Sunday, 29 December 2013

Subtitles For People Who Really Like The Film

Wouldn’t it be nice if...more DVDs came with a choice of subtitles?

You may say – but look! DVDs usually already come with a choice of subtitles!! Indeed as I write, I have in front of me a copy of a Region 2 Special Collector’s Edition of Chinatown that offers subtitles in English, Danish, Dutch, French, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Spanish and Swedish as well as English subtitles for the hearing impaired. An embarrassment of subtitling riches. Yes indeed. But this is not quite what I mean.

I mean subtitles which are addressed, not to different audiences (French-speaking vs. German-speaking; hearing vs. Deaf, etc.), but to the same audience who might simply wish for different experiences of the film.

This is something that DVD should be an ideal format for. And yes, there are many comedy films which feature special feature subtitle tracks of various sorts on DVD. (My favourite is probably the Ultimate Definitive Final special edition of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (2002), which includes in the (unbelievably) Special Features ‘NEW! Subtitles For People Who Don’t Like The Film’ which are a remix of lines from Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2.) But these are gag tracks, détournements, rather than ‘translating’ subtitle tracks.  In 2010 we saw Jean-Luc Godard fulfil what was, apparently, a long-cherished dream by releasing Film Socialisme at Cannes with audience-unfriendly subtitles. When the film was released on DVD in the US by Kino Lorber it came with more conventional titles too – but the choice to watch Godard’s ‘Navajo English’ titles was still there.

Once viewers cop on to the fact that one translator’s set of subtitles might not be the same as another’s, they often turn out pretty intrigued. And a few, brave distributors have taken up the challenge.

I’m thinking of the subtitles offered on the 2007 Discotek Region 1 DVD release of Herman Yau’s Ebola Syndrome (1996). This offers both ‘crazy Hong Kong subtitles’[i] and more recent conventional English subtitles:

I was, admittedly, a little suspicious; some of the craziness in the ‘Hong Kong’ subtitles seemed a little too good to be true, as with the following double entendre (the first title is from the conventional subtitles and the second from the 'crazy Hong Kong subtitles'):[ii]

But both sets of subtitles can be used to watch and follow the film.

Ebola Syndrome is not the only Hong Kong film to offer this feature on DVD. Wilson Yip’s Bio Zombie (1998, released on Region 1 DVD by Tokyo Shock in 2000) also offers a choice of English subtitles (though it does not make a feature of this on the cover of the DVD). Apart from the Cantonese original dialogue and the English dub, viewers can choose Cantonese dialogue with English, or with ‘Engrish’ subtitles:

The Engrish subtitles are the original subtitles for an earlier, Mei Ah DVD release. These two subtitle tracks are entertainingly different, as we can see if we look at a short sequence from one scene where the two anti-heroes properly launch their careers as zombie killers. Here are the conventional English subtitles:

The same scene with ‘Engrish’ subtitles goes as follows:

In some cases, it is impossible to tell from the Engrish subtitles what the intended meaning of the dialogue is, for instance, in this remark (the ‘correct’ subtitle is the first one):

Cantonese speakers who know the film are welcome to write in and explain how both these translations can somehow be of the same Cantonese line of dialogue. In some cases, the subtitles actually achieve the feat of saying the opposite to each other:

Nevertheless, viewers of the Mei Ah DVD with only the ‘Engrish’ subtitles seem to be pretty philosophical (see here and here), counting the DVD release’s low price as a trade-off for the rather exotic translation.

Another example of ‘alternative’ subtitles, which I have commented on before, is the 2003 Criterion Collection edition of Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, which was published with two sets of subtitles by named subtitlers: Linda Hoaglund and Donald Richie.

The two subtitlers also contribute short pieces about their approach to subtitling in the sleeve notes to the DVD. Hoaglund’s subtitles aim to achieve a slightly archaizing register; Richie’s are intended to be fluent and easily readable. Their subtitles are distinguished by different fonts:

A last, and very pleasing, example of customer choice is the 2005 Region 1 Animeigo release of Incident at Blood Pass, also known as Machibuse, which offers ‘Japanese with full subtitles’ and ‘Japanese with limited subtitles’:

I got very excited about this; I thought that perhaps the ‘limited’ subtitles were ordinary dialogue subtitles and the ‘full’ subtitles were the ones which included headnotes for culturally specific concepts, explanations etc. In fact, on enquiry to Animeigo, the ‘limited subtitles’ turned out to be the headnotes only, plus titles for in-vision verbal material, without any dialogue titles:

The ‘full’ subtitles included both:

In a helpful email, the company told me they included this feature as a response to customer feedback; they have many viewers with enough Japanese to enjoy listening to the dialogue, but not necessarily enough Japanese to read Japanese script in inserts and captions easily, or catch cultural references. Apparently this is now a regular feature on Animeigo releases.

But, readers may say, these are really marginal examples, from a few films, most of them aimed at a pretty niche audience. Are they really relevant?

Yes, I think so, for several reasons:

1)   Providing a choice of subtitles underlines the fact that all translation is based on choice and interpretation, and therefore good-quality screen translation cannot be taken for granted.
2)   It helps to remind viewers that the quality of the subtitles has a direct impact on the viewing experience. Many DVDs seem ‘thrown together’ with little thought to the quality of the text, much less the usability of menu design or, perish the thought, the appropriateness of the translation choices. Thinking about subtitle choice could be part of an overall awareness of the importance of DVD design (and yes, I’m aware that DVD sales slipped nearly 20% in 2012 on the year before – nevertheless, I have faith. Like books, I think that just because they’re not the only game in town doesn’t mean they are about to disappear).
3)   Naming the subtitler, as with naming any translator of a text, is good practice, as Chris Durban has repeatedly argued. Good quality should be appropriately rewarded.
4)   Seeing translation prominently featured in the options and extras of DVDs helps people to be aware how indispensable translators are in the making and distribution of film.  
5)   Subtitles are a potential site for play and 'added value' entertainment; in this sense, the more craptastic, the better.

Is it ‘the way of the future’? Probably not; we know from tired experience that distributors and DVD publishers are pretty cavalier about subtitles. But there are a number of films which are crying out for a nice premium rerelease with added translationy goodness: think Mädchen in Uniform – wouldn’t it be great to be able to access the original French subtitles by Colette, or the scattered English subtitles – all 124 of them – which appeared on the first translated print screened in the UK in 1932? Or what about Bekmambetov’s Day Watch, whose UK and US releases disappointed viewers who had been looking forward to the funky theatrical subtitles? Where subtitles have generated controversy and complaint, DVD would offer a nice opportunity to compare and contrast – for instance, the much-complained-about version of Les 400 coups rereleased by the BFI in 2010 which had to be resubtitled when audiences pointed out that quite a lot of the dialogue in the film never made it as far as the subtitles.

In the meantime, I’d settle for companies providing a choice between subtitles for the hearing impaired, and subtitles for the hearing. Too many companies cut corners like this. You know who you are. (Please feel free to name and shame offenders in the comments.)  

Carol O’Sullivan 
(c) 2013

UPDATE 2014: Delighted to say that there is a French translation of this post on Les Piles Intérmediaires under the title 'À quand des "sous-titres pour ceux qui aiment vraiment le film"?'.

[i] ‘Hong Kong’ subtitling is a recognized phenomenon in which subtitles are produced by non-native English speakers and as a result feature startling, and sometimes hilarious, translation solutions. For more on this see David Bordwell, Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment. Madison, WI: Irvington Way Institute Press, 2011, p.78
[ii] For interested French speakers, the French subtitle for the Metropolitan DVD release (2006) reads “Li, va jouer dehors, / je dois parler avec Kai” (titles by Jean-Marc Bertrix).

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

PhD funding for Arthur Schnitzler project (Bristol and UCL)

Two AHRC-funded PhD studentships are available (2104-17) as part of the project ‘Digital Critical Edition of Middle-Period Works by Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931)’

Two three-year PhD studentships are available from 1 October 2014, as part of the AHRC-funded project ‘Digital Critical Edition of Middle-Period Works by Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931)’, which runs for five years from January 2014. 

The core project team comprises Professor Andrew Webber (University of Cambridge, principal investigator), Dr Judith Beniston (UCL, co-investigator), Professor Robert Vilain (University of Bristol, co-investigator) and Dr Annja Neumann (University of Cambridge, research associate). 

One PhD student will be based at University College London and supervised by Dr Beniston; the other will be based at the University of Bristol and supervised by Professor Vilain.

Arthur Schnitzler is one of the leading figures in European and German-language Modernism, and unique for a writer of his stature in not having a critical edition devoted to him. Schnitzler’s papers were saved from likely confiscation and destruction in Vienna in 1938 and brought to Cambridge, where the larger part of them is now held in the University Library. The archive includes early versions of many published works, and the aim is to make this rich and fascinating resource available to a wide range of users. In the course of this five-year project, scheduled to run January 2014–December 2018, the UK team will produce digital editions of a set of works from Schnitzler’s middle period, transcribing manuscript material and developing an extensive critical apparatus. The corpus comprises the novel Der Weg ins Freie, the plays Professor Bernhardi and Das weite Land, and a set of less well-known puppet plays. The edition will be hosted on the website of Cambridge University Library. Alongside open access to the edited works and their apparatus, the findings of the project will be presented through international conferences and workshops, theatre productions and other events, and through publications in book and journal form.

The focus of the UCL studentship is ‘Schnitzler in Britain’, exploring reception, translation and processes of cultural mobility. The Bristol studentship will focus on ‘Schnitzler and Modernist Drama: Puppets, Dolls, Automata’. Both PhD students will be fully integrated into the AHRC collaboration, with the opportunity to contribute  to the development of the online ‘Schnitzler-Portal’ and to the organization of workshops and other events related to their strand of the project.

Full details of the research project and studentships, the person specification and the application procedures, can be found at these links:

The deadline for applications is 5pm on 31 January 2014.

Please share widely! Thank you.

Judith Beniston and Robert Vilain

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Translationstudiesforfree part 7, including fictions of translation

Continuing with the Translationstudiesforfree theme, here are a few bits and pieces which have crossed my path recently.

The Canadian Review of Comparative Literature/Revue Canadienne de littérature comparée is available online on open access up until 2008. It has plenty of translation-related content, including a special issue on translation in the Renaissance (volume 8, no. 2, spring 1981). This weekend I've read and found interesting George Lang's 1992 article 'La Belle Alterité: Towards a Dialogical Paradigm in Translation Theory?'

In our last MA Cultural Encounters class of the term we talked about narrative and fictions of translation, which reminded me to post a link to Borges' brilliant story 'Pierre Menard, Autor del Quijote'. There appear to be three translations at least into English. Here is a html version of the translation by James E. Irby. A copy of the translation by Anthony Bonner can be found on Columbia University's website here. A copy of the translation by Andrew Hurley can be downloaded via the CUNY website here (I think, though my browsers are being tedious about doing downloads of pdf files).

But really it's Borges, and it's ChristmasWinterval, so you should get someone to go to a proper, bricks-and-mortar bookshop and buy a paperback copy of Fictions for you.

For those of you looking for other stories about fictional translators, again, I direct you to your nearest b.&.m. bookshop where you will find lots of them (for some ideas, see here or here). Neither of these lists mentions my very favourite story featuring a translator, which is 'The Kleptomaniac Translator' by Dezső Kosztolányi, from the novel/story collection Kornél Esti. You can download a French translation of this story by Péter Adám and Maurice Regnault from the publisher's website. You'll find an English translation of the story in Bernard Adams's Kornél Esti published by New Directions (alas not online, but think, what a great way to start your new year's resolution about reading more fiction in translation).

Friday, 29 November 2013

PhD studentships at South, West and Wales consortium, including University of Bristol

PhD Studentships at the University of Bristol

The University of Bristol is delighted to invite applications for studentships in the arts and humanities, including translation studies, for September 2014. Approximately 50 studentships will be funded by the AHRC through the South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership
at the eight universities in the consortium and their cultural partners across the range of arts and humanities subjects. 

The School of Modern Languages at the University of Bristol has a long-standing interest in Translation Studies from the medieval to the modern periods. Languages include Catalan, Chinese, Czech, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. Research specialisms include literary translation; translation history; publishing; drama; audiovisual translation. Specialist supervision is available for performance-related translation in the School of Arts.

Information is available at the consortium website and an application form will be available shortly. Informal enquiries can be addressed to Dr Carol O’Sullivan at carol.osullivan[at] Enquiries relating to translation and performance should be sent to Dr Katja Krebs at k.krebs[at] Applications will be accepted from mid-December but you are encouraged to make informal enquiries at an early date. Decisions will be made before Easter 2014.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Remake? Adaptation? Remix? Homage?

I had the pleasure of attending a fiftieth anniversary screening of Fellini's film 81/2 earlier this month. It was a little odd, because I had already seen the musical Nine, which in retrospect was the wrong, wrong way round. Also, Nine is not very good.

The thing that really struck me was how the sequence with La Saraghina from 81/2 gets reworked in Nine. The Fellini sequence goes something like this (for the full contrast of Fellini after Rob Marshall, you might like to try watching the second clip first):

The sequence in Nine, starring Fergie in the role of la Saraghina, goes like this:

The director of Nine is Rob Marshall, who previously made Chicago, so the big lush musical numbers are a gimme. But is it just me, or does this sequence also borrow shamelessly from the staging of 'Mein Herr' from Cabaret and the production values from the 'Tango de Roxanne' in Moulin Rouge?

So what is this? Remake, homage, remix, adaptation, pastiche? I'm stumped. Answers in the comments please!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Translatable! Workshop, translation slam, and prizegiving, Bristol, 17 December 2013

 For our German and non-German-speaking readers within reach of Bristol:



Translation Workshop with Thomas Friese, Translation Slam, and Prizegiving Ceremony


School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol

Lecture Theatre 1, 43 Woodland Road, Clifton, Bristol

17 December 2013

All are welcome to an afternoon of translation events on 17 December 2013 at the University of Bristol on the occasion of the prizegiving for the 2013 Ernst Jünger Translation Competition, organised by the School of Modern Languages with support from the EU.


2pm: workshop with distinguished Canadian translator Thomas Friese
4pm: translation slam showcasing two winners of the Ernst Jünger Translation Competition
5pm: prizegiving ceremony

Registration is free, and all are welcome. All events will take place in 43 Woodland Road, LT1.

If you would like to attend the workshop and/or the translation slam, please e-mail Dr Christophe Fricker (christophe.fricker [at] in advance. Knowledge of German is not required to enjoy either event.

Six translators will receive awards or commendations for their entries to the Competition: 

Joint 1st prize of £300 each will be awarded to Nigel Cooper and Jack Davis for their translations from Jünger’s Am Sarazenenturm (By the Saracen Tower). 
Third prize of £100 will be awarded to Iwona Luszowicz and Steve Laird for their collaborative translation from Jünger’s Atlantische Fahrt (Atlantic Voyage). 
The entries of Julian Reidy and Simon Pare will also be commended at the event. 
The competition’s undergraduate prize of £100 will be awarded to Joseph Prestwich; Constance Cramp will receive a special commendation. 

The three commended entrants will receive a copy of Heimo Schwilk’s Ernst Jüngers Leben und Werk in Bildern und Texten, and thanks to the generosity of Klett-Cotta Verlag, all participants will receive a copy of Heinz Ludwig Arnold’s Jünger reader, Ein abenteuerliches Herz.

The competition was judged by writer and translator Julian Evans, Dr Christophe Fricker (Bristol), Jünger’s translator Thomas Friese, Dr Petra Rau (UEA), and Professor Robert Vilain (Bristol). Sixty-four entries were received from 11 different countries and four continents. Participants were asked to translate an 8-page excerpt of their choice from one of three books of Jünger’s travel writings: Atlantische Fahrt, Am Sarazenenturm, or Zweimal Halley (Halley Revisited). 

Funding for the competition was provided as part of an EU-funded Marie Curie project on Ernst Jünger’s intercultural encounters, currently being carried out by Christophe Fricker at the University of Bristol.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Call for entries: China International Translation Contest 2013

Just came round on Edwin Gentzler's translation list, and may interest some of our readers.

Call for submissions: China International Translation Contest 2013
Sponsored by 
The Chinese Writers Association; China International Publishing Group (CIPG); Translators Association of China China International Translation Contest 2013 (CITC 2013) was launched in Beijing on September 2, 2013. It is co-hosted by the State Council Information Office, the Chinese Writers Association and the China International Publishing Group (CIPG), with the Translators Association of China being one of its organizers. It is the first translation contest in China that targets translators both home and abroad.

The CITC 2013 organizing committee has provided 30 pieces of contemporary Chinese short stories as source texts, and the participants can choose one or more of the stories to translate into one of the five (English, French, Russian, Spanish, or Arabic) languages. The submission deadline is February 28, 2014. The awarded pieces will be chosen from the submitted entries by the judging committee, and the top ones will be published by partner publishers of the target languages, namely: China International Publishing Group, Penguin Books, Hachette Livre (France), Editorial Popular (Spain), Oriental Literature Publisher (Russia), and Egypt-China Cultural Exchange Association.

Translators of the five languages who love Chinese culture and are dedicated to the translation of China's excellent contemporary works are all welcome to participate in this contest. As one of the organizers, the Translators Association of China will be in charge of the appraisal procedure. Translators from China and abroad, editors from well-established publishing companies and relevant experts will be invited as members of the judging committee. For each language, there will be a judging committee including at least five members.

For more details on submitting an entry, please see
For more information, please contact Hu Yuqing,Secretariat for the Translation Association of China, at hyq[at]

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Translationstudiesforfree part 6: Journal special issues on translation


In a previous post in the translationstudiesforfree occasional series I linked to free content from a number of translation journals. Of course there are lots of non-translation-studies journals which do special issues on translation too. A few are even open access. For instance:

reconstruction: studies in contemporary culture has a 2011 issue on 'Multilingual realities in Translation'.

Volume 5, issue 1 of the Journal of Writing Research has a special section on writing and translation process research.

The French sociolinguistics journal Glottopol has an interest in translation; see e.g. this 2010 issue on orality and writing in translation (and there's a call out for a 2015 special issue on self-translation which looks interesting (useful bibliography provided, too); deadline April 2014).

Helsinki English Studies has two special issues on translation, issue 1, edited by Ritva Leppihalme,  and issue 4, 'The Road to Translation', a Festschrift in Leppihalme's honour edited by Outi Paloposki (Finnish and English content) (which includes by-the-by an interesting article on dissertation supervision from the student's point of view by Mika Loponen). 

New Comparison, the old journal of the British Comparative Literature Association, ran several special issues on translation which are available for download here.

There's a special issue of the Portuguese journal Anglo-Saxonica (Series III, No.3) on 'New Directions in Translation Studies' edited by Anthony Pym and Alexandra Assis Rosa on translation here (click on the cover image to download the whole issue). 

The Revue française de linguistique appliquée has a couple of special issues on translation, one from 2003 on 'La traduction aujourd'hui: théories et pratiques' which includes an interesting-looking article on the translation of philosophy, and one on 'linguistique et traduction' from 2009 which includes a useful article by Kirsten Malmkjaer revisiting definitions of translation competence. There's a 1994 Langages special issue on 'Le traducteur et l'ordinateur'.

UPDATE 5 March 2014: Gisèle Sapiro has edited a special issue of the journal Bibliodiversity on translation and globalisation. The issue is dedicated to the publisher and champion of translated literature André Schiffrin. Articles in French, English, Spanish. Downloadable or readable online.

UPDATE 6 March 2014: The journal Book History has an issue free to access (no.16) at time of writing which includes a number of interesting articles relating to translation and publishing.

A keyword search for translation in the 'journal' field in the Directory of Open Access Journals turns up some 45 journals, and a keyword search under articles brings up nearly 7,000 hits, in many languages. There turn out to be many open access journals which have an interest in translation, without being translation-focused (e.g. journals not on the European Society for Translation Studies list of translation journals). Next time you're looking for secondary literature, a direct search on the DOAJ might be worthwhile.

Another great site is It lists 13 special issues on translation, including:
A 2011 issue of Trivium on medieval translation and information exchange in the Mediterranean region
A 2002 issue of ILCEA on cultural factors in translating pragmatic texts (in Delisle's sense) and a special issue of the same journal from 2011 on the ergonomics of translation (a nice, catchy way of talking about translators and their tools).
A 2002 special issue of IDEO on translation and reception of the literatures of Asia in French
There's a special issue of Études irlandaises on translation in an Irish context, including a very good interview with Michael Cronin or, as he is sometimes known in Ireland, Micheál Ó Cróinín. His observations on Ireland's 'sociolinguistic deficit' have a wider application too.
There's a very interesting-looking 2011 special issue on the translation of Flaubert, including Sharon Deane on the retranslation of Flaubert into English, here.
France seems very well provided with open access journal repositories, what with and (where a keyword search on translation is also worth doing). The latter has a nice 1999 special issue on literary translation in the nineteenth century from Romantisme. This portal also has a very substantial 2002 special issue of Actes de recherche en sciences sociales on translation and international literary exchanges edited by Johan Heilbron and Gisèle Sapiro.

I note with interest the charges obtaining on between 3 and 5 euro per article, e.g. the 2011 special issue of the Revue de la BNF on translation or the 2011 special issue of Études de linguistique appliquée on 'Traduire des français: des mots et des mondes'. This is refreshing, in an era when articles on the big publishing platforms can be priced at £30 or more for individual download. Could this be a trend? Is anyone else exploring the potential of mini- or micropayments for academic publishing?

Speaking of matters financial, it's worth noting that there is a potential ethical issue around open repositories like the DOAJ, which may include journals which impose publication charges on authors. There's a search on the DOAJ to filter this, if you feel that open access content should be free for both authors and readers.

On the same theme, for readers who know Italian I recommend an excellent, thought-provoking article, 'Autori nella rete', by the dubbing scriptwriters Eleonora di Fortunato and Mario Paolinelli, authors of Tradurre per il doppiaggio (Hoepli 2005), on the impact of the move to open access and free content on writers who are not also salaried academics.

Photo credit: Flickr Commons

Friday, 15 November 2013

William Weaver, translator

Very sad, and moved, to read Susan Bernofsky's in memoriam post for William Weaver, one of the great translators from Italian.

Weaver is the English translator of one of my best-loved Italian books, Italo Calvino's Il castello dei destini incrociati/The Castle of Crossed Destinies. Bernofsky links to an interview with Weaver in the Paris Review which has some fascinating insights into the working relationships Weaver had with his authors. His marvellous reflection on the process of translating a paragraph of Gadda is also available online here.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Translationstudiesforfree part 5: Conference proceedings online

Today is the thirteenth annual Portsmouth translation conference, and I wish I could be there. It is the first conference I haven't been at in ten years. 

But here's hoping they are having a great day, and I thought I'd give them a shoutout, in the form of a link to some online translation conference proceedings as part of our ongoing occasional series on Translation Studies for free.

The Portsmouth conference has put several years' worth of proceedings online: click here for 2007, here for 2008, here for 2009. Some of the contributions to the 2011 conference on multimodality and translation were published as part of issue 20 of the Journal of Specialised Translation, which will also publish a special issue in 2014 based on this year's topic of translation and crime.

There are a few other conferences which put their proceedings online. There tends to be a mixture of full texts, powerpoints, handouts etc. Click here for the proceedings to a 2013 conference held in Liège entitled "Impliciter, expliciter: le traducteur comme équilibriste interculturel".

SEPTET, a translation research group based at the University of Strasbourg, has put online the proceedings of a conference on "Les relations internationales à travers les traductions françaises au siècle de Louis XIV" which look very interesting. Both mostly/all in French.

Lastly, we can't forget the proceedings of three Marie Curie-funded conferences on Multidimensional Translation (the MuTra conferences) held in 2005, 2006 and 2007 and containing useful papers on lots of topics including my favourite, subtitling.

I don't know quite where one draws the line between online conference proceedings and online downloadable books based on conferences. A good example of the latter is the 2010 book Translators' Agency, edited by Tuija Kinnunen and Kaisa Koskinen, based on a symposium held in Tampere in 2008 [the link is to a direct download of the book]. I'd love to see more books circulating via this route.

As always, feel free to link to any other online translation conference proceedings in the comments.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Viva voce congratulations to Alice Colombo!

Warmest congratulations to Alice Colombo for her successful PhD viva today, with a thesis looking at textual reworkings of Jonathan Swift from a translation point of view.



Monday, 4 November 2013

Poems about translation 17: epitaph for Henry G. Bohn

Henry George Bohn has popped up in this blog before, as publisher of Ichabod Wright's translation of Dante. He was a Victorian publisher who, in the late 1840s, established the series known as the 'Libraries' (the Standard Library, the Classical Library, and many others) which became a widely known brand. They featured literal translations which were popular with students, and the Libraries continued to be published by George Bell & Sons until well into the twentieth century, eventually supplanted by Everyman and Loeb.

Bohn's output of translations was so substantial that, according to Kenneth Haynes in the Oxford History of Literary Translation into English, “it was Henry Bohn, more than any other publisher, whose series actively influenced the formation of a canon of world literature in translation” (2006: 8). The Libraries' attractive and inexpensive volumes were eagerly awaited by Victorian readers with three-and-sixpence or five shillings to spare:

When Bohn died in 1884, Punch published an affectionate obituary (6 September 1884, p.110), which gives some sense of the institution that was Bohn, and the reputation the translations enjoyed:
Eh? Dead at Eighty-nine? A ripe old age.
Dear renderer of many a learned page
Into the—rather dryasdust—vernacular;
True source of many an utterance oracular
From many a pseudo-pundit, who scarce owns
To wandering in that valley of dry Bohns.
Thousands should thank thee who will hardly do so—
In public! From Catullus down to Crusoe,
From Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle deep,
To Goethe, Schlegel, Schiller we drink pottle-deep –
Of Learning’s fount from thy translated tap!
And what though o’er it one may nod and nap?
‘Tis wholesome, if not sparkling, with sound body,
If not the glint of true Pierian toddy.
Gone from thy roses underneath the daisies,
We echo Emersonian thanks and praises,
And say (Pundits make puns, and sometimes own ‘em),
            Vale! De mortuis nil nisi Bo(h)num!”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson, a man who compared reading foreign languages in the original to swimming across the Charles River when he wanted to go to Boston, had said, in a judgment much-quoted in Bohn's advertisements, that Bohn's translations "have done for literature what railroads have done for internal intercourse".)

I have the good fortune to be talking about Bohn the translation publisher on Thursday 14 November 2013 as part of the UCL 'Translation in History' series.