A Mind @ Play

random thoughts to oil the mind

Tag: Translation

CAT Calls: Searching for Translation Software

I’ve been translating on the side for some time, but have only recently decided to make this a steadier form of income. As part of that, I wanted to investigate some of the CAT tools currently on the market. Aside from tinkering with the open source offering OmegaT some years ago, until now I hadn’t tried any of the tools listed.

As with many software niches there are a lot of options in this market, and not many straightforward answers. It sometimes seems that the smaller the niche, the more choices there are. On my list to try out were SDL Trados Studio 2011, memoQ 2013, Wordfast Anywhere, OmegaT, Déjà Vu X2 Professional and Across Personal Edition 1I didn’t actually get to try out Across’ free software option, as it immediately complained that it couldn’t open my documents as I don’t own Microsoft Word, but rather use OpenOffice. Nevertheless most reviews suggest it is software to be avoided.. In this post I look at the market leader’s offering SDL Trados Studio 2011.

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1. I didn’t actually get to try out Across’ free software option, as it immediately complained that it couldn’t open my documents as I don’t own Microsoft Word, but rather use OpenOffice. Nevertheless most reviews suggest it is software to be avoided.

Mouse or Rat?: Translation as Negotiation

Mouse or Rat?Whilst I can’t claim to have had massive expectations from this book, the author’s reputation, experience, and the subject matter piqued my interest at first glance. This book is a collection of essays roughly sewn together reflecting the author’s personal experiences in the field of translation, either via conversations and experiences with translators and translations of his own works, or through translating by his own hand.

As a collection of personal reflections collected together in essay form, there are plenty of interesting and oft amusing anecdotes which Eco ties together to support his thesis of translation as a form of negotiation between cultures. Relying to a large extent on examples taken from the various translations of his own works, he illustrates how the idea of translation must be seen through the capacity of the medium. That is to say that a language provides only a limited resource, and one rooted in its culture, which makes the art of translation a constant battle, a question of compromise, of content and connotation, of rhyme and register, of familiarity and foreignness. Eco’s own works provide plenty of toothy work for the translator, which he here amply dissects and compares, and these are at times supplemented by no lesser fry than the likes of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, for example.

Eco’s thesis notwithstanding, there are problems with the book which for me detracted from its enjoyment. Firstly, as some other reviewers have pointed out, there are some pretty steep language requirements in order to really be able to fully understand many of Eco’s examples. Italian is, naturally, the most often quoted language, along with French and Spanish as a Romanic trio of languages, and German crops up on occasion. In the case of the latter, there were a number of obvious mistakes in the book, which no doubt rest to a large extent on it not being one of Eco’s stronger suits. Indeed, although nominally a work exploring translation as a whole, the author’s own (albeit impressive) lingual skills narrows it down to an investigation of translation between Romance languages and English, with really very little mention of non-Indo-European languages or cultures, where far more interesting problems doubtless arise.

Another important detractor is that as the book is a compilation of essays based on a lecture series, rather than one contiguous treatise, there were numerous occasions where Eco repeated himself relatively excessively. One example which springs to mind is his quotation of W. V. Quine that a sentence such as “neutrinos lack mass” is for some languages of the world untranslatable, a quotation which crops up three or four times in different essays.

One final criticism, although this is certainly more a matter of taste, is that with all that brain power, Eco tends to write with a lot of hubris. Another commenter quoted an excellent line which I think sums it up nicely: “Sometimes I ask myself if by chance I write novels purely in order to put in hermetic references that are comprehensible only to me. I feel like a painter who, in a landscape, puts among the leaves of the trees – almost invisible – the initials of his beloved. And it does not matter if not even she is able to identify them.” For all the fascination that the subject of translation has to offer, discussing the translation of symbols invisible to everyone but the author is certainly the most abstract and esoteric topic the author could have chosen to concentrate on.

Ultimately this book offers a very interesting read, but only for the right, qualified reader. I should say a command of at least one Romance language is a must, as well as a reasonable familiarity with the field of translation. For the uninitiated, a more basic but also more thorough and elaborate investigation of the world of translation can be found in the recent Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything.

Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything

Is that a Fish in your Ear?Dieser Eintrag ist auch auf Deutsch verfügbar.

In titling his book (or having his book titled?) “Is that a fish in your ear?”, David Bellos has certainly made categorising this work a difficult task. It looks and feels like it should belong firmly in the ‘popular science’ section, yet as other reviewers have pointed out, the writing sits it firmly in a half-way academic category. Still, the material covered should be of interest to a wide range of readers, with the book split into fairly short and relatively self-contained chapters, that one can really dip and choose or skip out the parts that are of little interest. The book covers a very wide range of topics, and skitters over numerous areas such as philosophy, biology, religion and of course linguistics.

One of the first things that struck me about the work as a whole was that Bellos was taking the opportunity to defend his profession, or at least his approach to the business of translation. Chapters often deal with a particular assault on translation or translators, mainly in the form of an every day platitude, which is then investigated, tested and (for the most part) satisfactorily overturned. I found myself disagreeing with his opinions on occasions, but the evidence is presented well enough that the reader can draw his own conclusions most of the time. Neverthelees, there appear to be some contradictions in the book, and some of his arguments felt at times overdrawn. For instance, he criticises a statement made by Nabokov regarding Pushkin’s poetry that ‘to reproduce the rhymes and yet translate the entire poem literally is mathematically impossible’. He then goes on to illustrate how the form of said poetry lent itself well to translation, and that the root of Nabokov’s statement lay in his reluctance to attempt it. Whilst this isn’t necessarily untrue, it doesn’t detract from Nabokov’s original statement about the impossibility of translating both form and content, nor does the statement that other gifted translators give a ‘good approximation of Pushkin’s verse’. Bellos’ own chapter on poetry, as another reviewer well pointed out, if anything confirms Nabokov in his statement.

In his defense of translation, Bellos covers a wide range of fields and periods, from Sumeria through the Bible to the EU, with humour, legalese and interpreting all playing a part. He depaints the difficulties the translator faces, having restrictions of space (e.g. comics), time (e.g. film subtitles/dubbing), dealing with grammatical features that are missing in target or source language, or simply requiring clarification of meaning where there is none to be had. The chapters covering the workings of the EU and the UN are particularly interesting, as is the thread running through the work about the dominant role of English and its potential effects on other languages through the work of translators. Another strong point is Bellos’ inclusion of plenty of examples and anecdotes that help to elucidate his points, both in terms of the difficulties and the successes.

Whilst there were a few statements in the book which I would consider ‘mistakes’, these were always peripheral to the main argument, and the work is otherwise extremely well-researched and detailed. Bellos writes with authority, and despite his strong points of view never comes across as condescending – in fact, a real sense of modesty peers through his writing, especially when dealing with areas of translation that are not his particular field.

Ultimately, this is a book that will definitely appeal to the right reader. Despite my finding some of his arguments to be not particularly convincing, Bellos presents enough information and evidence to allow his readers to make their own minds up. As an overall introduction and summary to the world of translations, this book is a thorough success, most suited to students of language, those considering becoming translators, and perhaps people interested in finding out more about the translations they themselves consume. Yet as others have pointed out, it isn’t as straightforward a read as the title or dustjacket make out, so a quick dip into Amazon’s “Look inside!” feature would probably save a few rumpled foreheads.

Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything

Is that a Fish in your Ear?This entry is also available in English.

Indem er sein Buch „Is that a fish in your ear?“ genannt hat (bzw. hat nennen lassen), hat David Bellos es schwierig gemacht, dieses Buch zu kategorisieren. Vom Aussehen her scheint das Buch definitiv dem populärwissenschaftlichen Bereich anzugehören, jedoch wie andere klar gemacht haben, liegt die Schreibart entschieden in einer halbwegs akademischen Kategorie. Trotzdem sollte das erfasste Material für eine große Bandbreite von Interesse sein, da sich das Buch in kurze und zum größten Teil in sich abgeschlossene Kapitel aufteilt. Man kann dadurch leicht eintauchen, bestimmte Kapital auswählen oder uninteressante Teile völlig überspringen. Das Buch weist einen sehr großen Umfang von Themen auf und der Autor spricht eine Vielfalt an Themen aus verschiedenen Disziplinen an, einschließlich der Philosophie, der Biologie, der Religion und natürlich der Linguistik.

Mir ist beim Betrachten des Werks in seiner Ganzheit aufgefallen, dass Bellos hiermit die Gelegenheit nutzt, für seinen Beruf bzw. die Art, in der er seiner Arbeit nachgeht, zu plädieren. Es handelt sich in vielen Kapiteln um einen Vorwurf gegen oder gar einen Angriff auf Übersetzung und Übersetzer, hauptsächlich in der Form einer tagtäglichen Plattitüde, die er dann unter die Lupe nimmt, prüft und im Großen und Ganzen glaubhaft widerlegt. Auch wenn ich seinen Meinungen nicht immer zugestimmt habe, stellt Bellos seine Beweise und seinen Denkvorgang sehr offen dar, damit der Leser meist seine eigene Schlüsse ziehen kann. Trotzdem kommen im Buch einige Widersprüche zum Vorschein und die Argumente scheinen teilweise überzogen. Zum Beispiel kritisiert er eine Behauptung Nabokows in Bezug auf die Lyrik Puschkins, dass es mathematisch unmöglich sei, gleichzeitig den Reim und das Gedicht wortgetreu zu übersetzen („to reproduce the rhymes and yet translate the entire poem literally is mathematically impossible“). Dann erklärt er wie sich die puschkinsche Gedichtform zum Übersetzen gut eignet und dass die Ursache Nabokows Behauptung in dessen mangelnder Bereitschaft dazu lag. Vielleicht entspricht das der Wahrheit, aber weder das, noch die Aussage, es gebe andere begabte Übersetzer, die eine „gute Annäherung von Puschkins Gedichten“ übersetzt haben, beeinträchtigt die ursprüngliche Behauptung über die Unmöglichkeit der gleichzeitigen Übersetzung von Form und Inhalt. Wenn überhaupt, bestätigt Bellos’ eigenes Kapitel über Lyrik Nabokow in seiner Meinung.

In seiner Verteidigung der Übersetzung behandelt Bellos eine Vielfalt von Bereichen und Epochen, von Sumer über die Bibel bis hin zur EU, darunter auch der Humor, der Juristenjargon und das Dolmetschen. Er schildert die Schwierigkeiten, die dem Übersetzer gegenüberstehen, wie wenn es am Platz mangelt (z.B. Comics), an Zeit (z.B. Filmuntertiteln oder Synchronisation), fehlende grammatikalische Aspekte in der Quell- oder Zielsprache, oder einfach der Bedarf nach Erklärungen, wenn es keine gibt (z.B. wenn der Autor schon tot ist). Vom besonderen Interesse sind die Kapitel, die von den Arbeitsweisen der EU und UNO handeln, sowie die wiederkehrenden Gedanken über die dominante Rolle der englischen Sprache und dessen potenzieller Einfluss auf andere Sprachen durch die Arbeit von Übersetzern. Außerdem zu den Stärken des Buches zu zählen sind die vielen Beispiele und Anekdoten von Schwierigkeiten und Erfolgen, die Bellos beifügte, um seinen Argumenten Glauben zu schenken.

Zwar gibt es in dem Buch ein paar Aussagen, die ich als ‘Fehler’ betrachten würde, aber die sind nebensächlich und lenken nicht von dem Hauptargument ab. Ansonsten ist dieses Werk äußerst gut recherchiert und detailliert. Bellos schreibt als Fachmann und wirkt trotz seiner zum Teil sehr festen Meinungen aber nie herablassend. In der Tat erblickt man flüchtig eine gewisse Bescheidenheit, insbesondere wenn er von Arten der Übersetzung redet, die nicht zu seinen Stärken zählen.

Letzten Endes ist dies ein Buch, dass dem richtigen Leser recht gefallen wird. Obwohl ich von einigen seiner Argumente nicht überzeugt wurde, stellt Bellos ausreichende Informationen und Beweise dar, wodurch der Leser zu einer eigenen Meinung kommen kann. Als Überblick und Einleitung in die Welt der Übersetzung muss man das Buch als Erfolg erkennen, vor allem für diejenigen, die Sprachen studieren, die sich überlegen, Übersetzer zu werden, und vielleicht auch die, die eine bloße Neugier haben, mehr von den Übersetzungen zu erfahren, die sie selbst lesen. Leider, wie andere hervorgehoben haben, lässt sich der Zweck des Buches von seinem Titel und Klappentext nicht leicht enthüllen, also lohnt es sich auf jeden Fall kurz per Amazons „Blick ins Buch“ reinzuschnuppern, bevor man sich entscheidet, es zu kaufen.

An Arbitrary Angel of Darkness

The press gather round Lady Ashton during her hearing at the EP

Translated from the original German (Ein schwarzer Engel des Zufalls)
By Oehmke, Philipp und Schmitter, Elke


Literature professor Manfred Schneider talks about the rationality and irrationality of killers, the paranoid psyche of western society, and its search for explanation

SPIEGEL: Herr Schneider, on 8th January 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in the head, and killed six other people at point blank range. And while the world agonises for an explanation, it is possible to find explained in your recent book, Das Attentat, that an assassin such as Loughner isn’t actually irrational, rather the product of hyperrationality. What do you mean by that?

Schneider: Every assassin is an acute observer and interpreter of signals and events. For him, nothing happens by chance; he scans the world for evil doings. He sees conspiracies everywhere. The result appears to us to be crazy and insane. However, at the same time it is precisely logic and reason running in overdrive, that lead to these paranoid conclusions. Paranoia isn’t a form of irrationality, but one of hyperrationality. Loughner is a typical example of this.

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