Monday, December 23, 2019

Queen Elizabeth I of England, Lifelong Native Translator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Kerala Schoolgirl to the Rescue

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

News from India

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

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

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

Mylapore Times, November 22, 2019.

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

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

Saturday, October 26, 2019

The Pageboy Interpreter

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

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

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

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

The Peninsula Paris. Wikipedia, 2019. Emphasis added.

German officers held prisoner in the Majestic.

Friday, September 13, 2019

NPIT5 at Amsterdam

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 19, 2019

Affective Translating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued.

Elinor Ochs and Bambi B. Schhieffelin. Language has a heart. Text: Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of Discourse, vol. 9, No. 1, 1989, pp.7-25. Click [HERE] or go to

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

Babette Lippmann. EdgarAlan Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition”: an analysis of his work. Grin, 2005. Click [HERE] or go to

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

Jared Spears. How Poe’s French translator made The Raven even spookier. Mental Floss, 2016. Click [HERE] or go to

Monday, May 27, 2019

Now that I am 90

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

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

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

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



Thursday, May 16, 2019

Indigenous Interpreters

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

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

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

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

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

Tupaia (navigator). Wikipedia, 2019.

Samuel Wallis. Wikipedia, 2019.

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


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

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Eighteen TED Translators

Back in 2011 there was a post on this blog about the volunteers who translate articles for Wikipedia and about the research being done on them by Julie McDonough Dolmaya of York University in Toronto. To retrieve it, enter julie in the Search box on the right. Now there's another ‘knowledge distribution’ organization that depends on crowedsourcing its translations. It’s TED. “TED Conferences LLC (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization that posts talks online for free distribution under the slogan ‘ideas worth spreading.’”  There’s a link between the two groups in that the level of discourse in their texts is roughly the same; that is to say, serious and often scientific without being extremely academic. It requires expert translators who can satisfy critical editors and readers.

Interesting translator information is available about the 2019 TED Conference, which was held in Vancouver this month (see Source below). It’s unusual for organizations to provide so much data about their translators but TED obviously believes in their importance. It musters 33,527 translators, who together have done 145,577 translations into 116 languages. Imagine what this would cost if TED had to pay for it! TED doesn’t say, however, whether it also uses machine translation.

The translators
According to TED itself, “TED Translators are a global community of volunteers who subtitle TED Talks.” They should be fluently bilingual in both source and target languages. They should be especially fluent in the transcription language (i.e., the language in which the talks are transcribed for written distribution in the original language). They. should be knowledgeable about subtitling best practices. They have available a free online subtitling tool called Amara to subtitle talks and collaborate with other volunteers. Note that a translator training or qualification is not a requirement; although, as we shall see, many of them do have one.

For TED2019 there were supposed to be 18 translators, though I’m ashamed to say three of them were refused Canadian visas.. Let’s divide them into two groups.

a)  Professional Expert
Karin Valles (Mexico). A professional freelance translator. Born and raised in Ensenada, Mexico. Her passion for languages led her to study translation at the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC), where she developed a keen interest in multimedia translation. 

Carolina Aguirre (Brazil).  Translator and subtitler. Lives in São Paulo. Has had an intense interest in languages – particularly English – from an early age, but it wasn’t until she discovered TED and TED Translators that she realized her passion for translating and subtitling too. This discovery also inspired her to switch her profession from law to full-time translation, and she says she’s much more satisfied by her current work. 

Tatiana Lebedeva (Russia). Born in Ekaterinburg. Now lives in Prague, where she studies English literature and linguistics, teaches English as a foreign language and works as a freelance translator.

Moe Shoji (Japan). PhD student. Originally from Japan but has lived in Sheffield, England, for the last seven years while studyng for her PhD in theatre and performance studies. Has an MA in the same field, in addition to degrees in both French and English literature. Teaches Japanese. Says that translating is “very much intertwined with my PhD studies – so much so that my first submitted thesis contains this acknowledgment: ‘I would also like to say thanks to TED Translators, which has been a productive procrastination for me to engage with whenever I find myself in a writing cul-de-sac.’” Thus her prolific output as a TED Translator. Aside from studying and translating, she is an aspiring literary translator.

Silvia Allone (Italy). Sales manager and translator.  Lives in Milan. Has an MA in foreign languages and literatures (English and French) from the University of Milan. Currently a sales manager for several Italian and multinational companies, and also works as a freelance translator. About her experience with TED Translators, she says, “TED Translators has made me realize how amazing and rewarding it is to help spread powerful and inspiring ideas to people all across the world who don’t speak a second language – particularly since I strongly believe that communication brings people together more than anything else.”

Masoud Motamedifar (Iran). Translator and coordinator from Bam. MA in both translation studies and business management, and currently works as a translator and an office coordinator at a holding company in Iran. His passion for learning and sharing insightful knowledge and content is what led him to join TED Translators. “I wholeheartedly believe that translating and spreading powerful ideas as far and wide as possible can effect substantive change in the world”. Enjoys traveling and immersing himself in different cultures.

b)  NPIT translators
Seongje Hwang (South Korea). Software engineer. After studying computer engineering at university, he began his career as a financial technology developer and, propelled by his fascination with cutting-edge technologies, utilized TED Talks to school himself on such advancements. He also cultivated a deep interest in TED Talks which address sociocultural issues. He joined the TED Translator community in order to share far and wide the talks that inspire him, as well as to discover talks that animate his fellow translators.

Talia Breuer (Iarael). Born and raised in Haifa. Currently manages a team at a startup enterprise that’s working to implement a sharing economy in the country.

Bianca-Ionidia Mirea. PhD student. Originally from Romania, she has spent much of the last decade living, studying and working in various parts of the world, including China, India and the UK. She credits her time in these three countries especially for introducing her to an array of new ways of thinking and living.  She recently completed her MA in human resources management from Leeds University Business School, and she's about to begin pursuing her PhD in the study of the emergence of new forms of work in the digital economy.

Ly Nguyên (Vietnam). Born and raised in Vietnam. Currently finishing her studies in architecture at Hanoi Architectural University. In addition to her fascination for the aesthetics of words in both the design and calligraphy mediums, she “loves languages and translation.”

Jinchuan Ge (China). From eastern China. Now a student in economics and commerce at the University of Adelaide in Australia. He’s been both a TED Translator and involved with various TED and TEDx conferences for more than five years. Has also studied abroad in the USA at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

Urjoshi Sinha (India). Currently a PhD student in computer science and a graduate teaching assistant at Iowa State University. Her research is in software engineering. She cites her dedication to minimizing impediments to the free dissemination of knowledge as one of the key factors that inspired her to join TED Translators.

Frank Zegarra (Peru). Electronics engineer. Born and raised in Lima. Holds a degree in oil and gas engineering Is currently a process safety manager for pipeline transportation for an oil and gas company. His TED Translators epiphany occurred after he watched his first TED Talk, Pranav Mistry’s The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology: “It was then when I realized how amazing it is to have free access to such stimulating information, as well as the importance of transmitting these ideas to as large of an audience as possible, regardless of borders, customs or beliefs,” he says. “And so I began volunteering with TED Translators.”

Tanja Daib (Germany). PhD student in computer science. Schooled in her home country, Relocated to Argentina for a year to teach German, then moved to Edinburgh for a BA in cognitive science. Now lives in London, where she’s studying for her PhD. JJoined TED Translators in 2012 to “help make TED content more widely accessible, and to have a productive way of procrastinating.”

Jules Daunay (France). Technology developer. Born and raised in Brittany, currently resides in Paris and works as a technology developer for a startup enterprise focused on creating innovative open-source development tools. Has also lived in Moscow, where he attended Moscow State University. In addition, earned master’s degrees in Paris from both Sciences Po and the Sorbonne. His passion for technology is matched by his deep interest in other cultures, and he attributes this combination to his decision to join TED Translators. “I love being part of a global community in which I can introduce extraordinary new ideas to French speakers around the world.”

Sameeha Atout (Palestine). From Nablus, BSc in medical analysis, and currently works as an embryologist. She plans to pursue a degree in the field of genetics research. A staunch believer in Mahatma Gandhi’s maxim “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and she credits these words for her decision to join TED Translators. “I always try to take any opportunity I can to change our world for the better,” Sameeha says. “When I discovered TED Translators, I realized I’d found an excellent way to put Gandhi’s words into action: I could help spread important ideas and knowledge across languages and borders, while at the same time increasing the amount Arabic content available online.”

Saba Rezaie (Iran). BSc in physics from the University of Tehran, Lives in New York.  She initially moved to New York to earn her master’s degrees in both economics and business administration; afterward, She began her current job as a data analyst at a financial institution. As a bilingual speaker and a fervent believer in education and the free exchange of knowledge, she’s found a natural home at TED Translators.

Grigor Janikyan (Armenia). Youth activist. Born and raised in Armenia. BA in management from the French University in Armenia. In 2015 he founded United Youth Union, an Armenia-based “non-profit organization committed to youth development and empowerment.”

The most striking feature of these translators is their enthusiasm and idealism; they have a missionary zeal. In this respect they are comparable to the church interpreters who have been mentioned many times on this blog, though they serve a differenct god, Minerva. Also remarkable is their level of education; they almost all have university degrees, which explains why they possess the cognitive competence to deal with TED translations. They come from very widespread and varied countries and cultures, but.most of them have travelled widely and that has probably diminished the mental differences.

On the face of it, there is no significant difference between the competence and output of the Expert and the NPIT translators, though that's a question which calls for further research.

Meet the TED translators attending TED 2019.  Click [HERE] or go to   

Thursday, April 4, 2019

The First ‘Australian’ Interpreter

This post is offered as a contribution to the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL).

                                                                               Resultado de imagen de bungaree

When you go researching with Google, the links may lead you far from where you expect. Thus it was my interest in cats that led me to the first documented Australian Aborigine interpreter. And in between the two came the link to Capt. Matthew Flinders of the British Royal Navy. He was the first mariner to circumnavigate Australia, map its coastline, identify it as a continent and call it Australia. That was in 1801-1803. A few weeks ago his early-nineteenth-century grave was discovered in an excavation under – of all places! – Euston railway station in London; but that’s another story. My feline starting point was that on his epic voyage he took with him his ship’s faithful cat Trim, named after a character in the popular eighteenth-century novel Tristram Shandy. Flinders became so admiring of Trim that he wrote a heartfelt and elegant tribute to him, which I warmly commend to all cat lovers (see Sources below).

And then a subsequent link led me from Flinders to another of his faitful companions, his Aborigine interpreter Bungaree. When Europeans discovered Australia in the eightenth century they were broght into contact with peoples whose cultures were perhaps the oldest surviving human civilisations. It’s proof – if proof were needed – of the universality and variety of human language that “in the late 18th century, there were more than 250 distinct Aboriginal social groupings and a similar number of languages or varieties.”

In that fertile environment we can be sure that there must have been some interpreting from early times among the languages. However, Bungaree is the first documented Abriginal/English interpreter. There's an excellent article about him in Wikipedia and I can do no better than to quote extensively from it, with due thanks to its anonymous author(s).
 “Bungaree, or Boongaree (1775 – 24 November 1830) was an Aboriginal Australian from the Kuringgai people of the Broken Bay area north of Sydney, who was known as an explorer, entertainer, and Aboriginal community leader. He is also significant in that he was the first person to be recorded in print as an Australian, and thus the first Australian to circumnavigate the continent...
Having moved to the growing settlement of Sydney in the 1790s, Bungaree established himself as a well-known identity, as one able to move between his own people and the newcomers. He joined the crew of the HMS Reliance on a trip to Norfolk Island in 1798, during which he impressed the then midshipman Matthew Flinders. In 1798 he accompanied Flinders on the sloop Norfolk on a coastal survey as an interpreter, guide and negotiator with local indigenous groups. Despite the lack the of a common language, the indigenous people persistently sought Bungaree out to speak to instead of Flinders. And his mediation skills were greatly appreciated by the Europeans with whom he shared the ship. In 1799, to reach an agreement with local people in one particular situation, Bungaree gave them a spear and a spear thrower as gifts, showing them how to use them. It is referred to by Bronwen Douglas as a ‘cross-cultural act, signifying a reciprocal rather than a hierarchical relationship and challenging the reified notion of ‘cross-cultural’ as contact between opposed, homogenized ‘cultures’, adding that ‘the Moreton Bay people probably took Bungaree for the leader of the expedition and the white men for his followers.’
He was recruited by Flinders on his circumnavigation of Australia between 1801 and 1803 in the Investigator... Flinders noted that Bungaree was ‘a worthy and brave fellow’ who, on multiple occasions, saved the expedition. Bungaree was the only indigenous Australian on the ship - and as such, played a vital diplomatic role as they made their way around the coast, overcoming not inconsiderable language barriers in places. According to historian Keith Vincent, Bungaree chose the role as a go-between, and was often able to mollify indigenous people who were about to attack the sailors, by taking off his clothes and speaking to people, despite being in territory unknown to himself. Flinders later wrote in his memoirs of Bungaree's ‘good disposition and open and manly conduct’ and his kindness to the ship's cat,Trim...
“However Bungaree's important role in the exploration of Australia appears to have been almost forgotten. There are statues to Flinders and even the cat Trim, but as at January 2019, not a single statue to Bungaree recognising his achievement”
Such is the lack of appreciation of the vital roles, both linguistic and extralinguistic, played by interpreters. Perhaps too there is some racism in this neglect of Bungaree. Yet it hasn’t always been so: there’s an island, located off the Kimberley coast of Western Australia, called Boongaree Island.
“Bungaree continued his association with exploratory voyages when he accompanied Captain Phillip Parker King to north-western Australia in 1817 in the Mermaid, amongst other things giving advice on which plants were safe to eat. “
[Parker] named the island after him, Meanwhile,
“In 1815, Governor Lachlan Macquarie dubbed Bungaree "Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe" and presented him with 15 acres (61,000 m2) of land on George’s Head  as well as a breastplate inscribed 'BOONGAREE - Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe.'
“Bungaree spent the rest of his life ceremonially welcoming visitors to Australia, educating people about Aboriginal culture (especially boomerang throwing), and soliciting tribute, especially from ships visiting Sidney. He was also influential within his own community, taking part in corroborees, trading in fish and helping to keep the peace.”
At the risk of belabouring the point, I must point out that in the absence of any interpreter training, tradition or accreditation in eighteenth-century Australia, Bungaree could only have been a Natural Interpreter. But his employ by the colonial administration and the Royal Navy made him a Professional.

Unesco. 2019, Interational Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL 2019). Click [HERE] or go to

Australian Aboriginal languages. Wikipedia, 2019.

Matthew Flinders. Trim: the story of a brave, seafaring cat who, in the company of Matthew Flinders, circumnavigated the globe in the years 1799-1804. Collins, 1977. Flinders wrote it in 1809 during his captivity on Ile de France (Mauritius) but it lay overlooked among his papers for more than a century.

Bungaree. Wikipedia, 2019.

Boongaree Island. Wikipedia, 2018.

Augustus Earle, Portrait of Bungaree, a native of New South Wales, with Fort Macquarie, Sydney Harbour, in background, (1826): oil on canvas; 68.5 x 50.5 cm. National Library of Australia.
By the end of his life, he had become a familiar sight in colonial Sydney, dressed in a succession of military and naval uniforms that had been given to him. His distinctive outfits and notoriety within colonial society, as well as his gift for humour and mimicry, especially his impressions of past and present governors, made him a popular subject for portrait painters,”