Starting out as a freelance translator

Hello everyone, hope you’re all well out there in translation land and have some exciting plans to round off the year!

Today’s post is something a little different. I recently gave a talk to the Translation Studies MA students at the University of Hull and thought I’d share my presentation with you here.

As the title of this post suggests, the seminar was all about getting started as a freelance translator, with me sharing tips and advice based on my own experiences within the wonderful world of freelancing.

Hopefully there will be plenty of useful information in there for those of you interested in a career in freelance translation and perhaps there will even be one or two handy snippets for more experienced freelancers.

The presentation touches upon everything from finding and completing your first translation job to a few different ways of developing an online presence using social media.

Public speaking and presentation skills aren’t my strongest areas but they are skills that I’m keen to develop, especially with conference papers, teaching and further presentations on the horizon. As such, any feedback or handy links for developing these areas would be greatly appreciated!

Anyway, here’s the recording of the presentation and the accompanying slides. (Click the images to get the full screen, slideshow version)

Enjoy!

 

P.S. If you’re having trouble with the SoundCloud player, here’s a direct link to the recording: https://soundcloud.com/jaltranslation/starting-out-as-a-freelance-translator

Etymology and a Universal Translation

Hello everyone, after a great guest post last time out, it’s time to get back to some of my own content! While I’ve asked ‘What’s in a word?‘ before on this blog, today I thought I’d strike up the discussion again from a slightly different perspective by looking at what is contained within the most important word in our profession: translation.

Beyond (hopefully) uncovering a few interesting little tidbits about the term by looking at the roots of the word ‘translation’ in several different languages, I also want to explore the various shades of meaning that each one offers us and question whether or not there exists a universal conception of ‘translation’.

An obvious starting point for this discussion is Andrew Chesterman’s 2005 paper ‘Interpreting the Meaning of Translation’, in which he sets out to tackle the very same question and argues that etymological variations signal different approaches to and understandings of translation across the world. As such, I’d like to analyse and expand upon his paper here by looking at several examples from different languages before discussing their overall relevance to one-another.

Starting with the fairly well-known roots of the English term, the word ‘translation’ comes from the Latin translatus, the past participle of the verb transferre. Meaning ‘to carry across’, this term is itself a translation from the Classical Greek metapherein (meta- [over, across] + pherein [to carry, bear]), from which we also get the term ‘metaphor‘.

For Chesterman, a Standard Average European ‘translation’ derived from these roots is therefore ‘etymologically a metaphor, whereby something is, in some sense, something that it literally is not.’

While these Latin/Greek roots are also shared by many modern usages of the term in Romance languages, these languages still display subtle departures from the connotations contained within the English ‘translation’.

The French term traduction, Spanish traducción, Italian traduzione and others all come from the Latin transducere (trans [across] + ducere [to lead]) and therefore see us making the slight shift from ‘carrying across’ to ‘leading across‘ – something that will be discussed further below.

Elsewhere in Europe, despite the fact that many languages of the Germanic and Slavic branches simply calqued their terms for the concept of translation from the Latin/Greek model mentioned above, this process still allowed for several subtly different nuances to emerge as the word moved into new territories. The German übersetzen [literally: to set across] and Swedish översättning, for example, contain suggestions of ‘passing over’.

Beyond this pattern of calquing, meanwhile, the Dutch term vertaling is literally a ‘re-language-ing’, combining the prefix ver- [meaning a ‘change’ or ‘move’ or ‘re-‘ in English] and taal [language] while the Finnish käännös literally means ‘a turn, a turning’, noticeably deviating from the standard European trends.

For Chesterman, the Finnish term ‘highlights difference, a new direction, entering a new context; what is not highlighted is any sense of preserving an identity, maintaining sameness’.

Curiously, käännös also means ‘to steal’ in Finnish slang, adding yet another dimension to the many possible interpretations of what it means to translate.

Even further afield, the Mandarin Chinese word for ‘translate’ is or fānyi with the verb fan having the basic meaning ‘flutter’ – suggesting unstable movement and changes of state.

Finally, in an interesting example from Maurizio Bettini, Igbo – a language spoken in Nigeria – uses the words tapia and kowa to signify ‘translation’. Both words are made up of an element that means ‘narrate‘ or ‘tell‘ and another that means ‘break, decompose‘. For Bettini ‘[i]n native conception, translation thus consists in a practice that “breaks” a certain series of utterances and then “re-tells” them’.

Anyway, enough examples. According to Chesterman, these various etymologies suggest differences in the way that translation is perceived within those cultures and unmasks different approaches to the activity at hand.

Using three separate etymological sources (all included in the examples above – 1. The English term from Latin/Greek roots, 2. The German or Swedish calques and 3. The Romance language ‘leading across’) he explores the way in which the act of transferring the content to be translated (labelled X) is framed differently within each of these usages:

  1. In English: ‘the underlying cognitive schema is of carrying X across; here, the agent is conceived of as moving over together with X, like a messenger.’
  2. In German and Swedish: ‘the agent stands on the source side, putting or setting X across; X is transferred in a direction away from the agent.’
  3. In Romance languages: ‘the agent etymologically leads X across; this suggests that the agent moves in advance of X, and the direction of movement is thus towards the agent.’

Despite conceding that more work is required in the area, Chesterman finishes by hesitantly suggesting that these different paths indicate that perhaps there is no universal conception of translation:

‘At the very least, the present preliminary study illustrates how the notion of translation has been interpreted in different ways in a number of different languages. It shows that not all these interpretations give the same priority to the preservation of sameness which characterizes the words denoting “translation” in many modern Indo-European languages.’

However, while these etymologies and developing meanings are fascinating, any implication that the roots of a word delimit the extent of our understanding of its significance in any way is an obvious oversimplification.

The English notion of translation is not tied to a rudimentary idea of ‘carrying across’ but rather entails everything that translation has come to stand for in the ensuing centuries.

Though the Latin origins of the modern English word perhaps demonstrate how translation was once viewed, our current understanding encompasses nearly all of the various meanings borne out of other languages’ etymologies of translation.

In other words, no matter what path we have taken to reach our current understanding of the term, translation/traduction/übersetzen etc. cannot be reduced to historical appraisals of what they once signified. For me, translation is not about ‘carrying across’, ‘leading across’ or whatever else, but rather all of these and so much more. This is the ‘universal translation’ of today.

Indeed, in my opinion, the ‘universal translation’ is best seen when we consider the many metaphors that exist for the activity, something I’ve explored previously on this blog, as these demonstrate the multiple interpretations in action.

In English alone we see translation as transformation, building, turning, conquering, theft, cannibalism and so much more beyond the conception its etymological roots initially provided.

Ultimately, just as etymology suggests that translation is metaphor, metaphors for translation show that it is so much more than mere etymology.

The Fun of Nonstandard Lang-diddly-anguage

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a big fan of looking at the creative methods translators have used to tackle specific problems in popular culture and today’s post is certainly along those same lines.
Today’s example comes from the globally-adored series The Simpsons and provides a particularly curious example emerging from the use of (my take on) nonstandard language.
Nonstandard language is often described as being characterized by idiom or vocabulary that is not regarded as correct and acceptable by educated native speakers of a language and Peter Trudgill’s Introducing Language and Society states that nonstandard dialects in English are considered as differing “most importantly at the level of grammar”.
While I don’t want to spend too much time focusing on definitions here, it is worth noting that I prefer to use a more general, neutral understanding of the term than the prejudiced, sociological view put forward by most scholars. In  Linguistics for Non-Linguists, F. Parker and K. Riley define “a standard dialect as one that draws no negative attention to itself” while “a nonstandard dialect does draw negative attention to itself; that is, educated people might judge the speaker of such a dialect as socially inferior, lacking education, and so on” and this characterises nonstandard language in terms of a sociological judgement rather than a linguistic one.
Rather than using a “negative effect” as the defining attribute of nonstandard language, however, I want to look at it as a deviation from our expectations that produces a specific effect. What is nonstandard to me will be perfectly standard to other individuals while the illusory, mythical ‘standard’ is an ethical nightmare as the very claim that there exists a ‘standard’ form of language asserts an ideology of what is and isn’t acceptable. Ultimately, what is certain is that language alters our reading experience in particular ways and it is these effects that must be appreciated by the translator.
Contentious definitions aside, the focus of this post lies in the language of Ned Flanders, a well-known and much-loved character from The Simpsons whose verbal tics have gained a great degree of fame across the globe without ever being discussed in the context of translation (to my knowledge). The closest thing I’ve seen is speculation over what would happen if Google Translate offered ‘Flanders’ as a language.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Flanders verbal tics in English, Ned has the odd habit of attaching “diddly”, “doodly” and other nonsensical phrases to his sentences. This is the result of sublimated anger caused by his upbringing that has no other outlet. He also has the habit of saying “Okally-Dokally” when replying to someone – representing a distorted form of “Okey-dokey” and similarly meaning OK.
In terms of the definition discussed above, when Flanders adds “diddly” to a word, he deviates from our linguistic expectations in such a way to produce a unique, comical effect and this is what needs to be replicated in the translation.
When assimilating these tics to their respective linguistic systems, several European translators opted to use variations of typical expressions (“salut”, “salve” and “hola” in FR, IT and ES for “hi-diddly-ho”) distorted in such a way as to retain the rhyme, alliteration and assonance that characterises the odd, yet distinctive, effect created in the English.
Furthermore, these variations are often developed (similarly to the English) by using suffixes that were themselves initially derived from Romance languages and this aids the translators in producing a natural-sounding yet equally nonsensical end product.

“Hi-diddly-ho neighborino!”
FR: Salit salut, cher voisinou
IT: Salve salvino, vicino
                                                                                                      ES: Hola holita vecinito

“Okally-dokally!”                                                                                   
FR: D’acodac!
                                                                                                                                IT: Certo certosino!

What adds more interest to the situation, however, is the humorous – if ridiculous – fact that Ned’s relatives from around the globe also share his verbal tics. When Ned introduces Homer Simpson to José Flanders  – a relative from Latin America – and Lord Thistlewick Flanders – a snobbish English Flanders – in the episode Lisa the Vegetarian, José uses a Spanish idiom inflected by the English version of the tics and Thistlewick (pressured by Ned) replicates the tics in his exaggerated English accent.
Here is the section in question in English: (the most interesting phrases are highlighted)

Homer: Ned! You’re having a family reunion and you didn’t invite me!?
Ned: Oh, gosh Homer. This is strictly a Flanders affair. I’ve got family here from around the globe. [Points out one relative.] Here’s José Flanders.
José: Buenos ding dong diddly días señor.
Ned: And this is Lord Thistlewick Flanders.
Thistlewick: Charmed. [Ned nudges him in the back.] Eh, a googily… doogily.

While José replies here in an English-based, Flandersian Spanish by saying “Buenos ding dong diddly días señor” – incorporating the English tics into a Spanish phrase – other languages must incorporate their own interpretation of the tics outlined above into the translations:

IT:
Jose Flanders: Buenos dindinondandasdias senor!
Ned Flanders: E questo è Lord Thistlewick Flanders.
Lord Thistlewick Flanders: Incantato. [Ned gli da una gomitata] Ehm… can… tatino, cantatino.
FR:
José Flanders: Buenos dius dios dias senior.
Ned: Et voici Lord Thistlewick Flanders.
Lord Thistlewick: Charmé. [Ned lui donne un petit coup de coude] Heu… How di yi di, how do you do ?

As you can see, the nonstandard Spanish used in the English version cannot simply be retained in the French or Italian as, while the audience is considered to be sufficiently familiar with Spanish to make the inclusion of a basic phrase unproblematic, the joke has to be reframed in the context of the pre-existing translation of Ned Flanders’ vocal tics for it to work.
Interestingly, the existence of a third language in the Italian and French versions (the English of Thistlewick to add to the main language and the Spanish of José) allows Thistlewick’s language to be capitalised upon in a manner similar to José’s in the English. While the Italian audience will undoubtedly be familiar with a simple phrase in English (‘How do you do’ is used in the French) this is an opportunity that the Italian version oddly didn’t take.
(Here’s a link to the Latin American version of the episode in question for anyone who fancies checking out another extremely interesting version… The key scene is at about 3:45)
For me, this treatment of nonstandard language usage provides an extreme example of what translators have to do so often in their work. While dialogue is an area where these kinds of verbal deviations are very prominent as it provides “a powerful tool to reveal character traits or social and regional differences” (Taavitsainen et al in Writing in Nonstandard English), a more subtle version of this phenomenon is always present in a text in the form of a particular ‘tone of voice’.
This is particularly important in marketing translations, for example, where a company may want to ensure that their audience receives a certain impression of their values, standing or professionalism. In order to give this impression, their texts must employ a brand of language that adheres to, and deviates from, our expectations in such a way as to create that particular effect and it is down to the translator to replicate it in the target language.
Ultimately, while Flanders’ speech isn’t simply a tone of voice, his language usage nevertheless serves to demonstrate the amazing effects that slight deviations can produce and points to an oft-overlooked level of awareness required on the part of translators.

Trapped in Toyland: Effective non-translation in Toy Story

A far cry from last time’s outing, which listed some of the best online resources out there to help you get better acquainted with translation studies as a discipline, today’s post is perhaps a bit more fun.

As one of the defining films of my childhood, Toy Story has always had a special place in my heart and I wanted to look at some of the interesting tidbits that have emerged from its global success – the trials and tribulations of translating such a tale for toy lovers around the world… if you will.

While I’ve tackled the translation of film titles on several occasions in the past and regard it as an extremely interesting topic, the fact that Toy Story has retained its English title quite consistently around the globe seems to suggest that this line of enquiry is one of little merit.

There is the obligatory French translation (Histoire de Jouets) in Quebec, and in Italian the subtitles added to each film seem to follow the formula of dumbing down titles in translation that I discussed in my other posts on the topic (the first becomes Toy Story – Il mondo dei giocattoli [The world of toys], the second adds Woody e Buzz alla riscossa [Woody and Buzz to the rescue] and the third adds La Grande Fuga [The great escape]), but there is little else of note. However, it is precisely this non-translation that counter-intuitively offers some interesting insights that I will look at in more detail later in the post.

Of course, there’s the usual mix of tricky translations to deal with within the film’s narrative. The riddle of Al’s Toy Barn in the second film is one great example that sees the toys struggling with the meaning of the car licence plate LZTYBRN (Al’s Toy Barn with the vowels removed). In French, the translators completely ignored the significance of the licence plate, having selected a fairly literal translation of the shop’s name (La Ferme aux Jouets d’Al) that was impossible to link to the letters available. I’d certainly be interested to know if there are any more creative versions in other languages that manage to incorporate the licence plate.

Furthermore, one interesting point is that the film’s iconic theme tune – Randy Newman’s ‘You’ve Got a Friend in me’ – is actually translated into French (Je suis ton ami – below) and Spanish (Hay un amigo en mi). While the Spanish version is used in conjunction with the ‘Spanish Buzz’ gag in the third film and adopts a flamenco-based orchestration, the French version is something of an oddity as the song’s lyrics have just been translated and played over the existing music, something that is quite rare. Indeed, the entire French soundtrack received this same treatment in a move that is perhaps due to the slightly more Anglo-skeptic nature of French audiences (something to be discussed below) or is perhaps just a challenge that the movie’s producers set themselves…. Either way, it is well worth a listen for the clever transposition of the lyrics.

However, the most interesting insights come from outside of the main storyline and the title of the second film in Italian mentioned above hints at this point of interest – the clue lies in the fact that Woody and Buzz remain untranslated. While Woody’s name, coming from the African-American Western actor Woody Strode, could easily be translated to reflect a similar cultural reference, Woody, Buzz and several of the more minor characters’ names are consistently left unchanged or, if altered, are translated simply to reflect to real-life toy that they depict (e.g. M. Patate / Señor Patata – Mr. Potato Head). This retention of the same names is particularly true of cultures that are more accepting of English – such as Italian, where all of the characters’ names remain untranslated – and it is a clear indication of the powerful marketing strategies operating on a wider scale.

In the case of France, meanwhile, where there is more pride associated with the native language and a less favourable opinion towards Anglicisms, there has been more of an effort to rebrand the names (Buzz Lightyear becomes Buzz l’Eclair, for example, and Wheezy is renamed Siffli in an attempt to match the pun – an opportunity that is not taken in Italian or Spanish) but ultimately the importance afforded to the core marketing terms (Woody, Buzz, Toy Story etc.) overrides this cultural trait.

Furthermore, the names that are translated in French are themselves equally concerned with positive marketing as they are always well thought-out, catchy and in-keeping with general naming trends among toys: Slinky becomes Zigzag, Stinky Pete becomes Papi Pépite [Grandpa Nugget – using the mining reference], Bullseye becomes Pile-Poil [spot-on, exactly] and Hamm becomes Bayonne (a famous ham-making region in France).

The memorable nature of these names and the repeated use of rhyme and alliteration mark these out as something beyond the ordinary translation. Indeed, the translation of names in France was not only a tool to provide a small touch of humour to viewers but also a means of marketing the toys to the general public, a clever opportunity that was perhaps slightly ignored by the Italian translators (although the merchandise still undoubtedly sold well in Italy under the English branding). Ultimately, it’s not surprising that all of the toys were successfully marketed in France (anyone want a Pile-Poil doll?).

So what can Toy Story tell us about translation? Above all, both the translation and non-translation of various elements within and surrounding the films demonstrate that the power of global marketing consistency can be more influential than linguistic considerations when mediating between cultures, particularly when the source language enjoys the kind of global hegemony that English does. Toy Story is quite unique in its marketing potential (how many children could resist the lure of wanting a Woody or Buzz of their own after watching the film?) but this is a choice that is reflected in many translations these days, where a brand must choose between comprehension and consistency in their branding.

In this particular case, even the decision to leave the title as untouched as possible is a strategic one (rather than being the result of laziness). The film’s logo and distinctive colour scheme are now instantly recognisable and this greater consistency has ensured unrivalled brand value on a global scale rather than fragmenting international markets.

Ultimately, aside from the lovable characters, enjoyable storylines and clever marketing, it seems that the strategic translation choices (or the lack of translation all together) made along the way have been one of the key factors in the series’ continuing success that saw the first film alone make $361 million worldwide.

To infinity and beyond / Vers l’infini et au-delà / Verso l’infinito…e oltre! / Hasta el infinito… ¡y más allá!

– Buzz Lightyear

Metaphors for Translation from Ferrymen to Omelettes

Throughout history translators have demonstrated an overwhelming desire to label their task with an endless stream of metaphors, each giving a slightly different reflection of the translation process as well as reflecting a particular author’s views or prevailing attitudes at the time.

Indeed, this need for metaphor is perhaps buried in the very etymology of the term ‘translation’ which comes from the Latin translatus, the past participle of the verb transferre – meaning ‘to carry across’ – which is itself a translation from the Greek metapherein (meta- (over,across) + pherein (to carry,bear)) from which we get the term metaphor. This demonstrates the inextricable link between the two and uncovers why both translation and metaphor imply the notion of carrying over or transferring meaning from one word or phrase to another.

Translator as ferryman

Starting from this etymological source, we find the metaphor of the translator as a ferryman, carrying meaning from one language to another, from one culture to another, with the translator representing a mediator or bridge between the two.

Interestingly, the Italian, Spanish and French equivalents (traduzionetraducción and traduction respectively) come from the Latin transducere (to lead across), assigning a more animate role to meaning.

Yet while the idea of transferring meaning is a fairly simple one that can be easily pinned to translation, there are many more complex metaphors to explore.

Translator as Conqueror

One conception of translation developed during Roman times due to their many translations used as appropriations of ideas with no real regard for stylistic and linguistic features of the original is the idea of the translator as a conqueror (and the text as prisoner) in a manifestation of cultural and linguistic imperialism. This conception also sees translation as a contest, with the original text there to be surpassed in order to enrich expression in one’s own language.

Translation as a woman

This next metaphor is closely tied to its archaic roots which saw it emerge in the 17th Century following the coining of the term les belles infidèles to describe aesthetically-pleasing yet unfaithfully rendered texts in suggesting that translation – like a woman – can either be faithful or beautiful, yet not both, while simultaneously relegating translation to a historically secondary position, something which developments in both terms of equality and translation theory have sought to address in more recent history.

Clothing

Another common metaphor for translation is that of translation as clothing: translating is like changing a text’s clothes, replacing those of the author with those of the translator. In relation to this metaphor, a much-cited quote comes from Henry Rider:

‘Translations of Authors from one language to another, are like old garments turn’d into new fashions; in which though the stuffe be still the same, yet the die and trimming are altered, and in the making, here something added, there something cut away’

This seems to allow permission for the translator to adapt a text to their own style and allows for different interpretations in different time periods – modernising texts into ‘new fashions’ – a process and a liberty which has been debated in translation scholarship.

Fragments of a vessel

This metaphor for translation was first suggested by Walter Benjamin in his 1923 essay ‘The Task of the Translator’ in which he explores challenges the translation act poses while rethinking the nature of meaning. He sees the text as a living entity for which translation provides an afterlife and his ideas are still widely cited today. As he vividly puts it:

‘Fragments of a vessel which are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details, although they need not be like one another. In the same way a translation, instead of resembling the meaning of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original’s mode of signification, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel.’

In this way, Benjamin emphasises the difficulty and the different ways of capturing meaning between languages,  while highlighting the importance of culture and context in rebuilding this meaning.

A pane of glass

While the idea of translation as a woman is linked with ideas of fidelity, this conception looks at the idea of transparency – which has also been greatly debated – as Lawrence Venuti in particular decries translation methods which see the text appear to a native speaker of the target language to have originally been written in that language as he seeks to preserve the ‘foreignness’ of the text.

The idea of a pane of glass or window is meant to highlight the way in which clarity and transparency are privileged in the assessment of translations while the visibility of supposed imperfections or obscurity – which serve to signal what you are really looking at – are widely criticised and this metaphor works in a similar way to the more humorous idea of translation as contraception – the less it is noticed, the better it seems.

Powdered Egg

Although I had not come across this metaphor before today, it is quite an interesting example from the Brave New Words blog. English poet and translator Alistair Elliot suggests that translating is like having powdered egg and trying to reconstitute it with water to make it resemble something like the original egg. However, as Epstein suggests in his blog (in turning powdered eggs into omelettes), this metaphor conforms to traditional conceptions of translation as an inferior product – an imitation, never equalling the original – something which contemporary scholarship seeks to avoid in assigning equal status and rights to translations with metaphors such as translation as cannibalism or reincarnation which place the translation alongside or even beyond the source text (although not in the same imperialistic way mentioned earlier) building upon Benjamin’s concept of an afterlife.

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Overall, despite only dealing with a few of the many metaphors out there, it is clear to see the key role metaphor plays in regulating and updating commonly held notions about translation. It is also interesting to follow how they develop with the passage of time to reflect society around them. If there are any more good ones out there that need to be shared then please leave me a comment below. Until next time.

When a third language complicates the translation process: A look at L3 from Tolstoy to trays.

Translation is considered as the transferral of meaning from one language to another, and the entire foundation of translation theory revolves around binary oppositions e.g. free vs literal translation, dynamic vs formal equivalence, source text and target text.

And yet there are many situations (primarily in literary and audiovisual translation) that see the introduction of a third language, which serves to complicate the translation process. Many modern French novels, for example, are rife with English words, and these are not decisions made on a whim but rather conscious decisions taken by the author to produce a specific effect, and therefore the manner in which they are translated must be considered at length.

David Bellos calls this phenomenon L3 (with the other two languages representing L1 and L2) and, while a similar process in linguistics is often called code-switching, I like L3 as code-switching tends to be a more general term which can even refer to changes in register within one language. This is an area I touched upon in a previous post (How to solve a problem like Peter) and an interesting subject that I want to further elaborate with a few examples.

One commonly cited example in the discussion of L3 (including in Bellos’ book Is that a fish in your ear?) is that of Tolstoy’s War and Peace – a literary buff’s favourite – commenting upon the use of French in the Russian original. It is estimated that 2 percent of the entire book is in French, and it is used in order to reflect the character’s personalities, as Russian aristocrats at the time would speak French at social occasions as a class marker.

In order for this act of characterisation to be recognised, however, the author is relying upon the audience’s appreciation of this cultural trait and ideally an understanding of the French language, and the fact that Tolstoy himself toyed with various methods – producing Russian translations of all French in footnotes in some versions while removing the French completely in others – is indicative of the difficulty of including another language in a text without even considering the challenges posed when translating.

The task of the French translator of this work is both impossible and easy in that there is very little they can do: translating the French sections back into Russian, for example, would be completely counter-productive and as such they must resign themselves to the bizarre reality of losing a significant element of meaning while keeping the original perfectly intact.

The English translator, on the other hand, has a little more space to work with as several courses of action are available. The familiarity of high-brow English readers with the French language, and the similar usage of French by the British aristocracy as a class marker, allows the possibility of retaining the French and, while most translators still cut the French from the English version to allow an easier read, Pevear and Volokhonsky did indeed choose to retain the French (with translations in footnotes) and their bold decision results in a stronger translation.

The next example highlighting this phenomenon is in quite stark contrast to the one above, coming from a classic British comedy which has managed to cross European borders and one that exploits the use of L3 as a source of great humour.

The series in question is ‘Fawlty Towers’ (or ‘L’Hôtel en folie’ [The Crazy Hotel] to French viewers), and the relationship between it’s owner Basil and Spanish waiter Manuel is the point of interest, with linguistic puns and misunderstandings – all built around traditional stereotypes – presenting an extremely difficult challenge for the translator.

The video above comes from the very first episode of the series and epitomises this type of humour. The confusion caused by combining Basil’s broken Spanish and Manuel’s virtually non-existent English is as funny as it is hard to translate – with the confusion between ‘on those trays’ and ‘uno, dos, tres’ providing the most obvious challenge.

The French subtitles to this scene succeed in retaining some of the misunderstanding between the characters but fail to reproduce the original joke (which would be some feat). Basil states ‘il y a trop de beurre. Ils sont à l’étroit.’ (there is too much butter. They [the trays] are cramped), Manuel then mishears this second sentence and repeats it as ‘ils sont là, les trois.’ (they are there, the three) – with the two sentences sounding similar in French – and proceeds to count them in Spanish. A decent attempt, yet one which misses the mark slightly for me. (Saying that, I can’t think of anything better… Anyone?)

It is also very interesting to note how the character of Manuel was transformed in versions across Europe in order to adhere to national stereotypes. He couldn’t very well still be Spanish in the Spanish version of the show given how poorly he is treated and as such he became the Italian Paolo (or Manuela in Basque regions) while in France and Catalonia – where the national stereotype of Spanish workers does not match the English portrayal given here – he becomes a Mexican Manuel.

So there you have it: it is hard enough to negotiate a transfer of meaning between two languages and, as these two examples show, when there is an L3 (or worse still, an L4, 5, or 6) to contend with, it complicates matters even further. Until next time.

The Terminology of the Beautiful Game

Partially inspired by this great BBC article entitled ”In the six’ and football’s other strange Americanisms’ which looks at the interesting terminological differences which exist between soccer and football, and partially due to that fact that it is a great passion of mine, I thought I would dedicate this post to introducing footballing terminology, as well as looking at a few interesting terms and tracking down their roots.

Ok, I know, the football season is more or less over and perhaps I should leave the subject alone, dust off my cricket whites and wait for the rain to stop, but hopefully you’ll grant me just this one post before the summer hibernation.

First of all, it is of course worth mentioning that, due to the universal nature of the game, there are ready equivalents for the vast majority of terms in the game. It is often said that football is a universal language and it’s very easy to pick up a few things in the midst of a foreign crowd with the familiar chants, the same colourful language that is best left untranslated and ultimately, the same game unfolding before you.

However, beyond this initial level of terms used to describe basic physical phenomena, there is a rich terminology that enjoys its own personal history in each culture. How about the English term ‘nutmeg’, for intance, meaning to put the ball through a player’s legs? The origin of this term in English is hotly contested; some say it comes from cockney rhyming slang for leg while others claim it is an extension of ‘nuts’, referring to the testicles of the players through whose legs the ball has been passed. In French, meanwhile, it becomes ‘un petit pont’ (‘a little bridge’ – although French commentators will also use the English term), while in Italian it is ‘un tunnel’ (a tunnel). Lastly, one of my favourite terms in French football (albeit one that is fairly rarely used) has to be ‘un caviar’ meaning a great pass (we could maybe say ‘a gem’ or ‘a peach’ in English).

One interesting collection of terms which demontrates the relationship between European languages well is that used when describing goals scored. In English, two goals can be called ‘a brace’ (meaning a pair), while a set of three is a ‘hat-trick’, coming from the same term as used in cricket which was adopted after HH Stephenson took three consecutive wickets and was subsequently presented with a hat. The French uses a (non-)translation of this term (coup du chapeau’), and this is indicative of much footballing terminology in Europe which attests to the English roots of the game with many terms calqued to their new language (‘gol’ in Italian, for example, taken from the English ‘goal’).

Italian, on the other hand, deals with multiple goals in quite a different way: two goals becomes ‘una doppietta’ (a double), three is ‘una tripletta’ (triple) and while four and five can be called a ‘quaterna’ and a ‘cinquina’ respectively, there exist three much more interesting terms.

A set of four is often referred to as ‘un poker’, meaning ‘four of a kind’ and developing from the card game of the same name, while five goals can be simply called a ‘pokerissimo’ or a ‘manita’ (‘a little hand’ – referring to the five fingers).

This use of calques and various synonyms is indicative of the dual-layered vocabulary that exists in (perhaps all) European footballing terminology; in Italian, for example, we regularly find words borrowed or translated from the English alongside synonymous native terms (e.g. ‘un corner/un calcio d’angolo’ for the English ‘corner’).

This feature of the terminology finds a practical application in sports journalism where elegant variation (using synonyms or near-synonyms to avoid the use of repetition) is one of the most widely-used stylistic techniques. In a typical article you could find one player referred to by three or four different names as the journalist goes to extreme lengths to avoid repetition, while the amount of assumed contextual knowledge on the part of the reader is huge. For example, a player such as Mario Balotelli is often referred to as ‘Mario’, ‘Balotelli’, ‘SuperMario’, ‘il centravanti’ (the centre-forward), ‘l’attaccante italiano’ (the Italian attacker) among others…

This feature is also common in English and French journalism, and it is very interesting to see how the nature of the terminology available shapes our ability to communicate.

Of course, this post has only been able to scratch the surface of what footballing terminology has to offer and I haven’t been able to even comment on the vast array of idioms and expressions that exist. However, if you are interested in delving a bit deeper, this French football phrasebook has loads of phrases on offer alongside English translations, while this ‘Learn Italian’ article from The Guardian provides a good starting point for calcio fans.

Translating music: just jokes and gibberish?

After a busy few weeks, it’s finally time for another blog. I was trying to think of a topic covering a large area that I have completely overlooked so far and the one that came to mind was music.

In some ways it’s an obvious choice, it’s a passion of mine and a topic that fits in well with the other hugely general areas I’ve covered so far. (TV, film, books…) Yet, as I’ve chosen to look at music in popular culture in this post, problems arise in even finding a link to translation.

Unlike poetry, which is considered by many academics as the pinnacle of translation, the elite task of the translator, with the need to convey meaning alongside replicating rhyme, meter, assonance, alliteration, etc. (a topic for another day) or opera, where translation also plays a key role, there is obviously no real demand for the translation of lyrics in pop music aside from a curiosity on the part of the listener to discover what the lyrics mean. But there must be more to it than just being a good way to learn foreign languages?

Music clearly has a huge impact on cultures, indeed there are few better examples of the ideological power of music than the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man. It tells the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a 70s folk singer from Detroit who, at least partially due to the prejudices against Latin American culture at the time, failed to sell any records in his homeland while unknowingly becoming the hero of the entire South African nation, selling over half a million copies of his album as his lyrics gave hope of change to a nation under Apartheid. An impressive link between music and culture, no doubt, but there is still a common language here and therefore no suggestion of music’s role across linguistic borders.

Here in England there is relatively little demand for non-anglophone music. With the amount of music available, the global domination of the English language and the lack of enthusiasm for learning foreign languages, the expected norm is that the English listener will have no knowledge or desire to work out the meaning of lyrics. This is demonstrated by the advertising technique used by Specsavers a few years ago where they took one of the few foreign tracks recognisable to an English audience – Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’ – and by playing upon the viewer’s lack of linguistic knowledge, probably understanding the meaning of the title and no more, changed the meaning of the lyrics to advertise their brand and add a little humour.

(The song’s status as one of the only recognisable non-English tracks in England is further exemplified by its usage in this 90s advert for Heineken with a very young-looking Stephen Fry)

And it is these games that seem to be the extent of language’s influence when it comes to popular music. In Italy, where there is more of a desire to listen to English music but still a relatively low understanding of the language, the potential for play is high and one well-known example in particular is well worth sharing. (Skip to about 1:40 if you just want the song and not a little test of your Italian)

In 1972 Adriano Celetano released the single ‘Prisencolinensinainciusol’, a track made up of pure gibberish (except the words ‘all right’) but which, by copying phonetic patterns of American English, is made to sound to an Italian audience like meaningful English sung with an accent. It’s fascinating to listen to for an English speaker and shows the full extent to which language can be manipulated.

Furthermore, it once again shows that it is a kind of non-translation or false translation – rather than the genuine transference of meaning – that is commonplace when popular music tackles the issue of language, with comprehension not important or even preferred.

All in all, these examples serve to demonstrate that when music crosses linguistic borders, language can often become little more than a tool to be manipulated.

Film Titles in Translation: The Sequel

Hot on the heels of my last post, which was a bit heavier than usual, I thought I’d get back into familiar territory with something a bit more fun. Seeing as my first post on the translation of film titles had a fair bit of interest and was so fun to write, I thought I’d write a sequel about sequels.

Rather than looking at films that simply add ‘2’ or ‘3’, which would hardly be the most interesting read, I went for films that aimed for a bit more in the titling, often using the name of the first film as a basis for other titles in the series. As you can imagine, with the title of the first film often being completely transformed in translation, this can cause all sorts of problems, and translators have had varying degrees of success over the years.

So, for your reading pleasure, here are some of the funnier and more interesting examples I came across.

The Terminator Series

Starting with one of the biggest movie series around, it is interesting to see how translation deals with the changing subtitles in each film which often contain biblical references. While ‘Judgement Day’ is changed to its accepted cultural equivalent in both French and Italian (‘Le Jugement dernier’ and ‘Il giorno del giudizio’) and ‘Rise of the Machines’ is translated closely, ‘Terminator Salvation’ was cleverly retitled ‘Terminator Renaissance’ in the French over a more literal translation as it retains the biblical nature of the title and sounds much better than ‘Terminator Salut’ (literally: salvation) which could be mistaken as meaning ‘Terminator Hi’.

The Die Hard series has some of the most confused naming across the series that you’ll ever find. While the English versions add a unique tagline, retaining the crucial words ‘Die Hard’ (Die Harder, Die Hard with a Vengeance etc.), several of the European releases made this kind of linking impossible from the outset.

The first film in the series was released as ‘Trappola di Cristallo’ in Italian and ‘Piège de cristal’ in French meaning ‘Crystal Trap’ while the second was named ’58 minutes to live’ and ’58 minutes to die’ in France and Italy respectively. Both of these titles relate much more closely to the plot but carry no link between the two films.

After this, presumably due to the growing global stature of the series, and realising the need to try and make up for these early mistakes, each of the films just used the English ‘Die Hard’ in the titles, followed by a translated tagline (e.g. ‘Die Hard – Vivere o morire’ (to live or die) for ‘Live free or die hard’ in Italy) except the French version of the third film which stuck with its initial tactics and named the film ‘Une journée en enfer’ (A day in hell).

One final, interesting note on the series is that in the German release of the first film, the German names of the terrorists were changed to American equivalents in order to make it easier for the audience to identify with the protagonist by inverting the enemy’s cultural bases. As such, Hans became Jack, Karl became Charlie and Heinrich became Henry.

The Naked Gun

While the Die Hard translators failed to keep a common thread going throughout the series, the titles of this trilogy are dealt with well in both French and Italian, and in two distinct ways. While the Italian sticks close to the original titles, adopting a clever translation for ‘The Naked Gun’ in ‘Una Pallottola Spuntata’ (lit. A blunt bullet, keeping the idiomatic nature and some of the innuendo of the original) and adding fitting taglines, the French translation completely transforms the title but keeps it consistent and fitting throughout the series: The first film becomes ‘Y a-t-il un flic pour sauver la reine?’ (Is there a cop to save the queen?), the second ‘Y a-t-il un flic pour sauver le président?’ ( Is there a cop to savethe president?) and the third ‘Y a-t-il un flic pour sauver Hollywood’ (guess), each referring closely to the individual plots.

Dumb and Dumber

Together with the sequel/prequel ‘Dumb and Dumberer’, this pair have two of the most challenging titles around. With their use of the comparative that cannot be replicated in many languages and the ungrammatical nature of the second mirroring the subject matter, any translator has their work cut out. (For me, the title was one of the only good things about the second film)

The Italian deals with it literally and chooses to avoid the wordplay of the second title as much as possible: ‘Scemo e piu scemo’ (lit. Dumb and more dumb) for the first and ‘Scemo e piu scemo – Iniziò cosi’ (Dumb and more dumb – How it started) for the second. Meanwhile, the French version managed to avoid any trouble by leaving both titles untranslated.

Fortunately in Quebec, with the equal status given to both English and French meaning that all films are released in both languages, we get two interesting titles. The first becomes ‘La cloche et l’idiot’, quite a literal translation which uses colloquial language in a similar way to the English, and the sequel becomes ‘Plusse cloche et très zidiot’ (lit. More dumb and very idiotic) but with the spellings changed in a ridiculous manner to mirror the idiotic nature of the content, showing that even some more complex linguistic games can be replicated to an extent in a foreign tongue.

Laziness Prevails

Nevertheless, for every translation that is well thought out and takes cultural and linguistic concerns into account (how about ‘East is East’ becoming ‘Fish and Chips’ – written in English – in France…), there are times when the translator seems to consider the wordplay in the title just too much of a hassle and resorts to boring, unimaginative naming. This is the case with ‘The Fast and The Furious’ sequel ‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ becoming ‘Rapides & Dangereux 2’ in Quebec and just ‘Fast and Furious 2′ in French’

Further examples of this kind include ‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’ (the sequel to Excellent Adventure) which becomes ‘Les Aventures de Bill et Ted’ (the Adventures of Bill and Ted) and ‘Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel’ (I haven’t seen it, honest) becoming ‘Alvin et les chipmunks 2’ in French. Some of the least inspired titles around.

Finally, before I go, I thought I’d include one little bonus translation. A few weeks ago I was asked: ‘why does ‘The Hangover’ become ‘Very Bad Trip’ – written in English – in the French release’

The answer: while French does have an equivalent for a hangover (‘gueule de bois’, literally a wooden mouth), the phrase ‘faire un bad trip’ is widely recognised by French people and reflects the film’s US roots in a comprehensible manner. So there you have it.

Adios.

The Magic of Translation

After recently posting on issues that don’t relate directly to translation in the traditional sense, I wanted to try to write something firmly on topic while still being accessible and targeting popular culture.The area of discussion in this post is literary translation which, while evading the majority of professional freelance translators, is still a huge part of the profession.

While much of the current focus in Translation Studies hinges on the acceptability of the prevailing strategy when working with literary texts which, due to a prioritisation of commercial interests, is to ‘domesticate’ the foreign text – to make the text read fluently so as not to pose difficulties to the reader and, ultimately, to give the impression that what you are reading is not a translation (one great metaphor I’ve come across likens translation to contraception in the way that the less it is noticed, the better it seems!) – I wanted to look at a quick example to try and simply demonstrate the extent of creative re-writing involved in literary translation in order to offer a small indication of the challenges posed by attempts to transfer meaning.

And what better example to use than the biggest of the big bestsellers: the Harry Potter series.

This series of books poses a huge range of translational obstacles and the overall aim of the translations is to try to reach the foreign audience with as much as possible of the many levels of meaning still in tact.

Features of the original such as the creation of new words, the repeated use of rhymes, anagrams, acronyms and cleverly formed names are just a few examples of such challenges and, by taking a few examples of wordplay and showing how they were dealt with, hopefully the strength of the translations – which ensured that the series became a global bestseller – will be clear.

As briefly mentioned above, names in the book often contain small plays on words and descriptions of the very character they name, with the example of Mad-Eye Moody being one prominent case in point. The French translation as Fol-Oeil Maugrey (with ‘maugréer’ meaning to grumble) manages to replicate much of the sound of the original while also maintaining this semi-hidden characterisation. Similarly, Madame Pomfrey (sounding like ‘frais’ meaning ‘fresh’) is neatly translated as Pomfresh in the French. Further still, the Sorting Hat of the original is cleverly renamed as La Choixpeau Magique (cleverly linking ‘chapeau’ (hat) and ‘choix (de) peau’ (choice of skin) to produce a magic skin choosing hat!)

One final, excellent example of the creativity in the translation lies in the key anagram of Tom Marvolo Riddle and ‘I Am Lord Voldemort’: the French translation of his name as Tom Elvis Jedusor initially seems rather strange, until you realise that this is an anagram of ‘Je suis Voldemort’. Then, when you add in the fact that Jedusor sounds like ‘jeux du sort’, meaning ‘games of chance’ and paralleling the English surname Riddle, you have an extremely clever translation.

Of course, certain languages have been left with versions that are less successful (the Italian ‘Cappello Parlante’ (‘talking hat’ for Sorting Hat) is much less effective, and Madame Poppy Chips (for Pomfrey) is simply bizarre) and I can’t come close to even scratching the surface of the vast range of interventions that have been made throughout the entire series, but hopefully with these few examples I have managed to hint at the amount of linguistic gymnastics involved in transferring even small aspects of meaning that we take for granted from one language to another.