Sunday, 21 August 2016

Poem about translation 26: Paul Muldoon on the erotics of retranslation

I've been thinking a lot about retranslation recently - indeed, earlier this year I did a first draft of a Wikipedia entry on the topic. And as it happens, I have just come across a poem on precisely the topic of retranslation. This seemed too serendipitous not to blog about, as part of my occasional series on (more or less) translation-themed verse.

The poem is by Paul Muldoon and is entitled 'Whim'. It can be found in Muldoon's New Selected Poems 1968-1994. A chat-up line based on the obsolence of a nineteenth-century translation leads to an unfortunate al fresco incident in Belfast's Botanic Gardens:

Monday, 8 August 2016

Subtitling 'Du' and 'Sie'

I was just watching Michael Verhoeven's 1990 film Das schreckliche Mädchen [The Nasty Girl] and I was struck by this exchange between the protagonist Sonja and her crush Martin, a trainee teacher.
MARTIN: Wenn ich mein Staatsexamen hab' komm'ich zurück zu dir...vielmehr - zu Ihnen. [Pause.] Wollen wir nicht Du sagen zueinander?
SONJA: Doch, schon.
MARTIN: Ich heiß' Martin.
SONJA: Weiß schon...
Translating the shift from formal to informal address, which is standard in many languages but somehow not in English, is always tricky. (And not just in subtitling either. For a great discussion about this, sparked by an ingenious solution of Ros Schwartz's, see this languagehat post.)

A rough translation of Martin's remark would be something like: When I pass my state teaching exam, I'll come back to you [informal]...or rather [correcting himself] - to you [formal]. [Pause.] Can't we address each other as you [informal]?.

Multimodal elements of this scene will have to be taken into account. Kinetics, mise en scène, sound and rhythm may reinforce, undercut or otherwise inflect what's happening with the dialogue. A distinct change of mood occurs when Martin sees Sonja's secret framed photograph of him. He takes off his glasses. The scene opens with him standing while she sits. When he catches sight of the picture he crouches down to see better. She stands up so that she is momentarily taller than him; he stands and is again taller than her. His face is surprised, then serious; hers is quizzical. There's a short pause before he corrects Du to Sie and then a longer pause before he suggests that they call each other Du. All these things contribute to how the scene signifies, and may act as a guide (consciously or intuitively) to the subtitler.

Obviously, English uses the same word for both Du and Sie, so if transposed directly Martin's self-correction would make no sense, and there is no corresponding English expression for the question abut using Du.

The subtitler of this clip on the Miramax Youtube channel solves the problem as follows:

The subtitler changes the emphasis of Martin's line. Instead of correcting himself, he starts by saying that he will come back (implied, to the school), and then corrects himself that he will come back to her, specifically. You can see the whole clip here (it's at 2 mins 24 secs):

My 1992 VCI videocassette edition has, presumably, a different (unnamed) subtitler, and a different solution. The subtitler in fact has done the opposite of what the Miramax subtitler did:

This solution actually fits more closely with the dynamic of this scene, since he moves from a more intimate register (back to you) to a more 'formal' register in that 'to all of you' re-situates her as just a girl in his class. The long pause gives him time to gather his courage to request that they start using Du (and, by implication, that they begin a romantic relationship). The rather awkwardly formal 'Shall we be on Christian-name terms' is not out of keeping with the film's register.

So, a nice example of how opposite approaches by two translators can both work, in the moment.

More on translating formal and informal address, in a future post. Meanwhile if anybody has a copy of this film to hand, in any language, with a different subtitling solution, I'd love to hear about it.

UPDATE 20 August 2016: I rewrote and extended this post because on re-viewing the clips I realised I'd missed a couple of important things. (That will teach me to blog late at night.)

UPDATE 24 August 2016: The wonderful 20th-Century Flicks in Bristol turns out to have yet another subtitled version of the film, distributed by Arrow on Region 2 DVD (dated 2005). It has quite a different take on this scene again. The subtitles are by Lotti Mardell and Peter Templeton for SBS Australia, dated 2002:

This solution works very well to get across the levels of formality, though there's a lack of correspondence between the audio, where the proper names are not heard, and the subtitles. The trade-off seems worth it in this instance.

Any more versions out there...? Any information that might help me identify the subtitlers of the first two versions?

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Poem about translation (if you squint): The capybara as unit of measure

I should say in advance that this post has nothing at all to do with the Rio Olympics, but today a Facebook friend linked to a picture of the baby capybaras recently born at Berlin zoo and I was irresistibly reminded of a well-loved poem, Sandra Beasley's 'Unit of Measure:
All can be measured by the standard of the capybara.
Everyone is lesser than or greater than the capybara.
Everything is taller or shorter than the capybara.
Everything is mistaken for a Brazilian dance craze
more or less frequently than the capybara. [...]
You can read the whole, wonderful poem, and listen to Beasley reading it, at the Poetry Foundation website. It's not really a poem about translation, but it does mention translation at one point, so I figure it just squeaks in on that basis. Let's call it no. 25a in the series.

Speaking of squeaking:

 For more auditory descriptions of the capybara, in the immortal prose of Gerald Durrell, see here.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Save the date: Professor Mona Baker, Professor Anne Coldiron guest lectures at Bristol

We are delighted to announce two visits to Bristol by distinguished and internationally known translation scholars this autumn.

Professor Anne E.B. Coldiron is Professor of English, affiliated faculty in French, and Director of the History of Text Technologies Program at Florida State University, USA. In 2014-15 Professor Coldiron was Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Year-Long Colloquium on Renaissance/Early Modern Translation. Her Printers without Borders: Translation and Textuality in the Renaissance (Cambridge UP, 2015) follows a book on gender and early modern poetic translation (English Printing, Verse Translation, & the Battle of the Sexes, 1476-1557, Ashgate, 2009) and revises some of the transnational challenges in her Canon, Period, and the Poetry of Charles of Orleans: Found in Translation (2000). Her articles on Shakespeare, Spenser, Sidney, Donne, Milton, Chaucer, as well as Villon, Du Bellay, and Verlaine, appear in, for example, Renaissance Studies, Comparative Literature, Yale Journal of Criticism, JEGP, Criticism, and Translation Studies. She is currently editing a collection of Christine de Pizan in English, 1478-1549 for the MHRA.

Professor Coldiron will speak at Bristol on Thursday 27 October 2016. Title, time and venue TBC.


Mona Baker is Emeritus Professor of Translation Studies at the Centre for Translation and Intercultural Studies, University of Manchester, UK, and Principal Investigator on the AHRC-funded project Genealogies of Knowledge: The Evolution and Contestation of Concepts across Time and Space. She is author of In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation (Routledge, 1992; second edition 2011) and Translation and Conflict: A Narrative Account (Routledge, 2006), Editor of Translating Dissent: Voices from and with the Egyptian Revolution (Routledge, 2016), the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies (1998, 2001; 2nd edition, co-edited with Gabriela Saldanha, 2009); Critical Concepts: Translation Studies (4 volumes, Routledge, 2009); and Critical Readings in Translation Studies (Routledge, 2010). Her articles have appeared in a wide range of international journals, including Social Movement Studies, Critical Studies on Terrorism, The Translator and Target. She is founding Editor of The Translator (St. Jerome Publishing, 1995-2013), former Editorial Director of St. Jerome Publishing (1995-2013), and founding Vice-President of IATIS, the International Association for Translation & Intercultural Studies (2004-2015).

Professor Baker will speak at Bristol on Thursday 10 November 2016. Title, time and venue TBC. 
Titles of both lectures will be confirmed later in the summer. I hope many readers of the blog may be able to attend, so do save the date!

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Michael Henry Heim Collegial Translation Prize: deadline 1 September 2016

This looks like a very interesting initiative. The Michael Henry Heim Prize is offered for the best translation of a journal article by a scholar from a relevant discipline, from an Eastern European language into English. The prize is worth $500 and publication of the translation in the journal East European Politics and Societies. The deadline is 1 September 2016.

The prize came into being because in the Guidelines for the Translation of Social Science Texts, which he compiled with Andrzej Tymowski, Heim
encouraged scholars to translate their colleagues' work to make it more widely available. Although Heim was a renowned literary translator, he was convinced that the best translator of a scholarly text is a colleague in a relevant discipline who has acquired facility in translation, rather than a professional translator who is linguistically skilled but unfamiliar with the discipline's concepts, contexts, and controversies.
The Heim Prize flyer can be downloaded here.

The Guidelines for the Translation of Social Science Texts, as well as translations of it into Arabic, Chinese, French, Japanese, Russian, Spanish and Vietnamese, can be found at

For more writing on translation by Michael Henry Heim see this 2012 interviewthis article in the Yearbook of General and Comparative Literature (paywalled) and the MLA's very useful peer review guidelines on 'Evaluating Translations as Scholarship'.

For more on the problematic status of translation in the academy see this article in the US Chronicle of Higher Education (another version downloadable as a pdf here).

Monday, 25 July 2016

ESRC Global Challenges Research Fund Postdoctoral Fellowships *for PhD graduates of Bristol/Bath/Exeter*

This looks like an interesting opportunity for PhD graduates of Bath, Bristol or Exeter universities. 

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is pleased to announce a call for Postdoctoral Fellowships as part of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

The Global Challenges Research Fund is a £1.5 billion funding stream to support cutting-edge research which addresses the problems faced by developing countries. GCRF forms part of the UK's Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment, and will be awarded according to official ODA guidelines. GCRF will address global challenges through disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, strengthen capability for research and innovation within both UK and developing countries, and will provide an agile response to emergencies where there is an urgent research need. Capacity development is an important aspect of GCRF and this fellowships scheme aims to directly address this.

Proposals should be submitted to the relevant DTC by 16.00 on 9 September 2016. 

N.B. Applicants must have graduated with a PhD from one of the research organisations (ROs) which make up the SWDTC (the Universities of Bath, Bristol and Exeter).

More details at