Sunday, October 30, 2011

Loud and Bold

This is an off-topic post for lovers of poetry. Today, 31 October, is the birthday of English Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821). The post also concerns an English translator, George Chapman (1559-1634), and his translation of Homer.
“Chapman's Iliad and Odyssey are great English epic poems, but they are also two of the liveliest and readable translations of Homer. Chapman's freshness makes the everyday world of nature and the craftsman as vivid as the battlefield and Mount Olympus. His poetry is driven by the excitement of the Renaissance discovery of classical civilisation as at once vital and distant, and is enriched by the perspectives of humanist thought.”
Chapman might not have been a great Greek scholar, but he had one major advantage at the outset: Elizabethan English, the same that contributed to the overwhelming success of the KJV. It was this as much as “the Renaissance discovery of classical civilisation” that enabled him to “speak out loud and bold.”

What follows is, I think, the finest literary tribute in English to a translator. The story goes that
“Chapman's vigorous and earthy paraphrase was put before Keats by Charles Cowden Clarke, a friend from his days as a pupil at a boarding school, in 1816. They sat up together till daylight to read it: ‘Keats shouting with delight as some passage of especial energy struck his imagination.’ At ten o'clock the next morning, Mr. Clarke found the sonnet on his breakfast-table.”
Here it is.
On Looking into Chapman's Homer

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breath its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with his eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific – and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise –
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

And Chapman? Here's a brief sample:

…and Phœbus heard him pray
And, vext at heart, downe from the tops of steepe heaven stoopt: his bow,
And quiver coverd round, his hands did on his shoulders throw,
And of the angrie deitie the arrowes as he mov’d
Ratl’d about him. Like the night he rang’d the host and rov’d
(Athwart the fleete set) terribly; with his hard-loosing hand
His silver bow twang’d, and his shafts did first the Mules command,
And swift hounds; then the Greekes themselves his deadly arrows shot.
The fires of death went never out. . . .

On First Looking into Chapman's Homer. Wikipedia.

Homer. Seaven Bookes of the Iliades of Homere, Prince of Poets. Translated according to the Greeke, in judgement of his best Commentaries by George Chapman, Gent[leman]. London: John Windet, 1598. 135 pp., 4º. This isn’t the complete Chapman translation, which didn’t appear until about 1610, but it’s the earliest edition. The copy in the British Library in London bears the autograph of another famous Elizabethan, Ben Jonson, an indication of the attention its publication aroused.

Chapman’s Homer: The Iliad and the Odyssey. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions. 2000. Available through Amazon from $5.

John Keats, by William Hilton (died 1839). National Portrait Gallery, London.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My First Time as Telephone Interpreter

I’ve long been qualified as an Expert Conference Interpreter; and after a year of medical and social services interpreting for a man suffering from dementia and for his wife, I might perhaps qualify as an Expert Community Interpreter. The latter has been volunteer, non-professional work; there are other British residents in Spain who do it out of sympathy for their aged or obtuse compatriots who don't learn the language of the country. I’ve also done a little remote interpreting for TV. But until last week, I’d never done telephone interpreting (TI), although it’s now probably the most rapidly expanding mode of professional interpreting. Just look at the ads for it on the internet.

TI was pioneered by the Department of Immigration in Australia 40 years ago – yes, around 1972 – fostered by the explosion of immigrant languages and by the need to cover long distances on that continent. It reached North America, and at the same time a commercial market, a decade later in the form of AT&T’s Language Line, which is still going strong, and from there to Europe and beyond. Its pros and cons are well known in professional circles.

- Logistics. It’s no longer necessary to transport the interpreters to where the speakers are. Indeed, with three-way phones it’s not even necessary for the participants in the conversation to be in the same place as one another. If the purpose is in any case to translate a telephone conversation, then the interpreter just plugs in.
- Economy. There are consequently substantial savings in both cost and time.
- Pay as you go. The logistics make it unnecessary to book an interpreter for an hourly or daily period.
- Equipment. It needs minimal equipment, and of a kind that all the telephone companies can supply. It should, however, be of good quality.
- Logistics again. It makes it possible to provide interpreting in remote places or in unusual languages for which it couldn’t be supplied otherwise.
- Almost instant availability around the clock if it’s well organized, and therefore very useful for hospitals, the police, airports, etc., instead of calling out an interpreter in the middle of the night.
- For the interpreters, they can accept work from almost anywhere in the world.

- It’s subject to the quality and vagaries of the telephone equipment and network, especially when using mobile phones.
- The interpreter can’t see the body language of the other participants.
- The interpreter can’t use body language either, for instance to halt the flow of speech by raising a hand.
- The interpreter can’t see any visual displays accompanying what is being said.
- Likewise the interpreter can’t see any documents that are being referred to, nor do any sight translation from them.

Most of the CONS will be overcome or mitigated in time as Skype type visual hookups improve in quality and reliability.

Anyway, don’t take it all from me. See for example the practical advice in the InSync document listed below.

My own initiation came last week when the Cullera dementia tragedy come to crisis point again and I couldn’t get down there physically from 30 km away in Valencia. For the background to this story, enter cullera in the Search box on the right. This time the interpreting wasn’t medical, but for a home visit by a social services caseworker in Cullera to the wife of the sick man. At the suggestion of the caseworker, we decided to try a mobile phone setup. Very primitive: no three-way telephony, just a single mobile phone passed from one participant to another and me on the house phone at home. Somewhat to my surprise, it worked.

The CON that caused me real trouble was the last in the list above: inability to share documents. There were some very important ones in Spanish that the caseworker had to get the wife, who speaks not a word of Spanish, to sign. He was anxious that she understand what she was signing for, and so was I. (In the event, on one crucial point she didn’t agree.) To interpret them verbatim in consecutive would have taken too long, and even then we doubted she would understand the administrative jargon. So we improvised the following procedure:
1. The caseworker gave a brief explanation in Spanish of what each document was about, and this I translated to the wife.
2. To make sure, I had the wife tell me what she had understood.
3. I translated the wife’s version to the caseworker for verification – a form of back translation – and when necessary we went through a similar correction cycle.
I repeat, it worked. At minimal cost and to the satisfaction of all concerned. What’s more, we’ve done it again since then.

However, I did have one important advantage that needs emphasising: I was already very familiar with the case. What lay people don’t realize is that, as one veteran interpreter put it, “Half the success in interpretation comes from knowing their languages, but the other half comes from knowing what they’re talking about.”

Remote or distance interpreting means the interpreter is situated at a distance, sometimes a great distance, from the speakers and they communicate with one another electronically in real time. Telephone interpreting is one form of it, and training is now offered.

Back translation: translating a translation back into the original language.

Utilizing Telephone Interpreters. Sandy, UT: InSync Interpreters.

New! Videoconference and Remote Interpreting in Criminal Proceedings. An AVIDICUS e-book. Edited by Sabine Braun and Judith L. Taylor. Guildford: University of Surrey, 2011. 270 pp.

Image: “Dr. Danielle Ofri relies on telephone interpreters daily.” –

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Academic Non-Event of the Year

Week in and week out, a very useful service provided by Denise Nevo of the Canadian Association of Translation Studies brings me an average of three notices of conferences and seminars about translation somewhere in the world. Multiply by 52 and that’s a lot of meetings each year. Most of them don’t interest me much because they’re not related to the topics of this blog, but I dutifully glance through them all. By this time, almost all the notices for 2011 should have arrived, because it takes time to organise a conference and we’re fast approaching 2012. No doubt Denise has missed a few – she depends on people feeding her the information – but I can get a pretty good idea by now of what’s been going on this year in the translation studies corner of academia.

To my growing consternation, there’s been no announcement, in what I call ‘mainline’ translation studies, of any conference to mark one of the most important events of 2011, namely the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible (KJV). And this in a field whose contemporary gurus lay heavy emphasis on the cultural aspects and influences of translation. As I’ve insisted a number of times, religious translations have had more influence on human cultures than literary ones and the influence continues. So I was getting pretty despondent until my ever-supportive friend Ann Corsellis sent me a summary of the King James Bible Symposium held at Gresham College, in London, on September 26. An appropriate venue, since Gresham College itself is over 400 years old and situated very close to where the KJV was revised and put together at Stationers’ Hall in 1611. The Company of Sationers was the mediaeval guild, originally of manuscript booksellers, that craftesmen and tradesmen in the nascent printing industry joined.
“It has to be said that the King James Bible when it appeared in 1611 was far from perfect. Demand was so strong that printers worked in teams to produce folios that were then bound together, sometimes even in the wrong order. There were also some notorious misprints, of which the most celebrated appears in the Wicked Bible, where the word not is omitted from the Seventh Commandment, thereby making adultery compulsory. The other error which cheers up members of the Stationers’ Company (who were heavily involved in the original production) comes in Psalm 119, which reads “Printers have persecuted me without a cause”, which should of course read princes.
Thank you Gresham College. However, one symposium in a whole year isn’t much. Am I exaggerating? In fact there have been many scattered lectures and exhibitions, but no major conference.

It must be said, though, that the occasion has been better served by publishers. Well in advance, back in November 2009, I posted a review of Adam Nicolson’s book Power and Glory, which was another much appreciated present from Ann Corsellis. In another post, I concluded that
“the KJV was the work of Expert Translators, whose initiation as Native Translators had begun as soon as they went to school and whose subsequent training was long and of the highest quality.”
With one or two exceptions, they were all clergymen or philologists, not professional translators. To read these posts, enter kjv in the Search box on the right.

Probably the most popular of the celebratory books has been Begat, by well-known linguist David Crystal, in which he traces the KJV origin of hundreds of expressions that have made their way into common English: land of the living, wolf in sheep's clothing, Am I my brother’s keeper?, letter of the law, the writing on the wall, etc. – 257 of them.

Which brings us to the popular press. There the level of interest has been in surprising contrast. Dozens of short articles and reports, generally of good quality, repetitive but each reaching out to a different audience somewhere in the world. The latest I’ve seen was in the Huffington Post of October 10:
“There has been a great deal of activity thus far in 2011 commemorating the occasion, including at least six books and 12 columns or blogs in the Huffington Post. This commentary is one more, aimed at exploring what it was about the King James Bible to account for its enduring influence.”
Seems to me the academics have missed an opportunity for yet another international conference.

Tim Connell, et al. The Language of the King James Bible: A symposium to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. Gresham College at Mercer’s Hall, 26 September 26, 2011.

Gresham College, founded 1597. Gresham College is London’s oldest institution of higher education and has provided free public lectures within the City of London for over 400 years. There’s a fascinating ongoing collection of transcripts and videos on its website.

Adam Nicolson. Power and Glory: Jacobean England and the Making of the King James Bible. London, 2003. 281 p.; many colour illustrations. Available in paperback.

The Holy Bible Conteyning the Old Testament and the New: Newly translated out of the Originall Tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and reuised by His Majesties speciall Commandement /Appointed to be read in Churches. London, 1611. The full text is on several internet sites.

John Bois (1561-1644). Translating for King James: being a true copy of the only notes made by a translator of King James's Bible, the Authorized version, as the Final Committee of Review revised the translation of Romans through Revelation at Stationers' Hall in London in 1610-1611 / Taken by John Bois ... these notes were for three centuries lost, and only now are come to light, through a copy made by the hand of William Fulman. Translated and edited by Ward Allen. Vanderbilt University Press, 1969. With facsimile reproductions.

The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers.

David Crystal. Begat: The King James Bible and the English Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Roy M. Pitkin. The King James Bible: 400 and going strong. Huffington Post, October 10, 2011.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

El Nou d’Octubre and More Unrecognized Translators

The years slip by. Once again it’s the Ninth of October, the National Festival of Valencians, anniversary of the bloodless capitulation by the last Muslim ruler of Valencia to King James I of Aragon – Christian of course – in 1238. A much restored mediaeval stone cross at the end of the main street of the village where I live marks roughly where his rearguard halted while he entered the city.

Last year on this blog at this date, I told about the Jewish translators who assisted James and his henchmen in the 1238 negotiations and subsequent administration: to find the post, enter octubre in the Search box on the right. This year, something more contemporary.

Valencia today is a major Mediterranean port and tourist attraction. From the terrace of our flat we have spied all summer two or three large cruise ships a week tying up in the port for 24 hours at a time. Some of them are so enormous above the waterline, like floating blocks of flats, it’s a wonder they don’t capsize (see photo). Each carries literally thousands of passengers. It disgorges them into the city for fast sightseeing and shopping, and I doubt most of them even taste an authentic paella. But few of these lightning visitors speak Spanish, and knowledge of English – let alone Italian, German, etc. – is very limited in Valencia. So they need interpreters. Only they’re not called interpreters. They’re called guides or hostesses. We’re back again to unrecognized translators, not counted in the statistics of the translation industry. I’m reminded of my own early days as a travel agency courier in Spain under the Franco regime. That's how I first came to Valencia in 1953, before the Great Flood (La Riada) of 1957 led to major changes in the city's landscape. It was a period that now seems almost as remote to young Valencians as that of James I of Aragon.

Image: Cruise ship, probably Italian, as seen from our terrace.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Romanian: More Unrecognized Translation

In a post way back in March 2010, I remarked that “a tremendous amount of translating and interpreting goes on unrecognized because it’s given another name or it constitutes just one part, whether explicit or implicit, of another job or function.” (To find the post, enter unrecognized in the Search box on the right.) I was reminded of it by the very end of the post previous to this one. Although mainly about interpreting between Japanese and English for the deaf, it finished:
“Interestingly, a hearing man in the meeting was taking notes so he was asked for a copy of his notes for clarification. He replied it would be of no benefit, because he had written the notes in his native language, Romanian.”
Clearly it involved translating, and it satisfied the requirement for translatology that there be an observable source input and an observable output. However, there are no readers of this kind of translation other than the translator, and so it goes unrecognized. Judging from my own experience taking notes of lectures and at meetings, it must in fact be quite commonplace. But I can see no way of telling precisely how much of it there is. And what to call it? I thought of closed-loop translating but there should be something better. Suggestions welcome.

One activity that produces considerable quantities of it is consecutive interpreting. Consecutive interpreters use notes as a memory aid, and they have a choice between taking their notes in the speaker’s language or in the target language, as well as in non-language symbols. Student interpreters often ask which is better. My inclination is to reply, “In whichever language you find easier,” because, as an experienced teacher, Wilhelm Weber, wrote:“It does not matter in which language the notes are taken, since notes are only symbols that contain a message.” In other words, the notes are not in the language form in which the interpreters deliver the message to their audience but only an intermediate stage. In the note-taking there is not only translating, there is adaptation in the form of compression. The translating may take place either before or after the note-taking, in the phase of compression or of decompression. Indeed the notes may well be a mixture of translated and untranslated elements, something that is not allowed by the current norm of Expert Translation. The closed-loop translators, translating only for themselves, have more latitude.

Consecutive interpretation notes are by no means the only product of translation combined with adaptation by compression. (The ability to condense and summarise information is another marvel of human information processing with its own questions about how people learn to do it, but that’s another story.) Everyone knows there are translators and interpreters at the United Nations in New York and Geneva, but few people are aware that there’s also a career of Summary and Précis Writer.
“At the United Nations, a summary refers to a condensed version of a written text; a précis refers to a condensed version of a spoken text. Generally, summaries and précis are about one-third the length of the original text. The writer must therefore be able to identify the major ideas in a text and then rephrase them in his/her own words.”
In 2009, for instance, a UN competitive examination was held specifically for Spanish-language Translators/Précis Writers. Applicants were required to
“Have a perfect command of Spanish and an excellent knowledge of English and one of the other official languages of the United Nations (Arabic, Chinese, French or Russian)….
Hold at least a three-year first-level degree or an equivalent qualification from a university or institution of equivalent status in which Spanish is the language of instruction or hold a university degree from a recognized school of translation.”
It’s definitely work at the Expert level. It’s not unrecognized, but it’s little known.

Andrew Owen. Not Hearers Only: A Practical Ministry for Deaf People in the Local Church. London UK and Oberlin OH: Wakeman, 2007. 135 pages, paperback. UK £9.95.

Wilhelm K. Weber. Training Translators and Conference Interpreters. Orlando: Harcourt for Center for Applied Linguistics and ERIC Clearinghouse on Language and Linguistics, 1984. 70 p.

Summary and précis writing. Course Code: E4W5/1. United Nations Language and Communications Programme, OHRM.

United Nations / Nations Unies. Notice: 2009 competitive examination for Spanish-language translators/précis writers.