Around the web – July 2014

Whether or not you’ve been on holiday recently you may have missed some interesting articles this past month about translation and language – here’s your round-up for July.

  • This article has a brief history of the French language in Quebec.
  • Thinking of doing a PhD in Translation? Here are some study topic suggestions.
Asian-Signs-14-934x

from ’10 More Hilariously Terrible Translation Mistakes’

  • As freelancers we all face rejection at some point. How do you deal with it? Read about some strategies in Inbox Translation’s blog post.
  • A round-up of some ‘ultimate tips’ for translators, by translators.
Asian-Signs-19-934x

from ’10 More Hilariously Terrible Translation Mistakes’

bad-translations30

from ’10 More Hilariously Terrible Translation Mistakes’

  • Nominations are currently being accepted (until August 16th) for Proz.com’s 2014 Community Choice Awards. These awards are hosted annually by ProZ.com to provide a means for the ProZ.com community to publicly recognise language professionals who are active, influential or otherwise outstanding in various media throughout the industry in separate translation and interpreting categories.

Fun:

sexpressions.shutterstock.frog

from ’15 Best French Expressions for Making Love’

 

Related articles:

Around the web – June 2014

On June 12th I was delighted to learn that I came 4th in the 2014 Ba.bla Language Twitterers competition, and 5th overall across all Language Lovers categories. You can see the full list here. Here are some other interesting blog posts and articles about language and translation that have been published on the web this past month and that you may have not have had time to see:

‘Wisteria’ was one word better known by women (89%) than men (61%).

language change & evolve

Fun:

In French:

 

Related articles:

Around the web – May 2014

May is the month that saw me type my e-mail address (‘smartranslate’) in a text message and have the autocorrect turn it into ‘slave translator’! Anyway here’s a round-up of interesting articles about translation and language that have been published on the web during May and that you may have not have had time to see:

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 15.57.29

  • The recent BP14 was colleague’s Rachel Ball’s first international conference on translation. In this blog post she tells us what she learnt from it. In another post Rachel wondered when is a translator ever like a doctor?
  • Would you push a stranger off a bridge? A new study reveals that our moral standing is affected by whether we are reasoning in our native tongue, or in a foreign language.
  • Here are 10 slang phrases that perfectly encapsulate the age in which they were coined.
Austin Powers

The word ‘groovy’ began life meaning ‘conservative’

Recent Dorothy Perkins ad

Recent Dorothy Perkins ad

Don’t forget you have until June 9th to vote for your favourite language Twitterers, Bloggers, Facebookers and Youtubers! I’ve been nominated in the Twitter category. Read more about the competition here.

Related articles:

Top Language Twitterers 2014

Every year since 2009 Blabla language portal has held its Top 100 Language Lovers competition. There are five categories:

The nominations received have been narrowed down to 100 for each of the five categories. I’ve once again had the pleasure of being nominated in the Language Twitter Account category for my Twitter account @Smart_Translate. Last year, the first year I’d been nominated, I was delighted to arrive 12th in the Twitter category, and 17th overall.

My Twitter Account

My Twitter Account

50% of the final score will be based on user votes. You can participate in voting here, or by clicking on the button to the right, until June 9th. Note that twitterers are listed alphabetically by name (e.g. Cath Cellier-Smart), not by Twitter handle. There’s no need to be on Twitter yourself to vote, as the link takes you to a web page where you just click on a link. You can also vote in the other categories by clicking on the links above.

Ranking and results will take place June 10th-12th, and results will be published on June 12th.

P.S. You can follow and/or tweet about the competition (all categories) on Twitter using the hashtag #tll14.

If you’d like to find about more about the competition see this article.

 

What’s In A (Fish) Name?

As a linguist and keen scuba-diver, when I first heard of a book about the etymology of fish names I could only but be interested! Given that one of the co-authors is Henriette Walter, whose book Honni Soit Qui Mal Y Pense is a favourite of mine, I was even more eager to read a copy of La Fabuleuse Histoire Du Nom Des Poissons. The book is written in French and mainly discusses French names, but the name of each fish is also given in English, German, Spanish and Italian along with an explanation of the etymology in each of these languages, which makes it even more interesting for a linguist. Here are some of the most intriguing facts I learnt:

  • Did you know the Baie Des Anges at Nice, in the South of France, takes it name from the angelshark? These sharks, known as ange de mer in French, once used to be common in the bay.
  • Rollmops are pickled herring fillets whose name comes from the German rollen (to roll) and mops (a pug). Apparently the rolled herring fillets look like the wrinkled dog’s head …
  • The name sardine comes from the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean, as does the word sardonic. Whereas the current meaning of ‘sardonic’ is an expression of derisive, cynical or sceptical humour, it originally meant a rictus caused by ingesting the sardonion plant from Sardinia.
  • The name Grouper (sometimes called ‘groper’ in Australia) doesn’t come from any gregarious tendencies of this fish to group, but from the Portuguese garoupa, which itself probably comes from an Amerindian word.
  • Wrasses take their name from the Cornish word wrach which means ‘old woman’ or ‘hag’, and originally ‘witch’. Most wrasses are beautifully patterned, however some species have spotty colouring rather like old, wrinkled skin, which might explain this etymology. One enormous species of wrasse I’ve been lucky enough to see while diving is the Napoleon (also known as Humphead wrasse) which doesn’t take its name from the French Emperor but from a New Caledonian farmer called Louis Napoléon who collected these fish as trophies.
  • Damselfish are so-called due their bright colours and eye-catching movements, and Surgeonfish have dangerously sharp scalpel-like spines on either side of the tail.
  • The Moorish idol is common, but is also one of the most unusually named fish I’ve come across when diving. I learnt that the etymology comes from African Moors, who believed the fish to be a bringer of happiness or luck. Moluccan fishermen were also superstitious about it, and if they caught one would throw it back into the water after bowing and showing signs of respect.
Moorish idols

3 Moorish idols, Nosy Be, Madagascar, October 2013

  • I was fascinated to learn that Tilapia were known to the Ancient Egyptians (there’s even a tilapia hieroglyph). Their name comes from the Latinisation of the Tswana (Bantu) word for fish, thiape.
  • Here in Reunion swordfish are commonly fished and eaten, and predictably their name comes from their long, flat, sword-shaped bill. While in its original English version Hemingway‘s The Old Man and the Sea centres on the fisherman’s struggle with a giant marlin, the novel’s first French translator, Jean Dutourd, chose to translate ‘marlin’ as ‘swordfish’ (espadon in French), considering that the former was not well enough known in France at the time (1952).
  • Another common fish in the waters around Reunion, the marlin‘s name comes from ‘marlinspike‘, which is a sailor’s tool used in marine rope work. Marlins have a spear-like bill, and marlinspikes have a polished metal cone tapered to a point, hence the connection. ‘Marlinspike’ itself derives from from the practice of ‘marling’, that is winding small diameter twine called ‘marline’ around larger ropes to form protective whippings.
  • Did you think Lemon sole got its name from the citrus fruit? ‘Lemon’ is in fact a deformation of the French word limande (the same fish is called Limande in French) which itself comes from lime, meaning “[abrasive] file” referring to a former use of the fish’s skin.
  • I was once lucky enough to see a Mola Mola, the heaviest bony fish in the world, while diving in Bali. ‘Mola’ is latin for millstone, which the fish resembles because of its grey colour, rough texture, and rounded body. It is also called ‘sunfish’ in English due to it’s habit of ‘sunbathing’ at the surface of the water.  However most other European languages call it ‘moonfish’ in reference to its pale colour and rounded shape.
Mola Mola

Mola Mola

  • I’ve long been fascinated by coelacanths, rare fish occasionally found deep in the Mozambique Channel and Indonesia. Thought to be extinct until 1938, their name comes from the Greek words koilos ‘hollow’ and akantha ‘spine’ referring to the hollow caudal fin rays of the first fossil specimen described.
  • Not in the above-mentioned book but a beautiful etymology I learnt while diving in Madagascar last year is that of the whale shark (a filter-feeding shark, and the world’s largest fish species). In Malagasy it is called marokintana (‘many stars’) due to their spotted skin, which is unique to each individual.
Whale shark, Nosy Be, Madagascar, October 2013

Whale shark, Nosy Be, Madagascar, October 2013

Overall, the authors point out that composed fish names, e.g. goldfish, flying fish, clownfish, triggerfish etc., are much more common in the fish kingdom than in the mammal or bird world (they should know – the same authors also wrote similar books about bird and mammal names!).

With this post I have barely scratched the surface of this fascinating subject, but to finish I couldn’t resist listing some of the many English idioms we seem to have about fish:

  • a big fish in a small pond
  • a fine kettle of fish
  • like a fish out of water
  • fish for compliments
  • have bigger fish to fry
  • there are plenty more fish in the sea
  • shooting fish in a barrel
  • to be a cold fish
  • drink like a fish
  • something smells fishy
  • a queer fish
  • to be neither fish nor fowl

Notes: 

  • La fabuleuse histoire du nom des poissons – du tout petit poisson-clown au très grand requin blanc by Henriette Walter and Pierre Avenas, published by Robert Laffont, 2011, ISBN 978-2-221-11356-1
  • Coelacanth – the ‘fossil fish’ – a short blog post about this fascinating fish on my travel blog.
  • Fish Caught In Time – the Search for The Coelacanth by Samantha Weinberg, published by Perennial, 2000, ISBN 978-0-06-093285-5
  • Swim with the giant sunfish – a TED Talk about mola mola by marine biologist Tierney Thys
  • Our swim with a whale shark, Nosy Be, Madagascar, October 2013 (1’55” video)

 

Around the web – April 2014

Here’s April’s round-up of interesting articles about language and translation that have been published on the web this past month and that you may have not have had time to see:

ElectricMug

For those that don’t speak French: here ‘mug’ in the sense “A drinking cup” is translated into French as if it were the verbal sense “to rob with threat of violence” (and ‘auto’ in the sense of “automobile” is translated as if it were “automatic”)!

Donner de la confiture aux cochons" translates literally as "to give the jam to the pigs" i.e. casting pearls before swine (photo Shutterstock)

The French idiom “donner de la confiture aux cochons” translates literally as “to give the jam to pigs”  i.e. to cast pearls before swine (photo Shutterstock)

  • Spanish and Portuguese translator Jethro Soutar talked about the concept of co-translation at Words Without Borders, where there was also an interesting article about writing and translating in Korea today.
  • Catherine Christaki, of LinguaGreca fame, was invited onto Alessandra Vita’s virtual ‘red carpet’ for an interview.
  • April saw a general election in India, the world’s largest democracy. This article in The Guardian‘s Mind Your Language Blog looked at the difficulties candidates faced appealing to voters who speak 447 mother tongues.
A boy wearing a mask of Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi.

A boy wearing a mask of Indian Hindu nationalist election candidate Narendra Modi.

 

Related articles:

10 of my favourite books in translation

This week an article in The Guardian talked about readers’ favourite children’s books in translation. As a child I enjoyed Aesop’s Fables, Tintin and Asterix (although I never understood the latter’s wordplay e.g. Getafix until I was older!), but as an adult with an interest in international literature (see my blog post about that here) I also enjoy translated books.

A few statistics: out of 505 books that I’ve listed on Librarything, 335 were originally in English, 130 originally in French, and the 35 remaining* were in other languages which I don’t read, so were translations. I read 70% of all my listed books in English, and 30% in French.

Below are a few of my favourite books in translation:

Kleifarvatn, July 2012

  • L’Insoutenable Légèreté de l’être [The Unbearable Lightness of Being] by Milan Kundera, translated from Czech to French by François Kérel. This 1984 postmodern novel is about two women, two men, a dog and their lives in the Prague Spring period of Czechoslovak history in 1968.
  • Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong aka Lü Jiamin, translated from Chinese to English by Howard Goldblatt. This semi-autobiographical novel is about a young Beijing student who is sent to live among the nomadic herdsmen of Inner Mongolia. Caught between the advance of civilisation from the south and the wolves to the north, humans and animals, residents and invaders alike struggle to find their place in the world. Will be released as a film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud in 2015.

Teaser poster for the film ‘Wolf Totem’

  • Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende, translated from Spanish to English by Margaret Sayers Peden. Spanning four decades and set in the sugar plantations of Saint-Domingue and the lavish parlours of New Orleans, this novel leaps between the social upheavals from the distant French Revolution to the Haitian slave rebellion, to a New Orleans fomenting with cultural change.
  • Woman At Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi translated from Arabic to English by Sherif Hetata (the writer’s husband). This novel is the first-person account of Firdaus, a murderess who has agreed to tell her life story before her execution.
  • Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, translated from Swedish to English by Reg Keeland aka Steven T. Murray. Is there any need to present this trilogy of crime novels?
  • The Swarm – a Novel of the Deep by Frank Schätzing, translated from German to English by Sally-Ann Spencer In this science-fiction novel full of twists, turns and cliffhangers, a team of scientists discovers a strange, intelligent life force that takes form in marine animals, using them to wreak havoc on humanity as revenge for our ecological abuses.
  • La vie rêvée des plantes [The Reverse Side of Life] by Seung-U Lee, translated from Korean to French by Mi-Kyung Choi and Jean-Noël Juttet. This highly acclaimed Korean novel reveals how the conflict of the secular and the divine manifests in the real world.
  • Who Ate Up All The Shinga? by Wan-Suh Park, translated from Korean to English by Young-Nan Yu and Stephen J. Epstein. In this ‘autobiographical novel’ Park, growing up in Korea, describes the characters and events that came to shape her life.
Shinga (Aconogonon alpinum)

Shinga (Aconogonon alpinum)

  • Night by Elie Wiesel, translated from the French by Marion Wiesel (the author’s wife). This work recounts the author’s experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust and toward the end of the Second World War.

What about you? Please share your favourite translations in the comments.

* the total doesn’t equal 505 as a few books use two languages to a greater or lesser degree

 

 

 

Around the web – March 2014

Been busy this month? I’ve curated a number of interesting articles about translation and language that have been published on the internet this month and that you may have missed.

The thorny issue of dialects

The thorny issue of dialects

The Etiquettrix

The Etiquettrix

 

Related articles

Back to school!

Last week I took a half-day break from normal work to participate in the Forum des Métiers (Careers Morning) at the local collège (≈ junior high school). My task was to talk about the profession of translator and interpreter to six successive groups of pupils, aged 13-15.

The school where I gave the presentations

Each talk had to last about 30 minutes, and I quickly realised that half an hour would pass very quickly so I would really need to get the essential across. I created a Powerpoint presentation with about 15 slides on the following subjects: difference between an translator and interpreter, what we actually do, examples of texts translated and situations where an interpreter is needed, how and where we work, what are the qualities of a good translator/interpreter, how to become a translator/interpreter, and I finished by talking about the personal/professional life journey which led me to becoming a professional linguist. I purposely ended with this topic as I knew I could expand or shorten it as necessary depending on how much time was left before the bell. A chance remark by one of the teachers a few days before made me realise that some (most?) pupils don’t even know what a translator is/does, so I made sure I started the presentation with an explanation. I also showed some photos of humorous mistranslations, told plenty of anecdotes, and threw in a few questions (e.g. “how many languages are there in the world?”) just to make sure the pupils didn’t fall asleep.

I made sure I was wearing this T-shirt

I made sure I was wearing this T-shirt which I won in this Translating For Europe competition.

I’m not sure how many of the 85 collègiens I talked to will later work with languages, but in any case I hope most of the them went home that day with a somewhat better knowledge of our profession.

Bastard Tongues

Travelogue, memoir, intellectual detective story, linguistics primer. All these epithets could be applied to Derek Bickerton‘s Bastard Tongues, which I recently finished reading. Subtitled “A trailblazing linguist finds clues to our common humanity in the world’s lowliest languages” I knew this book would appeal to me given my interest in Creoles, and I was right. After a prologue in Palau, the book starts in Ghana then heads to Guyana, Curacao, Colombia, Brazil, Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Seychelles, and Surinam, not forgetting stopovers in the UK, USA, Europe, Mauritius, Caribbean …

Cover of "Bastard Tongues: A Trail-Blazin...

Book cover (via Amazon)

Although he’s now a Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Hawaii, British-born Bickerton’s preferred method of Creole research during the 30 years he spent on the subject (mainly 1960s-1990s) was far from hoity-toity – it was often in bars, isolated communities or slums (“drunks are the world’s most underrated language teaching resource”). His thirty or so years of research led him to originate the language bioprogramme theory (LBH) as to the origin of Creoles, according to which their formation is from a prior pidgin by children as the latter share a universal human innate grammar capacity. In the 1970s Bickerton proposed an empirical test of his theory, which would have involved putting families speaking mutually unintelligible languages on a previously uninhabited Pacific island for three years. Funding was obtained, but the experiment was finally cancelled over ethical concerns about informed consent.

Derek Bickerton

Whether or not Bickerton’s hypothesis is true (see here for other Creolisation theories) his book, as well as being an interesting read, raises a number of important points about Creoles. Attending an international conference on Creoles held in the late 1960s he recounts how some Creole scholars had, as students, been warned off Creole studies as ‘professional suicide': “Weren’t there more than enough real languages to go round?”.  Along the way he informs us that Creoles have grammars that are often stricter and more regular than those of European languages, and asks how, in some instances, Creole grammars so similar could have come into existence in so many different parts of the world. We also learn some fascinating history along the way such as the slave situation in 17th Surinam (the place where the most ‘extreme’ Creoles were born), how plantation societies were created, or Hawaii’s hidden history – Hawaii being the place where creolisation has happened most recently. We learn for example about the creation of Pidgin Hawaiian (which confusingly, despite its name, was actually a Creole):

When people think about pidgins they immediately think of Pidgin English, Pidgin French, Pidgin of some European language or other. The idea of the big white guy on top, and all the little nonwhite guys under him struggling to cope with the sophisticated complexities of his language is so firmly fixed in our minds that the idea of a pidgin based on a language of nonwhites, clumsily and haltingly spoken by members of the master race, seems almost inconceivable.

Some linguistic explanations are a little too technical for my taste, but they form a relatively small part of the book. My main gripe is a map at the beginning, actually a world map of Creoles and places that Bickerton studied and/or took an interest in, but which is labelled “Creole Languages of the World”. Given that there are only 22 labels on the map a novice could be forgiven for thinking that only 22 Creoles exist (worldwide there are actually 127 Creoles according to a 1977 study by Ian Hancock).

A somewhat more detailed world map of Creoles

I’d like to end this post with the following quotation from the book’s last lines:

Creoles are not bastard tongues after all … they are the purest expression we know of the human capacity for languages. Other languages creak and groan under the burden of time … Creoles spring pure and clear from the very fountain of language, and their emergence, through all the horrors of slavery, represents a triumph of all that’s strongest and most enduring in the human spirit.

Further reading: