30 June 2014

Mathmatical play on words

Here's an excellent play on words for anyone interested in mathematics and English word play, provided they don't take exception to the innuendo.

I don't know where this was first posted, but I saw it here on the amazingly successful and thoroughly engaging science site called IFLS. Like I said, it's successful and engaging despite the freaking name.

For the benefit of the indexing engines and web crawlers, the picture reads:
Holy shift! Look at the asymptote on that mother function.

17 June 2014

When scientific terms are misused

Ten scientific ideas that scientists wish you would stop misusing (my slightly modified version of the title) by Annalee Newitz gives short well-thought-out explanations of the following terms: proof, theory, quantum uncertainty (and quantum weirdness), learned (vs. inate), natural (and organic), gene, statistically significant, survival of the fittest, geologic timescales, and organic.
(Aside: Translators might have preferred that the article carry the title: Ten scientific terms and expressions that scientists wish you would stop misusing.)
At first guess, I think I guess that most of these terms have direct equivalents in western European languages and most of those equivalents are misused in much the same way.

At first guess, I think I can also say that in many types of translations any such misuse in the original can be faithfully represented by the corresponding misuse in the target language.

The big challenge is, of course, when the translator has a mandate to make the author of the original look better in the target language than in the original. In such cases, the translator needs to consult a site like this one, then decide on better words and terms.

Client satisfait #3

L'article Mer et Marine se trouve ici.
L’édition 2013 par consultable dans son intégralité via le site seaandnavy.com.
(Attention, la qualité graphique en ligne est dégradée en raison des formats de compression de Google).

Un client satisfait #2

In his piece announcing the second Sea and Navy magazine that the Mer et Marine team will produce for Euronaval 2014 and a series of other naval trade shows, editor Vincent Groizeleau wrote:
Comme en 2012/2013, la traduction de ce nouveau hors-série sera confiée à Steve Dyson, traducteur spécialisé qui nous permet de proposer un magazine en langue anglaise irréprochable, notamment au niveau technique. Un travail remarquable qui a largement contribué au succès de la dernière édition, saluée unanimement par les professionnels et nos confrères internationaux pour sa qualité rédactionnelle et iconographique, ainsi que sa présentation. Tout ce qui fait que désormais, et nous en sommes très fiers et heureux, le Hors série Forces Navales de Mer et Marine/Sea and Navy est devenu le support français de référence, reconnu et attendu par l’ensemble du secteur.
Friend and colleague John Smellie of E-Files (John also curates a ScoopIt page) kindly suggested the following translation:
Hoping to repeat the success of our first special issue in 2012/2013, we've already booked Steve Dyson to translate the next one. Steve is a real specialist in naval affairs and his excellent input last time, particularly on a technical level, made the English language version a big hit with naval professionals and fellow journalists around the world — all told us it was well written, beautifully illustrated and perfectly executed down to the last detail.
Many thanks to Vincent and his team for the praise and to John for the translation.

16 June 2014

Un client satisfait #1

Sous le titre Mer et Marine prépare un nouveau magazine pour Euronaval et les salons internationaux on peut lire :
De l’Europe à l’Asie en passant par le Moyen-Orient, l’Amérique latine ou encore l’Océanie, nous avons le plaisir de vous annoncer que le nouveau magazine de Mer et Marine va réaliser un second tour du monde. Publiée directement en anglais et présentant les produits et savoir-faire des entreprises françaises et franco-européennes du secteur naval, aéronaval et de la sécurité maritime, cette édition 2014/2015 sera dévoilée en octobre prochain, à l'ouverture du salon Euronaval. ... qui se déroulera au Bourget du 27 au 31 octobre.

Comme l’an dernier, avec la première édition de Sea and Navy, version anglaise du hors-série francophone publié en octobre 2012, le prochain magazine traversera les océans pour être présent en 2015 dans les plus grands salons internationaux intéressant les acteurs de l’industrie navale et de la sécurité maritime. Cela, grâce à un accord de partenariat renouvelé avec le GICAN, que nous remercions pour sa confiance. Dans le cadre de sa mission de promotion des industries navales et maritimes françaises, celui-ci va mettre à disposition le nouveau magazine de Mer et Marine sur les pavillons France des différents salons auxquels il participera. Les visiteurs et délégations officielles accueillies sur ces espaces auront ainsi, à disposition, un support de qualité présentant les compétences, références et produits proposés par les industriels tricolores. Les salons prévus sont NAVDEX à Abu Dhabi (22 au 26 février 2015), LIMA à Langkawi, en Malaisie (17 au 21 mars 2015), LAAD à Rio de Janeiro, au Brésil (14 au 17 avril 2015), IMDEX à Singapour (19 au 21 mai 2015), IMDS à Saint-Pétersbourg, en Russie (1er au 5 juillet 2015), PACIFIC à Sydney, en Australie (6 au 8 octobre 2015) et DEFENSE & SECURITY à Bangkok, en Thaïlande (2 au 5 novembre 2015).
Comme en 2012/2013, la traduction de ce nouveau hors-série sera confiée à Steve Dyson, traducteur spécialisé qui nous permet de proposer un magazine en langue anglaise ... 

A descent into drivel as a sign

On 15 June FT columnist Lucy Kellaway published yet another piece on poor corporate language. This article is, however, different in two ways. First, it attacks -- and how -- a company (Apple) that Lucy had previously held up "as a lone example of a big company that uses words beautifully"

But Descent into drivel is a sign of Apple’s fall goes on to a deeper level of analysis (my bold):
Everyone knows that job ads are an area that attracts the worst sort of grandiose language, especially when they have been put through a headhunter’s mangle that makes every employer “world-class”. But when the company itself can’t describe what its own people do, and can’t say anything clearly about who it wants to fill them, I fear trouble.
Apple’s hitherto nice way with words was almost certainly a part of its success. Perhaps the language helped cause the success, or perhaps the success caused the language. The company’s new, ugly words suggest it has got too big and too corporate to hang on to the things that once made it different. Apple seems to have become at least as Kafkaesque as everywhere else.
Only time will tell if Lucy is on the right, which is to say if it is indeed possible to get an insight into strategic wavering and possible loss of direction from the close analysis of corporate communications.This thought often crosses the attentive translator's mind. While many, indeed far too many, see 'business speak', 'corporate guff' and the like as one of the easier categories of translation, a quick glance at the examples quoted by Lucy reveals just how turgid this type of document can be.

Some lateral thinking also suggests that one of the simplest and cheapest solutions is to have key corporate statements, advertisements, etc. translated by an acknowledged expert with the dual purposes of (a) using the translation(s) to increase the company's reach, and (b) having the company's top in-house writers work hand in hand with the translator(s) to ensure that all versions are crisp, clear and free of the sort of drivel that may later prove so embarrassing, not to mention expensive to fix.

Translating meaning, not words

Cross-cultural training courses such as those proposed by MindTools, Kwintessial or any number of other providers are big business. All address the multiple challenges posed by languages and cultures. Some also address the special challenges of different cultures that share the same or similar languages (think Australia vs the UK, Portugal vs Brazil, France vs Quebec, etc.).

An allied category of communication challenges is the way all language/cultural groups apply meanings to certain expressions that are quite different from what the words appear to mean, especially to anyone who knows the language but not the culture in question. This is a special challenge wherever monolingual speakers of English deal with second-language speakers with a strong command of English, but not necessarily the cultural baggage that goes with mother-tongue speech and, of course, the reverse.

Misunderstandings between British and Dutch business people are discussed by various websites, one example being Expatia.
On 13 June, FT columnist Gillian Tett discussed a list of frequently misunderstood list of expressions under the heading A guide to (mis)communication.

After you've looked at this list, think for a moment about what these types of expressions means for translators.
Fortunately 101 things a translator needs to know offers guidance right from #1.
Under the heading Translators don’t translate words – they translate meaning this wise little book says:
"Machines and dictionaries translate words. But it takes a thinking, reasoning human being to translate what words mean. Consider how you would translate the simple command “Shoot”, depending on whether the person doing the shooting is a soldier, a footballer, a photographer, a gambler throwing dice, or a friend with something to tell you that you are eager to hear. The key here, as in all translation, is context."

11 June 2014

Tipping: one word, several cultures

My mother has just returned to her home in Melbourne, Australia, after a short holiday in Hawaii. Like other Australian visiting the United States she had trouble understanding the tipping culture and, in one case, was sharply abused by a restaurant employee for not leaving the right amount as a tip.

Australian newspapers frequently carry articles on the topic.
Examples include:
Tipping? What for? Aussies just don't get the American way,
'Australians are the worst': tips on tipping in the US,
A guide to tipping in America (after failing miserably),
US-style tipping may hit Australia: study.

Of the several articles I read today, the best is definitely
Do restaurants really expect Australian diners to leave a tip?
For anyone interested in language, the issue boils down to different versions of the English language and different communities of speakers having different concepts of what the term means. In other words, one term, many meanings. For translators, I think it's interesting to note that the word is easily translated, but the social, community and behavioural connotations that it carries will seldom, if ever, be conveyed by a single term.

Do restaurants really expect Australian diners to leave a tip? explains some of the connotations Australians associated with the word rather well:
We know the majority of Australians are opposed to a local tipping culture. ...
the head of the Restaurants and Catering Industry Association of Australia, John Hart, conceded that when it comes to tipping, it’s too late.
... “You can’t overlay what is the highest wage cost base in the world with a tipping culture. That has pushed us to point where there is virtually no latitude for customers to leave a tip. The propensity to leave a tip is minimal.”
The lack of a tipping culture in Australia is largely down to our wage structure which sees a minimum wage (around $17 an hour) mandated on hospitality pay. This is in stark contrast to the United States, where there is a strong tipping culture but minimum hospitality wages of between $2 and $3 an hour.
The hospitality workers’ union United Voice acting national secretary David O’Byrne said ... “Staff in the US are effectively begging for a weekly wage. You can’t plan your life, you can’t get a loan and you get caught in a poverty trap. My first job was as a porter in a hotel and you got tips from time to time but you can’t plan what that’s going to be.
I’ve spoken to workers in the US and it’s not a dignified life. In Australia, tips are a gratuity and people who go to work deserve to have dignity. There’s no substitute for decent wages, training and culture.”
Some words hide more meaning than others.

Thursday 19 June: Today, the Huffington Post published an article entitled To tip or not to tip, that is the question, complete with a guide to tipping practices in various countries for restaurant service taxi drivers and hotel porters.

09 June 2014

'Passion': a passing fashion?

On 8 June, writing under the heading It is dangerous to feel passion for your work, FT columnist Lucy Kellaway looked once again at the word 'passion' and its current usage in coporatese.

Lucy reminded readers that:
... the word “passion” properly refers either to a strong sexual attraction or to the suffering of Jesus Christ at the time of the crucifixion, neither of which are terribly appropriate in an office setting.
then went on to add:
... the passion fashion was just another tiresome example of language inflation. Just as companies refer to all employees as “talent”, even when they are lazy and mediocre, and just as they talk flatulently of “astounding” and “enchanting” customers, they also insist on passion as an entry ticket to any job. It is brainless and bogus ...
Lucy is, once again, offering excellent advice.
For translators of corporatese, the challenges are considerable:
Translate as it is, warts and all?
Dilute and restrain gently but not so much as to attract criticism? 
Be bold and do as Lucy recommends, which is to say, negotiate a mandate to replace the brainless, bogus rubbish by sound, honest and inventive but restrained language?

The last option sounds good even if it does present quite a challenge in terms of the writing skills required. But that's the easy bit. The big problem is how to convince the authors of the original that the translation should be written in a completely different tone without giving the impression that the authors have not done a particularly good job?
Your comments and suggestions will be most welcome.

Pinker on style

On 9 June, Edge columnist John Brockman published a Conversation with Steven Pinker, author of
The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century under the heading Writing In The 21st Century. Pinker is a professor of psychology at Harvard University.

Some quotes (my bold):

The question I'm currently asking myself is how our scientific understanding of language can be put into practice to improve the way that we communicate anything, including science?
In particular, can you use linguistics, cognitive science, and psycholinguistics to come up with a better style manual—a 21st century alternative to the classic guides like Strunk and White's The Elements of Style?
The problem with any given construction, like the passive voice, isn't that people use it, but that they use it too much or in the wrong circumstances.

Ironically, the aspect of writing that gets the most attention is the one that is least important to good style, and that is the rules of correct usage.
The first thing you should think about is the stance that you as a writer take when putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.
Writers and translators also use the term 'voice' in this context.
A lot of Strunk and White's advice depended completely on their gut reactions from a lifetime of practice as an English professor and critic, respectively. Today we can offer deeper advice, such as the syntactic and discourse functions of the passive voice—a construction which, by the way, Strunk & White couldn't even consistently identify, not having being trained in grammar.
Many people get incensed about so-called errors of grammar which are perfectly unexceptionable.

Another bit of psychology that can make anyone a better writer is to be aware of a phenomenon sometimes called The Curse of Knowledge. It goes by many names, and many psychologists have rediscovered versions of it, including defective Theory of Mind, egocentrism, hindsight bias, and false consensus. They're all versions of an infirmity afflicting every member of our species, namely that it's hard to imagine what it's like not to know something that you do know

04 June 2014

Ramblings on performance enhancement and next-generation translators

On Sunday 11 May, ABC Radio National presenter Joe Gelonesi, host of The Philosopher's Zone, asked Nicole Vincent, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Law, and Neuroscience
Georgia State University, to discuss personal responsibility. The program summary reads:
Personal responsibility occupies Nicole Vincent's centre stage. But the closer she looks the more complex it appears. The times aren’t helping: pills and potions are being used to sharpen the wits in a very modern race to be the best. When simply being good may not be good enough, where does this leave responsibility? Should we expect more from Superman than Clark Kent?
Most of the discussion focuses on questions of responsibility raised by performance enhancing drugs and aids. Professor Vincent mentions transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), a physical aid described in Want to enhance your brain power? (subtitled: Research hints that electrically stimulating the brain can speed learning) by Emily Singer in the 26 June 2008 issue of MIT Technology Review and many subsequent articles.

To watch Nicole Vincent's Sydney TED Talk, go to TEDSydney Live, then scroll the list of names and click on Nicole Vincent.

From a post dated 9 July 2013 by Sean Fannon on the brave neuro world blog entitled a battery powered brain boost:

Neurostimulate in style with the Foc.us tDCS headset.

For the moment, the foc.us page on the tDCS headset is targeted solely at gamers. And, while there is plenty of hype and it would be silly to overreact, questions keep coming to mind.
Assuming that this or a similar technology is soon demonstrated to enhance language performance, including writing and translation skills, without significant side effects, it will quickly raise questions of responsibility for students and their teachers, and later for budding translators.
Of course, chemical stimulants already raise the same issues despite the known side effects.
Feel free to share your thoughts.

Sean Fannon's post also discusses the classic "nine-dot problem" while suggesting in passing a possible origin of the expression "thinking outside the box".

The classic “nine-dot problem” asks subjects to connect all nine dots
in a 3×3 array using only four straight lines.
Almost everyone fails to solve this problem in laboratory settings,
even after being given hints and many attempts.
Without being told to do so, people tend to confine their placement of lines within the dot array,
which prevents them from finding the solution
(This problem is also the source of the expression “thinking outside the box”).

03 June 2014

On gender

Language blogger Gretchen McCulloch* has an excellent piece dated 2 June on grammatical gender on the Toast under the heading A linguist on the story of gendered pronouns.

A couple of quotes:
The grammatical sense of the word is actually older (from the 14th century: it’s related to genre and genus, i.e. type, kind, origin) and the meaning was extended in the 15th century to the human phenomenon. For a while, this extension led to gender being used as a euphemism for “sex,” where both words could refer to social or biological differences, but starting in the 1960s, feminist writers began using gender to refer to the social distinction and sex to refer to the biological one, presumably to make it easier to talk about these two phenomena separately.
Incidentally, the conflation of the grammatical and natural meanings of gender is responsible for the confusion of English speakers learning a foreign language with a “gender system.” “What,” the learner inevitably remarks to themself, “is so darn male or female about plates and bowls anyway?” The answer is nothing.
Gretchen McCulloch is a linguist and the contributing editor of Slate's Lexicon Valley blog. She has a master's in linguistics from McGill University and blogs daily at All Things Linguistic.

02 June 2014

Dubbing is translation in four dimensions.

Disney has opted to translate 'Frozen' into Modern Standard Arabic, rather than the more usual Egyptian Arabic. A curious decision. The effect is rather akin to using the English of the King James Bible. The chorus of ‘Let It Go’ renders roughly as: “Discharge thy secret! I shall not bear the torment! … I dread not all that shall be said! Discharge the storm clouds! The snow instigateth not lugubriosity within me”

Read Translating 'frozen' into Arabic by New Yorker contributor Elias Muhanna.

Watch and listen to Let it Go in 41 languages and in HD.

Transcreating technical journalism, conference presentation

On Saturday 17 June, I at spoke at the TransLisboa 2017 conference organised by Aptrad . My presentation was entitled  Transcreating techn...