Translating from English to English

One of the things I like most about the concept of translating between two different versions of English (UK, US, Australian, New Zealand, South Africa, …) is that it’s such an odd concept for people to wrap their heads around but the explanation is so simple and obvious. Typically when people have it explained to them, they can then quickly and easily extrapolate the theory to translation between two languages that aren’t so closely related.

This morning I found a non scientific, non translation theory experiment run by an avid reader into the different language used in the US and UK versions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone:

My husband and I spent three years in Newfoundland and bought our Harry Potter books there. The Canadian editions are the same as the British text. I thought it wold be interesting to do a line-by-line comparison with the American edition and see where the differences were.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list–I have not included every instance of an alternate word’s usage. There are also many minor punctuation differences which I have not included. The American edition has quite a few more commas than the British. The British text follows UK style standards and uses single quotes (where the American uses double) and does not have periods after Mr and Mrs.

The American edition has a slightly larger typeface, and also has small illustrations at the beginning of each chapter, which the British edition does not.

Most of the differences are spelling and punctuation related, but there are the occasional interesting cultural changes:

Dudley had learnt a new word (‘Shan’t!’) Dudley had learned a new word (“Won’t!”)
The news reader allowed himself a grin. The newscaster allowed himself a grin.
‘Well, I just thought…maybe…it was something to do with…you know… her lot.’ “Well, I just thought…maybe…it was something to do with…you know… her crowd.”
‘Would you care for a sherbet lemon?’ “Would you care for a lemon drop?”
he had hands the size of dustbin lids he had hands the size of trash can lids
‘And where did you get that motorbike?’ “And where did you get that motorcycle?”

YouTube adds a Translation Service

Late last year Google added a subtitle translation function to make it easier for video uploaders to transcribe their videos and to then have others translate them.

Of course, sometimes you want that Swahili subtitle translation but you don’t know anyone that will do it.

Google has announced an initial collaboration with two translation services so you can get a translation done for you:

When you request a translation for your captions in YouTube, we’ll display a list of vendors along with their estimated pricing and delivery date so you can easily compare. We’ve initially collaborated with two companies, Gengo and, to make their services available to you and to streamline the ordering process.

There are two aspects to note here: two weeks ago Amara (previously Universal Subtitles, mentioned here often) announced an update that automagically sync’d subtitles to your YouTube channel – the timing of this move by Google’s is cynical in the extreme.

Amara are still doing a better job of it – who else has a Closed Captioning (CC) request service:

These are videos that our deaf and hard-of-hearing users have asked the Amara community to caption. Join the team – via – and help us make these videos accessible to everyone. Are you deaf or hard of hearing? Feel free to submit a video to this team or send your request to our Deaf HoH email list:

Did you see that? A deaf/hard of hearing subtitle request list. Fantastic. This type of development gives me faith that while the Google Translation engine will impact upon translators incomes, there is still room for groups to make a living if they think outside the box.

More importantly and fascinatingly, Amara also offers a Music Captioning service:

The place where music is captioned to bridge the gap between hearing and deaf world.
Everyone is welcome join this team – via – and share and create a worldwide audience to enjoy music in every language of the world.
We also have a Google group where you can discuss the captioning/subtitling of each video:!forum/musiccaptioning
See also our “Guidelines about collaborative captioning / subtitling” there: .

My other concern, or more correctly the obvious conclusion, of this development, is that Google will be using these subtitles more and more to help it with its voice recognition and understanding service, Google Voice Search – one of the most important steps to integrating robots and AIs into our lives.

James Joyce: latest best seller in China

James Joyce’s classic Finnegan’s Wake has recently been translated into Chinese by  Dai Congrong, and is currently a best seller.

Despite the complexities of Joyce’s language — that unending stream of puns, portmanteaus, and lexical associations — Dai toiled, for ten years, and recently achieved what she set out to do: translate Wake into Chinese.

Along with the accolades she deserves for tackling such a project, Dai can take satisfaction in her hard work paying off. In fact, the first Chinese translation of Finnegans Wake is selling so quickly that it has gone through an initial print run of 8,000 copies since its late December release.

(via MeFi)

Poetic Translation

I’ve just discovered the blog bLogicarian and am looking forward to being able to read further – see the length of Esperanto: An International Auxiliary Clusterfuck for an example of why I need a weekend to absorb. From A Brief Note on Translating Poetry:

A good translator doesn’t just translate “into” something already existing in the target tradition, but brings something new to the target language from the original. And that requires using one’s target tradition in a foreign way at some level. Though if one pulls a Nabokov, the result may be useless in many ways. For all their flaws and chinoiserie, Ezra Pound’s translations from Old English, Classical Chinese and Provençal do succeed at that at some level. So do Edward Fitzgerald’s translations from Omar Khayyām and Vikram Seth’s versions of Medieval Chinese poetry. They offer the reader something new that they can’t get anywhere else. The original must, after all, usually be something new if it justifies the reader’s attention or the translator’s effort.

Walter Arndt, in his hilariously written Picaro in Hitler’s Europe once said that to desire to do verse-translation requires one to be a either a person with more than one country or a person with no country. Perhaps he was not entirely wrong.

And then there are the valid critiques of Firefly in Sinorrhea: Why Joss Whedon’s Firefly Annoys Me – problems that I’d noticed during my recent watching of the show:

Even those cultural aspects of the show’s universe that aren’t mere occidentalisms telescoped into the distant future do not actually employ non-western cultural phenomena, but rather American re-imaginings thereof. And Whedon didn’t put the least amount of thought into any of this, of how even a slightly clued-in non-expert such as yours truly might respond to what he’s doing. He’d never dare do something like this with gender.

It’s shallow. Joss was either going for the lowest common American denominator here, or just didn’t know any better.


It’s not updated frequently, but there’s a lot there when he does.