Translation as a gateway to culture

The nineties were a whirlwind if new and interesting culture – as air travel got cheaper, the world’s economy was booming and new technologies made everyone and everything that little bit closer.

Japanese comics known as manga and animated series, anime really took off within youth, party and drug cultures during this period. Their availability was largely due to the efforts of Toren Smith who sadly passed away earlier this week.

I had discovered the Animage comics version of Nausicaa, which provided my entry into the world of Japanese comics–a world which was to cause me to devote my life to bringing it to all English-speaking people.

From mefi:

Anglophone otaku the world over have Smith and the manga import company he founded, Studio Proteus, to thank for much of the existence of their hobby. In addition to his instrumentality in bringing titles like AkiraDomuOh My Goddess, and Blade of the Immortal to the English-speaking world, Smith and Studio Proteus translated much of Science Fiction legend Masamune Shirow‘s oeuvre into English, starting with Appleseed and continuing with DominionGhost in the Shell, and Orion.

Over the course of his career he became involved with über-nerd animation studio Gainax, who immortalized him in Gunbuster as “Smith Toren,” a robot pilot aboard the Exelion.

When talking about translation, Toren nails what we all strive for:

Above all, Tom, Dana and myself all agreed that despite all the hard work we were doing, we wanted our work to be totally invisible to the readers. We hoped that, when we were done, the English-language readers would never notice the translation, the sound effects or the lettering–they would simply read and enjoy this incredible story without ever thinking about the fact that it was translated from another language.

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?”

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.

Translation Fun

Nothing is quite so fun as language games – scrabble, find a word, and limericks are all examples of just how deep our fascination with word play really is.

Then, in the late 1980s through to the early 2000s there was a flurry of books, and later internet sites, about poor translations to English, especially as seen in Japan and China or on products made in those countries, the pinnacle being All Your Base are Belong To Us. This phenomena is sometimes distastefully named chinglish or japlish or engrish.

More recently language and translations as entertainment and art have blossomed with the internet’s reach and access at such a level that would boggle anyone 20 years ago.

Which means that sometimes you see fun experiments like this somewhat lazy but very recognisable and funny translation of 30 artists and record sleeves.

(via MeFi)

The Reconstructionists

The collaborators say it best:

The Reconstructionists, a collaboration between illustrator Lisa Congdon and writer Maria Popova, is a yearlong celebration of remarkable women — beloved artists, writers, and scientists, as well as notable unsung heroes — who have changed the way we define ourselves as a culture and live our lives as individuals of any gender.

Every Monday in 2013, we’ll be publishing an illustrated portrait of one such trailblazing woman, along with a hand-lettered quote that captures her spirit and a short micro-essay about her life and legacy.

The project borrows its title from Anaïs Nin, one of the 52 female icons, who wrote of “woman’s role in the reconstruction of the world” in a poetic 1944 diary entry — a sentiment that encapsulates the heart of what this undertaking is about: women who have reconstructed, in ways big and small, famous and infamous, timeless and timely, our understanding of ourselves, the world, and our place in it.


From it’s text based beginnings as Bulletin Board Systems/Services (BBSs) and USENET the internet has been used as a place to distribute the weird and wonderful.

Before Digg and Reddit existed, similar offerings were available from MetaFilter (MeFi) and SomethingAwful. I long ago signed up for Digg and Reddit, but for some reason I never really got the hang of MeFi – until recently.

I joined a week or so ago, and I’m pretty impressed so far. Here are a few example of stuff that I’ve found just yesterday:

MeFi’s Learn Korean Easy (Oh, the grammar!) reposts artist/adventurer Ryan Estrada’s great comic called Learn to read Korean in 15 minutes which is fascinating. An internet holes opens up as I go searching for more information on Hangul, the origin of Hangul and it’s promulgator Sejong the Great. I know what I’ll be doing on my next interminable wait at an airport, which from the comments seems to be the place most people like to learn the phonetic alphabet system.

The other post of interest, lighter of my lifeboat, firearm of my loincloths, explains a neat artistic morph of text called the N+7 procedure, developed by French poet Jean Lescure. The rules are simple – change every noun to the seventh noun after it in a dictionary.

The N + 7 Machine is a page that implements the procedure for N <= 15 on text that you enter or paste in.

Go forth and ART!