Thursday, 26 March 2015

Literary translation summer schools, UK

There are two translation summer schools (to my knowledge) running in the UK this summer. Both of them have had excellent reports from my students in previous years.

The British Centre for Literary Translation Summer School in Norwich will offer workshops with Dutch, German, Italian, Korean and Norwegian this year, as well as English creative writing workshops, and prose and poetry translation workshops open to anyone translating into English. A feature of the Summer School is the opportunity to work with the author of the source text as well as with an experienced translator as workshop leader.

The Translate in the City summer school in London will run with the list of languages and tutors as below.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Poems about translation no.22: Caroline Bergvall, 'Via' (for World Poetry Day)

It's World Poetry Day today.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a long-standing love of Dante's Comedy and the problems of its translation (see Dante in Leicestershire and Dante in Essex) so I thought a return to Dante was appropriate. Here is Caroline Bergvall's procedural poem 'Via', which began life as a live performance, then later a recorded performance and printed poem. It consists of 47 translations of the first tercet of Dante's 'Inferno', accompanied by the translators' names and years of publication.

Can we really call it a poem about translation, made up as it is of other people's translations of the tercet? Yes, absolutely, because it's not just a list, it's an ordering of the translations. In a more conventional list one might expect the translations to be ordered chronologically, or perhaps by surname of translator, but Bergvall orders them alphabetically by the first letter of the first line. The full audio recording of Bergvall's poem can be listened to here.

There is a very interesting discussion of the poem in the PoemTalk podcast which suggests some of the angles from which the poem can be approached (the circularity generated by the three lines of terza rima; the intensification of the poem's opening scenario by repeating it over and over again; Dante is in the dark wood and he's not getting out anytime soon). The way in which the poem multiplies translations, some of which are quite laboured (e.g. the egregious padding of 'the right road lost and vanished in the maze' in James Romanes Sibbald's 1883 translation) underlines the directness and simplicity of the Italian.

It's also a reflection on retranslation. The constant repetition-with-variations of the translations underlines the way the translations seem to require constant renewal while the source text remains unchanging. The non-chronological presentation warns the reader against reading retranslation as improvement; instead, the poem fluctuates between the diction of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, creating an echo chamber of consonances and divergences. Sets of translations cluster around the same opening word or phrase. The poem throws up apparently random and paradoxical effects: six of the last seven translations in the poem finish with 'stray' or 'astray'; only one other version in the rest of the poem does. Some poets' attempts to vary the expected rhymes do not end happily: Binyon's 'aware' and 'not anywhere'; Bickersteth's 'life' and 'strife'.

I really want to read this poem as a creative proliferation of translations showcasing the individual interpretation of each poet, but this inclination is undermined by Bergvall's deadpan vocal delivery and the subject matter of the tercet. Her poem seems to invite a more pessimistic reading, in which retranslation dooms the poem to eternal and cyclical repetition where innovation is stifled and variation muffled by poetic consensus.

I was intrigued when I saw that one of the translators appears twice: Seamus Heaney, who appears at no.6 and no.16:
6. HALFWAY on our life’s journey, in a wood,
     From the right path I found myself astray. 
           (Heaney, 1993)

16. In the middle of the journey of our life
      I found myself astray in a dark wood
      where the straight road had been lost sight of.
           (Heaney, 1993)
This is in fact a typo, because translation number six is in fact by Parsons from 1893. But it feels like a happy error, because it's perfectly possible for a poet to translate the same poem twice, or revise a previous translation; it only underlines the multiplicity of possible readings of a text - even the same translator may not read the same source text the same way twice.

Postscript: For an enjoyable reflection on why infidelity in a translator can be a virtue, see this LRB review by Matthew Reynolds of Carson's Inferno. I couldn't resist adding Carson's, and three other translations which don't appear (for various excellent reasons) in Bergvall's poem.

In the midway of this our life below
I found myself within a gloomy wood
No traces left the path direct to show (Ichabod C. Wright, 1833)

Halfway through the story of my life
I came to in a gloomy wood, because
I'd wandered off the path, away from the light. (Ciaran Carson, 2002)

At the mid-point of the path through life, I found
Myself lost in a wood so dark, the way
Ahead was blotted out. (Clive James, 2013)

Halfway through a bad trip
I found myself in this stinking car park,
Underground, miles from Amarillo… (Philip Terry, 2014)
Happy World Poetry Day.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Jean-François Cornu, film translation researcher, translator, subtitler

We are delighted to announce a visit to Bristol by Dr Jean-François Cornu, distinguished researcher in film translation, translator and subtitler.

Dr Cornu will give two talks. The first is a research seminar:

Principles for a historiography of film translation

Tuesday 24 March 2015

University of Bristol, Woodland Road, BS8
Arts Complex LR8, 5.15-7pm
(Entrance for external visitors via 3-5 Woodland Rd)
There is film history, and there is translation history. But is there such a thing as film translation history? Whether we call it film translation, screen translation, or audiovisual translation, this particular form of translation does have a history, which remains largely unexplored to this day.
This talk will try to define what film translation is, when it started, whether it belongs to any existing field of research or is a field in its own right. It will include a number of film clips and will suggest some principles for a historiography of film translation. 

The lecture will be delivered in English. Followed by a glass of wine! All welcome.

The second talk is entitled:

Aesthetics and the nuts and bolts of subtitling

This session will use film clips to focus on practical subtitling issues including layout and the relationship between subtitles and the other codes of the film.

Wednesday 25 March
43 Woodland Road, LR2, 12 noon-1pm

Dr Jean-François Cornu is a professional translator specialising in subtitling and the translation from English into French of books on cinema and art. A former Senior Lecturer at the University of Rennes-2, France, he is now an independent film researcher. In 2014, he published the monograph Le doublage et le sous-titrage: histoire et esthétique [Dubbing and subtitling: history and aesthetics] (Presses universitaires de Rennes). He is a co-editor of the e-journal L’Écran traduit.
For more information on Dr Cornu, please see this filmed interview in the Journal of Specialised Translation. 

The 'speech-man': Screen translation and the benshi tradition in Japan

We are very excited about our upcoming conference on 'Splendid Innovations' in the history of film translation, focusing on the 1920s and 1930s and the arrival of sound. We have an extraordinary international line-up of speakers: for the full list, or to register, click here.

Alongside this event, we are delighted to be featuring an open evening showcasing the Japanese tradition of the benshi, or film narrator. Benshi performed alongside the film, and were big stars in Japan in the silent period. Here's a mention of the benshi from an American newspaper report of 1927:

 Snippet from the Lincoln Star, 10 July 1927, from

(I should say that despite the phrase 'speech-man' benshi are not only men - for instance, the distinguished benshi Midori Sawato). There are some more details about the work of the benshi here. See also Markus Nornes' wonderful book Cinema Babel: Translating Global Cinema.

Our benshi is Kataoka Ichiro, a distinguished performer who has taken part in film screenings around the world. You can find more information on Mr Kataoka's background here. The event will also feature Professor Markus Nornes, a specialist in Japanese cinema as well as author of some of the most interesting work on audiovisual translation. Mr Kataoka and Professor Nornes will present narration for short films from Japanese and English, and there will be an opportunity for questions and answers. For more information, here is a clip of Mr Kataoka performing:

The event is designed to be accessible for non-Japanese speakers, though Japanese speakers are of course warmly welcome. Feel free to circulate the flyer below to anyone you think might be interested. To register for this event, see the event webpage here. The event is free, but registration is required.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Juliette Scott talk on research into legal translation, 20 March 2015

We are delighted to announce a forthcoming paper by Juliette Scott. Juliette is a legal translator from French and Italian, and an interpreter between French, Italian and English. She is completing a PhD at the University of Bristol on the commissioning of legal translation. She blogs about translation and law at @wordstodeeds.

Her presentation will be entitled:

Academic research, lawyers and legal translators: 
 Swimming in the same sea 
Friday 20 March
Arts Complex LR1, 5-6pm
(entrance via 3-5 Woodland Road) 

The presentation will talk about the relationship between research and practice, based on Juliette's doctoral research project, which in turn has developed out of two decades of experience as a legal translator and interpreter.

See here for more about our spring events on translation.

Image by slagheap under a Creative Commons licence, with many thanks.
Juliette Scott is an English-French-Italian translator and interpreter based in Europe. She specializes in the legal field and blogs about translation and law at Words to Deeds. - See more at:
Juliette Scott is an English-French-Italian translator and interpreter based in Europe. She specializes in the legal field and blogs about translation and law at Words to Deeds. - See more at:

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Missing the joke? Hellzapoppin! in translation

I'm excited about taking part in the upcoming 'Authors and the World' workshop in Lancaster on Discourses of Literary Celebrity Across Genres (see here for more information). I'll be talking about literary celebrity and subtitling, which are two things that don't really seem to go together.

Well, nearly never. Every now and then, a subtitler makes a name for themselves, like Mai Harris, Herman Weinberg, Linda Hoaglund or Lenny Borger. There is even the rare 'celebrity' subtitler like Anthony Burgess for Rappeneau's Cyrano de Bergerac. When the 1941 Universal comedy extravaganza Hellzapoppin was released in France after the end of the Second World War, it was advertised as a 'version originale sous-titrée par LES ROIS DES LOUFOQUES Pierre Dac and Fernand Rauzéna'. Dac was a comedian who broadcast for the French resistance from Radio Londres during the war. Fernand Rauzéna was an actor whose work included dubbing Stan Laurel and who worked with Dac on the Société des Loufoques radio show in the second half of the 1930s.

(Thanks (again) to Sam B. for pointing this one out). As you can see from the poster, the French subtitler writers' names are bigger than those of the film's stars.

I haven't seen a French version of this film yet, but I'm curious to see how they manage the zany humour of the original film. ("May I take your picture?" says a keen photographer, before removing a framed canvas from the wall and running off with it.) Unfortunately, as I understand it, the DVD of the film released in France doesn't have these much-trumpeted subtitles, but a well-received new subtitle translation by Michelle Nahon.

I do, however, have an Italian dubbed version of the film and I can see already that some of the humour seems to have dissipated in translation. (For one thing, the whole sequence containing the line quoted above has disappeared in the television broadcast version I have so I can't see how they would have done that in Italian.) My current project focuses on written text on screen, so I'm most interested in the credits, insert shots etc. The English credits for Hellzapoppin' finish with a devil (seen below in the far left of the image) pulling down a title card saying:

The camera then zooms in on the card and the film's title. In Italian this insert is reshot, but as is fairly standard when inserts are reshot in translation, instead of reproducing the sequence they simply provide the text, superimposed on the same background as the rest of the credits. Alas, the Italian translators (not credited anywhere on my copy) don't seem to have read the text very closely: the Italian text is a standard disclaimer of the type "any similarity with actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental".

(Screenshots prepared by the indefatigable Sina Stuhlert, to whom all thanks.)

For a longer preview of what I'll be talking about in Lancaster (with added stats!) see here.