The major translation-related news this month has of course been that during its 71st session on 24 May 2017 the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 288 recognising “The role of professional translation in connecting nations and fostering peace, understanding and development“. Without further ado, here’s your May round-up of popular articles about translation and language.
- Is the translation sector “undergoing a wrenching change that will make life hard for the timid”? asks Lane Greene in The Economist article Why translators have the blues.
- In the Financial Times, prizewinning translator Deborah Smith writes about the pleasures and pitfalls of literary translation.
A copy of La Tour’s ‘Saint Jerome Reading’ (c1636), depicting the priest known for translating the Bible into Latin. © Getty
“Gift” means “poison” in German. This may lead to confusion.
- Squint and cross-eyed: as a former childhood squinter I found this article about the differences between UK & US English usage of these terms interesting.
- Also on the subject of US English, Susie Dent explored the history of how Americanisms have entered British English on this BBC Radio 4 programme, and a Mental Floss video looks at how British and American spelling parted ways.
- How Noah Webster, author of An American Dictionary of the English Language, invented the word ‘immigration’.
On a final note, don’t forget to vote for your favourite language-related blogs, Facebook pages, Youtube channels and Twitter accounts in Bab.la’s annual Top 100 Language Lovers competition. I’ve been nominated in the Twitter category for the 5th year running. You only have until June 6th to vote (which you can do by clicking the red logo at the top right of the page)!
The 3 Phases of the Top 100 Language Lovers 2017 Competition: Nominations, Voting, Results
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Easter fell during the month of April this year and I found out that the Hungarian word for the holiday is húsvét, which literally means ‘meat-taking’ (with reference to the end of Lent). Anyway here’s your April round-up of popular articles about language, interpreting, and translation.
Translation platforms cannot replace humans
Three little letters, 645 meanings.
The term double-headed has sometimes been part of the lexicon of duplicity, much like double-hearted.
- There’s still a week before the second round of the French presidential election, which will be followed by the country’s legislative elections on June 11th and 18th. If you’re not fluent in French, here’s a handy guide to some terms used in the elections.
How do you say ‘fake news’ in French?
Did you know that the Finnish word for March, maaliskuu, is believed to come from the word maallinen in the sense of “earthly”, because snow begins to melt and first spots of bare earth can be seen? Anyway here’s your March round-up of popular articles about translation and language.
In 2006 Alitalia listed $39.00 for a business class fare from Toronto to Cyprus instead of the usual $3,900. Estimated cost to the carrier: $7.7m.
Now you can say ‘mansplaining’ in 35 languages
Does the available vocabulary for sex leave something to be desired?
Would you use these solicitors?
Humour en français :
- Quand quelqu’un ne connaît pas un métier cela donne lieu à des demandes totalement insolites (ici des demandes faites à des agences web).
Here, in ascending order, are the 10 most popular* tweets about translation and language that I shared during 2016 on my @Smart_Translate Twitter account:
Example of an unpronounceable word; ‘unpronounceable’ is the opposite of its meaning
Is ‘languid’ a word that describes itself? [Lady Lilith, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti]
Some of the 250 translations into different language of “Le Petit Prince”
Do you have a favourite article published in 2016 you’d like to share? Don’t hesitate to leave it in the comments below.
* ‘most popular’ = most clicked on, according to Hootsuite.
November 2nd-5th saw ATA‘s 57th Annual Conference held in San Francisco, and colleagues Paula Arturo and Claire Cox have both blogged about it. The list of future ATA conference sites and dates is here. Anyway here’s your November round-up of popular articles about language and translation.
Simon explains how to get clients to come to you
“It looks, especially if you speak British English, as if Clinton was making a claim about the sanity level of Jeremy Corbyn”
The Norwegian Mr Bump.
- Finally a quiz: Do you know these 25 Scottish words and phrases?
October 9th was world Hangeul Day. Do you know anything about Korea’s alphabet, which – because it was deliberately invented – is sometimes called the most scientific writing system in the world? Anyway, here’s your October round-up of popular articles about language and translation.
Donald Trump has been criticised for his lewd remarks about women
Der ‘Oldtimer’ is a German word for a classic or vintage car (Credit: Alamy)
Stradbroke Island in Queensland, Australia, faces a campaign to refer to it only by its Indigenous Australian name, Minjerribah. Photograph: naphakm/Getty Images
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious was made famous in the 1964 film Mary Poppins
- Can you guess the language in this short quiz, using your knowledge of alphabets, language associations, and some educated guessing?
Here’s your round-up of popular articles about translation and language for the month of September.
- Errors can change a life when it comes to legal translation.
- People have been told to use a new name for the country previously referred to as the Czech Republic: ‘Czechia’ in English, Tchequie in French and Tschechien in German. All are translations of Cesko in Czech.
Bridges span the River Vltava in Prague, the capital city of Czechia (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Being ill: office job vs freelancing
Fixed gear bikes are very popular with hipsters
Poster for International Translation Day 2016
Like many translators I’m not really a numbers person. I did alright in Mathematics in school and have no problem doing my own accounts, but despite having a maths-teacher husband, and a father who started his career as a maths teacher, I’ve always preferred language to numbers. However I recently listened to a podcast episode about the language of numbers in which they mentioned a book by Alex Bellos called The Grapes Of Math (US)/Alex Through the Looking-Glass (UK) and my curiosity was piqued. I ended up reading not only that book, but the preceding volume Alex’s Adventures in Numberland (UK)/Here’s Looking at Euclid (US)!
Now I won’t pretend to have understood everything in the books 😉 but I do recommend them especially if you’re more mathematically minded than I am. Although they’re primarily journeys through the world of numbers, I couldn’t help but be interested in some of the language-related facts they contain*:
In The Grapes of Math:
- “The Sumerians did not look far when coming up with names. The word for one, ges, also meant man, or erect phallus”.
- “English … is the only major European language to have unrelated words for odd and even. In French, German and Russian, for example, the words for even and odd are ‘even’ and ‘not-even’: pair/impair, gerade/ungerade, chyotny/nyechyotny”
- Zipf’s law: in most languages the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table, i.e. there is a mathematical pattern governing word choices.
The rank vs. frequency rule of Zipf’s law also works if you apply it to the sizes of cities.
- “From the translation of the Latin [pars minuta prima and pars minuta secunda] we get the words ‘minute‘ and ‘second‘, our units of time, which are the most prominent modern relics of the ancient practice of counting in groups of sixty.”
- “The Arabs transliterated [a Sanskrit word] as jiba, a meaningless term, but it sounds a bit like jaib, meaning bosom, or bay, which they came to use. Latin versions of Arab texts translated jaib as sinus, the word for the fold of a toga over a woman’s breasts. Sinus became sine.”
- “Optical applications .. in fact, explain the origin of the word ‘focus‘: it is the Latin for ‘fireplace’. In German its etymology is clearer—’focus’ is Brennpunkt, or burning point.” (‘Focus’ meaning the burning point of reflected light beams).
- “The earliest stargazers observed that planets do not move in straight lines—they meander across the skies, often temporarily looping backward. (The word “planet” comes from the Greek planetes, wanderer.)”
- “A double negative in English, of course, is a positive. The linguist J. L. Austin once told a conference that there are no languages in which two positives make a negative. It is said that the philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser, sitting in the audience, replied: “Yeah, yeah.”
- “Latin versions of [Arab mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi]’s surname were later used to describe the arithmetical techniques he publicized, and are the root of the word ‘algorithm‘.”
- Non-linguistic but interesting fact: according to French mathematician Cédric Vilani, Paris has more professional mathematicians than any other city, about a thousand.
Flamboyant French mathematician Cédric Villani at the Institut Henri Poincaré.
© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 3.0
- “The term for a word that appears only once in a text is hapax legomenon, which sounds like a character from an Asterix story, or a Scandinavian death metal band, and in this text appears only once.”
It’s only when I got to the end of The Grapes of Math and read the acknowledgements that I realised Alex’s father is David Bellos, of Fish In My Ear fame! I then read Alex’s Adventures in Numberland, which is in fact the previous book:
- “The word ‘grocer’ … is a relic of a retailer’s preference for 12 – it comes from ‘gross’, meaning a dozen dozen, or 144.”
- “The procedure the Treasury used was … a system of ‘double tallies’. A piece of wood was split down the middle, giving two parts – the stock and the foil. A value was marked – tallied – on the stock and was also marked on the foil, which acted like a receipt. If I lent some money to the Bank of England, I would be given a stock with a notch indicating the amount – which explains the origin of the words stockholder and stockbroker – while the bank kept the foil, which had a matching notch.”
Medieval tally sticks (Source Flickr)
- “Imagine, as was common practice [in Pythagoras’ time], counting with pebbles. (Latin for pebble is calculus, which explains the origin of the word ‘calculate’.)”
- “Greek mathematics was almost entirely geometry – derived from their words for ‘earth’ and ‘measurement’”
- Ever heard of ‘piems’ ? They are poems that represent π (pi) in a way such that the length of each word (in letters) represents a digit (a 0 requires a ten-letter word). Based on the same principle, whole stories have been written in the pilish style. Quite a constraint!
A mnemonic for remembering the first 7 decimal digits of pi
- gEOLOgIZE, ILLEgIBLE and EISEgESIS are the only three nine-letter words that can be made with an electronic calculator (using the letters O, I, Z, E, h, S, g, L and B, which are the LED digits 0 to 9 when turned upside-down).
- Infinity symbol: did you know the endless loop ∞ is called a lemniscate? The word comes from the Latin lēmniscātus meaning “decorated with ribbons”.
- “Ambigram: a word (or set of words) written in such a way as to conceal other words, often the same word (or set of words) written upside-down.”
Animated ambigram of the word “ambigram”.
* in chronological order, but without page numbers as I read digital versions of both books.
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As many of us – myself included – have been taking some (well-earned) holiday at some point over the past two months, here’s your round-up of popular articles about language and translation during July AND August.
Ever been ‘fired’ by an agency?
What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus!
Are any of your pet hates on this list?
- If you’ve not been on holiday yet and are still looking for something to read, here’s a list of translated fiction. (One of my summer reads was The Vegetarian).
What were your holiday reads?
P.S. I also have a new podcast out – this time about how much of a walking cliché I am …
Unsurprisingly the run-up to and aftermath of the British referendum had a tendency to dominate news stories this month, including articles about translation and language.
When a US newspaper uses a front page full of Britishisms…
‘Time immemorial’ is now used to mean “time beyond memory” or “time out of mind”, but it began life as a legal term in mediaeval England referring to anything that happened before the coronation of Richard I, on 6 July 1189.
Although I don’t teach English I recently recorded a short podcast for language learners, and chose as my subject what it’s like to be a translator in Reunion Island. You can listen to and/or watch the podcast (and 101 others!) for free at Anglais.re’s website.
My podcast about translation is entitled ‘The Invisible Woman’.