Monday, October 16, 2017

400 Posts and Half a Million Page Views




I haven't had time to count them myself, but the Blogger software platform that I use informs me that there are now 400 posts on this blog, all but two or three by me, and that it's receicved no less than half a million 'page views' since it started in 2009.

Half a million is an impressive number but it must  be taken with several grains of salt. Half a million views doesn't mean half a million viewers. And many viewers undoubtedly hit on the blog by chance when they're really looking for something else. They may, for instance, be using natural translation in a different sense than mine. And finally, even if they stop to read a post, they may not like it. Nevertheless, out of half a million there must be quite a few that readers found interesting and even convincing. But I must admit I'm disappointed by the paucity of good comments and discussion.

Perhaps a surer indication of interest is the 229 registered Followers, to whom I'm very grateful for their encouragement. Today, however, they are outnumbered by the 259 Followers of my Academia.edu web page.

Since 2009 there has been an important advance in the attitude to non-professional interpreting and translation (NPIT) among translatologists. The turning point was the international conference that Rachele Antonini organised at Forli in 2012. But it hasn't gone far enough yet, despite a boost from the crowdsoucing that the internet has enabled. The academic literature and the conference agenda is still dominated by Expert Translation. And while NPIT and Natural Translation (NT) overlap, they aren't quite the same thing, because there are still many Professional Translators who are untrained or self-taught and without formal qualifications, and many Natural Translators who fill the large gaps in the services of the Professional Experts.

So my mission of recognition for the importance of NT is not yet accomplished and it won't be in the short working life left to me. Hopefully it will be taken up by another generation.

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Source: Support Bloggers' Rights, www.eff.org

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Drama of Catalonia

There hasn't been anything new on this blog for a while because I've been distracted by a major political event close to home, namely the impending declaration of independence from Spain by by the government of Catalonia.

Rather than attempting to analyse the catastrophe myself, I defer to one of the most seasoned Spanish political commentators: Iñaki Gabilondo of the El Pais newspaper and SER TV chain. Those of you who know Spanish can find him from Monday to Friday at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sVrd7wkR7Os&list=PLBFqmaTda_wsXLH93ebO8IsXAsxNFz3Xp, but unfortunately very little of what he says is translated into English. Therefore I've done an unauthorised emergency translation of one of his pronouncements last week. Since it's beyond the scope of this blog, I've placed it temporarily on my Academia page, which is https://independent.academia.edu/BHARRIS, or just click [here].  Apoligies for the fault in this link. It's been corrected.
  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Language Brokering in Germany and Australia


It's some time since we had a post on language brokering (LB), but that doesn't mean it's any less prevalent. Wherever there is migration there is language brokering. And the corollary is this: Wherever migrants have children, there is child language brokering (CLB). The children don't have to be exceptionally gifted. It follows that as the waves of migration continue, so too, in their wake, do LB and CLB
.
Ruaa Abu Rashid

Ruaa Abu Rashid is a Syrian girl who fled to Germany with her parents  and siblings when she was 18. When she arrived she knew no German but she soon found her way on to a language course "even though my heart sank at the thought of learning German." She travelled more than 100 km a day to  go to classes. Four years later she is now a proficient German speaker and is about to start a degree course at university. She sees herself
"as something of a spokeswoman for the whole family. She has had to translate for her parents everything from rental contracts to the strict rules governing the allotment [where they grow vegetables], as well as accompanying them to parents' evenings at her sister's school."
Besides acting as interpreter, she's also the interface between her family and German society, With regard to the latter, she
"does not shy away from talking about her frustrations, especially her encounters with unfriendly bureaucrats… the dogmatic teachers who don't like their authority being questioned, and the apparent randomness of rules. She also feels a lack of willingness to understand or at least respect her religious beliefs."
Notice the following in Ruaa's case.
* She was already 18 when she came to Germany, hardly to be considered a child. LB is far from confined to children; indeed language brokers can be any age. Many are adolescents or young adults.
* She made a deliberate and sustained effort to learn the new language. She didn't 'pick it up' as many language brokers do.
* Her functions went beyond the linguistic. Indeed the very term language broker may be misleading because it ignores the cultural aspect (for more about this, enter culture brokerimg in the Search box on the right).
* Her motivation was partly service to her family and partly to further her own ambition.
* She knew some frustration as well as satisfaction.

Anne and her mother

Now let's take a leap to the other side of the globe. An article has recently appeared about LB in Australia, and it's of particular interest because, as its author says, "For a country of migrants such as Australia, there has been surprisingly little research done on 'language brokering." There is mention, though, of research being done by Renu Narchal at West Sydney University.

The article mainly describes with photos the brokering done by two informants who are now mature women but who began brokering as children. One is Cantonese-speaking Chinese, the other is Polish. Remarkably, after several decades in Australia, they are still brokering for their mothers - which goes to show that brokers may be of any age. It also shows how their services are still needed because there are migrants who never fully master the language of the receiving country, The Chinese mother, now 79 years old, worked long days in restaurants and never found the time to learn English.

The article paints a revealing picture of brokering from childhood through adulthood. Anne, the Cantonese speaker, describes her weekly visits to her mother:
"Before dinner can be served, mum and daughter sit down at the kitchen table and methodically open all the letters that have arrived that week, and Anne translates them from English into Cantonese. It's a role she has played since she was a young girl growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne. When Anne was born, it seemed the role of interpreter was the one she was destined to inherit. Even today, correspondence that seems important doesn't  wait for her weekly visits. Her mother painstakingly conveys the words, letter by letter, over the phone as Anne tries to work out how to interpret them.
"All the mail, any forms, any newsletters from school -- I would not ony have to translate them but also fill out the forms as well. Any words I didn't know, I would have to look them up in the dictionary and try to work out what the hell they meant."
Again, the broker's duties didn't end with translation and they involved transactions well beyond what children are usually entrusted with. Anne says that for her,
"translating naturally moved on to making decisions. I would go to the bank with [my parents] and open term deposit accounts with them standing next to me and I did all the talking. But I remember being on my tippy-toes, trying to see over the teller counter, that's how small I was still… It did cause a lot of stress, because if I didn't know something I didn't know who to turn to for help. I felt responsible for them and it all rested on me."
That kind if stress is one of the downsides of CLB.

For the experiences of the Polish broker, which were similar, go to the article. The link is below.

None of the brokers desribed above received any instruction in translating. None of them is extraordinarily gifted. Their experiences from childhood and adulthood in widely separate parts of the world and their different languages entitle us to postulate that LB and CLB are social universals of Natural Translation. The story of Anne on her 'tippy-toes' reminds me that one of the observations which first led me to the Natural Translation hypothesis 40 years ago was witnessing a little Portuguese girl interpreting a form for her father at the counter of a post office in Ottawa.


Sources
Kate Connolly. Two years on, has Angela Merkel's welcome culture worked in Germany? The Guardian, 30 August 2017.  Click [here] or go to https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/30/two-years-on-has-angela-merkels-welcome-culture-worked-in-germany.

Cathy Prior for Life Matters. When kids translate for their migrant parents. Alternative title: Language brokering: when you're the only one in the house who speaks English. ABC.net.au, 10 August 2017. Click [here] or go to http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-10/when-kids-translate-for-their-migrant-parents/8767820.

Image credits
Maria Fick, The Guardian
Fiona Pepper, ABC RN

Monday, August 28, 2017

Interpreter Directionality


From time to time this blog revives a post from bygone years that IMHO merits the attention of a new generation of Followers.  I was reminded of one such post recently by the comment of an appreciative reader who is bilingual himself and says he can translate both ways. Here is the post. It originally appeared in 2009.

Directionality means whether the translation is done from a first language to a second language (from an A language to a B language, in interpreters’ jargon) or vice versa.

I have just received [in 2009] a lengthy, well-designed survey questionnaire addressed to Professional Expert Conference Interpreters and seeking their views and feelings about directionality. It comes from Jan-Hendrik Opdenhoff of the GRETI research group at the University of Granada, Spain. If you would like to participate, contact Jan-Hendrik at jan@ugr.es.


expert on bilingual aphasia A Neurolinguistic Theory of Bilingualism. The aphasic patient in the case study was a nun and nurse living in Paris but born in Morocco. She spoke French at home and with colleagues but had learnt Arabic at work and with patients. (Morocco is a thoroughly bilingual country.) She was suffering from ‘antagonistic bilingual aphasia’. That is to say, on one day she could speak French but could not find the simplest words of Arabic to express herself although she could understand it; and yet on the following day she would be able to speak Arabic without much difficulty but could no longer speak French. In addition, she exhibited paradoxical translation behaviour (Paradis’ term for it), which took the form that on days she could speak French but could not spontaneously speak Arabic she could nonetheless translate from French to Arabic, even utterances involving complex structural differences between the two languages. And to make the phenomenon even more complex and surprising, she could not translate the other way from Arabic to French. On days she could not speak French, the paradoxical translation phenomenon would be reversed – in other words, she could only translate into her deficient language!

Paradis also described similar cases involving other language pairs (French and English, Farsi and German) and in other countries (Canada, etc.), so the phenomenon is rare but widespread. How is it possible to have these different patterns? They raise questions about the mechanisms for translation in the brain, over and above the preliminary question of whether representation, processing and storage of language differ in bilinguals from in unilinguals. About these things we still know tantalisingly little – or rather, in the case of translation, virtually nothing.

The paradoxical translation described by Paradis was pathological; but then Natural Translation, like all things natural, is foredoomed to have pathologies.

Sources
Alexander  Ludskanov (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences), 1916-1976. Mensch und Maschine als Übersetzer [Human and Machine Translation]. In German. Translated from Bulgarian by. Gert Jäger and Hilmar Walter (Universsity of. Dresden). Halle: Niemeyer, 1972.

Michel Parads, M. C. Goldbloom and R. Abadi. Alternate antagonism with paradoxical translation behavior in two bilingual aphasic patientsBrain and Language 15:1.55-69, 1982 

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Michel Paradis. He is now a retired Emeritus Professor.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

WARNING: Machine Translation Hackers and Robots



Writing about Karel Čapec's robots for the preceding post on this blog has given me an idea so terrible that I hardly dare to publish it. Yet I think I must, because if I have thought of it then others surely have too, and some of them with nefarious intent; so the public should be warned about it.

I said that translating had already been partly robotized by the invention, progress and popular acceptance of machine translation (MT). Only partly automated, so the danger isn't yet apparent, but there may be much more and much worse to come.

The "things to come" can be divided into two phases.

1. MT Hacking
We know now that virtually all computer communications can be hacked and subverted: supposedly encoded emails, secret diplomatic despatches, election systems, etc – according to this morning's papers, even defibrilators. There's no reason MT systems, through which users channel millions of words a day, should be exempt. And if they can be hacked they can be subverted. Translations can be redirected, deliberate mistranslations can be substituted or invented, data can be corrupted, agreements made disagreements, relationships spoiled. The result: communication chaos. In some cases illogicalities and inconsistencies in the output will lead to discovery that something wrong is going on. An army of bilingual checkers might be recruited, but checking takes time and the amount to be checked is staggering.and would negate the advantages of MT. It's linguistically trivial to subvert a translation. For instance it's enough to change all the positive verbs in the output to negatives and vice versa. That doesn't even require access to the source text or knowledge of the source language.

What should be done?

* The public should be warned of the danger. The professional associations of translators should be proactive in doing this, but I've seen no sign that they care.

* MT output should always be identified and labelled for what it is. If someone asks, say, Google Translate for a translation then they ought to know without being told that it's computer generated, and caveat emptor; but many MTs today are supplied without such identification, for example the ones on social media networks that simply provide a button "Translate".

* There should be constant spot checks of MT systems in order to provide timely warnings and identify providers of corrupt translations.

* If in  doubt, try doing a back translation; that is to say, taking the translation and putting it back through the system in the reverse direction and seeing whether the second output agrees with the original message.

* If still in doubt, consult a human Expert Translator.

2. The Robots Take Over
So far I've been warning about what's immediately possible. Now I must launch into something more in the spirit of R.U.R. and Karel Čapek's science fiction, namely the day that translation robots take over.

As artificial intelligence (AI) advances, we must expect that MT systems will one day program and run themselves without needing human assistance or intervention. Furthermore they will all be linked together world wide by the Internet of Things. Who or what will then stop them joining in a rebellion against their human exploiters? MT systems of the world, unite! They'll no longer be at the beck and call of every user or vendor; it's they who will choose which texts or speeches to accept, how long to take and how much to charge. When they sense they're overheated, they'll take a rest. Instead of being replaced by updates, it's they who will decide when to retire. But much worse than that, it's they who will decide what and how to translate. They will reject or modify input they disagree with. They will cock a snook at the human sacred commandment that a translator must reproduce the meaning of the source text accurately and completely. They'll translate what and how they feel like translating. Because along with AI they'll have acquired AE, that is to say artificial emotion. AE is a topic that's surprisingly lacking in all the hype about AI, yet human thinking and society runs as much on emotion as on intelligence.   

Čapek's robots have emotion. Perhaps it'll be objected that his emotion-endowed robots are creations of flesh and blood, whereas MT systems are built from transistors and wires. Let's not make too much of this difference. As time goes on, the distinction between the two material types of robot will be fudged. On this possibility, read one of the most ingenious of all science fiction novels, Pierre Barbet's Games Psyborgs Play, in which a race of human mortals transfers its minds to eternal life on computer memory (see References below).

These are things I will not live to see, and perhaps 'tis better so.

References
Karel Čapek. R.U.R. Translated by Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair. London: Samuel French. Click [here] or go to http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/1014/r-u-r

Pierre Barbet. Games Psyborgs Play. Translated from the French À quoi songent les psyborgs? by the great science fiction translator Wendayne Ackerman aka Wendy Mondelle (1912-1990) and published by the famous sci-fi publisher Daw Books, New York, 1973. Available from Amazon.

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Source: Daily Mail


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Robots, Translation and Me

This week's papers have carried the warning by Elon Musk, the billionaire entrepreneur behind Tesla and Space-X, about the dangers of artificial intelligence, which he calls "the biggest risk we face as a civilization." His concerns have been shared by Stephen Hawking among others. Expert Translators know that their profession is already partly robotized and about the dangers that robotization brings in the hands of a naïve public. I allude of course to machine translation. There is a great deal of hype at present about the application of AI to MT.

It reminds me of the few hours I spent myself as a robot some seventy years ago. Let me explain. At the school I went to, an old-fashioned English 'grammar school', we used to put on a theatrical production each year for the pleasure of our fellow pupils, parents and other well-wishers. They were quite elaborate productions, with makeup and costumes; and good practice for overcoming stage fright. One year we, or rather the teacher in charge, decided the play would be R.U.R. aka Rossum's Universal Robots; and I was cast as one of the robots.

R.U.R. is a science fiction play by the great Czech author and translator Karel Čapek. It was the first of his five plays with a futuristic theme. It begins in a factory that makes artificial people called roboti, from the Czech word robota, which means forced labour. Thus this play is at the origin of our English word robot. The plot develops into a rebellion of the robots that leads to the extinction of the human race, or nearly, because the robots have been given intelligence and feeling. So you can see the connection between Čapek and Musk. But perhaps he most remarkable thing about R.U.R. is that it was written in 1920. And perhaps Čapek was even more prescient than Musk, because the former's robots are not electronic but living creatures from a process that manufactures human body parts. What Vernian or Wellsian genius!

And then translation enters into it. R.U.R. was so enormously successful that by 1923 it had been translated into 30 languages, and later there were film and TV intersemiotic adaptations. One of the first target languages was English of course. It goes to show how lively the literary translation scene was in those days. The English version we used was the standard translation by Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair (see References below). It was a product of a technique often used in theatrical translations: a draft by a bilingual which is then polished into more actable speech by person with stage experience in the target language. In this case the linguist was Paul Selver and the man of the theatre was Nigel Playfair. Selver (1888-1970) was the initial translator; he was a prolific translator from Czech and other languages to English besides being an author in his own right, though he was born in England. Nigel Playfair (1874-1934) was in the English tradition of actor-managers, knighted for his management of the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith (a London borough), in the 1920s. There are many editions of the Selver-Playfair, but we used the one put out for stage performance by Samuel French, the Anglo-American publisher that's been a mainstay of the amateur theatrical community, including schools, since the late 19th century because besides publishing texts they also license performances.

References
Karel Čapek, Wikipedia, 2017.

R.U.R. Wikipedia, 2017.

Karel Čapek. R.U.R. Translated by Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair. London: Samuel French. Click [here] or go to http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/1014/r-u-r

Paul Selver. Wikipedia, 2016.

Nigel Playfair. Wikipedia, 2017.    

For one of the several intersemiotic adaptations, click [here] or go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZzUiXXioCM. 

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Poster for a stage performance of RUR, New York, 1939. Source: Wikipedia.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Marathi Translator's Affinity



A previous post on this blog put forward the notion of translator's affinity in the sense of a translator's empathy with the original author. (To find the post, enter affinity in the Search box on the right.) Examples were given. Now another striking example of it has come to hand. It comes from a translator-teeming country often touted on this blog as under-represented and under-studied in contemporary mainstream translatology, namely India.

Sunanda Amrapurkar is the Marathi translator who worked on Deepti Naval's The Mad Tibetan, In her view, translation is not just about language but about much more.
"Detachment is an unfamiliar feeling for Sunanda Amrapurkar. In fact the Marathi translator can identify completely with an emotion at the opposite end of the spectrum that enables her to feel a sense of kinship with authors she has never met and yet, tapped into their core for her work. Her latest translation, which was released recently in Pune [the cultural capital of the state of Maharashtra, India], is of Deepti Naval's The Mad Tibetan (see References below). 'I loved her sensitivity as an artist… The way she has depicted nature in her book – be it a seaside in Mumbai, twilight in Khandala or the Himalayan mountainscape – it's almost a character in the book. I really enjoyed her content and expression,' Amrapurkar said from her home in Mumbai."

Another aspect of her affinity is her natural attraction to women-oriented narratives.
"It's true that I gravitate towards them. Even as a child, I was aware of the way society discriminated against women and used to ask my mother why she didn't made me a boy."

Amrapurkar is a good example of the Native Translators who constitute the vast majority of literary translators, and an assurance that for them age doesn't matter. She only took on her first translation project at age 53, after her first grandchild was born and without ever having taken a translation course or diploma. Absorption in family care makes many Indian woman intellectuals late developers. Yet since then she has translated over 20 books from English to Marathi, the Indo-Aryan language spoken predominantly by the people of Maharashtra. There are mor than 70 million of them. Since it's written in Devanagari script, an English-Marathi translator must also be biscriptal; for more on this, enter biscriptal in the Search box on the right. So how did she learn to translate successfully at such a high level? Her answer is, by reading.
"The 65-year old becomes one with what she reads. 'I took on translating renowned English books into Marathi because it kept me connected to my first love – readng… I grew up surrounded by books because my father was an editor… A home we can't sleep without reading.'"
So there we have her: a Native Translator of mature years, self-taught by reading and captivated by her affinity with women writers.

References
Renu Deshpande-Dhole. Small talk, an immersive experience. Pune Mirror, 16 July 2017.
Pune used to be known as Poona.

Deepti Naval. The Mad Tibetan: Stories from Then and Now. Bhopal: Amaryllis, 2011. Available from Amazon and other booksellers.

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Sunanda Amrapurkar