Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Free translation events in London, 24-26 June 2014

Readers near London may be interested in these free public events which are part of the summer school, Translate in the City, organised in collaboration with City University:



Two well-known Italian translation slammers will compete to produce the most popular version of La Madre (the Mother) by Natalia Ginzburg

Shaun Whiteside:- His translations from Italian include Venice is a Fish and Stabat Mater (commended for the 2013 John Florio Prize) by Tiziano Scarpa, The Legend of Redenta Tiria by Salvatore Niffoi and The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano, as well as four novels by the Luther Blissett/Wu Ming writers’ collective: Q (shortlisted for the 2004 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize), 54, Manituana and Altai. He lives in London.

Kevin Halliwell:-Throughout the 1980s to the mid-1990s, Kevin lived and worked in Milan where – in addition to teaching at the Catholic University and the School for Translators and Interpreters – he started to work as a translator, specialising in History of Art texts. He then relocated to Brussels, where he spent the following 14 years translating/revising EU documents, mainly from Italian, French and Swedish. A freelance translator since 2008, Kevin is the recipient of the Gate Theatre Translation Award and his most recent Italian translation for the theatre is Otto by Roberta Calandra, which premiered earlier this year in Rome.                            
Chaired by Professor Amanda Hopkinson


Is fact stranger than fiction, remembering more truthful than invention? How do writers translate their recall of reality into a new world of the imagination, and what is the role of the translator in capturing their memories of the past for an audience in the future?
Susan Bassnett is a writer, translator and academic. Her latest books are the 4th Edition of her best-selling Translation Studies (2013) which is used by students all over the world, and Translation (2014) in the Routledge New Critical Idiom series. She is Professor of Comparative Literature and Special Advisor on Translation at the University of Warwick and is also Honorary Director of the Translation Studies Centre at the University of Birmingham.

Monday, 16 June 2014

CFP : Translation and the Caribbean (special issue of Sargasso)

Translation and the Caribbean: Tensions & Transformations
Deadline: September 30, 2014

The journal SARGASSO, edited and published at the University of Puerto Rico’s Río Piedras campus, invites submissions for the issue “Translating the Caribbean: Tensions & Transformations.” The issue seeks to explore the art and craft of the translator as indispensable resources for scholarly inquiry, interdisciplinary collaborations, and artistic endeavors in the Humanities.  The editors hope to receive critical essays that address the aesthetics, politics, ethics, and history of translation, as well as works that focus on specific initiatives, authors, literary movements, or theoretical proposals.  Previously unpublished translations will be included in the volume.

Practitioners and theorists alike have recognized translation as having an important role in the region since Caribbean Studies emerged as a discrete field of scholarly inquiry.  Some have described it as a lens that brings into relief tensions associated with the processes of conquest, naming, colonization, and resistance that inform the history of the region.  Translation has also been upheld as a necessary response to divergent colonial histories and political and linguistic fragmentation, one that can transform the lives and ideologies of people both within and outside the Caribbean.  What is the significance of these ideas today?  How do they relate to the view of translation as a cultural dynamic? How can translation contribute to the growth and sustainability of Caribbean communities and institutions as well as interregional and international networks?  What types of partnerships involving translators and the Humanities are needed in the future?  What challenges do they face?

Possible topics for essays include, but are not limited to:

Translation as a necessary task
Hybrid writing as a process of translation
Translation & literary criticism
Translation, language policy, & linguistic rights
Translation and Creole languages
Translation & Caribbean Studies
Translation & coloniality
Translating multilingualism & code-switching in literature
Translation & pedagogy
Translation & technological innovation
Translation and publishing

Essays should be 10-15 pages, double-spaced, and adhere to APA guidelines.  They should also conform to Sargasso’s style guide and include an abstract of 120 words or less.  B & W photos and illustrations may be included.  The editors welcome the submission of visual art and creative work, including new translations of poetry and short fiction.  Contributions may be submitted in English, Spanish, French, or Creole languages of the region.  Submissions should be sent to sargassojournal at by September 30, 2014.  Visit for details about the journal.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Seeing films in translation

I saw two films in the last two days which made me think again about how we can define a 'translated film'. The first was Song at Midnight (Ma Xi Weibang, 1937) which I saw last night at the National Film Theatre as part of their golden age Chinese cinema season. The second was Satyajit Ray's Devi (1960) seen as part of the event Bombay Talkies at Colston Hall, Bristol.

Song at Midnight is apparently sometimes referred to as the first Chinese horror film. It's an adaptation of the Phantom of the Opera story, with lashings of James Whale's Frankenstein, and for me it also strongly foreshadowed The Elephant Man (the horribly disfigured Phantom is good, kind and emotionally vulnerable). There's a subplot about communist revolutionary activity. It was great to have an opportunity to see it.

What about the translation? The subtitles were joyfully approximate - virtually no translation of the credits, no translation of most text inserts, despite the fact that some of them stay on screen a long time and are clearly significant, and a subtitle translation done by someone with commendable non-native English, fair to moderate grammar and an uncertain ear for register. The sun shined; at least one walord (sic) was mentioned (not surprising, since the Walord Era had only ended a few years previously); and the film featured a number of creative neologisms.
My favourite line was when Song Dan Ping and Miss Li meet on screen for the first time and we are told that something is very 'emergent' (urgent). The dastardly Tang is frequently referred to as a 'shit' and sometimes (not inaccurately) as a 'bullshit'. The Phantom refers to his young protégé Xiaoou tenderly as 'my pal'. Overall, the subtitles were somewhat distracting from the film itself; I longed to take a few screenshots with my phone but was, in the end, enjoying the film too much to risk being escorted from the premises. If the definition of Abé Mark Nornes' 'abusive' subtitles is that they constantly remind the viewer of the translated nature of the film, then these were abusivissimi. Did they convey some kind of sense of cultural otherness? Maybe, inasmuch as they kept the difficulty of cross-cultural communication in the front of your brain. They probably conveyed some of the challenges of Chinese-English translation, e.g. confusion between positive and negative polarity of sentences. I would love to see these subtitles as a bonus feature on a future DVD release. But overall, one had the sense that they were done by people who weren't really qualified to do what they were doing.

Devi was a completely different experience. The concept behind the event was the live improvisation of a new score for the film, looking back to the traditions of Indian screen music. The five musicians were led by Talvin Singh (celebrating his new OBE), and a truly amazing sitar player, Roopa Panesar. The live scoring of a sound film seemed odd; when I wrote to check, I was assured by Colston Hall that the evening included a showing of the film. This film showing turned out to consist of the film being projected with intermittent sound and no English translation except for a programme synopsis distributed to all audience members. Not so much badly subtitled, as not subtitled at all, not even a little bit. Slightly reminiscent of seeing old black and white films projected on a screen in a club for visual decoration.

Let me be clear - the music was glorious and worked extremely well against the rhythm and emotional arc of the film. But could one actually say that one was watching the film?* At intervals we would hear the characters speak, in Hindi, to which I have no access at all. Quite often, we would just see their mouths move. In an odd way, given that the evening was all about sound, the film was being 'silenced' again. The performance of the score against this untranslated and sometimes inaudible projection reminded me of going to see The Wind (Victor Sjöström, 1928) at the Watershed a couple of months back, accompanied by a new score performed live. That made perfect sense for a silent film. Less so for a sound film (though I see from the original Colston Hall programme that there was originally supposed to be a second film projected, the silent Raja Harishchandra (1913), which would make the whole event a bit more coherent). At the same time, I can quite see that a subtitled print would have been problematic - the translation couldn't have been switched on and off in the same way that the sound was, and the fact that there was no translation made me acutely sensitive to the other kinds of meaning-making that were happening as part of the performance.

The upshot of the evening was to make me feel as I imagine an audience member in the early years of sound might have - completely incomprehending of the language spoken on screen; slightly incredulous that the exhibitor thought the film didn't need translating; potentially riotous if the mood of the rest of the audience turned ugly. The use of a printed synopsis of the film was also in line with practice in the period, e.g. for the Film Society, who relied heavily on programme notes to translate films which were still being imported in untranslated forms.

So the question is: which of these films did I actually see?

Would I say I have seen Song at Midnight, despite the memorably approximate translation?
Answer: yes.

Would I say I have seen The Wind, despite the fact that the newly composed score hadn't been dreamed of at the time the film was originally exhibited in the late 1920s?
Answer: yes.

Do I feel that I have seen Satyajit Ray's film Devi?
Would I say that I have not seen Satyajit Ray's film Devi?
What might it really mean, anyway, to 'see' a film? To what extent has one 'seen' a film which one has seen in a language one doesn't understand, without translation?
I'll have to get back to you on that.

* Henri Langlois, who was very cavalier about translations at the Cinémathèque, to the extent that he would sometimes show films with subtitles in an entirely irrelevant third language) would presumably say yes to this question.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Call for applications: ARTIS (Advancing Research in Translation and Interpreting Studies)

Dear readers, some of you may be interested in this new initiative which replaces the long-running UK- and Hong Kong-based Translation Research Summer Schools. ARTIS also has a Twitter feed, @ARTISinitiative.


The ARTIS (Advancing Research in Translation and Interpreting Studies) initiative offers training designed to help researchers in the field to improve their research skills and methods, to set up and manage research projects effectively, and to negotiate and apply theoretical models.

Building on the long and successful history of the Translation Research Summer School run by the University of Manchester, University College London, the University of Edinburgh and Hong Kong Baptist University, ARTIS has been conceived as a flexible platform to collaborate with institutions worldwide in the delivery of short, research intensive training in a variety of places, responding to local needs.

Institutions interested in hosting an ARTIS event are invited to apply by 15 September 2014.

Full information on the application process, application assessment criteria (including the application form) and future deadlines for subsequent application rounds is available at:

Queries can be sent to: artisinfo at

Dr Kathryn Batchelor, 
Chair of the ARTIS Steering Board

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Reviewing translated films in the mass media

In an excellent article in the latest issue of L'Écran Traduit, Anne-Lise Weidmann looks at how/when translation gets talked about in film reviews, and concludes, unsurprisingly, that it doesn't.

There are several salutary points made in the article. One is that screen translation is much less visible than book translation or even than theatre translation, in that order. In a year of reviews from the radio show Le Masque et la plume, Weidmann finds that the translator was named in 100% of reviews of print translation, 50% of reviews of translated plays, and an impressive 0% in the case of translated films.

Weidmann is looking at France, specifically, but I'm not sure that there would be any great difference in the Anglophone world. If we just look at subtitling, part of this probably has to do with the fact that in most cases the subtitler is credited (if at all) at the end of the credits. Almost everyone will have left the auditorium or paused the DVD before they get there. It hasn't always been that way, at least for successful subtitlers. The example below is from a VHS edition of Visconti's 1954 Senso, subtitled by the great Mai Harris, whose subtitling career lasted from the 1930s to the 1960s; by the time this film came out she merited a line of her own in the opening credits (the word you can't see because it's drowned out by the dress is 'Version'.

Another point Weidmann makes is that when screen translation is addressed in film criticism, it tends to be in derogatory terms. When was the last time you read a review which said 'the subtitles were exceptionally well done'? For me, it was in 2008 in David Cox's review of Welcome to the Sticks [Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis] in the Guardian, where he said
The subtitler succeeds in matching French mis-speaks with plausible English equivalents in a tour de force which merits the creation of a whole new Oscar category.
Even then, Cox doesn't name the subtitler, Michael Katims. And fun fact: apart from two pieces of academic writing on translation, this article seems to be the *only source of the phrase 'The subtitler succeeds' in the whole of Google. (I also tried 'The subtitlers succeed' and 'The subtitles succeed': nowt.)  This example is an outlier; I agree with Weidmann that subtitlers and dubbing scriptwriters don't get even the passing mention of the 'fine, fluent translation', etc., which fellow translators of print literature would usually hope to have.

By contrast, Weidmann gathers evidence of lively interest on the part of reviewers in the 1930s. Just after the translation revolution that followed the advent of sound, reviewers quite often commented on the new technologies of dubbing and subtitling. One reviewer of a French subtitled version of the Mae West film She Done Him Wrong (aka Lady Lou, 1933) finds that the film is excessively translated. The subtitles are 'trop nombreux, trop longs et tenant trop de place, plus gênants pour suivre l'action que ne l'étaient ceux du film muet [...]' [too numerous, too long and taking up too much space, more annoying for those trying to follow the plot than the titles of silent films]. Too much translation! Stop!!! We would like our film underdone, today, pls thks.

I jest, but in my own searches I've also found the odd example of early reviewers objecting to over-translation. A reviewer of Pabst's Kameradschaft in the Christian Science Monitor of 12 November 1932 grumps that "one rather deplores the wordy English titles that are too frequently superimposed upon the film".  Of course, they were only just getting used to having English titles on films at all, after a translation dry spell of several years - and, even in the era of intertitles, there had been a heated debate about how densely titled films should be.

Now, reviewers seem to think there's nothing to talk about. I concur with Weidmann that there is a really bad visibility problem with audiovisual translators. Reviewers and critics seem pretty bent on pretending that they are not there.

There is, of course, one big difference between print translation and screen translation, which I touched on in a recent post, 'What does it mean to 'translate' a film?'. Dubbing, subtitling and voiceover translate some, but not all of the codes which make up a film. Subtitling translates using a supplement in the form of a condensed translation in lines of text on the screen. Films for dubbing have 'international versions' which consist of the images and the sound effect and music track, which can then be supplemented by a rerecorded dialogue track. Speech is usually translated; written text in the image is often translated; music and images are (as a general rule, with exceptions) not translated. Films consist of translated elements, and invariant elements which need no translation.

Print translation doesn't have these 'invariant' elements. Words are all, or at least most, of the meaning of a printed text, and translators are named as the authors of those words. But, one might argue, stage translators are also named as authors of their translations, as a rule, and in theatre translation translator are responsible, again, for translating only part of the codes which go to make up a play. They translate speech, stage directions, perhaps text that is used on stage, but they are not usually responsible for the target-language production's mise en scène, costumes, lighting, set etc. So one might ask why screen translators and stage translators cannot enjoy similar levels of recognition.

Weidmann gives four possible hypotheses for the invisibility of screen translators: translation is always 'invisible'; everybody's got so used to AVT that they don't notice it anymore; translation has a bad reputation; general lack of interest. I wonder whether the answer lies partly in different ideas of authorship? It is a play's author, not its director, who is credited with the lion's share of its creation; but it's the director of the film, not the screenwriter, who is credited with the main creative input. Screenwriters have often had a rough deal; for decades, the Writers' Guild of America has fought for  better recognition for them, and I think the current agreement that screenwriters should be credited immediately before the director on opening credits is only about ten years old. But the WGA's website shows how complex the issues around screenwriting credit are. So perhaps the low recognition that screen translators receive is a side-effect of the low status and multiple authorship of screenwriting in general.

That doesn't mean things have to stay that way. The status and recognition of screenwriting have changed over the years. Where your name appears in the credits of a film is important, and if the place where your name appears changes, then your status changes with it. When book translators gained the right to a credit on the title page and a credit on the copyright page, it was an important step. Occasionally, one may even see the name of a translator on the front cover, or on the spine - usually with less commercial publishers. These are important aids to visibility.

Another place of recognition is in reviews. There's been a flurry of comment in recent years by distinguished translators about how translations should be reviewed (Nicky Harman; Jo Balmer; Susan Bernofsky here (offering a set of guidelines for translation reviewing) and here; Words Without Borders, including a post by Daniel Hahn here). Balmer argues that 'Reviewers need 'an understanding that translation [...] revolves around the act of choice – and that such choices are not necessarily compromises, as often assumed, but informed judgements, both technical and creative, made after careful consideration'. (This presupposes a willingness to envisage that translations may not simply be a 'filtered copy' of the original which is, perhaps, not so present in film reviewers.) Daniel Hahn is characteristically fair and sensible. He argues that in a 500-word review there may not be space to mention the translation, but if the review comments on the quality of the writing, then that's the translator's work they are commenting on and the translator should be acknowledged accordingly.

To paraphrase Hahn, is it so unreasonable to expect professional film reviewers to have some understanding of what the job of a translator entails, and what the translator’s contribution to the film might be?

[Post updated with corrections and staircase thoughts on 8 June 2014.]

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Poem about translation 20: Bilingual/Bilingüe

A poem about translation in honour of my flying visit to bilingual Catalunya:

In some ways, a poem about bilingualism is a poem about non-translation. Translation is, as a rule, for people who *don't speak both languages. Bilingual and multilingual subjects are able to switch back and forth, deploying their languages as needed. Code-switching would be in this sense the antithesis of translation; it pre-empts the need for it.

From another angle, bilingualism constantly contains the potential for self-translation. Today's instalment in the occasional Poems About Translation series is "Bilingual/Bilingüe" by the US-based Dominican poet Rhina P. Espaillat. It's a poem about the intergenerational tensions that can accompany growing up with more than one language: "English outside this door, Spanish inside," he said, "y basta".

I like the way the poem enacts the integration of the two languages in graphic form. The speaker is committed to both languages, and the bracketed phrases in Spanish mark moments of self-translation. The brackets are for her Spanish-speaking self, not her father's; they mark an experience of boundary-crossing. The polysyllables singled out from the rest of her speech - "testaruda," "orgulloso" - give a sense of her revelling in the sounds of her father's language. Poetry, "mis versos", provides a way to embrace the tension between the languages. In the last stanza the brackets disappear, fusing English and Spanish, Espaillat's voice and her father's.

You can see and hear Espaillat reading the poem here:

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Call for papers: Translation Talk (deadline 1 July 2014)

This looks like a really great conference:

Conference Title: Translation Talk

Deadline for proposals: 1 July 2014

A 2-day international conference to be held at the Institute of Modern Languages Research (IMLR), School of Advanced Study, University of London, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU, UK, on Thursday 23-Friday 24 April 2015.

Can translation be said to define the contemporary ethos (Alexis Nouss, 2007)? This conference asks to what extent the concept of 'translation' and images of translators and interpreters have been employed to talk about ideas well beyond the activity of rendering a text into another language. Is the early 21st Century a time of especially intense 'translation talk'? Have there been other times and places in which one can identify a similar cultural fascination or anxiety connected with the idea of translation?

This conference explores the idea of 'translation talk', in other words, the many and varied ways in which translation as an activity and the translator as a figure have been interpreted and given cultural significance. The focus of this conference will therefore be on discourses about translation, rather than on translation in and of itself.

We invite papers on subjects from any period or cultural context that consider one or more of the following areas of investigation:

-       Literary, autobiographical, religious, historical, anthropological or other narratives about translation or translators
-       The image of the translator or interpreter as, for example, mediator, traitor, informant, smuggler, collaborator (in all senses), hero/villain, resister/oppressor
-       Are translators seen as autonomous individuals or as representatives of a group, institution, or culture? Professional or amateur? Free or constrained? Neutral or partisan?
-       How do translators talk about their own, or others', work? Are there clashes between writers, speakers, translators, publishers and scholars?
-       What stories are told in order to guarantee or undermine the authenticity of a translation or the integrity of a translator?
-       What metaphors are used to describe the relationship between writer/speaker and translator/interpreter, source text and translated text?
-       Translation as metaphor: what is discussion of translation really about?
-       Institutional translation talk: how do libraries, universities, research councils, archives, publishers, and other political and cultural institutions, view translation and translators?
-       What terms are used to describe translators' work, and what status do their products have?
-       The status of translation and translators in the cultural and political media
-       Translation scandals and the interests behind them

Abstracts (max. 300 words) for 20-minute papers or proposals for thematic panels should be sent to both:

Prof Peter Davies (peter.j.davies at and
Dr Angela Kershaw (a.kershaw at

by 1 July 2014.

The conference is jointly organised by the Birmingham Centre for Translation, University of Birmingham, the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, University of Edinburgh, and the IMLR.