Friday, March 16, 2018

A Ministerial Child Language Broker

There's plenty of material available, some of it on this blog, about child language brokers, immigrant children who act as interpreters for their families and sometimes for other people such as their schoolmates. (To retrieve the blog posts, enter brokers in the Search This Blog box on the right.) However we hear little about what becomes of them later in life. Therefore it comes as a something of a surprise to find one of them as a government minister.  The background is the language situation in present-day Britain, where, according to the.minister himself, "There are 770,000 people in England unable to speak English well."

The minister is Sajid Javid MP, a name tand title hat already tell us much. His family came from Pakistan. Now he's the Communities Secretary in the government of Theresa May and "one of Britain's most high profile Muslim politicians."
"Describing his early childhood in Rochdale [a town in Greater Manchester], he said that segregated sommunities meant that women like his mother could spend much of their lives speaking Punjabi and not interacting with people from other ethnic groups.
"I used to go to the doctor's surgery with her -- not because I was ill but because I had to interpret for her. I was six or seven and an interpreter."

Anushka Asthana. Sajid Javid: 770,000 people in England unable to speak English well. Guardian Unlimited, 14 March 2018.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

International Women's Day, 2018

(This post has now been combined with another one to form a short paper on my site in Its title is "Marx's Earliest English Translators". To read it, click [here] or go to

Today, 8 March, is, as you're no doubt aware, International Women's Day. Here in Spain there's a Women's Strike (la Huelga feminista) against mistreatment and discrimination. The serious newspapers like El Pais are running stories of women whose contribution to scence, literature and the arts has been downplayed, often to the benefit of their husbands.

In my own experience of Expert Translation, it's been an 'equal opportunity' profession. I worked with more women conference interpreters than men, and at the University of Ottawa I had a majority of female colleagues; and we were all paid on the same fee or wage scales. Lkewise I constantly had a majority of women students. But elsewhere it's not always been so equal.

There have been great women translators. A few, like Constance Garnett, the early English translator of Tolstoy and many other Russian authors, have been amply lauded by their peers and recognised by publishers. (There's a Wikipedia article on her.)  Others less so. Back in 2010 there was a post on this blog in recognition of one of the latter, Eleanor Marx Aveling. Here, as a contribution to the Day, is a repetition of that post.

Marx and Daughter

Today, May 5, is the birthday of Karl Marx. So what better day for me to take up from where I left off last weekend, which was with the English translations of his classic Communist Manifesto and Capital?

The first volume of Das Kapital was published in German in 1867. He and his alter ego Friedrich Engels had difficulty finding a translator, and it was already in its third German edition before the English translation appeared 20 years later. Engels himself says, in his Preface to the translation:
[A]n explanation might be expected why this English version has been delayed until now, seeing that for some years past the theories advocated in this book have been constantly referred to, attacked and defended, interpreted and misinterpreted, in the periodical press and the current literature of both England and America.
At his death in 1883, Marx had left – Engels continues –
a set of MS. instructions for an English translation that was planned, about ten years ago, in America, but abandoned chiefly for want of a fit and proper translator.
So Engels then turned to the same socialist lawyer-judge who translated the Manifesto: Samuel Moore of Manchester. Moore embarked on the work, but he wasn’t a Professional Translator:
[B]y and by, it was found that Mr. Moore's professional occupations prevented him from finishing the translation as quickly as we all desired.
Therefore a second translator had to be sought. Engels found him right on his doorstep, as it were. He was Edward Aveling, the common-law husband of Marx’s youngest daughter Eleanor (see photo). Aveling too wasn’t a Professional Translator. He was, “a prominent English biology instructor and popular spokesman for Darwinian evolution and atheism.” Engels coordinated and revised the work of the two translators and he details in his Preface the contributions of each.

But there was another translator involved. She’s not credited on any of the bibliographic records; however, tucked away in the Preface is an acknowledgement from Engels:
Mrs. Aveling, Marx's youngest daughter, offered to check the quotations and to restore the original text of the numerous passages taken from English authors and Blue books and translated by Marx into German.
She played the role, on that occasion, of what today might be called a Translation Assistant. But she was more important than that. Of all the translators I’ve mentioned, she was the only Professional Translator. Let’s turn to her.

Eleanor ‘Tussy’ Marx (1855-1898) was an early bilingual. She was born and brought up in London, but in a German and Yiddish-speaking household. She also learnt French, perhaps from her father. She became, quite naturally, a militant socialist. She was also an occasional actress. That she was unconventional is shown not only by her personal ‘relationship’ with Aveling but also by her professional work for the avant-garde publisher Henry Vizetelly. She translated Madame Bovary for him, a brave thing to do in prudish Victorian England. She said about it herself,
Certainly no critic can be more painfully aware than I am of the weaknesses...; but at least the translation is faithful. I have neither suppressed nor added a line, a word.
She also translated another socially avant-garde writer, Ibsen.

Professional life wasn’t easy for Eleanor. She wrote to Havelock Ellis in 1874, "I need much work, and find it very difficult to get. ‘Respectable' people won't employ me." Vizetelly went to prison for publishing English translations of Zola and Maupassant, and it broke his health. Seems incredible today.

Eleanor had one other important pioneer distinction in the realm of translation. She was an accomplished Native Interpreter of English, French, German and Yiddish, As such, she interpreted for delegates to the International Socialist Workers Congress in Paris in 1889. That makes her an early modern Conference Interpreter. (Large international conferences had only recently been made feasible by the extending network of railway and steamship lines.) Certainly, to my knowledge, she was the first woman Conference Interpreter.

Karl Marx. Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production.
Volume 1. Edited with a Preface by Frederick [sic] Engels. Translated from the third German edition by Samuel Moore and Edward Bibbins Aveling. London, 1887.

Edward Bibbins Aveling.

Jonathan Kaplansky. Eleanor Marx: translator, interpreter and unconventional Victorian woman. Circuit (Montreal) 66.29-30., 1999. There are other biographies of her in print and on the web

Gustave Flaubert. Madame Bovary. Provincial Manners. Translated from the French édition définitive by E. Marx-Aveling. London: Vizetelly, 1886. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Professional Translator versus Expert:Translator: the Case of Malta

This blog has always distinguished between the terms professional translator and expert translator. The defining characteristic of the former is practising translation as a means of livelihood; but professional translators also have other important characteristics that were listed in a post last year. To retrieve it, enter professional in the Search This Blog box on the right. The same post also discussed the difference between the professional and the expert. The general public, on the other hand, conflates the two under the single label professional translator. Understandably so, because if you pay professionals good money for their work, you expect it to be of expert quality. However, those of us with experience in the profession know that 'it ain't necessarily so.' This is possible and even widespread because translating isn't by and large a regulated profession. There are sectors of it that are regulated, for instance court interpreting, but even then only in certain jurisdictions. Elsewhere there is nothing to prevent any bilingual setting herself or himself up as a translator or interpreter and touting for business. Therefore translatologists should be more discriminating in their terminology than the general public.

Recent and not-so-recent events in Malta highlight the danger of confusion, Maltese (a derivative of Arabic with an admixture of Italian) used to be a little-known language outside its native island, but its profile and that of its translators rose overnight when Malta joined the European Union in 2002 and thus Maltese became one of the Union's official languages with rights of use in Brussels, Strasbouurg etc. However, the sudden elevation caught the country unprepared and complaints followed. It's led to situations like the following:
"When Magistrate Aaron Bugeja entered the court room, lawyer Giannella de Marco, who together with Steve Tonna Lowell was representing Mr Bailey [the Englishman who was accused] asked for the identity of the interpreters.
The court provided Dr de Marco with a list of practicing lawyers and a woman who was qualified in French rather than English.
After consulting her client, Dr de Marco requested a professional simultaneous interpreter who would be qualified as an interpreter in Maltese and English and insisted this was important in the interest of justice.
Magistrate Bugeja pointed out that while Dr de Marco had a right to this request, it would prolong proceedings. The case was put off to a later date."
That was in 2016. Here's the latest, from the Times of Malta.
"What is wrong with the training of the so-called qualified translators in Malta? What is wrong with the training of the so-called qualified [i.e. professional] translators in Malta?… Why is it that incompetence reigns supreme in Malta, especially when it comes to official documents? Why can they not train people properly? How dare people even translate from or into languages they do not understand correctly and do not master?"
This seems to reflect badly on the country's principal training institution, which is the Department of Translation at the University of Malta. But the Department blames the authorities.
"The lack of a warrant [i,e, accreditation] system for professional translators and interpreters meant unqualified individuals could produce sub-par work for use in official documents and court cases, staff and students at the University's Department of Translation have warned.
In a statement decrying the existing unregulated state of affairs, members of the Department of Translation, Terminology & Interpreting Studies called for Malta to introduce an accreditation system for trained translators. It is unacceptable that one of the highest institutions in Malta, and a pillar of our democracy, is resorting to people who are not qualified to act as interpreters and translators," they said."
The situation isn't likely to improve in the near future. EU member states have until August 2018 to compile a list of professionals certified to translate public documents. "There has as yet been no attempt to compile such a list,"

There are many other places where the situation is no better. Our point is not that Malta is particularly bad but that translatologists seeking accuracy in their research must beware of equating professional translator with expert translator.

Historical footnote
When Napoleon's fleet sailed fro Toulon in the summer of 1798 on his ill-fated but scientifically enriching expedition to Egypt, he made a stopover of a week on Malta. He foresaw that he would need to promulgate his proclamations to the Egyptians in Arabic.
"He brought hs own translators and interpreters with him, including some Muslim sailors whom he had captured in Malta. These 'foreign' translators prepared the Arabic circular that Napoleon distributed on landing in Alexandria, a circular designed to reassure the Egyptian populace and to incite them to rebel against their rulers. The circular, like much of what these foreign translators produced, was grammatically unsound and stylistically poor." (Mona Baker citing al-Jabarti, the leading Egyptian chronicler of the period)
 As a result it was met with derision.

Call for professional interpreter delays Papaqli case hearing: lawyer argues that client had right to professional interpreter. Times of Malta, 28 October 2'16,

Marie Paule Wagner. Incompetent translators. Times of Malta, 15 February 2018.

Mona Baker. Arabic tradition. In M. Baker et al.(eds.) Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. Routledge, 1998, p.322, for the Napoleonic episode.

University of Malta in Maltese.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Young Translators Champions 2017-2018

The European Commission has just announced the winners of its latest Juvenes Translatores (Latin for Young Translators) competition. This is an annual contest that it runs for 17-year-old secondary school students across the European Union. This year's winners, all 28 of them (one from each member state), will go to Brussels on 10 April to receive their trophies and diplomas. There's no overall winner; it would be too difficult to judge one, especially as there are considerable differences between the styles of the various texts.

The competition has been building up for some years since it was launched in 2007, and consequently there's already quite a full commentary on it spread over several posts of this blog. I won't repeat it all here because you can retrieve the series just by entering juvenes in the Search This Blog box on the right. But here are a few reflections on this year's results,

Some figures. There were over 3,300 contestants, up from about 2,000 in 2010.  This indicates that enthusiasm for translation as a competitive skill has by no means waned. It illustrates that translating can be done for pleasure, as a hobby, as a game; as what we called ludic translation in 1987 when done by young children. It can be a mind-tickling game like crosswords or Scrabble.

In view of the constant (and justified) complaints in the United Kingdom about the decline of language teaching in the schools, it's particularly encouraging to see the large number of contestants from there (312 from 73 schools), surpassed only by Germany (370), Italy (352) and France (333).

There's no doubt that one of the reasons for the large number of UK contestants is the continued tradition of language teaching in the grammar schools (see Term below), a tradition that includes translation exercises – the kind of syllabus I went through myself. There are no fewer than 13 such schools in the list of participating schools. The UK winner was Daniel Farley from Manchester Grammar School for a Spanish to English translation. His school was founded in 1515 by the Bishop of Exeter to provide "godliness and good learning"' to poor boys in the city of Manchester.

The winning entries are available on the first EC website listed below; and so also  – if you would like to try your hand at one of them – are the source texts.

Grading 3,300 translations is no mean job. The staff of the EC who were involved should be thanked warmly for their dedication

European Commission. Juvenes Translatores 2017 Contest., or click [here].

European Commission. Juvenes Translatores: announcing this year's winners of the of the European Commission's translation contest for secondary school students. Press release, 2 February 2018. or click [here].

Grammar school. A UK secondary school of a type with Renaissance origins that stresses academic rather than a practical or vocational education. There are over 100 of them. They got grammar in their name because they taught the grammar of Latin and other languages. Nowadays they've become controversial because of their selective admission. My father went to the King Edward VI Grammar School in Birmingham, where he won a prize for German in the form of a beautifully bound anthology of German poetry.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Inspirational and Inspired Interpreting

We kick off 2018 on this blog with a post about church interpreting, a function which is mostly performed by non-professionals. It has been an unusually long time since the previous post, and for this the pandemic of flu of the long-lasting, misnamed 'Aussie flu' variety is mainly to blame. My apologies for not wishing all you Followers a Happy New Year.

The conventional image of the ideal interpreter is that of a neutral, colourless transmitter of information who neither adds to nor subtracts from nor influences the message. This is what is taught in the training schools due to the long tradition of professional interpreters themselves conducting training and research, and no doubt it fits a great many interpreter functions such as court interpreting, most conference interpreting and community interpreting. Nevertheless there are important areas that it doesn't describe, or at any rate not adequately.

One such area is religious or church interpreting. Far from it being marginal, a researcher, Adelina Hild, finds "clues that point to the fact that IRS [interpretation in religious settings] might be one of the most widespread types of interpreting activities in certain communities." Therefore my interest was awakened recently when a student wrote to me from Taiwan – this blog travels far – about a thesis she's thinking of doing on interpreters who work for missionaries. Missionary interpreters are an important subgroup of religious interpreters and there are missionary interpreters worldwide; Evangelical Christian, Mormon, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist etc. Her project reminded me that religious interpreters must not only convey information; indeed that may not even be their primary function. Like the speakers for whom they interpret, their task is to persuade or convince their listeners. For this they may even go beyond words. The first description of a church interpreter on this blog was about a church meeting in Cameroon where the interpreter mimicked the body language of the pastor, something that would be a no-no in conference interpreting. [To find it, enter Buea in the Search box on the right.] An interpretation in neutral language and flat, colourless tones lets down an inspiring speaker. The interpreter too should inspire. Therefore I call such interpreting inspirational interpreting. As one inspirational interpreter puts it, "Taking such an active participant role is in stark contrast with the professional ideal of neutrality or impartiality,"

Like myself, the student in Taiwan has been an admirer of the Finnish Pentacostal interpreter Sari Hokkanen since we heard her speak at the first NPIT conference [see Sources below]. Hers was a paper that should be read by all student interpreters because it gives a very different view of interpreting. What she brings out emphatically is that such interpreting may not only be inspiring, it may also be inspired.
"Pentacostalism emphasizes personal religious experience, defined as encountering God, making it a salient feature of the social context of the volunteer interpreting context. Therefore I study spiritual and practical levels of preparation… In addition, I examine ways in which a personal religious experience, especially 'hearing from God,' can take place while interpreting, which speaks of my active participation in the interpreted service… the goal of preparation is not only to achieve a personal religious experience, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to mediate religious experience in others."
Lest it be thought that strong religious belief makes religious interpreting unique, consider what Sari herself says: "Religious interpreting settings may have plenty of similarities with non-religious settings that have a strong ideology." I myself felt it when interpreting in Canada for some political speakers. There are situations where inspiration makes the difference between a good interpreter and a great interpreter, just as it does between a good speaker and a great speaker.

Aeltje Chen (Taiwan). Personal communication about missionary interpreting. Email, 15 November 2017.

Sari Hokkanen. Simultaneous interpreting and religious experience; volunteer interpreting in a Finnish Pentacostal church. In R. Antonini et al., (eds.), Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, Amsterdam, Benjamins, 2017. pp. 195-212.

Sari Hokkanen, Simultaneous church interpreting as service. The Translator, vol. 18, no, 2, pp.201.309, 2012. Abstract at

Adelina Hild. The role and self-regulation of non-professional interpreters in religious settings: the VIRS project. In R. Antonini et al., (eds.), Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation, Amsterdam, Benjamins, 2017. pp. 177-194.

Sari Hokkanen. Source: University of Tampere.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

MT Hackng Update

I thought to take a rest after Post 400, but the material keeps on coming.

A few weeks ago, a post here about automata warned that MT systems are vulnerable to hackers. Here is the relevant part of the post; for the full post, enter hacking in the Search box on the right.

It said that translating had already been partly robotized by the invention, progress and popular acceptance of machine translation (MT). Only partly robotized, so the danger isn't yet apparent, but there may be much more and much worse to come…
"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… That doesn't even require access to the source text or knowledge of the source language."
Well, the worse is already coming. Here's the latest. It concerns rhe Norwegian firm Statoil, "one of the world's biggest oil and gas companies."
"NRK Norwegian news agency reports that the $46 billion business used, a free online tool, to translate 'notices of dismissal, plans of workforce reductions and outsourcing, passwords, code information and contracts.'  Then, the story continues, .. a college professor Googled Statoil. In her results were the company's translations."
It seems, however, that I was not alone,
"The translation industry saw the breach coming, 'It was something we had been warning about for 10 years or so,' says Don DePalma, chief strategist at Cambridge-based think tank Common Sense Advisory."
The translation industry sees it perhaps, but do the millions of more naive users? Was the Statoil breach truly the result of hacking or just of a computer glitch? Either way, the system was vulnerable. The conclusion is obvious: don't send anything confidential for translation by an MT system, even (or especially) a free one.

Terena Bell. Data breached in translation. CSO, 9 November 2017. or click [here].

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 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.

Source: Support Bloggers' Rights,