Archive for the ‘Translation’ Category

In style

June 4, 2014

This morning’s Bizarro:

The diner is asking for eggs in one of the handful of standard named American styles — scrambled, poached, fried (over or sunny side up), boiled (hard- or soft-) — and not in some “fancy” style, whether in French (eggs/oeufs à/a la Florentine), in English with postposed modifier (eggs Florentine style, eggs Florentine), or in English with preposed modifier (Florentine-style eggs, Florentine eggs).


Two cards

May 29, 2014

On Tuesday, Ned Deily and I were investigating the workings of my scanner, after it had behaved  oddly for me on several occasions (garbage on scanning some black-and-white images, very odd colors when scanning some Jane Austen colored cards). The problem was traced back to some scanner settings I hadn’t known were there, so we re-set those and tried scanning one card of each type, using items I’d gotten in the mail (from Chris Ambidge). Herewith the results.


A Zippy Czech

October 12, 2013

Today’s Zippy continues the traditional Czech triplecoat theme from here:

Though there’s an asterisk on that bit of Czech, suggesting that there’s a translation somewhere, I haven’t found it (though Oh, bože is ‘Oh, God’) — but a commenter on the Zippy site suggests ‘freak’ as a translation of śilenec, and Google offers ‘madman’. So, roughly: ‘Oh God, a crazy!’

Vocabulary surprises

May 17, 2013

For some purposes, you can function fairly well with material in another language, so long as the topic stays within domains that are familiar to you — like linguistics, say. But when you wander into other domains, especially those that are closely tied to sociocultural conventions, things get messy, even if you stick to nouns; there’s just so much to know about cultural artifacts and customs, for example, and a huge vocabulary to acquire in these areas, in the names of animals and plants, etc.

I can deal pretty well with technical material in French, for example, but I’m easily stumped when it comes to artifacts, animals, plants, and the like. By way of illustration: my daughter gave me a big box of postcards on The Art of Instruction, with images of school materials from the 1950s, from mostly French but also some German sources. The German items have no text, but the French material (from Éditions Rossignol — the name is great; rossignol means ‘nightingale’) is heavy with text. For animals and plants, much of the vocabulary is technical teminology from zoology, anatomy, or botany, and that’s fascinating, but I can’t be expected to know these expressions. However, there are also the common names for animals and plants, and they contain many surprises.

That brings me to the tadpole.


The wonders of spam

December 28, 2012

I get huge amounts of spam, both in e-mail and in blog comments, so I mostly don’t even look at the stuff. But here’s one (lightly edited to remove links) that caught my eye as I was deleting spam from my mail:

The Better Business Bureau has been recorded the above mentioned plaint from one of your users as regards their business relations with you. The information about the consumer’s uneasiness are available at the link below. Please give attention to this issue and notify us about your glance as soon as possible.

We amiably ask you to click and review the [Grievance Report] to respond on this grievance.

We awaits to your prompt rebound.

It has been coming in multiple copies, with small variations in form. The text looks like it’s inexpertly translated from another language, but whether that effect is inadvertent or intentional I cannot tell.

I am, however, considering using “We awaits to your prompt rebound” in my own writing, or possibly working it into a piece of light verse.

Wong Huang Butterfly Hwang

November 13, 2012

A rerun of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit went past a little while ago, featuring BD Wong as forensic psychiatrist George Huang. That gives us Wong and Huang so far, but then on to Wong in his breakout role as Song Liling in David Henry Hwang’s play M. Butterfly on Broadway.

Then D. H.  Hwang turned up in the NYT Magazine on Sunday, in Alex Witchel’s profile, “The Man Who Can Make Bruce Lee Talk: For his next feat, the playwright David Henry Hwang reimagines an icon”.


translating, interpreting

May 28, 2012

From a NYT editorial (“Lost in Translation”) on the 24th:

A persistent problem in American courts is the lack of translators to ensure that litigants who don’t speak or read English can take part in their cases. That’s the purpose of the Court Interpreters Act of 1978, which allows federal courts to order losing parties to pay prevailing parties the cost of interpreters.

In a disappointing 6-to-3 ruling, the Supreme Court defined “interpreter” narrowly to mean “one who translates orally from one language to another.”

This takes us into a thicket of complexities surrounding the verbs interpret and translate and the nouns interpreter, interpretation, translator, and translation.


Language instruction fun

February 28, 2012

In my “Language shards” posting, I looked at some entertaining examples from language teaching materials — entertaining because of the absurdity (“Just you dare, zebra!”) or poetry (“The wind has come, bearing with it the scent of amber”) in them. This is a rich vein of material.



December 30, 2010

In Harper’s Magazine for January 2011 (p. 17)

a September 2010 open letter to French president Nicolas Sarkozy by the Committee for the Defense of Versailles concerning an exhibition of work by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami at the palace last fall.

signed by Pierre Charie-Marsaines, Honorary President, and Arnauld-Aaron Upinsky, President. A piece of hysterical outrage,


Der Werwolf

July 1, 2010

Having mentioned Christian Morgenstern‘s werewolf poem in a comment on a recent posting, I thought I’d pass it on to readers, with a few comments. First, the German text, from Alexander Gross’s website. The poem takes off from the fact that the first element of Werwolf ‘werewolf’ is (accidentally) homophonous with the interrogative pronoun wer, which is declinable, with distinct forms for each of the four grammatical cases in German — a feature that is sometimes thought to make the poem “untranslatable”. But just as many people have taken up the challenge of translating Lewis Carroll into other languages, so Morgenstern has drawn translators; three approaches will follow.

Der Werwolf

Ein Werwolf eines Nachts entwich
von Weib und Kind und sich begab
an eines Dorfschullehrers Grab
und bat ihn: »Bitte, beuge mich!«

Der Dorfschulmeister stieg hinauf
auf seines Blechschilds Messingknauf
und sprach zum Wolf, der seine Pfoten
geduldig kreuzte vor dem Toten:

»Der Werwolf«, sprach der gute Mann,
»des Weswolfs, Genitiv sodann,
dem Wemwolf, Dativ, wie mans nennt,
den Wenwolf, — damit hats ein End.«

Dem Werwolf schmeichelten die Fälle,
er rollte seine Augenbälle.
»Indessen«, bat er, »füge doch
zur Einzahl auch die Mehrzahl noch!«

Der Dorfschulmeister aber mußte
gestehn, dass er von ihr nichts wußte.
Zwar Wölfe gäbs in grosser Schar,
doch »Wer« gäbs nur im Singular.

Der Wolf erhob sich tränenblind–
er hatte ja doch Weib und Kind!
Doch da er kein Gelehrter eben,
so schied er dankend und ergeben.


Gross’s English translation:

The Werewolf

A Werewolf, troubled by his name,
Left wife and brood one night and came
To a hidden graveyard to enlist
The aid of a long-dead philologist.

“Oh sage, wake up, please don’t berate me,”
He howled sadly, “Just conjugate me.”
The seer arose a bit unsteady
Yawned twice, wheezed once, and then was ready.

“Well, ‘Werewolf’ is your plural past,
While ‘Waswolf’ is singularly cast:
There’s ‘Amwolf’ too, the present tense,
And ‘Iswolf,’ ‘Arewolf’ in this same sense.”

“I know that–I’m no mental cripple–
The future form and participle
Are what I crave,” the beast replied.
The scholar paused–again he tried:

“A ‘Will-be-wolf?’ It’s just too long:
‘Shall-be-wolf?’ ‘Has-been-wolf?’ Utterly wrong!
Such words are wounds beyond all suture–
I’m sorry, but you have no future.”

The Werewolf knew better–his sons still slept
At home, and homewards now he crept,
Happy, humble, without apology
For such folly of philology.


A translation by Jerome Lettvin (from the literary review the fat abbot, number 4, Fall-Winter 1962 — I actually have an original of this one):

Ontology Recapitulates Philology

One night, a werewolf, having dined,
Left his wife to clean the cave
And visited a scholar’s grave –
Asking “How am I declined?”

Whatever way the case was pressed
The ghost could not decline his guest,
But told the wolf (who’d been well-bred
And crossed his paws before the dead).

“The Iswolf, so we may commence,
the Waswolf, simple past in tense,
the Beenwolf, perfect, so construed,
the Werewolf is subjunctive mood.”

The werewolf’s teeth with thanks were bright,
But, mitigating his delight,
There rose the thought, how could one be
Hypostasized contingency?

The ghost observed that few could live,
If werewolves were indicative;
Whereat his guest perceived the role

Of Individual in the Whole.

Condition contrary to fact,
A single werewolf Being lacked –
But in his conjugation showed
The full existence, a la mode.


A rhymed paraphrase by Gary Bachlund, who set the piece to music (here):

The Werewolf

One night a Were-wolf slipped away
From his Were-wife and his Were-wolf child,
To the grave of a rotten schoolmaster
To decline himself as noun-beguiled.

Ghost-like gray the schoolmaster rose
From out of the gravestone’s head,
And spoke to the Wolf, crossed paws suppose
To beseech a philologist long dead:

“The Were-wolf,” spoke the spirited man,
“Of the Were-wolf, in the genitive penned,
To the Were-wolf, is the dative scan,
And objective, a Were-wolf; that’s the end.”

Such cases flattered the wolf called Were,
Its Were-wolf eyeballs rolling widely wide.
“However tense, all remains a blur;
What’s singular? What’s plural?” he cried.

Alas the corrupted schoolmaster confessed
“Incorruptible are most grammatical rules.
While wolves is plural, as you’ve guessed,
Wolf is singular, in most of our grammar schools.”

With this, the Were-wolf howled and cried,
“I am not singular! I’ve a wife and child!”
And so the Were-wolf rushed home to bride
And Were-wolf child, tensely reconciled.


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