Around the web – September 2015

I was delighted to attend my first ever translation conference at the beginning of this month: IAPTI‘s 3rd annual conference in Bordeaux. It was great to meet hitherto virtual colleagues as well new ones, attend some great presentations, and it was altogether very well organised. You can see tweets from the conference, and watch the closing video here.

Group photo of the attendees at the IAPTI 2015 Bordeaux

Group photo of the attendees at the IAPTI 2015 Bordeaux conference

Anyway here’s a round-up of translation- and language-related articles that have appeared online in September, with a few pieces from July and August thrown in for good measure.

  • Quebec needs English-speaking immigrants, but struggles to accept them. Find out more in this BBC video.
  • Colleague Steve Dyson listed some tips for translators, including the advice to stop trying to multitask.
  • What are the advantages of being self-disciplined, and how can we make a start?
  • The Guardian wondered if working at home in your pyjamas is bad for business.
 ‘If you wake up feeling grotty and put on clothes that reflect that, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.’ Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex Feature

‘If you wake up feeling grotty and put on clothes that reflect that, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.’ Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex Feature


Scots also have 369 words for marbles


This Gaelic signs says ‘Welcome to the doorway to the beauty of Penis Island’.

This Gaelic signs says ‘Welcome to the doorway to the beauty of Penis Island’.

Related articles:

Lingo – a language spotter’s guide to Europe

Why is Basque so baffling, and which language sounds like a machine gun when spoken? Which Iranian language is represented in Europe and where is Gagauz spoken? Why has Frisian been elevated the rank of official regional language and how come tiny Slovenia has so many regional linguistic varieties? Answers to all these questions and much more can be found in ‘Lingo – a language spotter’s guide to Europe‘ by Gaston Dorren, a book I discovered when I attended The World in Words, an event at Edinburgh Book Festival with the author and Ann Morgan. Gaston Dorren is a Dutch linguist with proficiency in fifteen languages. Originally published in Dutch as Taaltoerisme (‘Language tourism’) and translated into English by Alison Edwards, Lingo packs 60 chapters into less than 300 pages, divided into various themes such as languages and their families, history, grammar, politics, or vocabulary, as well as linguists who left their mark (mostly on stamps ;-) it turns out). Almost every chapter ends with a word or two that English has loaned from the language under discussion, as well as a word from that language that doesn’t exist in English but perhaps should. Here are a few snippets from the book to whet your appetite:

'Lingo, a language spotter's guide to Europe' by Gaston Dorren

‘Lingo, a language spotter’s guide to Europe’ by Gaston Dorren

  • Life of PIE: Of all the world’s living languages, Lithuanian is the one that most closely resembles Proto Indo-European (PIE), the linguistic reconstruction of the common ancestor of the Indo-European languages.
  • Did you know that two centuries ago Danish was spoken on four continents in an area twelve times the size of Great Britain?
  • I had heard of Bokmål and Nynorsk, but didn’t know the difference. In the book I learnt that all Norwegians speak a regional dialect, and that the aforementioned are just two of the four existing versions.
  • Sweden’s well-known linguistic informality only dates from the 1960s when the incoming Director-General of the Public Health Board announced that he intended to address all employees by their first name and would like them to do the same for him.
  • ‘Moped’ is a portmanteau word of Swedish origin (from motor (engine) and pedaler (pedals).)
  • Iceland is the only country in Europe that has a language that’s unique to that country. No other European country has identical political and linguistic boundaries.
First words of a modern Icelandic Bible

First words of a modern Icelandic Bible

  • Modern Greek contains loan words such as farmakología and sti̱thoskópio that are actually foreign-built compounds created from Classical Greek.
  • Most Portuguese loanwords in English come from the colonies, such as ‘fetish’ or ‘caste’ (Portuguese words for colonial phenomena) and ‘banana’ or ‘dodo’ (local words).
  • While most languages translate the names of famous cities into their own tongue, Latvian has the unusual tendency to translate all names. Thus Charles de Gaulle becomes Sharrl de Goal and Miguel de Cervantes is Megell de Therbahntess.
  • Diminutives are found throughout Europe except for Scandinavia.
  • Breton has a vigesimal numeral system, based on sets on twenty. Thus 45 is ‘five-and-two-twenty’; 77 is ‘seventeen-and-three-twenty’. (The same number in Welsh is ‘two-on-fifteen-and-three-twenty’).
  • Basque has a useful, single word for the act of translating from one’s own language into a foreign one: erdaratze.
  • Irish has the second oldest literary tradition among living European languages, after Greek.
The Irish language on a sign in Connemara (with English defaced)

Irish language on a sign in Connemara (with English defaced)

  • Manx has no words for ‘yes’ or ‘no’. (If someone asks a question, you have to answer with a verb in the correct tense).
  • Finnish has 15 cases, and ‘234’ written out in the sixth case becomes kahdestasadastakolmestakymmenestäneljästä because every individual component must receive its own case ending.
  • If you’re European, words from which Afro-Asiastic language are printed on your passport? Which is the only Semitic language to be written in the Latin script? Maltese.
  • Sign language family groupings are different from spoken languages groups: one group includes Sweden, Finland and Portugal, while another includes France, USA, Ireland, Netherlands. The British manual alphabet (used to spell out names or concepts for which the signer doesn’t have a sign at their immediate disposal) is two-handed, while most others are one-handed.
  • One fascinating chapter lists all the clues that can help you identify an unknown language. What diacritics or unfamiliar characters does it use? What frequent letter combinations or odd letter patterns rarely turn up in another language?

These are just a few excerpts from the book, which seems to have something fascinating to point out about every European language. I found the section on languages and their grammar slightly less interesting than the eight other sections, but that’s purely due to my English-native-speaker’s grammar prejudice rather than to any shortcoming of the author’s. And I although I no longer live in the UK, I was fascinated to learn so much about the languages of the British Isles about which I know so little: Anglo-Norman, Shelta, and Manx to name but a few. Now all we need are similar books about other continents’ languages!

P.S. In his Further Reading section the author lists David Bellos’ ‘Is That a Fish in Your Ear?‘ as “the only book on translation you ever need to read, unless you want to make it your job. Erudite, recalcitrant [sic] and fun”. You can read my blog post about that book here.

Further reading:

Related blog posts:

Edinburgh Book Festival 2015

Travel plans to see family have once again coincided with the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Founded in 1983 the Book Festival was initially biannual, then started to be held yearly in 1997. It now welcomes more than 800 authors in over 700 events every year, and is billed as ‘the largest festival of its kind in the world’.


Two years ago I went to see a translation duel there, where it was mentioned that it was the first such event to be held at the festival. As 2015’s theme is ‘Around The World’, translation and language have played a more prominent role this year, with 32 events under the Talking Translation banner. I chose to attend six of them:

  1. Bestselling Books Abroad saw crime writer Peter May and children’s author Julia Donaldson look at how a writer’s work travels to other nations, and how authors keep ownership of their translations. We were even treated to a multilingual sketch of The Gruffalo! Interestingly Peter May, a Scot who lives in France, had been unable to find a publisher in the UK for his crime novel but a French publisher bought world rights, had the book translated into French, and only later did it become a bestseller in the UK, having first become successful in France. The talk was very smoothly chaired by historian and Italian to English translator Lucinda Byatt.
  2. Penguin Classics have embarked on a 7 year project to retranslate Georges Simenon’s work and the tagline of the Celebrating Simenon talk was ‘Retranslating a Literary Legend’. Despite being chaired by translator Daniel Hahn, it was more an exploration of Georges Simenon’s life, work and legacy with the late writer’s son, John, than a discussion about translation. It was nevertheless very interesting, and I came away with the desire to (re)read some of Simenon’s novels. However I’m having trouble picturing Rowan Atkinson playing the lead role in the new ITV Maigret series … (filming starts September 2015 in Budapest).
  3. The following day I attended my second-ever French Translation Duel. Chaired by Daniel Hahn, Ros Schwartz and Frank Wynne politely crossed verbal swords over the translation of a 400-word passage from Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. As was the case on the previous occasion, the time spent poring over the nuances of just a few sentences absolutely flew by, and I found it totally engrossing. On leaving the tent I heard other audience members remarking they hadn’t realised how complex a process translation could be.
  4. David Crystal‘s Accents Speak Louder Than Words looked at dialects and then accents. David is a well-known  British linguist, writer, editor, lecturer and broadcaster. He’s also a lively and entertaining speaker (during the second half he was also joined by his actor son Ben), and there was some interaction with the audience when he asked us if we knew such Scots dialects words as ‘chirp’ (to emit a creaking sound), ‘fouter fouter’ (to walk in an effeminate way), ‘dabberlick’ (a mildly insulting way of talking about someone who is tall and skinny) and – my personal favourite – ‘mumple’ (to seem as if going to vomit).
David Crystal and his son Ben.

David Crystal and his son Ben.

5. The World in Words saw Gaston Dorren and Ann Morgan talk about the joys of languages and literature in other languages. I’ve blogged before (here and here) about Ann’s challenge to read a book from each of the world’s 196 nations, so I won’t go into too much detail in this post, but one thought-provoking moment for the audience was when she mentioned that if she looks at the shelf with 144 hardcopies of books she read she can only see one translator’s name on the spine. Gaston discussed and read excerpts from his book ‘Lingo’, an entertaining trip through Europe’s languages which includes anecdotes about everything from Esperanto to Limburgish. His enthusiasm convinced me to break my strict rules about luggage limits and buy his book; watch this space for a blog post about it soon.

6. The final talk I attended was Stories Without Borders with Ann Morgan and German to English translator Michael Hofmann. Chaired by Daniel Hahn, this event looked at whether it matters to readers where a story originates or in what language it was first written, and what is gained from knowing the linguistic identity of a book.

Michael Hofmann, Ann Morgan and Daniel Hahn

Michael Hofmann, Ann Morgan and Daniel Hahn

My attendance at the festival should normally have ended there, but circumstances meant I found myself back a few days later helping out at The Spectacular Translation Machine. This free, drop-in event involved translating an entire book from French into English in one day using a collaborative approach. Organised by award-winning translator Sarah Ardizzone, we helped members of the public create an English version of Bessora and Barroux’s graphic novel Alpha: Abidjan-Gare du Nord, about a man’s journey from the Ivory Coast to France in search of his family. It was great fun, and I really enjoyed seeing the translation take shape over the course of the day, as well as helping out the Edinburgh public.


During The Spectacular Translation Machine (Sarah Ardizzone and the illustrator Stéphane-Yves Barroux are standing at the back right of the photo)


During The Spectacular Translation Machine


Some translations


Some finished translations


The cover of ‘Alpha Abidjan-Gare du Nord’

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Don’t get ‘court’ out!

If you’re based in France and need a certified translation by a sworn translator do make sure the latter is “assermenté près la Cour d’Appel” i.e. has been sworn in at the Court of Appeal, and is not simply “assermenté près le Tribunal de Grande Instance” (TGI). Linguists who have been sworn in at the TGI are only permitted to interpret for asylum seekers and illegal aliens (étrangers en situation irrégulière) as part of the Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile (CESEDA, or ‘Code of Entry and Residence of Foreigners and the Right of Asylum’); they are not authorised to carry out sworn translations. A ‘certified’ translation carried out by someone who is assermenté près le TGI will not be valid, and will have to be re-translated by a sworn translator. You can download up-to-date lists of sworn translators on the Court of Cassation website here.

Court of Appeal of Saint Denis

Court of Appeal of Saint Denis

For more information see the FAQ on the SFT (French professional translators’ union) (in French).

See also:

Convention improving multilingual acts

Around the web – June 2015

This month in an effort to improve my activity level I acquired a small smart watch, and despite doing an hour of sport per day I found I’m still quite far from the recommended 10,000 steps per day. I also signed up for the million miles challenge, whose aim is to get as many translators and interpreters as possible to move!

One of my recent activity reports

One of my recent activity reports

So in keeping with this flurry of activity let’s kick off June’s round-up of articles about language and translation with this post by colleague Nikki Graham:

The Proclaimers. ‘But I would walk 807.7km, and I would walk 807.7km more’ does lack a certain ring to it. (Photograph: Murdo MacLeod)

The Proclaimers. ‘But I would walk 807.7km, and I would walk 807.7km more’ does lack a certain ring to it. (Photograph: Murdo MacLeod)

Do you pronounce this 'expresso' or 'espresso'?

Do you pronounce this beverage ‘expresso’ or ‘espresso’?



Related articles:

Around the web – May 2015

Every year May sees the nomination and start of voting for’s Top 100 Language Lovers competition, with categories for Facebook Pages, Youtube channels, Language learning blogs, Language professional’ blogs and Twitter accounts. I’m honoured to have been nominated for the third year running in the latter category. Results will be announced on June 17th. While we’re waiting, here’s my monthly round-up of articles about translation and language for May.

Native or Non-native… That Is the Question

Native or Non-native… That Is the Question

'Bolt' is one example of a contronym

‘Bolt’ is one example of a contronym

  • 14 illustrations that convey moments which no single English word can describe.
  • We all know too much sitting is bad for you. If you still need convincing this short video explains the hidden perils of spending a lot of time on our derrière.
Are our bodies built for a sedentary existence?

Are our bodies built for a sedentary existence?


'To throw a chicken at oneself' is a Chilean expression meaning 'to run away'.

‘To throw a chicken at oneself’ is a Chilean expression meaning ‘to run away’.

What's the hardest word to pronounce in French?

What’s the hardest word to pronounce in French?


Related articles:

Top Language Twitterers 2015

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. For the third year running I’ve had the pleasure of being nominated in the Language Twitter Account category for my Twitter account @Smart_Translate. Last year, I was delighted to arrive 4th in the Twitter category, and 5th overall.

My Twitter account

My @Smart_Translate 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 14th. 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 15th-16th, and results will be published on June 17th.

P.S. You can follow and/or tweet about the competition (all categories) on Twitter using the hashtag #tll15.

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

Around the web – April 2015

April once again saw a multinational (Taco Bell) find out the hard way about the need for professional translation when it launched its Japanese website.  Why do I get a feeling of déjà vu? I hope that won’t be your case with my monthly round-up of articles about language, translation, interpreting and freelancing for the past month.

On Taco Bell's badly translated Japanese website 'Crunchwrap Supreme' became 'Supreme Court Beef'.

On Taco Bell’s badly translated Japanese website ‘Beef Crunchwrap Supreme’ became ‘Supreme Court Beef’.

Did you know Tristan da Cunha is the most world's most remote location of native English speakers?

Did you know Tristan da Cunha is the most world’s most remote location of native English speakers?

Humour & Fun:

  • I’m sure Scheherezade Surià had a lot of fun finding all these great pictures humorously illustrating ‘life as a translator’.
"When you go out you seem to find mistakes and mistranslations everywhere and you can’t avoid pointing them out to the people near you… like in the cinema while enjoying a dubbed or subtitled film".

“When you go out you seem to find mistakes and mistranslations everywhere and you can’t avoid pointing them out to the people near you… like in the cinema while enjoying a dubbed or subtitled film”.

Last but not least, I’ll leave you with this quote from Gunter Grass, who passed away on 13th April.

Gunter Grass quote

Related articles:

Convention sur les extraits plurilingues/Convention improving multilingual extracts

Dans le cadre d’une simplification des démarches la France a signé, en février 2015 à Berne, une convention améliorant les extraits plurilingues d’état-civil.

La France, partie à la commission internationale de l’état-civil avec 15 autres Etats, a signé le 12 février la convention internationale relative à la délivrance d’extraits et de certificats plurilingues et codés d’actes de l’état-civil.

Cette convention vise à tirer les conséquences de tendances de fond de nos sociétés, dont la mobilité accrue des personnes. Elle bénéficiera en particulier aux personnes qui doivent produire un acte d’état-civil d’un pays étranger où s’est déroulé un événement les concernant (naissance, mariage, etc.).

Elle permettra un traitement simplifié par les administrations étrangères ou les officiers publics qui en sont destinataires. Elle facilitera en outre la preuve d’événements personnels et familiaux, comme la reconnaissance d’un enfant ou le mariage. Alors que ces démarches peuvent occasionner des frais (traduction, légalisation ou apostille), le codage et la dispense de légalisation éviteront aux intéressés des coûts supplémentaires.

Cette convention donne enfin aux extraits établis à l’étranger la même force probante, au regard du droit interne de chaque État, que les extraits qu’ils établissent eux-mêmes. En cas de doute grave, les autorités destinataires d’un extrait pourront solliciter une vérification auprès des États émetteurs.

Exemple d'apostille indienne/Sample Indian apostille

Exemple d’apostille indienne/Sample Indian apostille

As part of a process of procedure simplification France signed, in February 2015 in Berne, a convention on improving multilingual extracts from civil status records.

France, which is a party to the International Commission on Civil Status together with 15 other states, signed the International Convention on the issuing of multilingual and coded extracts and certificates from civil status records on February 12.

This convention aims to address the consequences of our societies’ underlying trends, including the increased mobility of individuals. It will notably benefit individuals required to provide a civil status record from a foreign country where a civil status event relating to them has taken place (birth, marriage, etc.).

It will simplify procedures for foreign jurisdictions and for recipient public officials. It will also make it easier to provide evidence of a personal or family event, such as the recognition of a child or a marriage. While these procedures may incur charges (translation, legalization or apostille certification), the coding of entries and the exemption from legalization will help those concerned avoid additional costs.

This convention will finally give extracts issued abroad the same evidentiary value, pursuant to the domestic law of each state, as the extracts that they issue themselves. If there are any serious doubts, the authorities receiving the extract will be able to request verification from the issuing states.

Snippets from ‘Reading The World’

Here are a few translation-related snippets from the book ‘Reading the World – Confessions of A Literary Explorer’ by Ann Morgan. The book was the logical next step for Ann after her 2012 blog in which she read her way around all the globe’s 196 independent countries plus one extra territory chosen by blog visitors, sampling one book from every nation.


Rather than a blow-by-blow description of each country’s book – material that is already in the blog – she covers the background to her quest (“I glanced up at my book shelves, the proud record of more than twenty years of reading, and found a host of British and North American greats staring down at me … I had barely touched a work by a foreign language author in years … The awful truth dawned. I was a literary xenophobe“) followed by themes: censorship, culture shock, representations of the west, etc, and a penultimate chapter on ‘Crossing the language barrier’, (although references to translation aren’t limited to that section):

page 77: “… according to English PEN, in British schools and universities there is no chance of gaining sufficient grapes of a foreign language to become a translator…”

page 77: “in the words of Josep Bargallo … ‘translation is the lifeblood which sustains and nurtures literatures’ …”

page 79: quoting Katherine Rucker “… books that are invisible to translators stay invisible to everyone else, too.”

page 248: “We are vulnerable when we read translations. We leave ourselves open to deception and betrayal.”

page 255: “… for all their linguistic skills, translators often struggle to articulate what they do and how others should go about it.”

Two-thirds of the books Ann read were translated, so translation played an important role in her project. She is probably one of the few people to have had a book translated especially for her after a group of linguists pitched in to translate a book from São Tomé and Principe. Closer to home it was shocking to learn that not a single Malagasy novel had been translated into English, despite the fact that Madagascar, the world’s fourth largest island, has a population of 23 million.

Ann's bookshelf in December 2012

Ann’s bookshelf in December 2012

Other difficulties Ann encountered included sourcing a book from South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, and realising partway through the year that the choice of 196 nations was itself somewhat arbitrary; maybe “the number of countries depends what world you come from”? (page 30).

The book is published in the US as 'The World Between Two Covers'

The book will be published in May 2015 in the US as ‘The World Between Two Covers’

For my reaction when I first discovered Ann’s blog, see the post: Books about Reunion and worldwide literature.

Reviews of Reading the World – Confessions of A Literary Explorer: