Friday, September 17, 2021

George Smith, Translator of a Civilisation

 



It’s been some time since there’s been a historical post on this blog, so here’s one.

 

There are translators who are justly famous for introducing an author or a work into another culture: Constance Garnett for Tolstoy in England, Rimbaud for Poe in France, Rabassa for García Márquez in the United States, and so on. And then there are translators whose fame is at a transcendent level because they introduced not just a single author but a whole culture or civilisation.  Such were Hunain ibn Ishaq and his colleagues and acolytes at the Bait al-Hikma in ninth-century Baghdad who transferred the wisdom and science of the Greeks to the Arabs; or Young and Champollion, translators at the graphemic level, who unlocked the mysteries of Ancient Egypt; or Sir William Jones, who made the first English translations of several classical Indian works.

 

One translator in the second category is much less well known today, although in his own day his most important translations drew even the prime minister of England to come and listen to him lecture. Yet curiously enough he isn’t mentioned in the otherwise admirable Translators Through History. And if you are looking for him with a browser you have to distinguish him from the dozens of others with the same very common English name: George Smith.

 

He was a native, self-educated translator with excellent mentors.

 

As the son of a working-class family in Victorian England, Smith was limited in his ability to acquire a formal education. At age fourteen, he was apprenticed to a London publishing house to learn banknote engraving, at which he excelled. From his youth, he was fascinated by Assyrian culture and history. In his spare time he read everything that was available to him on the subject. His interest was so keen that while working at the printing firm, he spent his lunch hours at the British Museum, studying publications on the cuneiform tablets that had been unearthed near Mosul in Iraq by the great archaeologists Austen Henry Layard, Henry Rawlinson, and Hormuzd Rassam during the archaeological expeditions of 1840–1855.   These expeditions were part of a mid-19th century initiative by European institutions and governments to fund expeditions to Mesopotamia to find physical evidence to corroborate events described in the Bible. What the explorers found instead, however, was that the Bible - previously thought to be the oldest book in the world and comprised of original stories - actually drew upon much older Sumerian myths.

 

Smith's natural talent for cuneiform studies was first noticed by Samuel Birch, Egyptologist and Director of the Department of Antiquities, who brought the young man to the attention of Rawlinson, who was a renowned Assyriologist. As early as 1861, he was working evenings sorting and cleaning the mass of friable fragments of clay cylinders and tablets in the Museum's storage rooms. The work of piecing together the thousands of fragments was a colossal jigsaw puzzle.

 

By 1871, Smith published the Annals of Assur-bani-pal, which he had transliterated and translated, and he had communicated to the newly founded Society of Biblical Archaeology a paper on The Early History of Babylonia, and an account of his decipherment of the Cypriote inscriptions that had been discovered in 1800 (see Sources below).

 

Smith’s greatest discovery came the following year, 1872,  when he achieved worldwide fame by his translation of the Chaldaean account of the Great Flood, which he read before the Society of Biblical Archaeology on 3 December and whose audience included the Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone.  According to the accounts of his co-workers in the reading room of the Museum library, on the day of the discovery, when Smith realized what he was reading he "began to remove articles of his clothing" and run around the room shouting in delight. (This must have happened in Panizzi’s magnificent new Reading room, seated in whose broad wooden armchairs I too did research when I was a student at nearby SOAS.)

 

The text that excited Smith so much is better known today as the eleventh tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh (/ˈɡɪlɡəmɛʃ/, one of the oldest known works of literature. It had been discovered by Hormuzd Rassam in 1853 on an archeological mission for the British Museum on behalf of his colleague and mentor Layard. He found it in the ruins of the  library of the seventh-century BC Asssyrian king Ashurbanipal. The Epic of Gilgamesh is an epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia, regarded as the earliest surviving notable work of literature. By this translation Smith single-handedly opened up to the West the literature and civilisation of Sumeria from around 2100 BC.

 

The tablet describes how the gods sent a flood to destroy the world and how one man, Utnapishtim, was forewarned and tasked by the god Enki to abandon his worldly possessions and build a giant ship to house and preserve living things; and how after the flood he sent out birds to look for dry land. It came as a bombshell to the fundamentalist-minded Victorians, for here was an account unmistakably similar to the story of Noah’s Ark in the Hebrew Pentateuch but several centuries older.

 

A London newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, was moved to finance another expedition. It arranged for Smith to go to Nineveh  and carry out excavations with a view to finding the missing fragments of the Flood story. This journey resulted in the discovery of some missing tablets. Smith spent most of the year 1875 fixing together and translating the fragments relating to the Creation, the results of which were published in The Chaldaean Account of Genesis (1880, co-written with Archibald Sayce).

 

In March 1876, the trustees of the British Museum sent Smith once more to excavate the rest of the Library of Ashurbanipal. At Ikisji, a small village about sixty miles northeast of Aleppo, he fell ill with dysentery, the bane of many Middle Eastern travellers, and died from it aged only 36.

 

Sources

George Smith (Assyriologist). Wikipedia, 2021.

British Museum reading room. Wikipedia, 2021.

Massimo Perna. Corpus of Cypriote syllabic inscriptions of the 1st millennium BC. Kyprios Character, 2020.

Epic of Gilgamesh. Wikipedia, 2021

Utnapishtim. Wikipedia, 2021.


Image

Gilgamesh, King of Uruk.

Source: Geohistoria

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Fate of the Afghan Fixers

  


Recent events have disrupted the schedule for this blog. It’s difficult to concentrate on writing with so many disasters unfolding. A couple of posts ago we expressed the fear that efforts to rescue the Afghan interpreters who were embedded with the allied forces would prove to be too little and too late – a prediction that was tragically true for many of them. Here’s one example.

 

Hero Afghan Interpreter Mohammed Nabi Wardak, 30, is sleeping on the streets of Athens and fled his country of Afghanistan since he helped British armed forces in the fight against the Taliban. This simply cannot be right and it’s our duty to help him.

Mohammed served on the front line in Helmand Province between 2008 and 2011. His commanding officers during this time described him as an “excellent interpreter” who risked his life on many occasions. Earlier this year a review in policy meant that over Afghan interpreters had been given the right to stay in the UK to protect from the threat of extremists and as a way to recognise the work they have done for us. Mohammed deserves that too.

Mohammed was threatened during his service with our armed forces and continued to receive threats by the Taliban which have been directed to his family and to him. He was forced to leave the army because of it and leave a second time to look after his sick mother. He has had to leave his wife and family in Afghanistan.

 

The general public has a poor understanding of the role of the military interpreters (often called translators) in Afghanistan. There was much more to it than translating between English and Pashto or Dari, the two main Afghan languages. They were fixers. Fixers is a term that goes back a long way in a pejorative general sense, in fact to 1601 according to Merriam-Webster. Hence: “The one-time fixer for Trump, Cohen…” More recently, however, it has become associated with journalists sent on assignment to countries with which they are only superficially acquainted and whose languages they do not speak. In that role they are invaluable assistants, factotums. They are not only the mouthpiece for their clients, they are also their ears and must report what the other side are saying. They aren’t neutral; their loyalty is to their clients, some of whose lives they saved. And from there it is easy to understand how they became invaluable assistants to the American and allied military. This explains the close relationships that were often formed between the fixers and the soldiers to whom they were assigned and the remorse that the latter feel at leaving their fixers to their fate. If today I were to update my All of Interpreting paper, I would certainly have to add fixer. The closest terms to it are liaison interpreter and escort interpreter.

 

Not all the interpreters were so unlucky. Some did manage to get away in the nick of time. A recent issue of El Confidencial tells the story of Salem Wahdat, who worked for several years for the Spanish troops in Afghanistan and for the Spanish embassy in Kabul. In the latter role he even interpreted for the King of Spain. He was one of the tiny handful of Afghans who had studied Spanish at university. One Saturday morning, in spite of the turmoil in Kabul, he decided to go to the office. When he got there he found that not only had his boss failed to turn up but all the government offices were empty. He took this as a sign that the moment had come for him to disappear too. His mother and his brothers urged him to get away without them because he would certainly be a target for the Taliban. He took the first commercial flight he could find and managed to get on it thanks to his diplomatic passport. He ended up in Turkey with what little money he had managed to withdraw from a bank. His children got out later.

 

Sources

May Bulman. Afghan man who ‘risked his life’ for British army sleeping on streets of Athens after being rejected by UK. Independent, 17 August 2021.

 

Alejandro Requeijo. La historia del traductor afgano que conoció al rey y se salvó por seguir yendo a la oficina (The story of the Afghan translator who met the King and was saved by still going to the office). El Confidencial, 20 August 2021.

 

Brian Harris.  All of Interpreting, A Taxonomic Survey. Academia.edu, https://www.academia.edu/12072834/All_of_interpreting-a-taxonomic_survey. 1980.

 

Image source: Air Force Magazine

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Translatology in Nigeria

 



We in Europe are woefully ignorant about the vast continent that is sub-Saharan Africa. It was with some surprise that I learnt last week that there is a town in Nigeria called Ilorin with a flourishing university; and I was even more surprised to find out that it has an Institute of Translation Arts. The institute is an offshoot of the Department of French, which is understandable if we consider that several countries in West Africa use French as an official language. There’s no other Nigerian translator training institution in my extensive data base of schools and programmes although a Nigerian Association of Translation Studies was formed recently.

The trail through the highways and byways of Google that led me to make the discovery is a personal one.

In the early 1970s, inspired by Eugene Nida’s classic work Toward a Science of Translation,  I coined the term translatology in English. (Its Romance language cognates like French traductologie have a different origin.) The story is told in an article on my academia.edu page (see below). It didn’t catch on. Instead it was eclipsed by another term with roughly the same meaning, translation studies, established by James Holmes. The current figures of hits on Google are very telling: 131,000 for translatology, 2.77 million for translation studies.

So I was delighted to find that the term translatology is used by a distinguished professor and currently head of the department of French at Ilorin, Isaiah Bariki (see photo).. His interests are not only French but also translating African Languages. In a paper this year he noted that translations by the country’s institutions should not be focused on European languages only. He is the first holder of a PhD inTranslation in the University of Ilorin The university’s web site describes him as “an expert in translatology.”.

 

He has a remarkable life story that began in a poor family in the riverine parts of the Niger Delta and presented very challenging and unfavourable conditions for intellectual pursuits. You can read more about it in the Adewumi article referenced below. “With French as my base," he says, "I had a smooth sail to the shores of Translation as a field of study.” 

 

To clarify between Translation and Translatology, Prof. Bariki explains that “translation in its primary sense means the transfer of a message from one language into another. It is an applied Translatology and does not fully take care of all that Translatology stands for. Translatology is an academic interdiscipline rooted in a systematic study of translation, interpretation and localization, while consciously drawing his strength from aspects of linguistics, culturology, philology, neuroscience, history, comparative literature, philosophy, semiology, mathematics, computer science, and a host of other fields – all in a bid to give translation the support it needs.”

 

It couldn’t be better said.

 

Sources

Eugene Nida. Toward a Science of Translating. Leiden: Brill, 1964. 


Brian Harris. 'Origins and conceptual analysis of the term Traductologie'. Paper to the Annual Conference of the Canadian Association of Translation Studies, 2009. Published Babel 57:1.15-31, 2011.


Ilorin. Wikipedia, 2021.

 

Isaiah Bariki. Translating African names in fiction. iIkala 14(23):43-61, 2009.

 

Agency Report. ‘Things fall Apart’ should be translated into Hausa, other languages – Don. Daily Nigerian, 30 July 2021. https://dailynigerian.com/tag/isaiah-bariki/

 

Kehinde Christopher Adewumi. MosesLe Voyagé: Moses Bariki’s exhibition In honour of his father, Prof. Bariki. New Telegraph, 4 August 2021.  https://www.newtelegraphng.com/tag/prof-bariki or click [HERE].


            

Image source ng.linkedin.com.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Afghan Interpreters Fear the Taliban

 



The news is that both the USA and the UK are going to take in a substantial number of the Afghan interpreters who worked for their missions in Afghanistan. Let’s hope it’s not too little, too late.


Zia Ghafoori, his pregnant wife and their three small children landed in the United States from their home in Kabul in September 2014. He held five US visas - a reward for 14 years of service as an interpreter with US Special Forces in Afghanistan. But the benefits stopped there. Upon arrival, Zia found himself homeless - sent to a shelter by a well-meaning volunteer who told him it would be a place for him and his family to start a new life. Seven years later, the memory still angers him.

 

Afghan interpreters and fixers have been described several times on this blog. To find the posts, enter afghan in the Search box on the right. They show why it’s only right the terps should be given a decent asylum.

 

Afghanistan has been called the graveyard of empires. It’s been going on for nearly two centuries. A British mission was massacred in 1843 and two further British incursions from India were unsuccessful. Then in 1970 the Soviets tried to take over the country but they got so trounced that they left in despair. Finally the Americans, with typical bravado, had a go at it with a bunch of allies. Now they too are fleeing. Truly “the only thing we can learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” If the Chinese want to have a try, let them learn the hard way.

 

Sources

Miranda Bryant. Afghan translators and their families to fly in to UK. The Times, 22 June 2021. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/afghan-translators-and-their-families-to-fly-in-to-uk-vrs23g or click [HERE]..


Quil Lawrence. Waiting for U.S. visas, Afghan interpreters fear the Taliban. Npr, 29 July 2021. https://www.npr.org/2021/07/21/1021235878/waiting-for-u-s-visas-afghan-interpeters-fear-the-taliban?t=1627662219131 or click [HERE].

Holly Honderich and Bernd Debusmann Jr. From Afghan interpreter to US homeless - until reaching the American dream. BBC News, 30 July 2021.  https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-58020494 or click [HERE].

Anglo-Afghan Wars. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/event/Anglo-Afghan-Wars or click [HERE].

Image
SSgt Northrup and LT Smith with their terp. Kilo 2nd Platoon Deployment Photos, 2010.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Everyone Is Bilingual

 



 

It’s commonly said that the majority of people in the world are bilingual This means that they know two or more natural languages. (For the purpose of this post we will call the spoken and written languages like English the natural languages.)

 

It used to be that only people who had learnt their languages very young and had a native-speaker mastery of them could be considered true bilinguals. In recent times, however, it has been allowed that people who only know a second language imperfectly or can only use it in limited contexts can also be classed as bilinguals. The progressive widening can be followed in the early pages of Grandjean (see Sources below).

 

Now we propose a further widening. It is to include non-natural  languages whose speakers, writers and signers add up to a vast number. So many that the number of bilinguals surpasses a majority and approaches a totality.

 

We hypothesize that the cognitive mechanisms of the natural languages and our additions are the same; the same not only in the operation of each language but also in the higher-level monitoring and switching apparatus. At least there is no evidence to the contrary.

 

Sign languages

We can dispose of  sign languages for the deaf quickly. It is now generally agreed that they are languages in their own right and not merely re-encodings of spoken languages. They are much more complex than the ‘finger spelling’ idea that many people still have of them. There are people, typically relatives of deaf parents or siblings, who use both a sign language and a spoken language. Those people are unquestionably bilingual. There are also a few people who know more than one sign language, for example Canadian Sign Language and Quebec Sign Language. However, the sign/voice bilinguals only constitute a fringe of the deaf communities and are therefore not numerous in the overall picture.

 

Maths

Quite the opposite is the class of mathematical bilinguals and multilinguals, who are very numerous throughout the world. Infants start to learn to count speaking words: one, two, three, etc., or the equivalents in their language. Then they go to school and learn to write the numbers in the universal notation: 1, 2, 3, etc. – the so-called Arabic numerals – along with the basic operators: +,-, =, etc. From then on they are numerically bilingual, for they are also capable of writing one, to, three, etc. They may  even be multilingual: paradoxically Arabic itself not only uses what we call Arabic numerals but it also has a native set of characters of its own.

 

However, numerical bilingualism does not stop at the graphical level. Many of us have grown up with different counting systems that led to a need for conversion between them. Conversion from traditional weights and measures to decimal ones required a good deal of mental effort for Canadians. And the French number words from 70 to 99 (soixante-dix to quatre-vingt-dix-neuf) may come easily to native French speakers but not to second-language learners, who have to switch consciously between a base-10 system and a base-20 one.

 

But is numerical notation a language? Whichever definition is used, a language contains the following components:

  • There must be a vocabulary of words or symbols.
  • Meaning must be attached to the words or symbols.
  • A language employs grammar, which is a set of rules that outline how vocabulary is used.
  • syntax organizes symbols into linear structures or propositions.
  • narrative or discourse consists of strings of syntactic propositions.
  • There must be (or have been) a group of people who use and understand the symbols.

Mathematics meets all of these requirements. 

In short, educated people throughout the world are numerically bilingual, and there are a lot of them.

 

Music

Music has features in common with translating. It starts in infancy and develops through amateur singing or playing till it reaches the expert and perhaps professional level. Singer often means someone who sings at the expert level just as translator often means someone who translates at the expert level. And both music and translation have notations. In the case of translation they are the natural languages; in the case of music it is a notation that is far from natural, on the contrary is very complex and must be learnt.

 

But is musical notation a language? A prior question is whether music is a language. According to DiFrancesco and Wells it is (see Sources). If so, then its notation is a language.

 

As with maths notation, there are unexpected complexities. For example, the simultaneous transposition of the notation that players of certain instruments like the oboe must practice. And, as with maths, most people learn only the basics; even Pavarotti said he could read a melody but not a full score. However, it is now admitted that bilinguals are not necessarily expert in their two languages.

 

The above examples are far from exhaustive – there are in addition, for example, the many computer coding languages -- but they are enough to show that there are many more bilinguals and even multilinguals than those who are counted on the basis of the natural languages.

 

Sources

François Grandjean. Life With Two Languages, Harvard University Press, 1984.

 

Anne Marie Helmenstine. Why mathematics is a language. ThoughtCo, 27 June 2019. https://www.thoughtco.com/why-mathematics-is-a-language-4158142 or click [HERE].

 

Jenna DiFrancesco and Tasha Wells. Is music a language?  SlideShare, 2011. https://www.slideshare.net/princessjd90/is-music-a-language or click [HERE].

 

Image

Ventajas del bilingüismo para el cerebro. Source: blogs.unini.org.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Marking Translations Positively

 From time to time we delve down into the archive of this blog in order to revive a post that deserves not to be forgotten amidst the mass of hundreds. Here is one such post.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 3, 2012

Marking Positively: How to Score Natural Translations

 

This post is addressed particularly to researchers, but it's relevant too for teachers of translation. Note that Natural Translation (NT) is used here as a cover term for both Natural Translation and Native Translation.


At the Forli conference in May (enter forli in the Search box), I noticed that some people are still using the old subtractive scoring method to rate NT.

What is the subtractive method? It means starting from 100 points and knocking off a point, or several points, for each mistake of any kind; typically a point or two for minor errors of content or expression and up to five points for major ones. The 'pass mark' is usually expressed as a positive percentage, but it's really a 'failure score'. That's how students' written translations are marked, and likewise the examinations of the professional associations like the Canadian one to which I belong. It can also be used for interpretations, especially if they're transcribed.

Two objections can be raised. The first is a didactic one: that the approach is negative and therefore discouraging. True, mathematically speaking, -30% of mistakes is equivalent to +70% correct, but the psychological effect is different. Anyway, it's not so important as the second objection, which is that the approach reinforces 'nit-picking' by the markers, because small details are allowed to affect the score significantly. I still squirm at a sequence in an old film about an interpretation exercise for European Commission interpreters (see References) in which a student is berated in front of the other students for his translation of a single word.

When evaluating NT, we need to take the opposite approach. Although mistakes are of great interest insofar as they reveal the limitations and the 'pathology' of NT, in NT research our primary interest should be in what subjects can translate and not in what they can't. A score of only 40% because of numerous distortions and omissions would probably entail failure for an Expert or Professional translator or a translation school student; but for a Natural Translator it represents a non-negligible translating ability and we should focus on it and analyse what that 40% consists of.

How can we build a positive scoring method?

In the 1990s I became involved in the design of tests for candidates who wanted to work as community interpreters for public services in Ontario, Canada. These became known as the CILISAT tests and are still in use. The Government of Ontario funded the necessary research. The candidates were almost always Native Interpreters, because the pay was too low to attract Professional Experts and because the languages were not taught in Canada. We decided we needed a test instrument that would be better suited to Native, i.e. untrained, Interpreters than those used by the translation schools and in the profession. So we turned to a method called propositional analysis. It's used by psychologists among others, and in fact I'd been introduced to it by the late David Gerver, who was one of the pioneer researchers on interpreters and was also a clinical psychologist. The form of it we used it can be described this way:

"To analyze the text, propositional analysis – a description of the text in terms of its semantic content – is used. The units of analysis are propositions, or units of meaning containing one verbal element plus one or more nouns. The corresponding units are then selected on the basis of meaning rather than structure."

In practice this meant that we broke down the scripts for the interpretation tests into simple, single-clause sentences representing propositions and then awarded points according to whether the meaning of each proposition as a whole was conveyed in translation: zero points for an omission or a meaning contrary to that of the proposition; 1 point for a meaning conveyed but not clearly or not completely; 2 points for a complete and true rendering. There was a weighting that distinguished between important and unimportant propositions. This scale was solely for meaning. Other factors, for example correct language, were scored separately and globally, not proposition by proposition.

For example, the statement, "At around 6 o'clock I saw a blue sports car waiting on the other side of the road," might be broken down into:

The time was approximately 6 pm

I saw a car.

The car was blue.

The car was a sports car.

The car was waiting.

The car was on the other side of the road.

A paraphrase like, "I seed a sport car stopping at the kerb of our street before supper" would score 7 points for informational meaning before being weighted for importance. (Work it out! 1+2+0+2+1+1.)  The maximum possible points varied with each script. Small language mistakes like "seed" were relegated to a separate evaluation.

References
Guadalupe Barrera Valdes and Manuel Rosalinda Cardenas. Constructing matching tests in two languages: the application of propositional analysis. NABE: The Journal for the National Association for Bilingual Education, vol. 9 no. 1, pp. 3-19. 1984. There’s an abstract here.

Roda P. Roberts. Interpreter assessment tools for different settings. In R. P. Roberts et al. (eds.), The Critical Link 2: Interpreters in the Community, Amsterdam, Benjamins, 1999. Most of it is here.

David Gerver. A psychological approach to simultaneous interpretation'. Meta, vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 119-128, 1975. "A slightly altered version of a paper presented at the 18th International Congress of Applied Psychology in Montreal in July 1974". The text is here.

André Delvaux (director). Les Interprètes. Brussels: Commission of the European Communities. c1975. 16 mm film. c15 mins.

Comments

The post drew comments. Here are a couple of them.

To those of you who have commented on the post about positive marking...

I ought to have acknowledged that even before I heard about propositional analysis from David Gerver, I'd learnt about positive marking from Daniel Gouadec, a well-known French translation teacher who came to teach for a couple of years at the University of Ottawa in the late seventies (see References). He was working at the time on a marking system for the Canadian government Translation Bureau's quality assessment section, but I don't know whether they ever used it.

In reply to SEO Translator: the deductive method is usually applied to short texts, say 300-500 words. For purposes of comparison, texts of about the same length as one another are used; and also, obviously, of the same level of difficulty. The 'pass mark' varies according to the expectations of the markers or examiners, taking account of the purpose of the exercise (professional examination, translation school assignment, etc.), the institution, the difficulty of the text, the level of the examinees, and so on. I've seen pass marks of 60% to 90%. Logically, tests for Expert Translators should have a high pass mark.

In the CILISAT tests, using positive scoring, we actually had two pass marks: one for 'ready to work' and a lower one for 'shows promise but needs training'. As I recall, they were 80 and 60 respectively, but that was after combining with the separate assessment for quality of target language. I haven't thought about automating these or other scorings. Possibly.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Theodor Herzl's Palestine Interpreter and British Translator

 


“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” ─ William Faulkner

Few people are aware of how far the current tragic conflict in the area once called Palestine or the Holy Land stretches back. Its seeds were sown long before the state of Israel even existed, in fact to the late nineteenth century when it was part of the Ottoman Turkish empire.

Theodor Herzl, the Austro-Hungarian writer who was the father of modern Zionism, arrived from Vienna by rail and sea at Jaffa, on the Palestine coast,  on October 8, 1898. He had come somewhat reluctantly, because the choice of Palestine as a new homeland for Jews was not his but that of the delegates at the meeting of the first Zionist Congress. However, the German Kaiser Wilhelm II was scheduled to pay a show pilgrimage visit to the country and Herzl didn’t want to miss an opportunity of meeting him on favourable ground and pressing his case. His plan was to proceed by train on the railway to Jerusalem that had been constructed recently by a French company.

Meanwhile he went on a side trip with his four travelling companions to the prospering settlement of Rishon LeZion.  Today it’s the fourth largest city in Israel, eight kilometres south of Tel Aviv and hence not far from Jaffa, but in 1898 it was an agricultural settlement with a population of about 350. It had been founded in 1882 by Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. By 1889,under the guidance of agronomists sent by Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, it had become “a pretty little hamlet surrounded by vineyards and orange groves.” Its citizens were encouraged to speak Hebrew. In 1886 the Haviv elementary school was established as the first modern school to teach exclusively in Hebrew. So Herzl went there and prepared a speech. And then he struck a problem. His speech was written in German  and he couldn’t speak any Hebrew. Once again interpreting came to the rescue: “He delivered his speech in German and one of the villagers stood next to him and translated as he spoke.” We know nothing more about that interpreter and therefore cannot say that he (or she?) was a natural translator, but it’s certainly a case of an NPIT interpreter.

 Sources

Amy Dockser Marcus. Jerusalem 1913. New York: Penguin Viking, 2007. 225 p. Available from the usual booksellers. This is a ‘must read’ for anyone interested in the origins of the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Theodor Herzl, LL. D.. A Jewish State: An Attempt at a Modern Solution of the Jewish Question, translation of Der Judenstaat, Leipzig and Vienna, 1896, by Sylvie d’Avigdor, London: David Nutt, also 1896. Modern re-editions available from booksellers and on Kindle. A copy of the 1896 edition was recently on offer at $5,000. There are other translations.
Sylvie d'Avigdor, born 1872 at Nice, was the scion of a distinguished French and British Jewish family and was an NPIT Native Translator who, according to the British Library catalogue, didn't publish any other translations. Where did she learn such good German and how did she read the book so soon? David Nutt was a prominent publishing house but also a bookseller of foreign books, so maybe she obtained she book from them. Nutt himself had died years earlier. Unlike Herzl, she lived to see the Jewish state established. Notice she changed the opening German definite article Der to the more tentative English indefinite ANoteworthy too is that the translator appears prominently on the title page, something exceptional in her time and unusual even today; perhaps her family’s prestige had something to do with it.


Rishon LeZion. Wikipedia, 2021.