book for Young People. Translated from the Swedish Från pol till pol by an unnamed translator.. London: Macmillan, 1912. The Project Gutenburg e-book edition is available here. "This remains the single most exciting adventure travel book written in the early twentieth century." (Amazon). There's a Wikipedia article on Sven Hedin.

Alison McCulloch. Chronicle: fiction in translation. New York Times Sunday Book Review, 1 September 2013.The article is here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Expert Translation Readers

N.B. Translations and translators refer in this post to written translating. Interpreting is another story.

I’ve been away in San Ildefonso. Never heard of it? I sympathise. Nor had I until recently, but see the Footnote below.

For reading on the trip, I took a famous Spanish novel by Valencian author Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and one of its two English translations).[1] Why take the translation when I can read the Spanish? It’s because I enjoy reading a translation along with its original and comparing them. I take pleasure where the translator has found a satisfactory solution to a problem or doubt, something I wouldn’t have thought of myself. Even when he or she stumbles, the ’mistake’ can give a flash of insight into how the translator’s mind was working. In the case of this translation, I noticed that such errors were usually due to the translator not knowing at first hand the area in which the story and the characters are placed. Call this way of reading professional perversiont. But I’m not alone. I saw this yesterday from an Irish newspaper:[2]
I recently attended a translation slam. Two literary translators were given the same text (a smidgen of Proust) to work on. We voyeurs in the audience were supplied with the original and the translators’ versions. A riveting discussion followed about translation choices.
It led me to the reflection that different readers of translations have different interests, different levels of expertise. The theorists have paid scant attention to the diversity of readership. As regards expertise, there are those who have training and are perhaps themselves translators. Them we may class as the Expert Readers. We can assume they are able to read both languages. I would add that they ought to be able not only to detect divergences from the originals intuitively but be capable of explaining why they consider them to be such. Many of them are actually paid to read translations and to critique them. They are the Professional Expert Readers. There are more of them than one might think, since they include the following.

Colleagues of Professional Translators who read one another’s drafts and suggest improvements.

The senior revisers and editors of junior translators. For them too, the aim is to improve quality. Most large translation bureaux have them. Indeed there are now European and Canadian norms for commercial bureaux that stipulate revision.[3]

The teachers of translation who must read and criticise their students’ work. Since there are hundreds of postsecondary translation programmes and courses throughout the world – I keep a file of them – we can guesstimate that there are several thousand teachers. One particularity of their work is that they are often called on to quantify quality by assigning a numerical grade. To this group we may append the examiners who assess translations for degrees and professional qualifications.

The writers of reviews, at least for professional and academic publications. The reviewers in the popular press are a different kettle of fish; they are often non-experts who are capable of writing a page about the text but only one line about the translation.

Lawyers and para-jurists who vet translations for their legal validity and consistency. Since the legislation, regulations and other information issued by the European Union must be translated into all the languages of the EU and be applicable in all its countries without interminable haggling over the meaning of the texts, there are plenty of such multilingual legal experts in Brussels, Luxembourg and Strasbourg. I come up against them myself in the translating I do for Spanish applicants to a Canadian college of physicians and surgeons. The smallest discrepancy, for example in the title of a university course amongst a list of 50 courses, leads to the whole translation being returned to me for correction. So I’m aware there’s somebody in an office in Canada who's being paid to read my translations with a magnifying glass and who, for legal reasons, insists that they be “as literal as possible.”[4]

The Re-translators, that is to say the translators who translate a previous translation. Such re-translations are common. For example, Blasco Ibáñez, already mentioned above, published the most popular Spanish version of The Thousand and One Nights.[5] As he didn’t know Arabic, he translated it from a French translation. Re-translators have to perform a more careful and complete reading of the primary translation than most readers would give it.

So the reader should appear as a variable in any model of the translation process.

To be continued.

[1] Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, 1867-1928. Cañas y barro. Translated as Reeds and Mud by Lester Beberfall, BA, MA, PhD (Professor of Spanish, Wisconsin State University). Boston: Branden Press, 1966. 194 p. The original can be found in any good Spanish bookshop; the translation is available through Amazon.
[2] Doireann Ni Bhriain. Word for word: losing out on access to translations. The Irish Times, 12 October 2013. The article is here.
[3] Canadian General Standards Board. CAN/CGSB-131.10-2008, Translation Services. Gatineau: CGSB, 2008. "Where possible, CAN/CGSB-131.10-2008 has been harmonized with the European Standard EN 15038, Translation Services." Downloadable for a fee from this site.
[4] Medical Council of Canada. Translation Requirements. Ottawa, 2013. Available here.
[5] El libro de las mil noches y una noche (The Thousand and One Nights). Direct literal translation from Arabic by Dr J. C. Mardrus. Spanish version by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. Valencia: Prometeo, c1916.
[6] José Luis Sancho and Juan Ramón Aparicio. Guide: Real Sitio de La Granja de San Ildefonso and Riofrío. (Reales Sitios de España series). Translated by Mervyn Samuel, Laura Suffield and Nigel Williams. Madrid: Patrimonio Nacional, 2013. 97 p. Richly illustrated. Available from Amazon.
Notice, in view of the immediately preceding post, that the San Ildefonso item is a collaborative translation.

San Ildefonso is a small town on the northern slope of the Guadarrama mountains about 100 km north of Madrid and 10 km south of Segovia. The Spanish monarchs of the 18th century turned it into a refreshing summer hill-station retreat from the heat and bustle of Madrid. They endowed it with two Baroque palaces, extensive formal gardens with sculptured fountains in French style, and the Royal Glassworks, all now excellently conserved.[6] In addition it has good hotels and restaurants. Little visited by foreign tourists but recommended as a side trip for visitors to Madrid or Segovia.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

St Jerome Again / Collaborative Translating

St Jerome Again
For a reason that’ll become apparent in another post, I let the Feast of St Jerome (30 September) slip by this year. However, a couple of new comments about his Vulgate translation of the Bible have been attached recently to a previous post. To find them, enter feast in the Search box on the right. The Vulgate ceased to be the Roman Catholic official ‘pivot’ for Bible translations in 1943, when Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical to that effect. Nevertheless, in 2001 the Vatican issued an instruction establishing a revised edition, the Nova Vulgata, as “a point of reference for all translations of the liturgy of the Roman rite into the vernacular from the original languages.” At roughly 1,600 years, the Vulgate has had a long innings.
  • Vulgate. Wikipedia, 2013. Click here.
  • Divino Afflante Spiritu. Wikipedia, 2013. Click here. This is the Papal encyclical of 1943.

Collaborative Translation Conference
There has been a tendency since the Renaissance to see translations as the product of single translators' minds. But the fact is that a great many translations, both literary and technical or legal, are collaborative efforts, sometimes between whole teams.

Collaborative translating has been given great new impetus by the advent of internet crowdsourcing (enter crowdsourcing in the Search box on the right); yet it’s far from new on a smaller scale, so it has history. One of the most successful enterprises of the sort was the 17th-century King James Version of the Bible (enter KJV in the Search box).

News comes now of an innovative conference next year recognising this reality. It's called La traduction collaborative: de l’Antiquité à Internet (Collaborative Translation from Antiquity to the Internet). It's to be held in Paris, June 5-7, 2014, and one of its spin-offs is that participants get to see the interior of the spectacular French National Library. Papers can be in English. What's more, participation is free. But be quick! The deadline for submissions is October 15, 2013. Submissions should go to, and questions to

Thursday, October 3, 2013

NPIT2 Reminder

A friend has written reminding me that the deadline is fast approaching for submitting papers to the Second International Conference on Non-professional Interpreting and Translation. It's October 31. For more information and the call for papers, enter npit2 in the Search box on the right.

Meanwhile there's still some unfinished business from last year's NPIT1. To the people who asked me at Forlí whether I was going to publish something from my inaugural presentation, the answer now is that I've converted the PowerPoint version into a conventional paper for the proceedings. However, it looks like it'll be some time yet before the proceedings are published.