Friday, 31 January 2014

Translationstudiesforfree: Ten historical texts about translation

More free goodies for translation studies researchers. This time, it's interesting texts from the history of translation theory. Some of these are downloadable as pdf files, others readable online. (I haven't quite worked out the Google Library setup yet, but it should work OK.)
  1. Etienne Dolet's La manière de bien traduire d'une langue en aultre (1540)
  2. Earl of Roscommon, An Essay on Translated Verse (1684
  3. Charles Batteux's Principles of Translation (1760)
  4. Alexander Fraser Tytler's Essay on the Principles of Translation (1797)
  5. Francis Newman, Homeric Translation in Theory and Practice (1861)
  6. Matthew Arnold's On Translating Homer: Three Lectures Given at Oxford (1860). The links are to Google Library; versions of Arnold's and Newman's texts can also be downloaded here
  7. Thomas Norton's preface to his translation of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion.
  8. A 1905 edition of Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, one of the best known translations in English literature
  9. Castelvetro's Lettera di Lodovico Castelvetro scritta a m. Guasparro Calori a Roma del traslatare at the Galileo digital library (not the most intuitive layout ever)
  10. Jean le Rond d’Alembert's Observations sur l'art de traduire (1763). This is part of Julie Candler Hayes' impressive text bank entitled 'French Translators: 1600-1800: An Online Anthology of Prefaces and Criticism' which includes works by Guillaume de Colletet, Nicolas Perrot d'Ablancourt, Anne Dacier, the Abbé Desfontaines and many others. 
Flora Ross Amos's 1920 book Early Theories of Translation is available to download from

Readers working on translation history may also be interested in the Renaissance Cultural Crossroads Catalogue (a searchable, analytical and annotated list of all translations out of and into all languages printed in England, Scotland, and Ireland before 1641; also includes all translations out of all languages into English printed abroad before 1641.)  

Monday, 27 January 2014

Visual pleasure and vintage subtitles

A snippetlet for those of my readers who enjoy film translations of yore. This clip is from an Italian release of the 1947 musical extravaganza Variety Girl, directed by George Marshall and starring just about everybody who was anybody:

In this sequence Pearl Bailey, in her first film role, part-speaks, part-sings the song 'Tired':

Italy is so well known as a dubbing territory - indeed, almost *the* dubbing territory par excellence - that nobody talks much about the role of subtitling, particularly in the first decades of sound. I did not know that Italian distributors of the 1940s ever subtitled songs, but shall be keeping an eye out from now on.

And look at the font! The size of it! The lovely clean lines of it! As the kind poster of the clip, EmeliusBisestile, observes wistfully, and as I have mentioned before, fonts from the 30s and 40s offer a kind of viewing pleasure which is lacking in resubtitled versions with more functional, modern fonts, for all their legibility and fancy dropshadows, etc.

And yet - I feel that such fonts are wonderfully charming, but I am uncomfortably aware that I cannot say what and wherefore. Are there any font nerds sorry, typeface experts out there who could do a font identification on these subtitles for me? I can just about identify it as sans-serif, but I would love to know more - what it's called, where else it was used, how it evokes that sense of period...? If print texts are multimodal in their use of typeface, and therefore typeface itself is an element of the translation of printed texts (see here for some more thoughts on this) then what's the role of the subtitle typeface, superimposed on the image, as an element of translation? What kind of meaning-making potential does it have (apart from inspiring hopeless nostalgia in geeks like me)? Comments welcome.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

The many languages of Disney

I'm writing a piece at the moment on language policy and audiovisual translation, so I was interested to see this video doing the rounds on social media, featuring a twenty-five-language version of the song 'Let It Go' from the film Frozen:

It is a nice idea, even if it feels a little plastic (e.g. in the uncanny voice matching; or has this just been very carefully remixed for marketing purposes?). (And don't get me started on the costume/gender side of things - spontaneously slashing the dress halfway up the thigh as an empowering gesture? Really? Sigh.)

For the curious who lack the three and a half minutes necessary to watch the clip, the languages involved are: English, French from France, German, Dutch, Mandarin, Swedish, Japanese, Latin American Spanish (interestingly), Polish, Hungarian, Castilian Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Korean, Serbian, Cantonese, Portuguese, Bahasa Malaysia, Russian, Danish, Bulgarian, Norwegian, Thai, Canadian French and Flemish.

I find myself wondering is this really all the languages into which the film has been dubbed, or just a useful round number which fitted into the running time of the song? Will this film be released only with subtitles in Greek, Czech, Slovenian, etc.? (I guess very possibly, because some of these are traditionally subtitling territories; readers please feel free to confirm or deny). Or will it skip some of these territories entirely? In what languages, if any, will this film play in India? In Africa? What form(s) of translation might it have into Arabic? Enquiring minds want to know.

UPDATE 1 June 2014: There's been a lot more discussion of this online since I posted this, which answers some of the questions above. Jayne Fox kindly posted a link in the comments to this article confirming that the film had been localised in 41 languages.

There's an excellent post by Elias Muhanna on the New Yorker blog this week about the treatment of the film in Arabic - it turns out that there is only one dub and it's into Modern Standard Arabic rather than the more usual Egyptian Arabic. Muhanna gives some nice back-translations into English of what the characters can actually be considered to be singing. The comments are worth reading too.

Muhanna also links to a Youtube fan video which offers snatches of the film in English, Brazilian Portuguese, Bulgarian, Canadian French, Cantonese, Castilian Spanish, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, Flemish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latin American Spanish, Lithuanian, Malay, Mandarin, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovene, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese.

I make that 39 languages. Modern Standard Arabic is not included, and apparently there's a Filipino cover of 'Frozen' as well which may mean the film was localised there too. The question of India and the rest of Africa still seems to be an open one.

UPDATE 29 August 2016: The article on audiovisual subtitling research and policy that I was writing when I originally posted this is now out and can be found in the journal Target (paywalled, alas) at

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Translators on translation

I'd love to see more pieces by translators about getting into the nitty-gritty of texts. Sometimes we ask our students to analyse translations against the translators' own discourse (from prefaces, interviews, notes etc.). It can be tricky to find these at short notice, except perhaps in the case of older translation prefaces which can sometimes be tracked down via repositories like Project Gutenberg.

So here are some suggestions for finding translators talking about their work.

The Centre for Translation Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas has collected interviews with a number of eminent translators, many from Spanish.

Words Without Borders has a series of posts 'From the Translator'

There is a growing collection of pieces by translators on the authors they have translated at

The Necessary Fiction blog has collected a number of Translators' Notes.

Peter Bush's 2003 essay on translating Juan Goytisolo remains a great point of reference and shows how enlightening it can be to look at successive drafts of the same passage.

Lydia Davis has been widely interviewed about her translations of Proust and of Flaubert. For instance, peeping out from behind the Paris Review paywall are the intriguing opening paragraphs of this essay.

We have previously mentioned William Weaver's wonderful piece on translating Gadda.

And Daniel Hahn is nearing the end of a diary about his translation of a novel by Saavedra (it might be worth saving these pages as you go, because I don't know how long they will be available; a previous blog on translating Agualusa was later collected and published and is no longer on the web).

UPDATE 14 November 2014: There's a new blog on the block called brouillon, which collects translators' reflections on specific knotty words and phrases. There are just a few posts at time of writing but it looks very promising! 

Friday, 17 January 2014

Intellectual Property Rights in translation: a research project

Please note that this post was removed at the request of the colleagues running the research project, as they had received sufficient responses.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

#translationquery: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Well what do you know, more random thoughts about form in translation...

This spring I read David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - absorbing, absolutely unputdownable book by a preposterously gifted writer - and as I laid into chapter 39, I found this:

Gulls wheel through spokes of sunlight over gracious roofs and dowdy thatch, snatching entrails at the marketplace and escaping over cloistered gardens, spike topped walls and treble-bolted doors. Gulls alight on whitewashed gables, creaking pagodas and dung-ripe stables; circle over towers and cavernous bells and over hidden squares where urns of urine sit by covered wells, watched by mule-drivers, mules and wolf-snouted dogs, ignored by hunchbacked makers of clogs; gather speed up the stoned-in Nakashima River and fly beneath the arches of its bridges, glimpsed from kitchen doors, watched by farmers walking high, stony ridges. Gulls fly through clouds of steam from laundries' vats; over kites unthreading corpses of cats; over scholars glimpsing truth in fragile patterns; over bath-house adulterers, heartbroken slatterns; fishwives dismembering lobsters and crabs; their husbands gutting mackerel on slabs; woodcutters' sons sharpening axes; candle-makers, rolling waxes; flint-eyed officials milking taxes; etiolated lacquerers; mottle-skinned dyers; imprecise soothsayers; unblinking liars; weavers of mats; cutters of rushes; ink-lipped calligraphers dipping brushes; booksellers ruined by unsold books; ladies-in-waiting; tasters; dressers; filching page-boys; runny-nosed cooks; sunless attic nooks where seamstresses prick calloused fingers; limping malingerers; swineherds; swindlers; lip-chewed debtors rich in excuses; heard-it-all creditors tightening nooses; prisoners haunted by happier lives and ageing rakes by other men's wives; skeletal tutors goaded to fits; firemen-turned-looters when occasion permits; tongue-tied witnesses; purchased judges; mothers-in-law nurturing briars and grudges; apothecaries grinding powders with mortars; palanquins carrying not-yet-wed daughters; silent nuns; nine-year-old whores; the once-were-beautiful gnawed by sores; statues of Jizo anointed with posies; syphilitics sneezing through rotted-off noses; potters; barbers; hawkers of oil; tanners; cutlers; carters of night-soil; gate-keepers; bee-keepers; blacksmiths and drapers; torturers; wet-nurses; perjurers; cut-purses; the newborn; the growing; the strong-willed and pliant; the ailing; the dying; the weak and defiant; over the roof of a painter withdrawn first from the world, then his family, and down into a masterpiece that has, in the end, withdrawn from its creator; and around again, where their flight began, over the balcony of the Room of the Last Chrysanthemum, where a puddle from last night's rain is evaporating; a puddle in which Magistrate Shiroyama observes the blurred reflections of gulls wheeling through spokes of sunlight. This world, he thinks, contains just one masterpiece, and that is itself

The rhyme sneaks in so sweetly that it was several lines before I realised what I was reading. And then it disappears again as seamlessly as it appeared. The use of rhyme in the passage doesn't seem structurally or thematically motivated, as far as I can see - it is not repeated elsewhere in the novel, it apparently just happens, because of reasons.

I am curious to know how the translators rendered this amazing passage.
If any well-disposed readers of this blog happen to have a copy to hand of the French translation by Manuel Berri (Éditions Alto, 2012)

or of the Italian translation by Maurizio Bartocci (Frassinelli, 2010) (not that I would know the translator's name from the publisher's website because it appears not to be listed, tsk)

or of the German translation by Volker Oldenburg (Rowohlt, 2012)

or of the Spanish translation by Víctor V. Úbeda (Duomo Ediciones, 2011) (not that I would know the translator's name from the publisher's website because, grrrrrrrrr, etc......)

please feel free to get in touch with a comment about it - or better yet, share it. Indeed, if you have access to any translation of this passage please do feel free to write in; although I would need a back-translation into English to make any sense at all of translations into other languages, I am still curious. 

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The letter or the spirit: V

I am an admirer of Alan Moore's fantastic graphic novel V for Vendetta. I hear poor things of the 2005 film, and I haven't wanted to see it, but I have come across the opening scene where Evey meets V, and the script calls for a positive volley of alliteration in 'v' (there is alliteration in the graphic novel but not at this point in the narrative):

The speech goes as follows:
Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition! The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it's my very good honour to meet you and you may call me V.
I recently picked up an American DVD of the film, which has subtitles in Spanish and French, to see what the subtitlers did with this passage, and on the literal front, they seem to have done pretty well. The Spanish subtitles from the US disc (not necessarily the same as the subtitles on the DVD in Spain, I'd imagine?) can be seen here:

(sorry, I couldn't find a version without advertisements, and I couldn't find the French-subtitled clip online at all.)

So far, so straightforward. These are languages which share a lot of cognate words with English. But what would happen when the subtitles have to be done into Greek, or Russian, or any language with a different alphabet, or writing system? How would one account for the V, especially since presumably one can distinguish some kind of aural pattern even if one doesn't understand English?

Dubbed versions of the scene will need to grapple with a similar problem, though they won't be as vulnerable to odious comparisons with the English. Here you can see a French dubbed version (for our purposes please ignore the dubtitles):

and here you can see a version dubbed into French in Canada:

I make the count of initial 'V's in this speech 49 in English. Out of combined curiosity and insomnia, I took a look to see how the subtitled and dubbed versions measured up. The Spanish subtitles have 35 'V's; the French subtitles have 47. If we look at the two French dubbed versions, the 'Frenssh of Parys' has 52 and the Canadian dub has an impressive 60 (61, if we count 'vice-versa' as two). (Both the transcriptions can be found here). The Italian dub, which I won't even link to because four versions of this clip is plenty to sit through, lags behind at a mere 44.

Exceeding the alliterative tally of the source text is not the only criterion by which the quality of the translations can be judged, of course, but there's a pleasure in seeing a translator outdo the original, as Umberto Eco argued long ago about his translation of Raymond Queneau's Exercices de style.

Another criterion will of course be how natural and effortless the translations sound, or should sound. Any opinions out there on the relative quality of the French-French and the French-Canadian dub? Any other subtitles of this clip to compare with? [Anyone? Bueller? Anyone?]

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

CFP: Translation as a Tool for Inclusion/Exclusion in a Multicultural Society (deadline 28 Feb 2014)

A very interesting-looking conference on an important topic: 
CALL FOR PAPERS: Translating Cultures:
Translation as a Tool for Inclusion/Exclusion in a Multicultural Society

University of Westminster, London, 20 June 2014

‘Public service translation’ (also known as ‘Community translation’) is emerging as an important, distinct subfield in Translation Studies. Its focus on the translation of texts produced by public services for the benefit of speakers of less-established languages makes it a particularly relevant research area in today’s globalizing world. In a multicultural society decisions about what is translated and how the translation is done have far-reaching implications for the inclusion and exclusion of certain communities and/or community members.

This one-day conference aims to bring together researchers focusing on:

• Language policy and public service translation
• Translation and inclusivity
• Socio-cultural diversity and translation
• Training public service translators

28.02.2014- Deadline for abstract submission
14.03.2014- Invitations sent out to selected presenters
06.06.2014- Deadline for full article submission
20.06.2014- Conference
Post-conference – a selection of papers will be published as a thematic journal issue

Submissions are accepted for:
• Presentations (30 minutes +Q&A)
• Posters

Abstracts and inquiries to be sent to Dr Daniel Tomozeiu (d.tomozeiu at with “TC 2014” mentioned in the e-mail title.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Polish-English translation event, Dublin, 1 Feb 2014: Antonia Lloyd-Jones in Conversation

Just seen on Facebook: this looks like a lovely event. I wish I was going to be in Dublin that day! 

Antonia Lloyd-Jones in Conversation
Dom Polski, 20 Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin 2.
Saturday February 1st 2014, 7 pm.

The Irish Translators' and Interpreters' Association, in co-operation with the Polish Embassy in Dublin and the Irish Polish Society, invite you to a public interview with Antonia Lloyd-Jones, one of the leading translators of Polish literature into English. Lloyd-Jones has translated many of Poland’s most important writers, including Olga Tokarczuk, Paweł Huelle, Jacek Dehnel, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, Zygmunt Miłoszewski, Tadeusz Dąbrowski, Wojciech Tochman, Mariusz Szczygieł, Wojciech Jagielski, Andrzej Szczeklik, and Janusz Korczak.

She was the recipient of Instytut Książki's 'Found in Translation’ award in 2008 for her translation of Paweł Huelle's The Last Supper, and in 2013 became the first translator to win the award twice, this time for the totality of her output in 2012, seven books in total. Her translations of Artur Domosławski’s Ryszard Kapuściński: A Life, Jacek Hugo-Bader’s Kołyma Diaries and Witold Szabłowski’s The Assassin from Apricot City received English PEN awards, and the last of these was included among World Literature Today’s most notable translations of 2013. She is a mentor for the British Centre for Literary Translation’s mentorship programme and occasionally leads translation workshops.

Admission free – wine reception – all welcome!

The ITIA are very grateful to the Polish Embassy and the Irish Polish Society for their co-operation with this event. For more information, please contact John Kearns: kearns at

[I notice that Antonia Lloyd-Jones has shared some excellent translation tips on the English PEN website which may be of interest to readers]

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Crowdfunding translations

I've been an admirer of crowdfunding, specifically Kickstarter, for the last couple of years. For readers who don't know Kickstarter, it's a US-based website where creators and entrepreneurs pitch ideas for projects, which readers then then decide whether or not to fund, in exchange for various kinds of material or immaterial rewards. It's been in the news in recent years for the large sums which some projects have raised and for the fact that very well-known figures like Spike Lee and Hal Hartley (twice) have funded projects on the site. There are other sites too like indiegogo and the Irish site fundit. (There seem to be intriguing differences in success rates - 75% on fundit, 43% on Kickstarter, reportedly 9.3% on indiegogo.)

I was originally a bit surprised by how few translation projects there were on Kickstarter, but that has changed. There are recent or current pitches for a translation of Christopher Okigbo's poetry into Spanish; the translation into English of a French graphic novel series by Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten, a games localisation project; a translation into English of the children's book Cuentos de la Selva by the Uruguayan writer Horacio Quiroga; the translation into Spanish of an Oxford University Press book about the Costa Rican cloud forest; and the translation into Vietnamese of a textbook on molecular biology, among others.

Words Without Borders have run no less than three successful funding campaigns on Kickstarter, one for a special issue translating Afghan writers in 2011, one to support a special issue on the Mexican drug war in 2012, and one to support Eduardo Halfón's The Polish Boxer later the same year.

Other crowdfunding platforms also had interesting translation projects like this translation by Artur Zapalowski of Foreign Bodies based on a script by the Polish playwright Julia Holewinska, produced at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin in summer 2013; a bilingual Irish and English adaptation of Collodi's Pinocchio staged at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin in 2012; and a 2013 translation workshop in Toronto to finalise and present a French version by Nadine Desrochers of Heather Hermant's performance piece ribcage: this wide passage about 18th-century cross-dresser Esther Brandeau/Jacques La Fargue, "said to be the first Jewish person to set foot in what is now known as Canada". 

This is encouraging and it would be good to see more of it. 

There are lots of posts out there recommending how to put together a pitch (e.g. this one for fundit). I'm just an onlooker, but as someone who has translated and (once or twice) been translated, and someone who participates in a minnow-like capacity in sites like Kickstarter, here are some things I really like to see in translation project pitches.

I like projects that:

1) Tell readers where the money is going. What funding has been raised so far, from where, and for what exactly; what elements of the project remain to be funded.

2) Show that they have a sense of how translation works, by securing someone(s) with a track record to carry out the translation, specifying the size of the project (how many thousand words are involved?), providing a brief translation sample, showing an awareness of the challenges posed by the text, giving convincing costings. This last one is difficult, admittedly, because a lot of people aren't necessarily aware of the cost of professional translation (i.e. the time and expertise of a qualified person translating 2000-3000 words a day). Pro bono translation seems very often to be part of the mix, and is arguably better than translation at a rate which undercuts professional translators.

3) Give a compelling rationale for why the translation needs to be done (especially important if it's a text that has been translated into that language already).

4) Have a plan for disseminating the translation as widely as possible, e.g. on the web (though I am also very sympathetic to live performances and to beautiful book-objects).

5) Edit, polish and proofread their pitch very, very carefully. Maybe it's because I'm a part-time academic editor, but I really notice sloppy presentation and it puts me off. Most translation projects have a publication element, and if the pitch isn't executed to a professional standard, it doesn't help to convince potential supporters that the translation will be.

STAIRCASE THOUGHT: 6) Have all the copyright stuff sorted. V. imp.

Good luck to anyone pitching translation projects to crowdfunders in 2014!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Theatre Translation Forum 2014, London

Just got a reminder about these continuing seminars and workshops on theatre translation which look very interesting:

The UCL Theatre Translation Forum returns in 2014 with five seminars and workshops exploring interdisciplinary themes in drama/theatre translation research and practice. Places limited: early registration recommended.

·         14 January: Workshop of Caroline Bird’s version of The Trojan Women led by Christopher Haydon.
·         28 January: Contemporary Drama seminar with Emma Cole on Sarah Kane’s Phaedra’s Love, Tom Wilks on Wilhelm Genazino, Marta Niccolai on Dario Fo, with David Johnston as guest speaker.
·         11 February: Workshop on Contemporary Drama in translation organized by the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill.
·         4 March: Modernism seminar with Enza De Francisci on Pirandello, Mairéad Hanrahan on Genet, Gareth Wood on Lorca, with Kate Eaton as guest speaker.
·         18 March: Workshop on Kate Eaton’s translations of Piñera led by Gráinne Byrne.

Further details and registration are available on the Theatre Translation Forum website:

The series is funded by the UCL Faculty of Arts & Humanities and run in partnership with the Gate Theatre, Notting Hill. Please contact the convenors, Geraldine Brodie, g.brodie at, and Emma Cole, e.cole.11 at, for additional information.