Translators Conference, Jerusalem Feb 2016 Day Three

The third day of the conference started bright and early -- far too early for me. The early-birds went on a tour of Machne Yehuda Market with a fascinating young man named Guy Sharett who is a linguist, Hebrew teacher, entertainer, and sharp-eyed collector of linguistic graffiti. The rest of us lazybones had to make do with his talk at the post-breakfast plenary: The Israeli Linguistic Landscape: Stuff I Found in the Street. Luckily for all of us, Guy's website is delightfully colorful, insightful, and educational in a lighthearted way. "Everything that happens in the streets can be used to teach Hebrew", says Guy. Go see for yourself. I'll just post a slide of one item that particularly appeals to me; plus one that I saw and liked in Rome:

You got up this morning? Thank the Lord. All else is a bonus.

Treat your life as you would a work of art
The next plenary talk, Translating Hannah, has a subtitle nearly as long as the session itself, so I'll shorten it: Brazilian Author Ronaldo Wrobel discussed the demanding task of translating his work into Hebrew (by Dalit Lahav-Durst) and into German (by Nicolai von Scweder-Schreiner.) Apparently, he wrote his book in Portuguese, so first and foremost it had to be translated into Spanish. I didn't succeed in following everything that was said, but one important point that came up was, that when the author doesn't speak the target language at all, it's difficult for him to extend any help to the translator. Yes, he can explain something which the translator finds perplexing, say. But he cannot help the translator make any informed choices in the target language.

On this day, I chose the Literary Track. The first session was a panel dedicated to translating Jane Austen's work into Hebrew. Panel participants were: Shai SendikLee Evron VakninInga MichaeliInbal Sagiv NakdimonMichal LadanRacheli Lavi. Now, this panel was sure to be an eye-opener, because I'd only ever read Jane Austen in English. And whereas, when reading a current-day English novel, I might find myself wondering, "Gosh, how would this sound in Hebrew?", with Jane Austen the thought had never even crossed my mind. I had a vague feeling that someone, at some point, would probably wrestle with this, and was sort of relieved it wouldn't be me.
Not only did I get a chance to hear several talented translators/editors discuss their choices, read out select passages and compare notes; but I also learnt about Jane Austen's early writing, which I  hadn't heard of before. So I have something new (that is, old, actually) to look forward to! In case you're interested, the Jane Austen Information Page is probably the treasure trove you're looking for. The translators on this panel said that the annotated versions were a great help.
Update: Was delighted to learn that Inbal uploaded to YouTube a video of this panel. Thanks to Inbal, for uploading, and to Victor Flickstein, for calling my attention to it.

I skipped the next slot -- there was nothing of interest to me. I'd planned to listen to Yael Sela Shapiro's talk, even though I'm fairly adept at Googling; but it'd been cancelled.

Last session before the coffee break: The wonderful Roni Gelbish on a Very Touchy subject: Translators as Enemies and How to Protect Your Book from Them. Any writer feels protective of his "baby", his creation; and I'm sure most have misgivings about placing their precious "baby" in the hands of someone else, who's going to "do things" to it. If you're Amos Oz and your novel is translated into English and your own English is not half bad, you can probably afford to have your say, to work hand in hand with the translator, and the two of you can drive each other crazy. But books are also translated into languages the author doesn't know at all. Which is when he/she feels they have no control over the process.
Roni gave an amusing example: Apparently, Constance Garnett (1861-1946), translated about as fast as she typed. From Russian to English! Some 73 volumes! It's easy to poke fun at her translations, which understandably suffer from some shortcomings. But nonetheless, her translations made dozens of good books accessible to readers who wouldn't otherwise have been able to read them. And I assume that later translators must have availed themselves of her work, even if just by "peeking" to see how Garnett had dealt with certain expressions or words. (Er, sometimes she didn't. She just ignored them.)
Roni's talk was followed by Open Mike, where we all had our say on this thorny matter. A translator should find something to love in the book, then give it his all. The writer, according to Margaret Atwood, has got to let go. Let go, trust your translator, and let your work reincarnate in a different language. Yes, it may come out "different", but that doesn't mean it won't be good and won't be loved by your readers in other parts of the world. A case in point is Oz's A Tale of Love and Darkness, which is popular in China, despite entire chapters that were left out. Other cases we're familiar with from childhood are Erich Kastner's Das doppelte Lottchen, aka Lottie and Lisa, aka Ora Hakfula, which was quite thoroughly "localized" both in the Israeli-Hebrew book version and in the American movie The Parents' Trap; and Little Women, which, in its Israeli-Hebrew version, was "cleansed" of obvious Christian themes and passages. All of which did not make us love those books any less than they were loved in their original language, by their original audience.

Over to the last plenary on the last day of the conference:
Writer Dror Mishani spoke on The Mystery of the Hebrew Detective: Thoughts about Detectives and Translation. I'm quite sure the first [literary] detective I ever met was Sherlock Holmes, in Hebrew, when I was still in grade school. Because, as Mishani pointed out, for years detective novels were considered "not real literature", and thus relegated to the kids' section in libraries. I remember only too well being home alone on a stormy winter night, reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, and being too scared to go to bed before my parents returned. The first detective I met in English was Nancy Drew; I'll never forget The Mystery of the Moss-Covered Mansion!
I think that next time I'm at my grandkids', I'll finally pick up one of Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret novels that have been beckoning to me for years now. (In Hebrew; my French isn't good enough.)

Despite being in overload, I managed to take notes during Jost Zetzsche's talk, Getting Back into the Driver Seat: What We Can Do to Determine the Future of the Translation Profession. True -- says Zetzsche -- technology can collect tons of data from lots of journals the world over and machine-translate it within seconds. But only human intelligence can prevent hysterically funny (and potentially dangerous) misunderstandings. We professional translators are passionate about our work; we love what we do, and love to complain about it ;)  But are we an industry?
"Everyone" thinks that pretty soon the world will no longer need real, live translators, and our offspring won't need to bother learning a foreign language. Of course, we translators know this is drivel. But it's up to us to affect the discourse and effect a change. We have to "engage", be pro-active, be part of the process. We have the power to influence the way linguistic products are developed, and we should make sure they are developed in a way that will help us do our job better.

C'est tout.
See you next year!




Translators Conference, Jerusalem Feb 2016 Day 2 Academic Track cont'd

Here we are again, still on Day 2 of the conference, and the next talk in the academic track is by my colleague Inga Michaeli, a very prolific English>Hebrew translator of travel guides, non-fiction and fiction by authors as diverse as Dave Barry, Stephen King, Thomas L. Friedman, and -- oh, the list is too long; just go to her website.

This time, her talk was entitled Between Transparency and Ideology -- Translation Politics and the Politics of Translation. An important topic, that tied in nicely with Temima Fruchter's talk. I listened and enjoyed the session, but didn't take notes, since I'm very familiar with this issue. Also, a similar talk, though from a different point of view, was given in the plenary session of the 2015 conference, by journalist Eetta Prince-Gibson: Objectivity, Subjectivity and Bias: A Journalist's View of Translation in Conflict. Last year I did take notes, but never got beyond posting about the first day of the conference :-(   To make a long story short, whether you are reporting on politics or translating a report on politics, you cannot always resort to neutral words, even if you wanted to. Your choices betray your attitude and your convictions, or at least the biases and guidelines of those who pay you to write.

Next lecture was Translating Creativity by Jeffrey Green. This sounded intriguing. After opening with examples of creativity in various fields such as music and art, Green continued with creativity in translation -- obviously a topic of interest to most translators. Why, even in so-called dry or technical translating, one is often challenged and must think creatively in order to produce good work. Well then, imagine having to translate S.Y. Agnon! Though I haven't read much of Agnon's writings -- mainly what we studied in high-school, plus another couple of stories that my daughter studied in high school -- I always wondered how he got the Nobel prize in literature. I'm not saying he didn't deserve it; all I'm saying is, that I wondered in what language the judges read his writings, and whether these were good translations, and how on earth does one do justice to Agnon's peculiar Hebrew style. So I was pleased when Green handed out pages with Agnon's Hebrew text in the right column and Green's own English version in the left.
Conference program; Jeffrey Green's handout
Sorry to tell you guys that this was a disappointment. I was extremely curious to see a creative solution, but what I saw was mostly what seemed to me like taking the easy way out. The English sounded like a translation of a simplified Hebrew version of Agnon.
Now, Green himself told in an interview in 2011, how he came up with his own version of sub-standard English when translating a book whose protagonists were "Moroccan immigrants somewhere in the Galilee." His efforts were not appreciated by the publishers in London. Could that be why he decided to be less creative this time? How on earth did other translators of Agnon cope?
Guys -- seriously: If you've read English versions of an Agnon novel or short story, that you think hits the nail on the head, please tell me.

Aside #1: In an earlier ITA conference, there was an interesting joint presentation by translator Yaniv Farkas and his editor Rachel Halevi [Rachel, where art thou? Give me a link to your About page in English, please]. They spoke about Yaniv's translation of Huck Finn, and I'm sure you can imagine that was no walk in the park. Hebrew readers: Try this review of the book.
Aside #2: Just realized Jeff Green also spoke at the ITA conference of 2010. As did I :-) If you're in the mood, I highly recommend Mark Levinson's comprehensive report.
Folder with 10 years of ITA conference programs
Last session before the coffee break leading to the plenary was by Dorothea Shefer Vanson: "Every Day in Theresienstadt is a Gift", Translating the Diary of Martha Glass. Dorothea is both an experienced translator and the author of three novels, plus one more in the making. This translation was from German to English. I couldn't appreciate the German, but following Martha's thoughts and emotions in English was heart-rending, especially knowing that Martha's experiences were similar to those of Dorothea's grandmother's, except that Martha survived to tell her tale, whereas Dorothea's grandmother did not.
When blogging about her own lecture, Dorothea says plainly how nerve-wracking it can be, and I couldn't agree with her more. Aside from the nervousness and pre-lecture jitters, giving the last lecture of the day is not fun; you feel that people have had enough, they're in overload, and their attention-span has, er... been somewhat eroded. You, the speaker, are also at the mercy of your "competitors" -- the ones giving a lecture during the same time-slot, in a different room, on a perhaps "sexier" topic. I remember how I felt when giving my lecture Arbitrating in Cases of Customer Complaints at the 2011 ITA Conference.

Yay! The 2nd day is nearly over!

Daniel Goldschmidt of Microsoft spoke of Cloud and the Internet of Things - The Way Forward. I have no idea what it was all about. Yes, I know what "cloud" means in the context of computers. And the IoT is, to quote Wikipedia, "the network of physical objects -- devices, vehicles, buildings and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity -- that enables these objects to collect and exchange data." Great. The Future is here. Everything "talks" to everything. The speaker went on and on, but something about his diction and very-Israeli intonation pattern were preventing me from following what he was saying. But do go to the Wiki page, there's a cute illustration there.

Last but not least: Albert Gabay, film critic, gave a talk entitled From the Written Word to the Silver Screen. You probably wouldn't be surprised to learn that he prefers the medium of cinema to that of a written book. He likes the freedom of interpretation that comes with being a director or an actor, or a script writer, for that matter. Did you know that, to date, there have been over 900 film versions of Shakespeare's plays? And 161 film versions of Tolstoy's novels? I hope this truly impressive info comes in handy one of these days, when I'm doing a trivia quiz. (Over to you, Yoana Gonen.)

Um... there was also Day 3. Are you still with me?... Good! Here's Day Three.

Translators Conference in Jerusalem, Feb 2016 Day Two, Academic Track

Hurray! I've finally made it to the Jericho/Masada Hall, the Academic & Other Track.
The first talk was the only one given in Hebrew on that day. It was Racheli Lavi on Rhetorical Features Translators Need to Identify So that They Don't Get Lost in Translation. Long title, but spells out exactly what it's all about. I made Racheli's acquaintance during last year's ITA conference, where she and her partner were promoting their Hebrew editing software, Ivri. We got to talking (yes, that's one of the purposes of a conference...), and she told me about her own conference, dedicated to creative writing. Being a compulsive writer, I expressed an interest, and was later invited to the conference, called Nekudat Mifneh (= "Turning Point". No, not the 1977 ballet movie... Oh, you weren't even born then? Sorry.) At the time, I couldn't go. But a year later I did attend the 2nd Nekudat Mifneh conference, in November 2015, and it was great, as you can gather from my blog post about it.

Anyway. Racheli presented eight types of rhetorical devices, whose "academic" names were not all familiar to me, which doesn't mean I didn't know what she was talking about.  The definitions below are from various online dictionaries; I'm not copying Racheli's definitions since they're in Hebrew but I'm providing a link to the English definition, so go ahead and look them up!

- anaphora the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses.
- zeugma a figure of speech in which a word applies to two others in different senses
- syllepsis - another form of zeugma
- parallel structure - of which there are two or three types
- rhyming sounds (?) - not sure of the English term. A type of alliteration: the same sound is repeated in several words in the same sentence. 
- alliteration - e.g, Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers (an old childhood fave of mine)
- a string of words connected with "and" or "or, creating a kind of list
- onomatopoeia - e.g. "Chug, chug, chug. Puff, puff, puff. Ding-dong, ding-dong" (from The Little Engine that Could, which I read to my grandkids, although its old-train culture makes it a bit difficult for them to follow. Still, the quaintness lends it a unique charm.)

The examples in the lecture were from various sources, from the Bible through recent bestsellers to the immortal Jane Austen. More about the latter in my next post. Racheli is an excellent speaker, with a very relaxed and easy manner, and manages to make complex stuff sound simple and accessible.

Next session was Temima Fructer on What's This Text Really Saying? Matrices for Disclosure Analysis of Texts and Subtexts. Though I've heard of Temima, and had the vague impression that she's worth listening to, the title of the talk made me dread it. Matrices? Disclosure analysis? Sounds awfully scientific. Not that I have anything against science, god forbid :-)

However, I needn't have worried. The main idea was that words are never arbitrary. A translator should always keep that in mind when approaching a text. Questions to consider are, for example:
- What the text omits
- How sentences are linked together
- Grammatical features that carry relational value: who is the writer "talking" to; who does he/she identify with, or who he/she is identified with.
- Does the text use jargon? slang? formal language? euphemisms? If so, why?
- Think of the different expressions used to describe the same thing: blackout; power failure; power outage; load-shedding. Who and why would prefer one of these expressions to the others?
Temima speaks fast (she did warn us), and crammed quite a bit into her talk. It was time well-spent.

Next: Lunch break, followed by Stephen Rifkind's talk, With Friends Like These... Translation Pitfalls in French-English Legal Translation. I skipped this talk because: I don't do legal translation; my French is limited to conjugating verbs and reciting a bit of poetry; and I'm well aware of the phenomenon of "false friends" (even though it was years before I discovered that this common pitfall has an "academic" name).

In December 2005 I was invited by the late Prof. Miriam Shlesinger to give a presentation to all her classes at Bar Ilan University, on the actual challenges a translator faces in his/her daily work, in contrast with the theory of translation as studied at university. Four out of my 52(!) slides dealt with what I called at the time "mokshim" in Hebrew, literally "landmines", but meaning pitfalls in this context.
Here's one example I gave, of French > English mistranslation:
 "… par des documents rediges sous forme resum√©e"  - cannot be translated as "… by documents prepared in a resumed form" – it doesn't make sense in English. (Perhaps "summarized", or "in the form of a summary")
"Securité does not always mean "security"; in many contexts it means "safety".
“… une facture d'acompte etablie en six exemplaires…” - six copies, not six examples

After the lecture, Prof. Shlesinger sent me a photocopy of an academic article that discusses "false friends", which is how I learnt of this term.

Gosh, I've written over 850 words, and still want to tell you about 3 more talks/presentations, plus two lectures in the plenary session. Thanks for reading so far. More in my next post: Day 2, Academic Track continued.