31 July 2015

Mapping the United Swears of America

Kevin Lossner, who writes Translation Tribulations, posted a link on Facebook today to a fascinating piece from Strong Language — a sweary blog about swearing — on Mapping the United Swears of America.
The following quotes are provided to help you decide if you want to read more:
Jack Grieve, lecturer in forensic linguistics at Aston University in Birmingham, UK, has created a detailed set of maps of the US showing strong regional patterns of swearing preferences. The maps are based on an 8.9-billion-word corpus of geo-coded tweets collected by Spatial Data Mining and Visual Analytics Lab in 2013–14 and funded by Digging into Data.
As Grieve put it, ‘pretty much everyone’s swearing. We just don’t all prefer the same words’.
For more on the method of spatial analysis used to create the maps, see for example Grieve’s ‘A regional analysis of contraction rate in written Standard American English’ (PDF), or ‘A statistical method for the identification and aggregation of regional linguistic variation’ (PDF).
The power offered by Spatial Data Mining and Visual Analytics Lab is awesome.

I look forward to something similar on Australian slang and swearing.

In the news #1

Today's Telegraph features an article entitled Translators to be eligible for Man Booker Prize with the kicker "A 'reconfigured' Man Booker International Prize will split prize money equally between authors and their translators".

I particularly like the following passage:
Umberto Eco publicly acknowledged the debt he owed to the late William Weaver, who translated his books from Italian to English. “The Name of the Rose by Bill Weaver,” he remarked, “is a better novel than The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.” The book sold millions of copies, was made into a film starring Sir Sean Connery, and earned Weaver enough money to build an extension to his Tuscan villa that he dubbed “the Eco chamber”.

25 July 2015

On language complications in Ethiopia

The following passages from a piece by Katrina Manson entitled The Ethiopia paradox in today's FT Magazine will likely appeal to the language sensitive :
“An Ethiopian can sound like he’s flattering you, ... but really he’s insulting you.”
... doublespeak features deep in its soul. “Twenty per cent of language here is said; 80 per cent is understood”.
Disguising feelings runs deep. There is even a national form of poetry, semna werk (wax and gold), dedicated to doublespeak. The idea is that the greatest elegance consists in compressing meaning into the fewest words possible, layering in hidden messages. ... the wax is the cover — the superficial polite meaning that melts away to reveal the true, valuable meaning. The “gold” hidden in the couplets regularly offers disguised insults — whether of a host’s poor feast or the direction of political leadership. 
Just think for a minute of the translation challenges Amharic and other Ethiopian languages pose any translator wishing to inform, say, an English speaker or a western European of the deep intended meaning of what an Ethiopian might be saying ...

And, just for fun, according to the Language Translator English-to-Amharic transliteration tool, Steve Dyson transliterates into Amharic as ስቴቭኤ ድይሶን. And semna werk as ሰምና ወርቅ.
If ever the back issues of the Ethiopian Herald from 1970 are digitised and put on line I might be able to track down an article about my motorcycle trip through the country from south to north and some items I lost along the way. More interesting for the moment is the fact that some quick Google searches using Amharic script proved successful.

Even top Europe-based CEOs sometimes lack key language skills

Today's editions of various English-language newspapers around the world carried a Bloomberg-syndicated article by David De Jong and Jeffrey Voegeli entitled Global CEOs who lack language skills getlost in translation.

The article tells the stories of the demise of Indian-born British national Anshu Jain as co-CEO of Deutsche Bank AG and American Brady Dougan as CEO of Credit Suisse Group AG.

In May 2015, Jain addressed the annual meeting of Germany’s largest bank saying, in German: “On this day, every word matters,” then delivered the rest of his 2,000-word address in English, his mother tongue. Less than three weeks later, Jain resigned after losing the confidence of investors.

Brady Dougan left Zurich-based Credit Suisse in June after eight years in office and a long struggle with German.

After noting that: 
While their failure to master German didn't cost Jain and Dougan their jobs, it drew criticism in their host countries and deprived the CEOs of a valuable tool for connecting with local shareholders, customers and colleagues.
De Jong and Voegeli go on to make a couple of interesting points:
Many multinationals based in Europe -- including Airbus Group SE, Daimler AG and SAP SE -- have adopted English as their corporate language. They reason this will help integration, ease negotiations on acquisitions and speed globalization of tasks and resources. But English isn’t enough. As the firm’s public face, CEOs are expected to reflect the local culture, including the language, which is important at a time when the growing dominance of English can breed resentment at home. 
What translators and interpreters would like to know is whether these CEOs were aware of their lack of expertise in the relevant languages to the point of hiring interpreters or at least distributing translations of their speeches and whether such strategies would have been effective in the given contexts.

24 July 2015

The unbearable elusiveness of natural language translation

Stratfor's, aka Stratfor Global Intelligence, deals primarily with geopolitics. Anyone who signs up receives at least one geopolitical intelligence report free of charge per week. Alternatively, once can pay a subscription fee of $US99/year for unlimited access. Aside from geopolitics, the site also published occasional articles and reports on a host of issues. Today the site features an article entitled Approaching a Quantum Leap in Computing; on 22 July Stratfor's published The unbearable elusiveness of natural language translation, by Jay Ogilvy, a topic much closer to my readers' hearts.

After a hesitant start including a collection of translation 'blunders' that those more widely read in translation studies and translatology might be tempted to call 'old chestnuts', Professor Obilvy moves on to a series of masterly 'thumbnail accounts' of insights by leading linguists and philosophers that, in addition to demonstrating his premise (i.e. the elusiveness of natural language translation) usefully remind translators of concepts that should be part of their everyday awareness.

Some quotable quotes:
People who get worked up about the prospects for natural language translation are victims of a very simple, very basic confusion. They think that translating one natural language into another ... is like translating Morse code into English. Wrong!
... natural languages ... don't work like codes ... rather (they) thrive on ambiguity, multiple meanings, plays on words and context .... 
Linguistics professor George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson have built their well-deserved reputations around the insight that metaphor is not just second best to literalism: Metaphor is the very meat of natural language. ... "I grasped his argument". "Hold that thought!"
Ludwig Wittgenstein is probably the foremost philosopher of language from the 20th century. He opened our eyes to the ways that natural language works. His Philosophical Investigations is one of the great books of the last century, puzzled over by legions of perplexed students.
... He argued that there are many different language games, not just literal representation using declarative sentences. In addition to simple description, there's exhortation, joking, inquiring, inviting, or what philosophers J. L. Austin and John Searle later called a range of different "speech acts".
This thumbnail account of the later Wittgenstein only begins to tap the profundity of his breakthrough regarding natural language and its differences from literal description.
As ... Wittgenstein showed us, natural language is a congeries of ... purposes that go far beyond literal description. As Lakoff and Johnson show us, the distorting lenses of metaphor are inexpungible from our use of natural language.
Now for my ... last argument against pursuing the holy grail of natural language translation ... the closer we get to workable, usable natural language translation programs ... the bigger the screw-ups when they fail.

21 July 2015

APTRAD, Portugal's new association for language professionals

It's been quite a few years since Portugal had a dynamic, energetic translators' and interpreters' association.

The situation now appears to have improved following the setting up of APTRAD, the Portuguese Association of Translators and Interpreters in Porto in February 2015. This is good news indeed.

The APTRAD site, solely in Portuguese for the moment, is crisp, clean and full of promise. The association has chosen The Alexandria Library to organise and conduct its CPD (continuous professional development) courses with the fringe benefit that the Library has put on line a page entitled APTRAD and The Alexandria Library: a strong partnership for Portuguese online CPD informing the world in English of just about everything anyone needs to know both APTRAD and the said agreement. Good work! I wish them all the best.

Why all companies should work with a freelance translator

London-based Sara Colombo, translator, copywriter, transcreator and owner of Sara Colombo Translations, has published an excellent article on the LinkedIn Pulse blog entitled Why all companies should work with a freelance translator.

Having tried myself to draft an article on these same lines on several occasions, I know how difficult it is to prioritise and organise the arguments then hone the form until everything is crisp, clear and concise. Sara has successfully prioritised and organised her arguments, but could benefit, I suspect, from additional input to make her points more crisply and more concisely.

Excellent work all the same.
Sara's tagline is "Here to balance your words". Nice!

15 July 2015

Localisation: the state of the art #2

The Brand2Global website and events cover an array of marketing and brand management issues, including localisation (aka localization or l10n). The list of conference speakers is truly impressive.
Brand2Global conference is an annual event designed for professionals who drive global marketing and are responsible for international market share and revenue. Come for an opportunity to learn cutting-edge techniques; and network with peers from around the world.
At first glance it looked to me like more hype on another big-ticket conference.
(Standard pricing once early bird rates expire: £1250 for the full 2-day conference or £675 for a single day.)

But, then I read
  • Why we shouldn't translate marketing ... and we do it anyway, by Wayne Bourland, Director of Dell's Global Localization Team in the latest issue of Brand Quarterly and 
  • the Influencer Insights interview with Rashmi Schaefers, SAP's Vice President, Content Services And Localization, also in the latest issue of Brand Quarterly.
The state of the art, or at the very least, the latest descriptions of what the state of the art should be, have come a long way. While the language industry has long suffered, IMHO, from too many service providers who are better at painting pretty pictures than they are at delivering high-quality content, a better discourse is still a step in the right direction.

Localisation: the state of the art #1

Why we shouldn't translate marketing ... and we do it anyway, by Wayne Bourland*, Director of Dell's Global Localization Team, appears on page 6 of the latest issue of Brand Quarterly.
* Wayne Bourland is recognized as an agent for change, driving innovation and process efficiencies across global organizations. He is currently responsible for translation of Dell.com and marketing collateral for more than 100 organizations across Dell. With no background in linguistics, he approaches the industry with a different perspective, focusing on end value and customer acceptance versus traditional industry KPIs.
Here's an article that clearly demonstrates first, that you do not need to come up through the ranks of the language services industry to become an innovative, perceptive leader in localisation; second, that some localisation team leaders working for major corporations have gained deep understanding of how wordworkers and their workflows go about their assigned duties; and third, that some suppliers are meeting the needs of these leaders.

Here are some excerpts:

Since I can't add my own bold or highlighting to these excepts allow me to rephrase three particularly perceptive observations:
  • If our sole aim was to produce the best possible copy in local languages, we wouldn't translate. Instead, wwould use local in-house copywriters or a local ad agency. 
  • We invest significant effort in creating great marketing copy in the source language then turn it over to a translation team and expect the same level of quality at a fraction of the cost, not to mention delivery in a matter of days.
  • What? We paid $350 for the translation – compared to the $75k invested in the source and gave the translators three whole days – compared to the six weeks and 19 different exec reviews for the original – and it isn't spot on!? Who did the translation? They should be fired! Let's get a new vendor!! Note: $75k is 214 times $350.

Steve Dyson: approach, work samples & more

Samples, technical:  Show 'em what you can do #2 
                                   Show 'em what you can do #11.1 or Turning a problem passage into a gem
Samples, books:       Work samples, books
Samples, other:        Je vais passer pour un vieux con, #2
Contributor to:        101 Things a Translator Needs to Know by WLF Think Tank.

Other:                         Swim rankings

Work samples, books

Naval Forces – Focus on French technologyOctober 2014, English only, translated and adapted by Steve Dyson.

Mer et Marine / Sea and Navy Naval Forces – Focus on French technology
2013, English, translated and adapted by Steve Dyson.

Consult here.

Frégate La Fayette, hardcover, October 1996, Éditions du Chêne, by Michel Bez, preface by Thierry d'Arbonneau, bilingual French-English, translated and adapted by Steve Dyson.

Câbliers, hardcover, 1991, Éditions Chourgnoz, by Chourgnoz Jean-Marie, Godiniaux Patrick Salvador René, bilingual French-English, translated and adapted by Steve Dyson.

Il était une fois UTA, hardcover, December 1991, Éditions Chourgnoz, by Henri Mézière, , bilingual French-English, photos by Jean-Marie Chourgnoz, translated and adapted by Roger Depledge and Steve Dyson.

Is Translation an Art or a Math Problem?

NYT Magazine | THE TECH & DESIGN ISSUE, 4 June 2015:
Is Translation an Art or a Math Problem? 
by Gideon Lewis-Krausjune

Some quotable quotes from an excellent overview of the title question, including a brief history of machine translation and a few words on David Bellos's Is That a Fish in Your Ear? and his history of the very idea of “infidelity”.
Note: the French version of Bellos's book, translated by Daniel Loayza, is entitled "Le poisson et le bananier. Une histoire fabuleuse de la traduction".
Translation is possible, and yet we are still bedevilled by conflict. This fallen state of affairs is often attributed to the translators, who must not be doing a properly faithful job. The most succinct expression of this suspicion is “traduttore, traditore,” a common Italian saying that’s really an argument masked as a proverb. It means, literally, “translator, traitor,” but even though that is semantically on target, it doesn’t match the syllabic harmoniousness of the original, and thus proves the impossibility it asserts.                                              (I think I would have said 'harmony' rather than  'harmoniousness'...)
Many computational linguists continue to claim that, after all, they are interested only in “the gist” and that their duty is to find inexpensive and fast ways of trucking the gist across languages. But they have effectively arrogated to themselves the power to draw a bright line where “the gist” ends and “style” begins.
What mostly annoys human translators isn’t the arrogance of machines but their appropriation of the work of forgotten or anonymous humans. ... In a sense, their machines aren’t actually translating; they’re just speeding along tracks set down by others. This is the original sin of machine translation: The field would be nowhere without the human translators they seek, however modestly, to supersede.
... all the human translators and all the computational linguists are in the same leaky boat, but the machinists are bailing out the water while the humans embroider monograms on the sails.
Many translators will feel at least a little uncomfortable with the last image, and more so with some of Lewis-Krausjune's other comments, including:
... human translators are finicky and inconsistent and prone to complaint ...
One computational linguist said, with a knowing leer, that there is a reason we have more than 20 translations in English of Don Quixote. It must be because nobody ever gets it right. If the translators can’t even make up their own minds about what it means to be “faithful” or “accurate”, what’s the point of worrying too much about it? Let’s just get rid of the whole antiquated fidelity concept.

14 July 2015

A history of the word 'surveillance'

Some quotes from a piece on BBC Magazine Monitor / The Vocabularist / Words unpicked entitled The very French history of the word 'surveillance':
France's first Comite de Surveillance was set up in 1792, at first to keep watch over suspicious strangers, then to recommend suspects for arrest. Local surveillance committees were started all over the country.
The French flavour of surveillance has been lost - although for some the practice of the authorities in scooping up the messages of "whole populations" means it still sounds sinister to some.
But the veillance (vigilantia) part of it is related to a wide range of very respectable words meaning unsleeping, attentive, active or lively.

FT quotes translator

From the Best comments from our readers column in today's Financial Times:
"I am a professional translator, and I have been grappling all my working life with the question of how to achieve the best translation. No machine can do that. What Google Translate does is that it compiles known translations of words and expressions and gives you a list of them. It is merely number crunching."
By Abdullah on Cheer up, the post-human era is dawning

TJ vs TW and their translation

A quotable quote from the 250th issue of A computer journal for translation professionals:
We've discussed translation memory-based authoring a good number of times here and elsewhere. From our perspective as translators, it's a no-brainer: If technical authors used translation memories and termbases as they write in the same way translators do, not only would the documentation they produce be more consistent, there would be a much greater number of matches when it comes to the translation phase. After all, many of the authoring choices would be based on matches in existing translation memories, which in turn would turn into matches again when it comes to the new translation pass.
As far as I know, only two companies offer TM-based authoring products today: Across with its crossAuthor and -- now I finally come to where I was going the whole time -- Star with its MindReader.
Technical journalism is, of course, different. Whereas "write once, use often" and terminological consistency are hallmarks of technical writing, both are often anathema to technical journalists. While this is understandable in the case of TJ for hardcopy publications, some areas of corporate technical communication should perhaps be revisited. There are savings to be made and there is time to be gained wherever technical journalism methods can be productively replaced by technical writing (TW) methods, particularly in the case of documents destined for translation.

More generally, it seems to me that the workflows and production methodologies of corporate communications could benefit from more high-level review than they do from the quick-fix and quick-savings strategies applied by purchasing officers with limited understanding of how word workers do their jobs.

09 July 2015

Terminologie défense navale

Je travaille sur une nouvelle mise à jour de mon Glossaire français-anglais de la défense navale (ISBN 978-989-97568-0-9). A cette fin, je recherche les équivalents français des termes listé ci-dessous:
I am updating A French-English glossary of naval defence (ISBN 978-989-97568-0-9)
As part of this work, I am looking for French equivalents of the terms listed below:

Naval shipbuilding:

  • person-hour per compensated gross tonne / manhour per compensated gross tonne / manhour per compensated gross tonne (unit of shipbuilding productivity): source.
  • build slot 
  • shipbuilding position (Types: inclined way, side-launching platform, shipbuilding basin)


  • listening 'bird' / listening 'bird' (because it measures time of flight) source.
  • marine sound signal / marine sound signal (MSS) : source / warning charge : source.
  • sound short (definition: any hard, non-isolated connection between a noise source and the hull).

Military IT:

  • software fusion Context: The Marines expect to declare their STOVL variant of the stealthy fifth-generation aircraft ready for initial operational capability (IOC) despite difficulties with software fusion

Military procurement:

  • life of type extension (LOTE) (source: Jane's 14/09/14)
  • GoCo / government owned, company operated /
  • "directed offsets" policy Context: The "directed offsets" policy requires foreign companies to set up manufacturing bases in India.

Uber for translators?

In response to the excellent post of 30 June by Mark Sinclair -- Delivering engagement platforms to help industry bodies and professionals adapt to a networked economy -- entitled Why Uber is even more brilliant than we first thought ...,
I commented:
Very interesting indeed. There is a wide range of services that end customers currently purchase either directly from independent suppliers or through agencies that could benefit from a similar disruptive technology. This applies to any profession or activity with freelancers and micro-enterprises at the bottom of the pyramid. All the efforts that I'm aware of to date have been based on "bottom feeder" strategies and high short-term profits, not on optimal service, improved conditions, greater transparency, efficient info feedback, and so forth.

07 July 2015

Lived time vs spacetime

On Wednesday 24 June 2015, Joe Gelonesi, presenter of Australian ABC Radio National's The Philosopher's Zone, interviewed science historian Jimena Canales in a program entitled Einstein vs Bergson, science vs philosophy and the meaning of time.
Listen here; text here.

Some excerpts

Canales had uncovered the transcript of a meeting that took place on 6 April 1922 at the esteemed Société Francaise de Philosophie in Paris. The protagonists were none other than Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson. In dispute was the very nature of time.

Bergson’s Creative Evolution, published in 1907, had put him on the map, and introduced perhaps his most enduring idea — élan vital. Through it Bergson attempted to explain the march of the universe in a non-Darwinian sense, the vital energy that drives all forward. Bergson understood this as a concept that science could grasp only imperfectly, and one that lies at the heart of the creative impulse.
Bergson argued that if we didn’t have a prior sense of time we wouldn’t have been led to build clocks and we wouldn’t even use them ... unless we wanted to go places and to events that mattered.

The meeting 6 was supposed to be a cordial affair, though it ended up being anything but.
‘I have to say that day exploded and it was referenced over and over again in the 20th century,’ says Canales. ‘The key sentence was something that Einstein said: “The time of the philosophers does not exist.”’

In some ways the pronouncement was to be expected; physics triumphalism dictates that at some point philosophy will exhaust itself and be unable to solve the mysteries that science seems to conquer in leaps. It’s been coming for a while; at least since the word science replaced natural philosophy a few centuries ago.

Einstein would say that time is what clocks measure. 
Bergson would no doubt ask why we build clocks in the first place.
‘He argued that if we didn’t have a prior sense of time we wouldn’t have been led to build clocks and we wouldn’t even use them ... unless we wanted to go places and to events that mattered,’ says Canales. ‘You can see that their points of view were very different.’

In a theoretical nutshell this expressed perfectly the division between lived time and spacetime: subjective experience versus objective reality.

... but what has any of this to do with translation?

On hearing this — and the passing comment that it might be useful to have separate words for 'lived time' and 'spacetime' — I wondered:
Does any natural language make this distinction?

06 July 2015

Microsoft mission statement: so many words, most of them empty

Regular readers will be well aware that I am a fan of Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway. These same readers will also be aware that I report regularly on big-name executives and big-name companies that consistently demonstrate not only their own poor communication skills, but also their blindness to their shortcomings, hence the benefits of calling in professionals.

Lucy's latest piece on this theme, dated 5 July, is entitled Microsoft mission statement: so many words, most of them empty.
Something resembling Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's new mission statement is available here.
The full text of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella's email to his 'team' containing the corporation's new 2015 mission statement, as obtained independently by GeekWire, is available here.

Would anyone out there in the blogosphere happen to have any Microsoft translations of this document?

As I've said here before, the translation industry makes life difficult for itself when  it classifies translations into rigid simplistic dichotomies like 'literary v commercial' or 'general v technical'.
Presumably anyone using 'general v technical' — and the underlying assumption that the former is easier than the latter — would classify this mission statement as 'general'.
To my mind, the emptier the text, the harder it is to translate.

Some quotes from Lucy's latest:

... the usual mishmash of “platforms”, “drivers”, “ecosystems”, “aligns”, “DNAs” and “going forwards” — as well as some more ambitious combinations such as “extend our experience footprint”.
This is what routinely passes for CEO communication in corporate America. But what is special about this example is it came from a big leader of a big company making a big announcement. Microsoft’s third chief executive was trying to convince the world that the company has a plan, and to remind employees what it is, in case they had forgotten. Yet what he came up with was unreadable, largely meaningless hyperbole — and no one turned a hair.
In the early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates came up with a vastly better mission: a computer on every desk and in every home.

02 July 2015

Going Ballistic - a new history of aggression

Here is some serious food for thought for technical journalists and translators specialising in matters military in the form of a thought-provoking radio talk broadcast by Australia's ABC on Thursday 25 June 2015 under the Big Ideas banner.

The Big Ideas page summarised Going Ballistic - a new history of aggression by Joanna Bourke Professor of History in the Department of History, Classics and Archaeology at Birkbeck College as follows:
Our understanding of the role of aggression in human behaviour has changed dramatically over the last two centuries – from a celebrated part of masculinity, to something more dark and pathological.
And the notion of whether aggression is an innate part of human behaviour is still contested.
Historian Joanna Burke has written a ‘new’ history of aggression, which examines the growth of sciences like ballistics, wound ballistics, weapon design – all aimed at creating the perfect killing machine.
In this chilling talk, she examines the men who she says went ballistic – the scientists behind the development of modern mass warfare.
Professor Bourke's talk includes a detailed review of the evolution of the meaning of and connotations associated with the word 'aggression' in English.
This will be of interest to any into-English translator working on military history or a diachronic translation (i.e. a version in language emulating the English of the same period as the original) of military documents of a given date.
(Aside: In the early 1970s when I first became interested in learning how to translate, I acted as a 'sounding board' for a certain Werner Kowarsch, a German-mother-tongue translator who sometimes had to translate or commission translations into English. I learnt a great deal working with Werner. One day, a museum in Germany asked him to produce a diachronic translation of some historical documents in French concerning the battle of Watterloo. Indeed, the request specifically stipulated that the translation should emulate the language of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, the Prussian Generalfeldmarschall (field marshal) who most notably led his army against Napoleon I at the Battle of the Nations at Leipzig in 1813 and the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, in alliance with the Duke of WellingtonAll of which I add simply to demonstrate that working translators do indeed sometimes receive requests to produce diachronic translations.)
Joanna Bourke is also the author of Wounding the World: How Military Violence and War-Play Invade our Lives.

NavTechGloss: client satisfait

La publi-info postée par Mer et Marine le 15 mai donne une indication du niveau de satisfaction du client. Voir  18ème édition du Lexique f...