Introducing WordsmithsBlog.com –

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition © 2020 defines wordsmith as:

  1. A fluent and prolific writer, especially one who writes professionally.
  2. An expert on words.

For the purposes of this blog, we prefer a wider definition, one that embraces all those who (like the undersigned, a professional translator) use words - both those in their mother tongues and those in the foreign languages they aspire to command - as their tools of  trade and the object of their passion.


This blog has its genesis in a French-language blog, www.Le-mot-juste-en-anglais.com, which has been active since I created it in 2010. For several years LMJ has run monthly interviews, initially with translators and subsequently with other linguists. We have dubbed each such interviewee “Linguist of the Month”.
The  goal of WordsmithsBlog is to reproduce interviews conducted in English, (as opposed to those conducted directly in French) and published on Le Mot Juste. Since 2012,  our interviewees have run the gamut of wordsmiths, including poet Hélène Cardona, translator John Woodsworth, linguist, broadcaster and educator David Crystal, historian Peter Hicks, lexicographer and terminologist René Meertens and interpreter Ewandro Magalhães  – all trailblazers in their fields. Hopefully the lives and careers of future interviewees will capture the interest of our readers, as those of our past guests have done for readers of Le Mot Juste. For a full list of wordsmiths whose interviews appear on this blog, see here.

Helene Cardona 2

Bellos

David Crystal

Hélène Cardona

David Bellos

David Crystal 

     

Hicks 11.19

Meertens 1.2019

Ewandro Magalhães

Peter Hicks 

René Meertens 

Finally, a word about our interviewers: in addition to your humble bloggers, Jean and myself, many guest linguists coming from widely different fields of language and literature have taken on that role. They include Michèle Druon, professor of French studies, Cynthia Hazelton, lecturer in legal and commercial translation, Joelle Vuille, professor of criminal law, Silvia Kadiu, lecturer in translation studies, Isabelle Pouliot, Grant Hamilton, French-English translator and author - to name only a few.We invite you to subscribe to WordsmithsBlog.com. You can then enjoy regular postings designed to open a window for you on the varied lives of these fascinating people — wordsmiths who share your love of language.

Michele DRUON Grant Hamilton updated

Michèle Druon

Grant Hamilton

Cynthia Hazelton

Kadiu 11.19

Isabelle Pouliot

JOELLE

Silvia Kadiu

  Isabelle Pouliot

Joelle Vuille

 

 

 

 

 

JJG

Jonathan Goldberg,

Los Angeles, 28 November, 2019

 

 

 

 


Interview with American wordsmith, author, translator and publisher Mark Polizzotti

Mark Polizzotti cropped 1

The interviewee

Ella

The interviewer

Mark Polizzotti has translated more than fifty books from the French, including works by Gustave Flaubert, Patrick Modiano, Marguerite Duras, and Arthur Rimbaud. He is the author of eleven books, including Revolution of the Mind:
The Life of André Breton (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995), which was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction; monographs on Luis Buñuel and Bob Dylan, and Sympathy for the Traitor: A Translation Manifesto

(MIT Press, 2018). A Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres and the recipient of a 2016 American Academy of Arts & Letters Award for Literature, he directs the publications program at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  

Metroploitan Museum of Art

Born in Iowa, Ella Bartlett is a writer and poet who is delighted to discover more about translation. After graduating from Barnard College of Columbia University, she is currently a graduate student at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. She is currently writing her thesis on intersectional feminism in the works of two nineteenth-century women writers, George Sand and George Eliot. Her works can be found in JetFuel Review, decamP magazine, and forthcoming in Gigantic Sequins.

 

 

TRANSLATION


Ella cropped thumbnailYou are a writer and a translator of more than 50 books and are currently the Publisher and Editor in Chief of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Can you speak a little about how your writing projects, translations and otherwise, fit together with your work at the MET?

 

Mark thumbnailWhether writing, translating, or publishing (or editing), it’s all about books, it all draws from the same source and serves similar ends. As a self-admitted book nerd, I believe these activities are all interrelated and cross-pollenate. To take an example, when I was writing the biography of André Breton, the original manuscript was something like 1200 pages long. My editor sent it back with one piece of advice: cut it in half. And largely because I’d been lucky enough to have experience as an editor of other people’s work, and therefore had been trained to look at any text, even my own, not only as a writer but also as a reader, I was able to do it without too much stress—and the final manuscript was much the better for it. Ultimately, in all three domains, it’s about the optimal use of language, how to say what needs to be said in the best (or most appropriate, or most economical) way.

Ella cropped thumbnailWhen you were seventeen and studying at a university in Nanterre, you met the French author Maurice Roche, whose books you then went on to translate. I have to admit that’s a little bit of a fantasy for those who want to go into translation! Can you speak a little bit about how this small event turned into a career? What did you do following this encounter that paved your way into translation?

Mark thumbnailI had actually dabbled in translation before that encounter with Maurice Roche. In high school French classes, for instance, instead of just reading the chapter assigned for homework, I found myself translating it, trying to get a deeper sense of exactly what was going on in the text. Later, in college, after I had met Maurice and “translated” (in big quotes) his novel CodeX, I took a translation seminar in which everyone worked from different source languages. So by necessity, the emphasis was on the end product, the English translation, as its own entity rather than as a successful or unsuccessful mirror of the original. The questions we asked were, Does this work as a text on its own terms? Does it make sense to a reader coming to it cold, with no reference to (and probably no understanding of) the original? How did the author of the English text (i.e., the translator) achieve that particular effect? And so on.

Meeting Maurice Roche was a wonderful catalyst, because even though I took on CodeX without having any idea what I was doing, it tossed me into the deep end of the pool and got me grappling with issues that, to a large extent, I’m still grappling with today. CodeX was a mid-seventies experimental fiction, and highly demanding, but the challenges it posed, deep down, are no different from those posed by a Patrick Modiano novel: how can you make this text work in another cultural context and linguistic system while keeping it true to itself? After that, I took on another novel of Maurice’s, Compact, which I found could be adapted more successfully and which eventually was published, and in the meantime I was asked by a friend who ran a small publishing house to translate the essays of René Daumal (eventually published by City Lights), and by one of my ex-professors at Columbia to translate several books of philosophy for the Semiotext(e) imprint, which he ran at the time. And little by little, the more books I translated, the more people started seeking me out.

Which is not to say I haven’t pursued projects with publishers. Aside from Compact, which took years to place, I intentionally went after the novels of Jean Echenoz. Jean’s novel Cherokee was submitted to Random House; I read it as a favor to the acquiring editor and fell in love with it. After the then-editor in chief of Random House passed on it (by literally tossing the book over our heads and into the hallway), I learned that the small Boston house of David Godine had taken it on; so I wrote to David, saying that I had almost no translation experience but I loved the book and would like to translate it if he’d give me a chance. And he did!

The other thing I should mention is that, because I don’t live off my translation work, I have the luxury of taking on only those projects that appeal to me - or, more accurately, projects that I connect with, to which I feel I can do justice. If I don’t feel I can give a text my best effort or that I can put myself in the skin of the writing, then my impulse is to turn it down. It wouldn’t be fair to the book, the author, or the reader for me to translate it under those conditions. That said, there are times when you take on a project you don’t feel as viscerally connected to, for any number of extenuating reasons, and of course you do the very best job you can, but it’s not ideal.

 

Ella cropped thumbnailSome of the books you’ve translated -- I’m Gone by Jean Echenoz, for example, or the novellas Afterimage and Flowers of Ruin by Patrick Modiano (in the volume Suspended Sentences), feature a young or middle-aged man who disappears, leads a life that is secret to some, or leaves a wake of absence. I’ve heard that writers have a handful of themes that they write about constantly—take Proust, for example, whose themes might include obsession, love and memory. Like a writer, do you think that a translator can have their “themes”? And if so, what are yours?

Mark thumbnailI think you’re right that these writers have that little cluster of obsessions they keep coming back to. For Modiano, it’s the past, the unreliability of memory, the long trail of the Occupation on the French psyche. I greatly enjoy translating his works, I strongly feel that connection I just spoke of, but these are not necessarily my obsessions. The same for Echenoz, who I’ve loved translating, and who often uses the conventions of thrillers and detective novels, some of them quite violent - even though I myself have never chased after anyone with gun in hand.

Those are surface differences. For translators, as for writers, the real ‘theme’ is language, and how that language is manipulated. For me, what appeals is a dry, phlegmatic tone, and also economy of expression, in which not a word is wasted – which is why I enjoy translating writers like Modiano or Echenoz or Marguerite Duras. Paradoxically, I find that kind of understatement and economy leaves open a space for greater emotional impact than with a writer who lets it all hang out, perhaps in the same way that shadow is made possible by light.

 

Ella cropped thumbnailThis reminds me of Patrick Modiano, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, whose dry tone has clearly something boiling underneath it. This comes across very clearly in your translation of his Suspended Sentences. In this book, his descriptions of Paris are dreamlike, ghostly, yet specific. How did you become intimate with Modiano’s Paris, and what kinds of research did you do to recreate his vision in English?

Mark thumbnailI’m so pleased you recognized that! That ‘something boiling underneath’ is exactly the quality I was trying to convey in the translation. His writing has a calm surface, but there are monsters under there. As well as a very wistful sense of nostalgia for a Paris that no longer exists, and maybe never did.

Many think of Modiano as a writer of the French Occupation. But while that historical moment clearly haunts him (he was born in 1945, so just after the war ended), the real turning point in his life is the early to mid 1960s, when he found personal liberation. He had a very difficult childhood, as he has recounted— among other things, his brother, with whom he was very close, died at a young age, and his parents were disasters—and the period when he turned twenty, freed himself from dependency on them, began writing, and began living his own life, is the setting of many of his books. The other thing that occurs frequently in his writing is a, for lack of a better word, discomfort with what Paris has become. I don’t know whether his nostalgia is for the way the city used to be per se, or for that sensation of endless possibility that he apparently felt in his youth, for which mid-sixties Paris, with its specific cars and cafes and metro stops and bookstores and restaurants and neighborhoods, provided the backdrop.

Modiano’s Paris is from the mid-sixties and I first lived there in the early ‘70s, so not that much had changed. I remember some of those neighborhoods, those places that he mentions and that are now gone. The things is, though, it’s not the way Paris really was that matters. I learned this when I went to visit some of the sites he mentions, intrigued by the foggy, magical atmosphere that emanates from his descriptions. What I found was not the wonderland I had envisioned, but rather that Modiano had filtered these places through his consciousness – of course he did, he’s a writer. Though these places existed in the physical world, in a very real sense they existed only in his mind. He gives many geographical particulars in his writing, as a way of anchoring the story he’s telling in physical and historical reality, but the end result is only to make them more elusive. His books are about indirection and vagueness. He gives you clues and then leaves you to create your own narrative—and as such, to become much more emotionally and personally invested.

 

Ella cropped thumbnailI want to speak a little about your book Sympathy for the Traitor. You add an incredible and realistic perspective to translation theory, notably your rejection of the notion of “fidelity.” This age-old debate of Schleiermacher, Venuti, and others— is based around foreignizing or domesticizing the original text by how exactly the translator replicates it. Why do you think this notion of fidelity has become the dominant discourse in the field?

Mark thumbnailWell, as you know, debate between so-called fidelity and felicity, or literal versus liberal, stretches back to the very beginnings of translation. Horace and Cicero were making pronouncements about it at the turn of the first millennium. Throughout history, commentators and practitioners of translation have taken sides, depending in part on whether they think of translation as an art or a science. I think if that debate has taken on the character it has today – I would say ‘the acrimonious character’, but it’s always been acrimonious; people get really worked up over this stuff – it’s in part because translation theory has emerged as a significant academic discipline, one with (it seems to me) deeper roots in linguistics than in literary studies. And by nature, an academic discipline, to preserve its credibility, tends to systematize and look for applicable rules – some translation schemas look like mathematical formulas - which runs counter to a view of translation that’s more instinctive, less codified, and by nature less easy to encapsulate. Although certain aspects of translation do lend themselves to codification, once you get too rigid about it, or become too swayed by a particular theory, I believe it leads you down a false path. To create a good piece of writing, you have to call upon many different strands, many approaches, sometimes mixing several at once. And that also means knowing when to let something go, sacrificing it for the greater good, as it were. If you become too attuned to the original, too attached to its every nuance, the harder it becomes to translate, because the reality is you can never catch everything. But you can catch what’s essential.

With Sympathy for the Traitor, I was not interested in advancing a theory – there are enough of them as it is. I approach translation as a form of reading, a very active and creative form of reading suspended between two linguistic and cultural systems. By nature, that reading will be personal – the translations I produce are a result of my reading. Someone else would do it differently. But for me, the measure of success is whether, in reading over the English translation, I can hear in my head and feel in my heart the same resonances that I hear and feel from the French. That to me is the kind of fidelity that matters—but to arrive at that overall fidelity, you often have to commit many small infidelities.

 

Ella cropped thumbnailIn continuing with this idea of fidelity, I’m curious if an English reader who is familiar with French might feel as if the translation is hiding something if a cultural detail is “anglicized” to a certain extent. For example, if a French character takes an aspirin, when another brand of painkiller is a lot more common in France, that might be bizarre for certain English Francophile readers. How familiar do you expect your readers to be with the source language and culture?  

Mark thumbnailI don’t expect the readers to be familiar at all, or at least I can’t count on it. There is no simple answer to your question, though, as many of these choices are case-by-case. Almost every translator will come across this kind of problem, and much of the time the solution depends on what the text specifically needs at that point: Is it enough to know the character took a painkiller? Do we need to know it’s ibuprofen and not paracetamol (and does it matter if I call it ‘acetaminophen’ instead)? If I specify that it’s Percocet, is that relevant information (for instance, do I want to suggest the recent controversy over painkiller addiction, in which that brand was often named), or is it only to give a patina of precision to the text, in which case any name might do? In cases where the reference is a throwaway, it might be less cumbersome to just let it go. If an unfamiliar reference conveys important information, I might need to sneak in a ‘stealth gloss’, a word or two unobtrusively added, to clue the reader in.

 

Ella cropped thumbnailI want to mention your biography on André Breton, yours being his first comprehensive biography in English to date. What drew you to him as a surrealist, and how did this project come about?


Mark thumbnailI came upon Surrealism by accident when I was a teenager and used to practice automatic writing, without knowing what it was until a friend pointed me toward some Surrealist art books. I became fascinated by not only the visuals, but also the atmosphere. Later, in my first year living in France, I began reading books by Breton and other Surrealists, and in college I took a class where the professor made that whole crazy movement come to life. Over the following decade, as I read more and more of Breton’s works, I realized that, although a lot of his writing is self-referential, he didn’t really tell you a lot about his life, and I was curious.

My first instinct, since I was working as a fledgling editor at Random House by that time, was to commission someone else to write the book; but Random House wasn’t interested in the biography of someone who, they said, no one had ever heard of. Not long afterward, after I’d left Random House and was interviewing for a new job, an editor suggested that I should try writing it myself, which hadn’t really occurred to me. I happened to have a friend who was just starting out as a literary agent, so I put together a proposal and she ended up selling it to Farrar, Straus.

The biggest obstacle at first was getting access to Breton’s unpublished papers, which had been put under embargo for fifty years after his death in 1966 (when I started the project, it was only twenty years after the fact). I met with Jean Schuster, Breton’s literary executor, who gave me the gift of his trust, asking only that I take an honest and open-minded approach, and who opened a number of doors for me. He also took me to meet Breton’s widow, Elisa, whose signature I needed in order to see these unpublished papers, by special waiver. At their request, I translated my proposal into French and sent it to them, and then waited and waited for an answer, in the meantime doing what research I could. Finally, the answer came back: a formal No. I wrote back and asked if I come see them the next time I was in Paris. Fine. So around a large table, at the famous apartment at 42 rue Fontaine, with much of Breton’s collection still on the walls (this was before everything was auctioned off after Elisa’s death), I sat with Elisa Breton, Jean Schuster, and several others and asked them what, specifically, they had objected to – thinking it was some drastic flaw in my approach, or the very fact of writing a biography. Instead, they pointed to a paragraph in which – for the benefit of the American publishers to whom we’d pitched the project – I listed a number of famous figures with whom Breton had interacted; and buried in the middle of that paragraph was the name Jean Cocteau. ‘You say here that Cocteau was a friend of Breton’s,’ they told me. ‘Breton hated Cocteau. You obviously don’t understand anything about him, so we cannot grant you access.’ ‘I know Breton hated Cocteau,’ I replied. ‘All it says here is that they knew each other.’ ‘Oh… well, in that case…’ – and in two minutes I had the authorization I’d been waiting nearly two years to receive!

 

Ella cropped thumbnailTo finish, I am going to quote you in Sympathy for the Traitor. You write, “What concerns me is the emergence of a world in which translation really is no longer necessary…because the world’s languages no longer express the psychological and cultural differences that make them distinct…” (page 149). Do you think we will ever get to a point where translation is not necessary?

Mark thumbnailThis was one of the tougher themes to think through in writing the book, and my discussion of it was meant mainly to open the question, rather than to provide answers that, frankly, I don’t have. In broad strokes, the paradox is this: On the one hand, translation can create a context for greater understanding, or let’s say, greater availability of other points of view, other ways of living. On the other, this increased availability leads to greater familiarity, which can lead to homogenization as other people’s ways of living, to which we now have almost unlimited access, become absorbed and assimilated into our own. It’s true that a cultural viewpoint is not the same as the cultural artifacts that form the backdrop of modern life seemingly everywhere – the Gaps and Starbuckses and Uniqlos, the “ethnic” foods, pasteurized music, anonymous high-rises, and other more obvious trappings of globalization. But we are formed in part by our surroundings, and when those surroundings begin to look increasingly uniform, you have to wonder if specific cultural viewpoints will begin to follow suit.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating isolationism or parochialism, not at all. I just think it’s a regrettable tendency when places lose their distinct character and start looking like everywhere else. We’re not there yet, of course – Paris is still not the same as London or New York or Seoul. But the Paris of cafes, which for centuries was such a central part of its cultural life, is fading; the Parisian bookstore, to me one of its crowning glories, is under threat—as was driven home the other day when I read about the closing of Le Pont Traversé, one of the truly wonderful bookstores of Paris. It’s a loss, a progressive erasure. But again, it’s difficult, because the logical antidote would be to freeze a city or a culture in time, which of course is absurd. Things, places have to evolve. I would just hate to see Paris, or anywhere, become one more undistinguishable metropolis, another exemplar of International Bland. Part of this is that the US has a great cultural pull, largely by virtue of its economic and linguistic dominance, and we tend to try to remake things in our image, for better or, mostly, worse. And translation plays a part in that.

 

Ella cropped thumbnailWhat are the consequences of translating into English, which is a language that is has a large, sometimes dominating, as you say, influence in modern life around the world?


Mark thumbnailThere’s no question that English, specifically American English, holds a disproportionately influential position in the world today and that this influence can often be abusive and hegemonic. I’m in no way an apologist for the American/Anglophone will to dominance and exploitation. But I do believe there is a difference between American politics (military, economic, or cultural) and the American language per se, and we can demonize that language to a point where we become paralyzed and exchange becomes impossible. You mentioned foreignization. The thing about foreignization – subverting the norms of so-called ‘correct’ English by importing syntactical or grammatical conventions from the source language – is that, ultimately, it becomes counterproductive. You end up with is something that sounds not innovative or culturally responsible but merely incompetent – something that does not credibly represent what the author was trying to do in the original (unless that author set out to violate the rules of his or her own language, which is a different story). To my mind, this does a disservice not only to the target reader, but also to the source author whose book you’ve just mangled.

As a translator, I feel my responsibility is to represent the works I translate, not apologetically, or by artificially denaturing the English into which I render them, but by using the resources of the English language to the best of my ability to convey these works with respect and conviction. To me, ‘fidelity in translation’ means representing a viewpoint and a discourse so that their foreignness and uniqueness remain intact even as they reach across cultures, geographies, and times to touch a different readership – and, in my ideal world, so that they leave the reader seeing things differently from when she began.

Additional reading:

Mark Polizzotti. Why Mistranslation Matters
Would history have been different if Krushchev had used a better interpreter? N.Y.T. 28/06/2018


Interview with British-Canadian wordsmith (and professor of translation studies) Brian Harris

 

E X C L U S I V E   I N T E R V I E W 
(Part 1)

The interview below was conducted between Calgary, Canada  and Valencia, Spain

 

Susan Vo cropped
Susan Vo - interviewer
French-English interpreter

 

Brian Harris
Brian Harris - interviewee
Arabic-English interpreter

Calgary   Valencia
Calgary, Canada     Valence, Spain

 

Our interviewer, Susan VO is a French Interpreter with 14 years experience as a staff member and freelancer with the United Nations, the Canadian Federal Government and in the private sector. She is an alumna of the the School of Translation and Interpretation at the University of Ottawa, which Brian Harris helped developed. She was Linguist of the Month on this blog: her interview can be found here and here.

Our guest interviewee, Brian HARRIS, recently celebrated his 90th birthday. His long, interesting and prodigious career in the theory and practice of translating and interpreting, as well as his strong interest in history,  is reflected in this interview. Special mention should be made of the fact that he coined the term 'translatology' for the scientific study of translation.  (In the 1970s, a French professor of translation, René Ladmiral,  introduced traductologie in French. Traductologie caught on and was soon borrowed into other Romance languages as traductología, etc.; translatology never caught on and was eclipsed by ‘translation studies’.) Natural translation is Harris' most important contribution to translation studies. In the early 1970s he began to notice that while he was supposedly teaching university students to translate, many people were doing translation successfully without such training; indeed that the untrained translators were doing more translating than the trained ones and often to just as high a standard. Many of the interpreters Harris worked with, including some from the Parliament of Canada had never had formal training. This led Harris to the conclusion that all bilinguals can translate within certain limits. In 1978, he and an assistant, Bianca Sherwood, published  "Translation as an Innate Skill", which has been described as the seminal article on natural translation.

Brian lives in Valencia, Spain with his wife and cats. His  blog is accessible at UNPROFESSIONAL TRANSLATION

---------------------

Your early childhood and formative educational background are intriguing. You were brought up in London, you have a degree Classical Arabic and in Middle East History at SOAS and also studied at the American University in Cairo and did postgraduate work on Lebanese history in Paris. You then worked in Spain before emigrating to Canada.

Can you please talk about this fascinating trajectory, the origins of your connection to the Arab language and culture, how you acquired your other working languages, and what brought you to Canada?

I was supremely lucky to be born in England and so I learnt English as my first language for speaking and thinking. It saved me a lot of effort compared with what was needed by many of the people I worked with. But the London into which I arrived, though it's changed very much since then, was already a cosmopolitan city where one heard many languages. My first memory of a foreign language goes back to when I was about three and we were living in an apartment above a French family. When we passed their children in the morning the kids would sing out to us "Bonjour", and as my mother instructed me to reply "Good morning" I realised that that was what "Bonjour" meant to them.

My father was a big influence. He knew several languages. He conversed with my grandmother in Yiddish, won a prize for German at school, had visited Barcelona and picked up a smattering of Spanish, and -- most important as it turned out -- served with the British Harris - The Silent Wayforces in Egypt during the First World War. He had made friends there and learnt a little colloquial Arabic. He devised a little game for us children in which we spoke into a toy microphone imitating the sounds and intonation of European speakers we heard on the radio. Years later I read in Caleb Gattegno's book "The Silent Way" that one should begin to learn a language by its melody. That's true but it's rarely done in language courses.

I began serious study of languages when I went to secondary school at age 11. It was a modern school but it had a traditional grammar school curriculum. I was placed in the languages stream. There I learnt the elements of French, German and Latin and from good teachers. (In those days you needed Latin to get into Oxford or Cambridge.) Also English literature. Our language lessons and manuals included regular translation exercises, so they were my introduction to translation norms. It was there that I was taught "translate the ideas, not the words." We had little opportunity to speak the languages, since it was the war years. On the other hand, we spent a lot of time reading from the literatures, something I feel is missing from present-day language teaching. It was ironic that while the Germans were raining bombs and missiles down on us in London and we were holding classes in air raid shelters, we kids were studying a thousand years of German literature. Literature is something you can share with native speakers and it gives you an idea of the culture of a language. Even Latin; I still recall my favourite Latin text, Cicero's "Pro Sexto Roscio Amerino", a good Roman courtroom drama.

 

When the time came for me to go to university, I chose Arabic. There were two reasons. One was practical: the employment prospects. My school fellows who were good at languages were all going into European languages, but I saw there was a demand for Arabic from the diplomatic service and the oil companies and hardly anybody was responding to it. In those days the British Foreign Office even ran its own school of Arabic in the Lebanon. And again there was encouragement by my father. Indeed it was one of his contacts in Egypt who got me an invitation to go and study at the American University in Cairo. At that point my grandmother died and left me a small legacy that was just enough to finance the journey. So I hitchhiked across France and took a deck passage on an Italian ship from Marseille to Alexandria. I had a fabulous time in Egypt. It was in the dying days of King Farouk's regime, between Lawrence Durrell's "Alexandria Quartet" and General Naguib's army revolution, when Cairo was still a melting pot of peoples and languages. Besides Egyptian Arabic, I came into daily contact with Greek, Italian, French, Armenian and even Ladino (Judeo-Spanish). To accompany the weekly showing of American films at the university, there was an auxiliary screen alongside the main screen to accommodate all the subtitles.

 

Harris BOA LogoAfter I completed my degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London I could have gone on to graduate studies in the Arabic Department, but there was a snag. In those days it only taught Classical Arabic, i.e. medieval Arabic, and I, with an eye to employment and after my Cairo adventure, wanted Modern Arabic.

Then I heard  about a lecturer in the Middle East History department who used Modern Arabic for his research. He was
Harris Bernard LewisBernard Lewis, later a professor at Princeton. He took me on as his student and I started a PhD on Lebanese history under him but first I had to do a qualifying second undergraduate degree in history. He did me an inestimable favour: he believed historians should work from primary documents so he got me a grant to go and do research in the archives of the Quai d'Orsay, the French foreign ministry in Paris. Another fabulous experience among the handwritten nineteenth-century consular correspondence. Of course it improved my French.

 

Then I discovered there were Russian sources for my thesis and Lewis had told me I would have to learn Russian when my life took a different turn and another language. I had been at school with a boy from Gibraltar who had been evacuated to London in 1940 when a German invasion of Gibraltar looked imminent. Like all native Gibraltarians, he was bilingual in English and Andalusian Spanish. When he went to university, his Spanish got him a summer job escorting parties of British holidaymakers to Spain for a London travel agency. He knew I had been to Spain (for all of two weeks!) and learnt a little Harris book coverSpanish from my father's dog-eared copy of Hugo's "Teach Yourself Spanish in Three Months without a Master". One day, on a Monday, he phoned me to say that family obligations would make it impossible for him to leave from London with a party of eighty the following Saturday; so could I stand in for him? To quell my doubts he told me that the people at the agency knew even less Spanish than me, and he gave me essential instructions for handling the work. In fact business was so good that the agency kept me on as well as him for that summer and the next one. Meanwhile my Spanish improved by leaps and bounds, and I even picked up a little Catalan, yet I never took a Spanish course. I tell people who ask me for advice about learning a language that the surest way is to get a job that forces you to work in that language. The Spanish job led to my first contacts with interpreting. I did so well that the proprietor of the agency offered me a job as his resident representative in Spain. It was an offer I couldn't refuse. I abandoned my PhD and went to live for a year in Madrid followed by a year in Barcelona.

That was the last language I learnt for a long time. Meanwhile my degree got me teaching assignments in Jordan and Morocco that revived my Arabic.

In 1999, after I had retired from university in Canada, I received another offer I couldn't refuse. It was for a temporary post in a university in Spain. As a result, I went back to Spain and eventually ended up in a village that's a suburb of Valencia. Most of the villagers are bilingual in Spanish and Valencian, which is a variety of Catalan. So I borrowed a school primer from our landlady and taught myself Valencian and read some Valencian literature.

If I moved to another country, which is unlikely now, I wouldn't hesitate to learn its language. We're born with an innate ability to learn many languages, even at an advanced age; but we need time, effort, an environment of native speakers and confidence.

 

What led you to help form the ambitious and formidable vision of founding the School of Translation and Interpretation at the University of Ottawa? What were the fundamental tenets of developing the school and program?

The University of Ottawa School of Translation was already six years old when, in 1975, I was parachuted into it from the Linguistics Department of the University to reform its MA program. I ended up reforming its BA program too and staying on as director for four years.

It was called “School of Translators and Interpreters” but in reality it only had one interpretation course (although it was taught by the head interpreter from the House of Commons, and several parliamentary interpreters of that generation took it). By 1970 I’d become a conference interpreter myself and I felt I could give substance to the denomination “…and Interpreters” by building an MA program. It was based on the European model of a strict admission exam, teaching consecutive interpreting before simultaneous, instruction by professional interpreters and a final exam before a professional jury. But it had an unusual addition: a compulsory real-life on-the-job period of experience (the ‘practicum’). “Real life” meant working as an active team member at an actual conference. That would have been difficult to impose in Europe because of AIIC opposition, and in the event I did have run-ins with some members of AIIC Canada, but fortunately we got cooperation from some sympathetic professionals. I persisted because of my belief that conference interpretation is a public performance and so young interpreters need to be exposed to the stress of performing before a live audience.

I made mistakes. One of them was to only consider interpreting courses at the graduate level.

Here in Spain it’s common practice in the universities for all undergraduate translation students to get one or two interpretation courses. So now I see value in that, but in those days I shared the common fallacy of equating all interpreting with conference interpreting, whereas in reality there are many other branches of interpreting that offer employment – court interpreting, business interpreting, community interpreting, telephone interpreting, etc. --  and that can be taught to undergraduates. Students should at least have some idea of what they are like and the most gifted students can be selected from among them for conference interpreting.

Another mistake was to teach only English and French interpreting.  That’s understandable in the bilingual Canadian context, but it prevents graduates applying for lucrative posts at the United Nations.

Until the present decade the University of Ottawa’s was the only conference interpreter training program and degree in Canada. Nowadays it continues under an agreement with the Translation Bureau of the Government of Canada, who supply the instructors. I’m proud that the very first graduate from the program, in 1982, nearly forty years ago, a student from Cameroon named Martin Chungong, is now the Secretary General of the Inter-parliamentary Union in Geneva.

Part 2

Susan Vo: How did the theory of Natural Translation play a role in developing the School of Translators and Interpreters at Ottawa University and how was it received by the academic community at the time?

The latter 50 years of my career have been dominated by missionary work for the Natural Translation Hypothesis (NTH), which is of more lasting importance than all the rest. I call it a hypothesis because there’s as yet no definite proof of it, but the indications are strong.

We can divide it into several propositions. The first is that all bilinguals can translate. I wasn’t the first to assert this; my mentor in translation studies, the Bulgarian semiotician Alexander Ludskanov, wrote it a decade before me. What’s more, he explained the difference between natural (i.e. untrained) translators and professional ones. He said that what we teach in translation schools is not to translate but to do so according to the norms and standards of a culture and a society.

The second proposition is that bilinguals’ universal ability to translate is innate. That’s to say, along with our ability to learn languages, we are born with the ability to translate between them. The key paper on this point is “Translation as an Innate Skill”, which I wrote with my student Bianca Sherwood in 1976 and which is available for everyone to read through my Academia.edu page.  The main argument for this assertion is the very young age at which bilingual children start to translate, and to translate quite well; they do it at around three years old and without any instruction from their elders. It’s analogous to the argument that Chomsky uses for innate language competence. We were very lucky, when we started writing the paper, to receive a generous gift of data from an educational psycholinguist in Toronto called Meryl Swain who had been recording a Quebec bilingual boy.

I wasn’t the first either to observe that young children can translate. That distinction belongs to a French linguist named Jules Ronjat who published a study of his own bilingual son in 1913.

But both Ljudskanov’s declaration and Ronjat’s description had gone unnoticed by translation theorists. My contribution was to point out the significance of their work and to continue it.

“Innate Skill” was generally received with scepticism or even outright ridicule by the community of professional translators and translation teachers. On the other hand, it was appreciated by some leading psycholinguists like Wallace Lambert at McGill University in Canada, David Gerver at Stirling University in Scotland, and Kenji Hakuta and his student Marguerite Malakoff at Stanford University in the USA. Also by one influential translation theorist, Gideon Toury , who had a model of his own called Native Translation that fitted in with mine.

Acceptance of the concept has advanced only slowly in the last 40 years, but some aspects of it are now mainstream, or almost. Language brokering studies, which started in the USA in the 90s, opened people’s eyes to the vast amount of translating done by children. The NPIT (non-professional translation) conferences and publications of the last decade have helped brush away the cobweb of misunderstanding in the old saying that “because you are bilingual, it doesn’t mean you can translate” (or interpret, for that matter).All around us, NGOs, manga and computer game publishers, Wikipedia and others depend on crowdsourcing their translations. Of course there’s a tradeoff. Mass production and amateurism can rarely matched skilled craftmanship, but it’s a price to pay to get the translations done.

The third proposition is that there are two pathways –as in other skills—from Natural Translation to Expert or Professional Translation. One is by formal instruction and the other is self-instruction by imitation. The second is the way we learn our first language, and it’s what Toury meant by Native Translation.

Finally I’ve gone back in my blog “Unprofessional Translation”, to an idea that was already held by semioticians like Ludskanov. It’s that what we call translation is the language specialization of a more general conversion of all kinds of signs, and it’s that general ability which we inherit.

 

Susan Vo: In your own words, with hindsight and observations of current trends, how would you say that Natural Translation and Simultaneous Interpretation are similar? What kind of traits do you believe all simultaneous interpreters inherently possess, (from a cognitive, cultural and even personality standpoint), how do these traits develop, either naturally or with deliberation?

The Natural Translation Hypothesis is a general theory about all translation (spoken, written or signed) and it says nothing that’s specific to simultaneous interpreting or indeed any interpreting. It goes without saying that simultaneous interpreters have to be competent translators, but NTH isn’t concerned with the quality of translations beyond a basic, childlike level; only with whether people can translate.  There are too many other factors in expert translation, such as family, schooling, work experience, travel, etcetera. Nevertheless, leaving aside NTH, there may well be features that are natural in the sense that they are, or they develop from, abilities that we interpreters are born with or that develop in us without being taught to us – which doesn’t mean that they can’t be improved by teaching and practice.

The one most commented on is mental speed. In simple terms, simultaneous interpreters have to be quick thinkers, but it’s not so simple. Simultaneous interpreting is not really completely simultaneous. There’s what linguists call the latency, or ear-voice span, typically two or three seconds. But that’s the most simultaneous interpreters can allow themselves if they don’t want to lose part of what the speaker is saying. Not everyone can keep this up. That’s why I and others have insisted on a shadowing test in admission exams. There have been magnetic resonance imaging studies recently that show there may be a physiological factor in mental speed, to do with the coating on the axons in our brains. But that doesn’t prove it’s inherited.

Another one often mentioned is personality. It’s true conference interpreters are performers, because they have to perform live often before an audience of thousands. So I’m inclined to think there’s a connection. Studies of the relationship go back to the 1950s, but without conclusive evidence or proof that it’s innate. So all we can say is maybe.

And the same applies to concentration, split-mindedness, stamina, even ability to work as a team.

As for “current trends”, the hot topic at the moment is automation. It’s true that interpretation only operates at present at the simple level required by NTH but it will improve. And automation is the opposite of natural.

Susan Vo: Machine translation, which had a pivotal moment in 1988, can be said to be the precursor of capabilities being used commonly today and advancing: google translate, translation apps, use of artificial intelligence in linguistic services. What are your thoughts on the role of MT, the role of the human translator, and where we are heading?

My interest in machine translation goes back a long way. It was in 1966 that I was recruited to a team at the Université de Montréal that was doing research on MT for the Canadian National Research Council. We were part of the second generation of MT researchers; the first was in the 1950s.  I was recruited as a linguist but I quickly understood that you can’t research MT without some understanding of computers. So I took courses in programming and mathematical linguistics and worked for three years as an assistant to a brilliant French computer scientist named Alain Colmerauer who was later the inventor of an AI programming language called PROLOG. We had some limited success by designing the prototype of an MT program called METE0 that has translated many of the Canadian official weather bulletins between English and French since 1974. But the computers and software of that epoch couldn’t have handled today’s AI. Instead we, like our French and Soviet contemporaries, used grammars and dictionaries.

Then in the late 1980s, long after I’d left MT for other interests and when computers had become vastly more powerful, there was a revolution caused by IBM’s introduction of statistical machine translation (SMT). It became the basis of today’s MT. I had played a small part in its beginnings with some work on the alignment of translations with their source texts, but that work was insignificant compared with IBM’s.

And then in 1996 I was given a new understanding of MT and AI by sheer chance. One of my Ottawa students named Bruce McHaffie came to me with a proposal to explore the use of neural networks for MT. (Neural networks are currently the dominant computer tools for what’s popularly called AI.)  I encouraged him and he succeeded in producing a feasibility study for his MA thesis. He was a pioneer; however, he only had primitive neural network software at his disposal and it was more than a decade before networks became mainstream.

As to whether AI produces better results than statistical MT, there is a saying that “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Try it for yourself; after all, it’s widely available on the web and it’s free. My own experience is that at present it’s only marginally better. But it does have one major advantage over SMT, which is that it doesn’t need preliminary close alignment of texts. Therefore, over time, there will be much more of it and that in itself should lead to further improvements because AI systems learn by experience.

In the long term, MT still faces problems that current AI cannot solve. One of them was foreseen by the Israeli researcher Yehoshua Bar-Hillel back in the 1960s. It’s the application of non-linguistic knowledge, or what he called encyclopedic knowledge, because we don’t have adequate computer representations of such knowledge. For example, the correct translation of such a simple sentence as “Cross the river” requires a French translator (or MT system) to know whether the addressee is a close acquaintance (Traverse la rivière) or not (Traversez la rivière) and to be sensitive to the difference in usage between European and Canadian French; and also to know whether it’s an ordinary river (rivière) or a large one flowing into the sea (fleuve). Legal translation requires knowledge of legal systems.

But in 1966 we couldn’t foresee MT like today’s, and so we just have to wait for the next 1980s revolution. Anyway, MT has reached a point of no return and the next step is MI (Machine Interpreting). It’s already on the horizon.

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici (premier partie) et ici (seconde partie). Traduction Nadine Gassie.


Interview with American wordsmith and translator Sharlee Bradley

Sharlee BradleyUpon the occasion of the recent retirement at 90 years of age of translator Sharlee Merner Bradley, after a long and fruitful career, we reproduce here an interview, the English original of which was published in Translorial, the journal of the Northern California Translators Association (NCTA). We present this abridged translation with the kind permission of Sharlee and of Translorial.

Question: Where were you born and where did you grow up?

Answer: I was born in Toronto,  but I was 10 when my family moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in California, the first of a number of crossings of North America by train.

Question: How did you learn foreign languages?

A: My parents encouraged their children to learn French because it was the universal language, which seems old-fashioned today. French was taught beginning in the second year of junior high school in California. Latin was taught starting the first year of high school. So I had five years of French and four years of Latin before university.

During the Second World War, when the United Nations Charter was signed in San Francisco, my mother told me how great it would be to become an interpreter for the United Nations. But that was never my goal. Rather, I had fun translating any literary or other works I studied at school.

Place des Nations Unis

In college, I took another year of Latin and continued on with French. I studied French each year until I received my doctorate at age 34. During my studies, I had to learn German and another Romance language: I chose Italian. My first paid translation job, offered by my professor, was to translate into Italian (!) an insurance survey. To reward myself, I went out and bought a gold bracelet as soon as I was paid.

I taught French in high school for for a few years, then snagged a Fulbright scholarship to study in France at the Sorbonne. That year plus two-years residing in Lausanne have been my only experience in a francophone country. But, one day in Lausanne, I received a phone call from the United Nations in Geneva, saying they had my name from the New York United Nations office (my thesis director had sent me to the UN in New York, where I passed the French exam). This was during the negotiations by the Kennedy administration on trade for the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, GATT, and Geneva needed more translators. The “fascinating” subject I was assigned was the standardization of pallets for storing and shipping merchandise.

Spanish became my dominant spoken foreign language. I never studied it formally, but when we moved to the Canary Islands, I did exercises in a Spanish grammar book by myself. I was arrogant enough to believe that I was an expert in Romance languages because I had taught French for five years at the secondary level and two years at university. Since I was mother of an infant, I spent hours memorizing irregular verbs and repeating conversations I had heard while out of the house.

Canary Islands

How we ended up in the Canary Islands is a long story. In short, my husband, who subsequently died while we were living there, wanted to retire early. Since we weren’t wealthy, we went to the local library to research a place in the world with a mild climate, a language easy to learn and low cost of living. Believe it or not, we found a book entitled You Can Live Cheaply in the Canaries by Peggy True. The book convinced us and we left with our baby daughter, automobile, all our books and furniture without even making a trial visit, to spend the rest of our lives there; at least, that was the plan.

The thirteen years I spent in Spain seemed to have affected the French I had studied for 21 years and even my English; but upon my return to the United States, I began to receive requests to translate from French. Now, many years have passed and I translate equally well from Spanish or French.


Q: What did you do at university?

 A: BerkleyI received a scholarship to Vassar College. I took night classes at the University of California, Berkeley, towards a master’s while teaching at high school during the day; I was also librarian there. I was admitted to several honor societies, including Pi Delta Phi, promoting French language and culture.

I moved to Philadelphia with my husband and received a doctorate in Romance Languages from the University of Dictionary  Pennsylvania. Since my thesis advisor was preparing a dictionary at the time (University of Chicago Spanish-English Dictionary, highly regarded at the time), I wrote my thesis on lexicographical problems in monolingual French dictionaries, analyzing Littré, Larousse and Dauzat in detail.

University policy was that all courses in the first cycle ( graduate courses, not first cycle]) had to be taught in English. When a visiting French professor whose accent rendered the content of a linguistics course incomprehensible, we petitioned the department to allow him to speak French, but we were refused!

Q: Have you traveled abroad?

A: Yes, mostly in Europe. But also in Russia (a cruise from Saint Petersburg to Lake Ladoga, the Svir River and Lake Onega[)]; in China (a five-week trip) and in the South Pacific (two months on Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands). I once cruised the Amazon River and have often visited Mexico to play tennis.

One year, I learned a few words of Turkish when visiting Istanbul, Cappadocia and sailing and hiking along the south coast of Turkey. During another trip, I did a literary tour in south and southeast England and I stayed with a friend near Toulon, in France.

Q: How did you start translating? How long have you been a translator?

A: I received my first job through my Italian professor. Later, when I was professor at the University of La Laguna in Tenerife, I did Seal_of_University_of_La_Laguna many translations for the Department of Physical Chemistry, not because I wanted work, but simply because I was there and I spoke English. The professors knew sufficient English in their field to understand technical articles, but when they attended symposiums and conferences, they couldn’t converse in English. I gave them English conversation classes during our lunch hour. Subsequently, they gave me monographs and articles to translate into English for presentations and for publication in foreign journals.

Q: Are you also an interpreter? For whom do you interpret?

A: Upon returning to the United States, since I spoke Spanish fluently, I offered to become a guide at the Philadelphia tourist information office. After learning the history of the city, I served as a guide for many Spanish tourists; I showed them the most traditional American historic monuments.

One day, the tourist office called me to say they needed an interpreter for Federal court since the regular interpreter was not available. Was I available? Even though I had never interpreted, I bravely responded that I would go and I did a good job, even though I could have done better.

ArizonaLater, after studying interpretation at the well known University of Arizona program, I was able to interpret almost anything asked of me and remain neutral. For several years I interpreted for the Marin County Health Clinic for Hispanic immigrants, legal and illegal. Many were in a difficult situation, but some tried to take advantage of a system that would help them, even when they were able to speak for themselves. Thanks to my training, I could interpret impartially.

I also interpreted for the Parole Revocation Hearing Board at San Quentin prison, for the San Francisco Department of Motor Vehicles, the Department of Education in Fresno, the Labor Relations Board in Sacramento, for doctors, attorneys, insurance companies and more.

Subsequently, after ceasing interpretation for two years to care for my second husband when he was terminally ill, I stopped interpreting and for twenty years have done translation, exclusively.

Q: What problems (and possible solutions) did you run into during your career as a translator?

A: Internet access has solved many research problems. I no longer feel so isolated from a great university library as I have been. Now I am donating my dictionaries, a few CDs, reference books, etc.

I work with two monitors. I can consult my terminologies on one while translating on the other. I put the source language on one and the target language on the other except when using translation software. My preferred is Wordfast.

Managing my terminologies was always a priority. After each job, I entered the new terms; then the next time I needed one, I opened the glossary on the other screen while I translated.

I have done a number of projects using machine translation. The best were for the Pan American Health Organization. They created their own program with many shortcuts to make common corrections, such as substituting two nouns for a prepositional phrase.

PAHO

Q: Has the COVID-19 pandemic interfered with your professional activity? TWB

A: No, because last December at age 90 I decided that it was time to close up shop. But since I cannot completely cease translation, I still volunteer with Translators Without Borders. I also play tennis four times a week.

 

Tennis academic Sharlee tennis

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici


Interview with Serbian wordsmith, attorney, library curator, author, story-teller and tourist guide Viktor Lazić

 

Viktor cropped



Jonathan blue shirt snipped

Viktor Lazić
Interviewee

 

Jonathan G.
Interviewer

 EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW -
conducted by Skype between Los Angeles and Belgrade

  Lazik - LA - Belgrade  

 

JG: Before we speak about the two incredible family libraries that have been in your family for 9 generations, (and which now also serve as museums) would you introduce yourself?

VL: I am 35 years old. I live in Belgrade.  Previously I had a translation agency. (I am still a member of the Serbian Union of Scientific and Technical Translators.) I speak English, German and Russian and of course my mother tongue, Serbian. Today I am a practicing lawyer, specializing in corporate law and the restitution to their former owners of properties confiscated by the Communist regime.  I am currently working on a doctorate degree in the field of Chinese law: "Confucianism and Legalism as the dominant schools of Chinese law".

JG: You are also an author.

VL: In addition to my law practice, my academic pursuits, my extensive travels (to 90 countries on six continents), and my work in running the museums, I am a member of the Association of Writers of Serbia and a licensed tour guide. It has been my family tradition for many generations to have multiple degrees and professions. It has been used as a safeguard against the instability of life in the Balkans.

JG: Which books have your written?

VL: Lazik - book coverI have written 6 books and about 1000 articles in Serbian, mostly about travel, but also history. In my book, "The Great Adventure.", translated into 6 languages, I describe my journey of 421 days made in 2009/2010. I went from Kosovo to the North Cape of Africa and continued to Russia, then on to North Korea and Australia, and then I drove back to Serbia from Vladivostok, crossing the Gobi Desert on my own. Particular media attention in the Balkans was drawn by my description of the life of pirates in Malacca Straits, life of believers of sects of the self-proclaimed Jesus, Vizarion, in Siberia, and the life of ex-cannibal tribes and matriarchal tribes in Indonesia.  

JG: Where did you acquire your excellent command of English?

VL: I spent several months every year visiting an aunt in London. When I was 14, my country was at war and my city was very badly bombed. In the course of the bombing, my home was damaged, and my parents decided to send me to my aunt. After the horrible, 10-day ordeal of leaving Belgrade on which bombs were raining down, crossing a bridge that was bombarded only minutes later and dealing with unfriendly Hungarian officials on the other side, I arrived in London and stayed there for 5 months.

JG: Your love of books began at a very early age.

VL: I began writing poetry at the age of 6 years. At 8, I made an inventory of the family library, and at 12 I had 2000 books in my bedroom. Since childhood I dreamed of continuing the family tradition by creating an institution to maintain and expand the library, something that my family already tried to achieve before. I realized then that there were many family friends, famous writers and families owning large libraries and archives, who no longer had trust in state institutions but at the same time had no place to store their collections and needed to entrust their treasures in a safe place.

 

  Lazik surrounded by books  
  Viktor Lazić = bibliophile par excellence  


JG: Moving on to the collection of books that were handed down from generation to generation in your family, and the owner of which is now a cultural foundation [1] of which you are the President, tell our readers about its current situation, and we can then talk about its fascinating history, and about some of the unusual items in it.

VL: We estimate that the collection contains at least one million books. The collection serves both as a library and museum – divided into two parts, one containing books of Serbian literature and the other books, manuscripts, typewriters, etc. from all over the world. Most of the books are offered for reference purposes only and may only be read in situ in our reading room. At the moment capacity of the reading room is only 8 people but we plan to expand its capacity to 60 readers soon. But to a large extent, it is a museum, which attracts visitors from all over the world. The intake of books, which are often donated from other libraries that are closing or from individual collections, is about 5000 per week. Many of the books donated are not suitable, and we give them to other libraries.

JG: Are the visitors mostly librarians or scholars?

VL: No, many groups of children visit us, and it is our educational aim to open their eyes to books of many kinds, from far-off places, as well as other items of interest. It is an exciting way to spread knowledge, love and tolerance. But many experts from all over the world also come to use our material. Just recently we allowed researchers from Humboldt University (Berlin) to use one of our archives.

  Lazik (AO1)  

 

JG: The collection contains not only traditional paper books, but those written on bamboo sticks, silk and sheep fetuses or made of elephant excrement. Could you explain how and why these unusual materials are used for “books”.

VL: One of our aims is to showcase the history and richness of the world. This is why we brought books from all over the world, especially trying to obtain unusual books that bear witness to the diversity of the human mind. For example, we have books made on rice paper so that they can be eaten if the reader is hungry! These were traditionally done in China, where fear of hunger is deeply rooted in people’s minds. Or books from Thailand, created from the dung of elephants that Thai people still sometimes keep as pets at home! … Or tribal books on palm or banana leaves. We even have books with covers made of what were probably human bones…



Lazik - typewriter cropped
 
Lazik - Rare_books_and_artifacts _Adligat _Belgrade

Books are just the beginning. Typewriters and other literary objects are part of the collection too. MOMIR ALVIROVIC / COURTESY ADLIGAT 


JG:
You have a manuscript signed by Napoleon Bonaparte.  What is the story behind this item?

VL: I was in Parma, Italy, last year with an old friend of mine, a French woman from a noble family. We visited a museum dedicated to Marie Louise, Napoleon’s wife. My friend asked me what object in the museum my first choice would be to add to the museum’s collection. There were original Napoleonic objects around us, and I expressed my admiration of Napoleon, and of his famous Code, in particular, as I am a lawyer too. I stated that it would have been so amazing if we ever obtained any object related directly to Napoleon… After only a few months this lady found an original Napoleonic document and donated it to us, but she insisted on remaining anonymous. Behind the document is the story of Bernard Radelski, a Slavic soldier, either Russian or Polish, who most probably deserted the Russian army. We can only assume this, as the document states that he was a member of French military but belonged to the special unit comprised of ex-enemy soldiers, either war prisoners or deserters. Obviously that man did not like war, because he ran away from the French army too! Lazik - CambaceresUnfortunately, he was caught, tried and sentenced to 16 years with a prison stone tied to his leg, and he was ordered to pay a huge fine... Later the Emperor pardons him. The original document containing the pardon joined our collection. One interesting facet of the story is that the pardon reveals how bureaucratic the French state structure was, because even this simple pardon had to be signed not only by the Emperor, but also by his Ministers and Chief of Cabinet... So we have three more signatures on the document, those of Jean Jacques Régis de CAMBACERES, Hugues Bernard MARET and Claude Ambroise REGNIER – all of them extremely important people in their time. Mr Regis de Cambaceres is actually the real author of Napoleon Code, and he presided over the special commission that created the final version of the Code!

JG: Which other signatures do you have of famous Frenchmen?

VL: Our collection of books in French language and about France has more than 300.000 titles! French Revolution and French culture had significant impact on Serbia, and we are proud of this connection. Our First World War collection is especially important and has a strong connection to France. Of great significance are four documents signed by French kings - Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI. This collection was bought for us by one donor, but it has not yet arrived in Serbia. We are also proud to have a small collection of Jacques Prevert signed editions and photographs, a donation by the famous Serbian journalist Kosta Dimitrijevic, who actually met Mr. Prevert and interviewed him.

JG: You also have the handwritten letters of Nikola Tesla, the iconic Serbo-American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer and futurist, best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC), electricity supply system. What are the contents of these letters?

VL: Tesla PupinaMihajlo Pupin, like Tesla, was a Serbian-American inventor, and holder of the Pulitzer prize, one of the most important American inventors of the 20th century, thanks to whom the phone and radar became useful instruments. Both lived in the USA. Tesla’s letters to the General Consul of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in New York, written three months before Pupin’s death, express great concern for Pupin’s poor health, rebutting previous rumors about their hostility. The relationship between those two giants is very important in the history of science and especially for Serbia. in 20 countries, in 10 languages (including the New York Times and the Washington Post). [2]

 

JG: The book collection was started by your ancestor in 1720 and opened to the public in 1882. It has undergone the vicissitudes of two world wars and many upheavals in Serbia and elsewhere. The stories you tell about some of these events could fill a book. In fact, you have agreed to write an article for us containing the story of how the library was tended for more than 50 years by your illiterate grandmother, who, in her old age, designated you as its heir. For present purposes please relate the efforts made by your great grandfather to save books during WW1.

VL: My great-grandfather Luka Lazic (1876-1946) was a true book lover. He spent most of his time reading or visiting the library that his father had opened to the public by in 1882. In 1908-1910 Luka Lazic took over the library. The family lived in small northern Serbian town, Kumane, which was then in the territory of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire, and he was conscripted to the reserve troops of the Austrian army. Once Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, he would have had to fight against his own nation. So he decided to run away, to

Lazik - emperor
The entry of Emperor Francois-Joseph into Belgrade, by Frederic de Haenen, 1914

overtly cross the wide Danube river, and to join the Serbian troops. But he was concerned about the fate of the books back home, afraid that some Austrian officials or military personal might enter his home and destroy or remove them. So he asked his wife Marta to stitch his favorite, most valuable books into his jacket. The jacket was a very thick Hessian fabric, with a thick layer of sheep wool, which was perfect for putting objects inside it, and he chose 6 books to be stitched into the jacket. But he could not have known what awaited him. When Serbia was attacked from all sides at the end of 1915, the Serbian Command decided not to surrender, but instead to retreat in the middle of winter through the Albian mountains, in some of the highest, most unfriendly European territory, hoping to reach the Adriatic coast and be rescued by Allied ships. Many civilians joined the retreating Serbian army, fearing enemy revenge. Most of the 1.1 million Serbian victims of the WW1 died in this ordeal, considered to be one of the worst tragedies of this war, particularly for the Serbs. [3] Luka marched for hundreds of kilometers, through snowy mountains, fighting the enemy and withstanding the wind and cold, until he arrived at the Duress swamp more dead than alive. When allies sent ships to transfer the remaining Serbian soldiers to the Greek island of Corfu, a new drama awaited Luka – he boarded a ship that was soon hit by torpedo. He survived but had to jump into water to save a friend. Only one book survived this incident. However, what is even more

Lazik - digitized newspapers
These rare Serbian newspapers from World War I are among the works digitized by the Belgrade University Library, under a grant from the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme. MOMIR ALVIROVIC / COURTESY ADLIGAT

incredible is that once Luka arrived in Corfu, he continued to collect books… Our books and other materials published during the war that the soldiers were reading while waiting to fight, or even during fighting, are exceptionally rare. We received a grant from the British Library (in cooperation with the Svetozar Markovic University Library) to digitalize the collection under the world program designated for Endangered Libraries and Archive. Digitalization.

JG: To end this interview, I would like to quote Adam Sofronijevic, of the Belgrade University Library, who said about your museum. “These stories are fascinating. They tell us a lot about Serbian society and culture,” It is a story of book-loving, book-keeping, and extraordinary enthusiasm.” Moreover, your uncle Milorad Vlahovic has said “This is in Viktor’s blood,” “He was always obsessed with the collection. We are happy and proud that he has done this for the library, for the family, for the country.”

VL: I wanted to build a safe haven—a place where people of culture could entrust what’s valuable to them. My success is due to the fact that people trust me and my project as evidenced by the fact that 40 persons have donated their entire legacies of books, documents and cultural objects, while more than 300 donated their libraries in whole or in part. Support from State institutions has also been remarkable, and it demonstrates recognition of the fact that we are in a better position than the State to maintain this important project It is the fruit of work invested by nine generations of my family, and important to the nation. We hope to preserve it for many years to come.

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici.

[1] ADLIGAT Society for Culture, Art and International Cooperation
Museum of Serbian Literature Book and Travel Museum 
Josipa Slavenskog 19a, 11.040 Belgrade – Banjica, Republic of Serbia 
+381 11 36 72 807+381 63 360 218 +381 63 88 54 927
muzejknjige@gmail.com

[2] « NEWS ON DISCOVERED TESLA’S DOCUMENTS ECHOED AROUND WORLD” http://www.srna.rs/novosti/678726/news-on-discovered-teslas-documents-echoed-around-world.htm

[3] Richard C. Hall (2014). War in the Balkans: An Encyclopedic History from the Fall of the Ottoman Empire to the Breakup of Yugoslavia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1-61069-031-7.


Interview with The Hulse/Rozenblum family – San Francisco linguists

 

Hulse family cropped

Francisco and Merav, our guest linguists of the month, live in San Francisco. I have known them for many years and seen at first hand their skills as professional translators (Spanish-Hebrew-English), as well as the trilingual skills of their son Adriel. I had one such opportunity when Francisco and I attended an interpreting conference in Los Angeles, and on our way to and from it on the underground railway, we discussed the anglicized Spanish directions emanating from the loudspeaker system. (Plataforma instead of andén).

As explained in the interview, the influence of Spanish on the couple was strong, despite the fact that Francisco was born in the USA and Merav in Israel. Having chosen careers in languages, they made a point of ensuring that their son would be trilingual, with his father speaking to him in Spanish and his mother in Hebrew. Adriel, now 13 years old, is schooled in English and Spanish.

Questions for Merav:

Merav

Q: What family influences did you have on your interest in languages?

A: While neither of my parents is a linguist, my parents grew up in the Jewish community of Buenos Aires, and as kids were fluent in Yiddish in addition to Spanish, and later Hebrew, too. One of my mom's cousins and her husband (both now deceased) ended up in Los Angeles in the seventies, and both worked as court interpreters (Spanish and German into English).

Q: How did you acquire a command of spoken Spanish and English while growing up in Israel?

A: I grew up in Israel, in a small, tight community (a Kibbutz) of immigrants from Argentina. The adults never spoke Spanish to us, kids, - it was against the norms and the ideology of the time - but spoke it among themselves. When I was four, my beloved granny came to visit from Argentina and stayed with us for a few months. She could only speak Spanish to me, and to everyone's wonder, I replied to her and soon became fluent. I started taking English, like all Israeli school kids, in 3rd grade and had always loved it and was good at it.

Q: How did you use your basic knowledge of Spanish and English in your academic studies?

A: I earned my BA in English and Spanish Literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, thus perfecting my command of both languages further. In fact, that was the first time I studied Spanish in a classroom setting. I studied at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, Spain, for a year, and upon my return to Israel decided that I wanted to become a translator. The Translators and Interpreters School at the Bar Ilan University decided not to open a Spanish-Hebrew program that year, so I was given a special opportunity to join the English-Hebrew program. I graduated three years later with a translation/interpretation certificate summa cum laude from both programs, as well as a Masters in English Literature.

Q: How were you able to maintain your command of Hebrew for professional purposes?

A: I was trained as a Hebrew-as-a-second-language teacher, thinking it could land me a nice summer job. Almost thirty years later, I still teach it. I still consider Hebrew my first language: I read mostly in Hebrew, translate only into Hebrew, and try to immerse myself in all Hebrew media.

Q: As a contract interpreter and translator for the US State Department, you have translated and/or interpreted for more than one high government official. I interpreted President Obama three times, I believe: the speech that he gave in Jerusalem in front of students during his visit in 2013; at the White House when he had President Abbas, President Mubarak, King Abdullah and P.M. Netanyahu for dinner in 2010; and at the State Department in 2011.

A: I was on the translation team of Obama's Cairo speech in 2009, and Trump's Riyadh and Jerusalem speeches in 2017. I also interpreted at the Annapolis Peace Conference in 2007 and at some high-profile federal court hearings in the year following the Patriot Act.

Q: Do you have a problem translating for President Trump, despite your personal opinion of him?

A: When it comes to my principles, I would feel better translating for a president that did not offend about half of the American people. But when I work, this should not be reflected in anything that I do.

 Questions for Francisco:

Francisco

Q: How did you acquire your high skills as a Spanish-English translator and interpreter, having been born in the USA?

A: My father, Lloyd Kermit Hulse, was born in rural Oregon during the depression, to anglophone parents. At age 12 he started to teach himself Spanish from books. The history of the conquistadores was the draw. He studied Spanish in high school, then at Mexico City College. After his first marriage to a Mexican American, his fluency scored him a job as the Latin-American sales representative for a California company. During those travels he met my mother, a native of El Salvador.

Despite having landowning- and thus (nominally) aristocratic parents, the early death of her father forced her mother to work outside the home (as a seamstress), something foreign to a woman of her (former) social station. Thus, my mother didn’t finish secondary school, going to work in her mid-teens as a secretary and personal assistant at a local newspaper to help support the family. When she met my father at age 23, her immersion in local journalism had whetted her appetite for the world of letters, albeit without much study in English.

The couple soon moved to La Grande, Oregon, where my mother quickly acquired English while my father taught Spanish in the local high school. He then became an associate professor at Lewis & Clark College. A masters and a doctorate from the University of Cincinnati followed. The newly-minted Doctor moved his family back to Portland and continued teaching at Lewis & Clark as a tenured full professor, until retirement.

He led several exchange programs to Latin America, family in tow. During the 1977-1978 school year, he taught Spanish at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. That year I quickly learned German, then forgot it even more quickly upon our return.

Save for these few years abroad, I was raised almost exclusively in the U.S. With no Spanish-speaking classmates in elementary and a handful in high school, the island of Spanish immersion at home was almost all of my exposure. My parents always spoke Spanish to us whenever courtesy didn’t require switching to English for English-speakers to be included.

Q: What was your own study path?

A: I studied mathematics at Lewis & Clark. I tested out of the foreign-language requirement, placing into 3rd-year French (thanks to 3 years of study of the language in high school, where I was generally the star pupil, plus a month-long homestay in France immediately before the test). I used the resulting available credit-hours to take music and art classes.

A year of poorly paid “McJobs” after college did not quell the growing desire to study music. So off I went to Mills College in Oakland for a masters, where I ran up the exorbitant debt I’d avoided as an undergrad (by the simple accident of birth: being a faculty brat). With my coursework complete and my concert given, all that was left to do to finish the graduate degree was write my thesis (about my concert compositions), but meningitis sidelined me before I could even begin it.

Now it was time to get a job. I spent a year as a substitute teacher, another as a teacher of math and science at a continuation school, and a third as a math teacher at a middle school. This last one was the turning point, for three reasons: I realized that staying in the teaching profession would make me a curmudgeon long before my time; during that year, I taught half of my classes in Spanish; I served as an impromptu interpreter for other teachers at their meetings with parents of our students.

In the autumn of that year (1995), as I contemplated a new career, the experiences garnered from my last year of teaching gave me the confidence to volunteer as an interpreter at San Francisco General Hospital.

I immediately put the volunteering on my résumé and sent that rather thin C.V. to every interpreting-&- translation agency in the Yellow Pages. The bottom feeders among them scooped me right up. Ever the autodidact, I improved and moved progressively up the ladder, landing better clients and joining the rosters of tonier agencies. Finally, in late 2010, largely at the insistence of my wife, I knuckled down and studied seriously for the court-interpreting exam. I passed it in early 2011.

This story would not be complete without mentioning my great friend Omar, who is my wife’s second cousin, and the one who introduced us. I met this friendly Argentinean in 1993. His unwavering friendship through hours, days, weeks, months and years of dialogue, discussion, disagreements, and didactic debate, coupled with his generosity in correcting my piss-poor spelling in Spanish as I wrote practice essays for the CBEST (an entrance exam for teachers) rounded the rough edges off my virtual illiteracy in Spanish.

Q: From the day Adriel was born, Merav has spoken to him in Hebrew, and you have spoken to him in Spanish, while he has absorbed most of his English from the outside world. What other efforts have been made to make him truly trilingual?

A: Witnessing the transferability of literacy from one language to another is one of the many joys I’ve had as a parent. He’s 13 and has yet to stage the common rebellion of answering back in English. He’s proud of being trilingual. So far, so good. He’s had Spanish-speaking classmates since preschool, and he attends a K-8 dual-immersion bilingual school.

When he began kindergarten, Adriel’s reading and writing in Spanish sprinted ahead, followed quickly by English. His literacy in Hebrew (with a different alphabet and thus a predictably higher bar to entry) lags behind, to this day. However, this is one extracurricular I insist on: daily reading and writing in Hebrew.

Meanwhile, my French has rusted solid, and my Hebrew advances more slowly than the peace process with the Palestinians. Still, I managed to outdo my old man in one respect: my kid is trilingual, and tri-literate.

Question for Adriel

Adriel

Q: Having lived in a trilingual family, and having had to speak with your parents in two foreign languages, and with your schoolmates and friends in English, is this something you would recommend to other multilingual parents for the benefit of their children?

A: I think I would recommend to multilingual parents that they teach their children multiple languages. Even though it can be hard for kids to remain proficient in the various languages they’re expected to know, it will help them in the long term develop language skills and be able to learn faster. Or for example, if the parents are traveling to their home country with their child, not only would the child be able to communicate fluently with the locals, but they could also practice their speaking skills in the language that is spoken there (assuming they have been taught that language). I myself have been mistaken for an Israeli kid when on vacation in Israel because I can speak Hebrew like a native speaker, which I owe to my mom teaching me the language at a young age.

Additional reading:

Trumps’s Hebrew Translator says she was happier working for Obama

The Times of Israel, 30.5.2017


Imaginary interview with Scots translator Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff

 

 

Jean Findlay (Moncrieff)

 

Charles_Kenneth_Scott-Moncrieff

       Jean Findlay  
   - the interviewer

 

    Charles Kenneth
      Scott Moncrieff
         (1889-1930)
      - the interviewee

Jean Findlay was born in Edinburgh. She studied Law and French at Edinburgh University and Theatre under Tadeusz Kantor in Kracow, Poland. She co-founded an award -winning theatre company and wrote and produced plays which toured to London, Berlin, Bonn, Rotterdam, Dublin, Glasgow and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. She spent years in London writing drama and book reviews for the Scotsman, and has written for the IndependentTime Out and the Guardian. She now lives in Edinburgh with her husband and three children.She founded and runs a publishing house called Scotland Street Press. scotlandstreetpress.com . She is the great-great-niece of CK Scott Moncrieff.
 

Charles Kenneth Scott Moncrieff (1889-1930)  is still known as ‘the man who translated Proust’.  Appropriately, the British prize for translation from French is known as the ‘Scott Moncrieff Prize’.[1] Jean Findlay, his great-great-niece, has written his biography, Chasing Lost Time, in which she shows the development of the translator going back to early childhood but also paints a warm picture of the full man: the soldier who retained his belief in the nobility of war despite witnessing and suffering from the effects of prolonged engagement in the trenches, the active homosexual at a time when an ‘act of gross indecency’ was a criminal offense, the fervent Catholic convert, the man who was at the centre of literary life in 1920s London and the spy sent to Mussolini’s Italy. Jean kindly agreed to conduct the imaginary interview that follows for the benefit of our readers.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

JF:   Good afternoon, if we are in the same time-zone.

CKSM: I can do any time-zone you like, good day to you too.

 

JF:  I hope you don’t mind this intrusion into your celestial repose, but we down here need some input, some ancient wisdom.

CKSM:  Well, I learnt ancient wisdom just as easily you can.  I memorized Milton’s Ode on a Christmas Morning age five.  I studied Greek and Latin at seven.  I earned a scholarship at 13 to Winchester School for my translation of Ovid.  It is all about hard work and the dedication of the mother.

 

JF: Your mother was quite a nurturing soul. She read you the classics all through early childhood.

CKSM: Yes, I was familiar with Ruskin and his ideas at an early age, which helped me understand Proust later on.

 

JF:  We’ll come to that, but let’s go back to your mother.  She was a writer herself wasn’t she?

CKSM:  Yes, she wrote regular columns for Sunday newspapers and contributed short stories to Blackwood’s magazine.  She earned enough to pay for her youngest sister to go through University.


JF:  Your father was a lawyer.

CKSM: A judge on the criminal bench, or a Sheriff as it is still called in Scotland.

 

JF:  And you were expected to follow your father’s shoes into law?

CKSM:  I did study Law at Edinburgh University, but then won a bursary to study a further degree in English, specializing in Anglo Saxon.  That all helped me translate Beowulf, Wisdsith, Finnsburgh, Waldere, and Deor, [2] which was published in 1921.

JF: By that time you had come through the First World War

CKSM: Yes, Beowulf [3] was some kind of warrior’s catharsis. As were my poems in the New Witness and reviews and the funny war serial which tried to see the lighter side of it all. It was hell of course, but I always tried to see the poetry, the camaraderie, the humour.  The letters to my mother were not descriptions of gore, they couldn’t be, they detailed the animals I found, the French people I met, the good times that were had with fellow soldiers.  

 

JF: You made good friends during the war and you fell in love.

CKSM:  Ha, yes, of course that is what I am famous for.  Falling in love is a fine thing to be famous for. It was a momentous yet subtle, Moncrieff wilfred-owentender love and one that still holds a mystery a hundred years later.  I am proud of that. There was a whole BBC World Service programme on Armistice Day 2019 just about my love for Wilfred Owen. I met him at the wedding of Robert Graves in January 1918 and he was a shy, reticent unknown poet, whose hair was already Moncrieff Robert Graves shot with white in his early twenties. You should not send poets to war, and I had two years before helped secure a home posting for Robert Graves. I tried to do that for Owen, but men were in shorter supply in that last summer of the war.  Too many had been wiped out.  We met often to discuss poetry. I was translating The Chanson de Roland and extolling the way that French poetry does assonance and consonance and Wilfred was experimenting with these in English. It was a hot, weary time with London full of soldiers and I remember meeting him for a short leave off the train and trying to find a bed for him in London and walking from Eaton Square to Cadogan Square  five times that night with my leg in a caliper,  (much of it was missing), discovering that he’d left his pocket book on my desk. I wrote a sonnet:

 

Last night into the night I saw thee go,

        And turned away; and heavy of heart I clambered

Up the steep causeway: weary, late and slow

        By my lone bed arrived. But, I enchambered,

Out cried the sullen alert artillery:

        Shrilled watchmen: woke the slumbering streets in riot.

And, was I sad for my night’s swallowing thee,

        Then I was glad because thy night was quiet.

 

JF:  Therein lies the irony. You helped get his first poems published, but you couldn’t get him off the list at the War Office and he was sent out to be killed. And, devastated after his death, you wrote another sonnet for Owen and put it into the dedication for the Chanson de Roland.

 

When in the centuries of time to come,

Men shall be happy and rehearse thy fame,

Shall I be spoken of then, or they grow dumb,

Recall these numbers and forget this name?

Part of thy praise, shall my dull verses live

In thee, themselves- as life without thee – vain?

So should I halt, oblivion’s fugitive,

Turn, stand, smile know myself a man again.

I care not: not the glorious boasts of men

Could wake my pride, were I in Heaven with thee;

Nor any breath of envy touch me, when,

Swept from the embrace of mortal memory

Beyond the stars’ light, in the eternal day,

Our contented ghosts stay together.

 

JF:  Although let’s be fair, that is really not all you are known for.  You went on to translate Proust.

CKSM: And Stendhal, Pirandello, Abelard and Eloise and more. But Proust you see would have understood me; in many ways we had a lot in common, both closet lovers of men, obsessed by genealogy, the Ruskin link, my time spent in France growing to love its cathedrals and villages, language and religion. I converted to Catholicism, and Proust is full of Catholic references.  I wish I had met him, although sometimes reading someone’s work lets you know far more about them than just meeting them. 

Stendhal (Moncrieff) Apelard (Moncrieff) Heloise (Moncrieff)
Stendhal
(Marie-Henri Beyle)


Pierre Abélard
(ou Abailard ou Abeilard)

Héloise

Stendhal [1783-1842]: French writer, considered one of the early and foremost practitioners of realism.
Abélard [1079 – 1142]: French scholastic philosopher, theologian and preeminent logician.
Héloise [1090-1164]: French nun, writer, scholar and abbess, who holds an important place in French literary history and in the development of feminist representation.


JF: 
They say a biographer knows even more, and a literary biographer knows most of all. But translating Proust is a magnum opus. 

Moncrieff Noel Coward
CKSM: I never finished it off: it finished me off.  Though it started gently enough.  He was the perfect mind to spend time with.  His novel is poetry, prose and metaphysics all rolled into one, with subtext, satire and innuendo in layers. Reading him slowed time down, translating slowed time down even more, and I needed to heal after the war.  I needed gentle minds and hearts.  Noel Coward introduced me to Eva Cooper [4] and I went to stay at Hambledon Hall in the country and read my Proust to her to start with.  Later I found other sympathetic minds to test it on.

 

JF:  You tested it on just about everyone you knew. 

CKSM: Yes, and moving to Italy helped a lot, there were so many English and American writers in exile.  The living was cheaper, the weather warmer and the churches, paintings and architecture are still food for the soul.  Also I loved swimming in the sea, even when I was a boy in Scotland, but after getting my wound and my recurring trench fever, I needed balmier waters. I rented beautiful rooms in Florence, in Pisa and finally in Rome, where I could concentrate on translation.

 

JF: But there was another job in Italy.  You were still working for the Government, reporting to the British Passport Office in Rome, a cover for spying activities.

CKSM:  We were keeping an eye on the rise of Fascism.  I remember noting on my first day in Italy that the country was being run by “teenagers on cocaine”. It was dangerous.  Not like the war, of course, but you had to watch your back. Louis Christie, Kings Messenger at the time, got badly beaten up by Fascisti in the street without warning and had to leave Rome for good.  For me, being a journalist/translator was the perfect cover.  I would wander down to the jetty at Livorno and chat to the sailors and discovered that the cargo they were loading on boats bound for Yemen was ammunitions for an uprising against the British Protectorate there, and among the crew were communications engineers and explosives experts. I also discovered army mobilisations and exercises taking place near Genoa.  

JF:  So Proust did not take over your life entirely. 

CKSM:  No, but I did develop a way of seeing things through his eyes and that not only showed the beauty in everything, but also the humour and the satire. Proust also bankrolled me. I got simultaneous contracts from New York and London, the Americans paid better and weren’t chicken about the content.  Chatto and Windus in London could not print ‘Sodome et Gomorrhe’, even though I translated it as ‘Cities of the Plain’, because of the Obscenity Laws.  Albert Boni in New York went right ahead and it was published in the US first because of this.

Moncrieff Luigi_PirandelloI also translated and tried to promote Pirandello to the English-speaking world.  I saw his plays and met him on several occasions. He was absent-minded, once he arrived for dinner 27 hours late. I had his blessing on my translations. I reminded Chatto and Windus that my instinct was good. ( I had advised them to buy the rights to Noel Coward’s plays and they had ignored that.) I was vindicated when Pirandello won the Nobel Prize for Literature later on.

JF:  There is a new translation of Proust: it took seven translators seven years.  What do you think of that?

CKSM:  That is 49 man years, longer than my lifetime.  Marvellous. Proust deserves to be re-translated for every era and to keep translators employed.  However, I do think that you need to keep my interpretation as a key to the times Proust lived in. 

 

JF:  The title you gave the whole novel, translating A la Recherche du Temps Perdu as Remembrance of Things Past, that still evokes controversy today, nearly a hundred years later.

CKSM:  Good, controversy is always healthy.  Let me explain.  It comes from Shakespeare’s sonnet number 30, “ When to the sessions of sweet silent thought/ I summon up remembrance of things past,/I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,/ And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.” When I translated Proust, all my readership would have been familiar with that sonnet and that line.  Temps Perdu in French means time wasted as well as time lost and time past, and sonnet 30 encapsulates all of these.  The modern translation, ‘In Search of Lost Time,’ limits the idea. I took all my titles of Proust’s volumes from poetry. I just never managed the last volume. Time got me first. I was still correcting proofs in hospital in my last days.

JF: You were also corresponding with T S Eliot.

CKSM: And reading Balzac, who said, ““le temps est le seul capital des gens qui n’ont que leur intelligence pour la fortune,” (Time is the only capital owned by people who have to live by their wits)

Moncrieff Urbs RomaJF:  You loved Rome and you died aged forty and are buried there. I found your grave in the Verano Cemetery, with the Alpha and Omega carved onto the stone.

CKSM:  Rome is the Eternal City, Urbs Aeterna.

 

 

[1] The Scott Moncrieff Prize  is an annual £2,000 literary prize  for French to English translation  awarded to one or more translators every year for a full-length work deemed by the Translators Association o have "literary merit". Only translations first published in the United Kingdom are considered for the accolade.

[2] This is the title of a volume of writings of early English authors which Moncrieff "translated" to the English of his day.

[3] Beowulf is an Old English epic poem. Produced between 975 and 1025, it is one of the most important works of Old English literature. The author was an anonymous Anglo-Saxon poet, referred to by scholars as the "Beowulf poet".

[4] Eva Cooper was a cultivated society hostess who invited writers, such as the satirist Saki and Noel Coward the playwright  to her large house in Rutlandshire, where she looked after them and encouraged their writing. 

 


Interview with Wordsmith Christina Khoury

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Christina profile   Jonathan preferred

Christina Khoury
the interviewee

 

Jonathan G.
the interviewer

Preface

Our interviewee this month is Christina Khoury, resident of the city of Haifa, Israel.

The interview resulted from a stay by your faithful blogger at the Beit Shalom (House of Peace) Hotel, where Christina works. The undersigned overheard Christina conducting three consecutive conversations in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Christina standing - cropped

  Christina - Beit Shalom


The interview is preceded by a short overview of Haifa and its history.

Jonathan Goldberg

Haifa, Israel

Built on the slopes of Mount Carmel, Haifa has a history spanning more than 3,000 years. The earliest known settlement in the vicinity was a small port city established in the Late Bronze Age (14th century BCE).

 

Haifa map 2 Map - Haifa Mediteranean

Haifa and Marseille are twin cities

Over the millennia, the Haifa area has been conquered and ruled by the Canaanites, Israelites, Phoenicians, Persians, Hasmoneans, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Ottomans [1] and the British, and since 1948 it is part of the State of Israel, in which it is the third largest city.

In 1100 or 1101 Haifa was besieged and blockaded by European Christians shortly after the end of the First Crusade and then conquered after a fierce battle with its Jewish inhabitants. Under the Crusaders, Haifa was reduced to a small fortified coastal stronghold. The army of Saladin [*] (founder of a Sunni dynasty of Kurdish origins) captured Haifa in 1187 and the city's Crusader fortress was destroyed. The Crusaders under Richard the Lionheart retook Haifa in 1191.

In 1799, Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Haifa during his campaign to conquer Palestine and Syria but he was forced to withdraw. In the campaign's final proclamation, Napoleon declared that he razed the fortifications of "Kaïffa" (as the name was spelled at the time) [2] along with those of Gaza, Jaffa and Acre.                                    

 

  Napoleon soldiers
 

Monument to Fallen Napoleon's soldiers in front of Stella Maris Monastery

Haifa was captured from the Ottomans in September 1918 by Indian horsemen of the British Army armed with spears and swords. It became part of the British Mandate of Palestine until 1948, when the State of Israel was founded.

The population of Haifa is heterogeneous. Israeli Jews comprise some 82% of the population, almost 14% are Christians, the majority of whom are Arab Christians and some 4% are Muslims. Haifa also includes Druze communities

[*] Salah ad-Din (or Salahu’d-Din or Ṣalāḥ ud-Dīn) was the first sultan of Egypt and Syria and the founder of the Ayyubid dynasty.

Port of Haifa   Haifa panoramic - cropped

 

Interview:

Jonathan Goldberg: You come from a family with an interesting, cosmopolitan history. Tell our readers about that.

Christina Khoury: My paternal Grandfather was born in Torino, Italy and later moved to Genova where he got married and where my father was born and raised. My maternal grandfather had an Italian mother and Montenegrin father and was born in Constantinople in 1897. He met my grandmother in Constantinople, where she was also born. Italian was their mother tongue since they each had Italian mothers, although they were living outside of Italy.

In 1910 my maternal grandfather came from Constantinople to Haifa at the age of 13 with other members of his family to work on the Hejaz railway [3], first in Aleppo and Damascus and later in Haifa. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, construction of the Hejaz railway was halted. My grandfather remained in Haifa where he founded a factory. In 1925 he married my grandmother in Constantinople, the city of their birth. There, first my uncle (1927) and then my mother (1928) were born. In 1934 the family moved to Haifa when my mother was almost 5 years old. In Haifa, two more daughters were born (my aunts).

The family settled in Haifa and my mother and her siblings were educated in the local Christian Schools. They grew up in Haifa and spoke Italian.

During WW2, the family, being Italians and not part of the Allies in the area, were kept by the British as prisoners of war in different imprisonment Camps in what was Palestine under the British Mandate at the time, until 1948, when the State of Israel was established..

In 1948 my parents met in Haifa when my father, who was born in Genova, was on a short-term mission for the Italian consulate. They were married in Haifa in 1949 and my mother went to Italy for the first time as a young bride.

My parents settled in Genova, my father's birth town, and later moved to different parts of northern Italy. I was born in Genova but also lived in other regions of Italy before moving to Israel in 1984, at the age of 15.

J.G.: Tell us about the different languages that you speak:

C.K.: After moving to Israel from Italy I had to learn Hebrew and then continued my schooling in Hebrew, in Haifa. I had started English in middle school in Italy, but broadened my knowledge of this language here in Israel where I was able to practice it more and more. French is a language to which I was exposed already at a young age, since there are some members of the enlarged family who are French speakers, besides studying it in school. I picked up Arabic from hearing it here in Haifa from the Christian Arabs I became acquainted to. I learned German through my work, since the Hotel where I work belongs to a Swiss Organization, we get many German speaking guests. I took a course of German at the Haifa University and then practiced at work. My mother spoke 5 languages herself, so I must have inherited from her the love for languages.

J.G.: Of what religious faith are you and your husband.

C.K.: I was raised in a devout Catholic home but at an early age I chose Messianic Christianity, which is similar to the Evangelical Church.

My husband comes from a Lebanese Maronite Christian family. He was born in London to a British mother and a Christian Arab father, but came to Haifa as a baby. He grew up in Haifa and attended the Messianic Christian Community.

J.G.: In what languages do you speak to members of your family?

C.K.: I speak to my husband mostly in Hebrew, which was the language we were both schooled in here and is the main spoken language in Israel. I spoke to my late mother in Italian and I have continued that tradition by speaking to my daughter (who was born and grew up in Haifa) in Italian, and we both speak to my grandchildren in Italian. In that way five generations of my family on the female side have maintained their command of Italian (my grandmother in Constantinople, my mother in Italy, myself, my daughter and my grandchildren in Israel). At home, with my husband, our daughter and two younger sons and our son in-law, we alternate between Italian and Hebrew.

J.G.: How have you managed to keep a record of your family history?

C.K.: My mother memorialized her life in about 100 pages in Italian. I plan to translate them into English.

J.G.: What is Beit Shalom? What is your association with it?

C.K.: The Beit Shalom Hotel in Haifa belongs to a Swiss Evangelical (Protestant) organization. It was built in the 1970s. As a member of that Community in Haifa, I heard about a vacancy at the hotel 30 years ago, and I have been working there ever since.

J.G.: What kinds of guests visit the hotel?

C.K.: The Swiss organization arranges guided tour groups to visit the Holy Land, including a stay of several days in Haifa, with accommodation at the Hotel. In addition, members of the Baha’i religion, whose world center is in Haifa, find the location convenient because it is close to the magnificent Bahai terraces that occupy a large tract of Haifa. [4],[5] Guests and tourists both from Israel and abroad, enjoy our hospitality.

Haifa Bahai 1   Bahai 3 

                                                                                     Bahai Gardens



J.G.:
Haifa has several Christian communities. Can you describe them?

C.K.: in addition to our own messianic community, there are Latin Catholics, Greek Catholics and Greek Orthodox. The Catholics in particular enjoy close relations, and to a lesser extent there are contacts between them and the other Christians.

J.G.: What is the degree of ethnic and religious harmony between the Jews, Christians and Muslims of Haifa?

C.K.: It is a wonderful example of peaceful co-existence. It is manifested in everyday life: commerce, entertainment and mixed neighborhoods. Some cultural institutions aim to further encourage co-existence through intercultural meetings and activities.

J.G.: Generally, do Christians as a minority in Israel feel unsafe as they sometimes do in other parts of the Middle East.

C.K.: As far as we know and experience firsthand, Christians have full freedom and live a peaceful life in Israel, especially compared to what we hear about Christians living in the surrounding Arab Countries.

J.G.: There are different theories about the origin of the name Haifa. What do you know?

C.K.: No one is  sure about the origins of the name "Haifa", but it could derive from the name of Kepha (rock – the name of Saint Peter in Aramaic), or it could also be the combination of the words "Hof-Yafe" חוף יפה which means "nice beach", or "Chipa" חיפה  which means "covered" because of Mt. Carmel which covers over the area…

J.G.: You work at the hotel during the mornings and some of the evenings. What do you do in your spare time?

C.K.: I look after my grandchildren and help young students with their English studies.

---------------

[1] Refers to the successors of Osman, founder of a dynasty that ruled the Turkish empire until its dismemberment after the First World War and the advent of the Turkish Republic in 1923.

[2] Haifa TintinIn French, before the adoption of the current spelling (Haifa), the city was known as Caïffe, Kaïffa, Caïfa, even Caïffa. It is this spelling that we find in the first version of Tintin in the land of black gold by Hergé, which appeared in serial in the Journal de Tintin. On the other hand, in the album, released in 1950, mention is made of Haifa (p.14). When the album was redesigned in 1971, Haifa gave way to the imaginary locality of Khemkhâh, just to get everyone to agree!

[3] Narrow gauge railway line, built between 1900 and 1908, to link Damascus to Medina (1,800 km). Ordered by Sultan Abdul Hamid II and carried out with German technical support, the project was intended to facilitate the pilgrimage to Mecca, promote trade and assert the Ottoman presence in the Arabian Peninsula. The Second World war of 1914-1918 sounded the death knell for the Hedjaz railway. Today, there are only a few segments left, in Syria and Jordan.

Haifa Hejaz map   Haifa Hejaz cover

[4] Baha’ism, also known as the Bahá'í Faith, is an Abrahamic and monotheistic religion that proclaims the spiritual unity of humanity. Members of this international religious community describe themselves as adherents of an "independent world religion". The Bahá'ís, disciples of Bahāʾ-Allāh, are organized around more than 100,000 centers, listed by the World Center in Haifa, around the world.

Haifa Carmelit[5]  The hotel is close to the underground metro, the "Carmelit", which was constructed by a French company and inaugurated in 1959 by David Ben Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister. With only four carriages, six stations and one single tunnel-line of 1800 meters in length, the Carmelit is one of the smallest metro infrastructures in the world.


Interview with Israeli-American wordsmith (and translator/interpreter) Jonathan Goldberg

 

Man with 2 hats second optionFor several years distinguished linguists were interviewed every month for our French sister blog, Le Mot juste en anglais.  Readers therefore understandingly will ask : How have I, Jonathan, managed to insinuate myself into this exclusive club, which is usually reserved only for the illustrious? The answer was that at a point in time we were short of a high-level interviewer and interviewee. Desperate times call for desperate measures [1] so I decided, with an excess of immodesty, to fill the gap. "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." [2]

But because my chutzpah [3] has its limits, I stopped short of asking anyone to interview me. So here I am, wearing two hats, those of both the interviewer and interviewee. On n'est jamais mieux servi que par soi-même ! 

In preparing this "interview" for Le Mot juste, the first decision I needed to take was whether to draft it in English or in French. That was what is called a "no brainer" [4] in the USA. I have too much respect for la belle langue to maul it and I feared that the hachis parmentier that I wanted to cook would come out of the oven smelling like Shepherd’s Pie.

Cartoon

The next decision was whether to ask one of our band of faithful French translators to render this text into the language of Molière [5]. I decided that just this one time our French readers would not be molly-coddled [6], but would have to bite the bullet (forgive the mixed metaphor) and read the interview in what the French like to refer to as  « la langue de Shakespeare ».

J. G.

Shakespeare & Moliere

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Two hats 20Question: Describe the experience of managing a blog to which so many gifted wordsmiths contribute their time and talents.

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2018-02-19/0dc69a6f-78d0-4e39-b070-384909c8f7d5.png
Jonathan's attire when rubbing shoulders with the crème de la crème

Answer: My motives for running the blog are both altruistic and egoistic: on the one hand, the desire that I often have to share with others the material I read; on the other hand, the fact that the blog is very good for my ego. Like many professional translators, I normally perform my work in the shadows. The blog, on the other hand, gives me a platform and a pretext to communicate with some of the crème de la crème of English and French linguists. Whenever I am able to introduce a gifted translator or contributor on the pages of Le Mot juste, I enjoy the opportunity, however fleeting, to stand shoulder to shoulder with one of the best linguists around. 


Two hats 20Question
: You are not a literary translator with a slew of books to your name, so how could you expect to come out of the darkness into the world of fame and fortune and to reach an audience beyond the readers of the blog? Travailler non seulement pour des prunes mais pour la gloire.[7] [8]

Answer: Well, by chance, I did recently come under the bright lights and I have been enjoying a short-lived moment of fame, if not of fortune. I was not going to mention this, but  if you insist, I'll tell you about it. Last year I was commissioned to translate Emmanuel Macron's memoir cum political manifesto, Révolution. Because of time constraints, I contracted with a British translator to translate half the book, and we edited each other's translations. The book was published in November and the translators were invited to London for a panel discussion to launch it.

 
Macron English cover

 

Two hats 20Question: Was the co-translation a synergistic effort? Was it a successful collaborative work?

Answer: In my Translator's Note, I stressed the point that it was indeed a collaborative endeavour, with synergistic benefits, and I went out of my way in that Note to highlight my co-translator's skills. But you will probably get a very different answer if you ask her. Most likely the same view as that expressed by my first wife, following our divorce. 



Two hats 20Question
: What did your first wife say?

Answer: "Never again!."

 

Two hats 20Question: How were you able to gauge the public's appreciation of your translation of Révolution ? Even Anglo-Saxons [9] who read French with ease don't usually compare and contrast the source text of a book with the translation in order to grade the level of the translator's skill.

 

Answer: Paradoxically, the warmest expression of appreciation I received for this project came from two people who have probably not read the translation: M. E. MACRON and his Chef de Cabinet, M. François-Xavier LAUCH (see the images below).

 

  Macron dedication-page-001 - updated

  
    Chef de Cabinet-page-001 - updated

Two hats 20Question: Mr. Macron's handwritten dedication in your book is rather difficult to decipher.

Answer: Indeed. The language of the dedication, like that of the book, is somewhat cryptic, and to judge by the handwriting, you would think that M. Macron had trained as a doctor, not an economist. I leave it to our readers to decipher the President's handwriting. I'm sure they will enjoy the challenge.

 
Two hats 20Question: Will you now take on the translation of works by other famous French politicians, scholars or writers?

6a010535f04dfe970b01b7c95298dc970b
Jonathan working in the shadows

Answer: Never again! Working on a single project for 10 hours and more a day, seven days a week, at the expense of my other interests, is not my cup of tea. But for regular work projects, being only 80 years old (twice the age of the President of the Republic [10]), I do not intend to slow down. I will continue to ply my trade in the shadows as an anonymous and unknown translator and interpreter (French>English and Hebrew>English), and to devote part of the hours of each day outside of my regular work  to  research for the blog across a range of linguistic and cultural subjects. (My other blog activity involves roping in contributors, which is sometimes as difficult as herding cats. But once they submit their contributions, they usually prove themselves to be linguistic tigers.)

I have also revived an English-language blog that I had created some time ago and that had been dormant: The Lives of Linguists : Interviews with Writers, Translators and other Wordsmiths. It is accessible at WordsmithsBlog.com. And I am in the process of creating a French-language blog named Clio, un blog pour les amateurs de l'histoire. [11] Articles dealing with historical subjects that have been written for Le Mot juste over the course of the years will be imported into the new blog. Stay tuned!

As a staunch Francophile, I will have the continuous pleasure of seeing material posted in the mellifluous French language. [12] Together with the contributos and readers, I will continue the search for le mot juste en anglais - as well as in French.

-----------------

[1] To reassure our readers that in the coming months there will be a dramatic improvement in the standard of the interviewees - a rise from this abyss - I will mention that two linguists of world renown, David Bellos and David Crystal, have agreed to be interviewed for the blog.   

[2] Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, 1711

 

[3] Oxford Dictionaries:

mass noun, informal 
Extreme self-confidence or audacity 
Origin: Late 19th century: Yiddish, from Aramaic ḥu ṣpā.
 

[4]  Selon Video Language Network sur le site Femme actuelle, cette expression est utilisée pour exprimer qu'un choix est facile à faire et ne nécessite pas d'y réfléchir plus longtemps.

 

[5] According to one theory, all or many of Molière's works were in fact written by Corneille, the historic French dramatist. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaaqqLkz5t4

 

[6] Mollycoddling - World Wide Words

[7] L'Aiglon de Edmond Rostand - Nous avons fait tout cela pour la gloire et pour des prunes ! (Flambeau)
(Thank you, Jean Leclercq, for pointing me to the source of this quotation:

Dans L'Aiglon (Acte 2, scène IX), Edmond Rostand fait dire à Flambeau, vélite de la garde, après le rappel de ses glorieux états de service :

"Faits d'armes : trente-deux. Blessures : quelques-unes.
Ne s'est battu que pour la gloire, et pour des prunes.» }
 

[8) The French word prune and the English word "prune" are false friends. Prune (fr.) = plum (Eng.); prune (Eng.) = pruneau (fr.)

Plums-1 Prunes
plum = prune prune = pruneau


[9] The Anglo-Saxons
      Aeon

[10] When Macron is 80 years old, I will be 120 years. Between now and that time, I expect to receive a card from him containing the Biblical greeting: שתחיה עד מאה עשרים - "May you live to be 120 years." 

[11] What Makes French Sound Sexy
Mental Floss

[12] Clio was the Muse of History

Other articles by the author on his experience as a translator and interpreter:

The colonial influences on participants in a Los Angeles courtroom— from the perspective of a French-English interpreter.

An Interpreting Dilemma


Interview with wordsmith (and food translator) Carmella Abramowitz Moreau

                                              AN INTERVIEW TO BE SAVOURED

Andrea profile Carmella  cropped

             Andrea Bernstein
             - the interviewer

Carmella Abramowitz Moreau
- the interviewee

Carmella Abramowitz Moreau is a translator specializing in culinary translations from French, and living with her family in the 3rd arrondisement of Paris. The interview that follows was conducted by Andrea Bernstein, the spouse and personal chef of your faithful blogger. Andrea, like Carmella, was born in South Africa, where she obtained her doctorate in social work and was Professor of Social Work and Department Head at the University of Natal. After immigrating to the United States and working as an editor of academic texts, Andrea launched a new career as a consultant in the field of leadership development and was involved in the training of senior executives of major American companies. Both Carmella and Andrea are passionate about food and cooking. [1]

---------------------

Andrea Bernstein:  You grew up in South Africa, where many languages are spoken, (eleven of which are now designated as official languages) but where there was no French influence, unless you count the arrival of the Huguenots at the end of the 17th century. Despite Sorbonnethat, you gravitated to the French language, and to everything French, initially by moving to Montreal, at the age of 23, then to France where you completed the Diplôme de Civilisation française at the Sorbonne. You then went on to obtain a diploma in French-English translation, followed by a Masters in the same area. You married a Frenchman, and have lived for 35 years in Paris, where your children were born.  What stimulated your interest in learning French and in becoming sufficiently fluent to become a translator?  

Carmella Abramowitz Moreau: I completed my first degree at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa in Social Anthropology and English literature. My main regret regarding this degree is that I studied Zulu for only one year. My father was gifted in languages and read many alphabets. I think he helped instill in me my linguistic curiosity. As a child, I briefly took French lessons with a wonderful teacher but in high school I had to choose between French and Latin and I opted for Latin. My real attachment to, and love of, French began after my first degree, when I started studying French largely on a whim, taking intensive courses at language schools in both Lausanne and Paris, before going to Montreal where I completed a graduate diploma in language teaching. A year at the Sorbonne, also intensive, helped me on the path to fluency. Choosing to settle in a country seems to demand that one at least aspire to fluency. I was lucky to have always benefitted from excellent language and linguistics teachers.

 

AB: When I look at the list of your translations, it seems you have specialized in art, music and cooking (with some diversions into urbanism, microfinance, science and ethnomedicine). Let’s concentrate on culinary translation for the purposes of this interview. How did you get started in the field?

CAM: Carmella with pavlova My first cookbook translation fell into my lap after someone with whom I had studied translation recommended me to a publisher, knowing that I love cooking and baking, and that I had previously taken courses. One thing led to another, as tends to happen. Some time previously, I had taken weekly pastry-making lessons for a few years with a marvelous pastry chef, also a remarkable teacher. He demystified many aspects of classic French pastry-making for me. Although I don’t necessarily make this sort of thing any more, I can quite easily explain how to make Italian meringue. I can tell if there’s a serious typo in a recipe quantity, or an important ingredient inadvertently omitted, and so on. Since then, I’ve also taken short Viennoiseries courses in Viennoiseries and bread-making. But the task of explaining how to fold and roll out puff pastry never gets any easier – I suppose this is the case for any kind of a technical translation. Living in Paris certainly makes it easier to keep up with cooking trends, for example neo-bistro cuisine.

 

AB:  Personally I love reading cookbooks (even if I don’t make most of the recipes). What are some of the special challenges you’ve encountered in translating recipes?

CAM: The most challenging is translating complicated recipes by well-known chefs that are included in books targeted at the general public. They contain ingredients that are often not readily available even here in France, such as the latest vegetable or citrus fruit that they have an exclusive supply line for, a rare breed of meat, a rare species of fish, etc. I have to convey to the home cook how best to reproduce the recipe. Then there are the instructions that are incomplete or fiddly -- recipes that top chefs use in their kitchens where sous-chefs are there to weigh out 43 grams of this and 127 grams of that. Meat cuts also differ from one country to another, even among English-speaking countries (and are far more intricate in France), as do weights of what constitutes egg sizes – an EU medium egg is more or less equivalent to a large US or Canadian egg, and Australia and New Zealand are different again. Added to the egg size difficulty is the French chef’s penchant for weighing yolks and whites – 75 g of egg white converts to about one-third of a cup, but who outside a professional kitchen likes to divvy up eggs? Percentages of butterfat in cream are not specified in certain countries but one needs to know what to use, Carmella ganachefor example, to make whipped cream or a certain type of ganache. Then there are the chefs who use idiosyncratic or regional terms for the preparation of part of a chicken or a common vegetable. At times, I resort to consulting my butcher or greengrocer. I long for the day when the US will switch to the metric system and kitchen scales become more widespread there, so conversions to the imperial system will no longer be necessary.

 

AB: How do you deal with the issue of a technical vocabulary? I believe there are often no exact equivalents for French terms.

CAM: I’m frequently asked if this poses a problem. It’s true that often there is no exact word for specific actions, and that French is very rich in technical culinary vocabulary. It’s generally quite easy to explain what has to be done in a few short, explicit phrases. Chiqueter, for example, a word I learned at pastry lessons, is the action involving scoring the edge of two layers of puff pastry to seal them together using the back of a small kitchen knife. And if you were wondering, yes, it tends to be recommended when making galettes des rois. I like to add the French word so that the reader becomes familiar with it.

Carmella SALT FATChanges in language as the world becomes increasingly foodier also need to be taken into account. The other day, I watched the series “Salt Fat Acid Heat”, in which Samin Nosrat made citrus suprêmes. For the moment I’m still sticking to “sections”, but I should think that soon all English speakers will happily be decorating tarts or cake tops with “orange supremes”. (Chicken breasts are another matter.) We have to juggle with the level of readers’ sophistication and how far foodie vocabulary has spread or will have spread by the time the book is published.

 

 

 

 

AB: Carmella repas-gastronomiqueGastronomy is part and parcel of French culture, as testified by the French gastronomic meal being included in the UNESCO list of world intangible heritage. Sitting down to enjoy a meal, whether gastronomic or not, is an integral part of the way of life. Is there any reflection of this facet in recipe books?

CAM: I feel I should preface my answer by saying that I see my task as twofold. Producing a book that will not only sell outside of France but can be used by the people who buy it, and making it as user-friendly as possible, while retaining the French touch in spirit. I don’t feel that making the necessary adaptations is a betrayal in any way, so long as I can remain true to the recipe. Having said that, there is a significant difference in the French and Anglo approaches to recipe writing. An English-language recipe will take the cook by the hand, so to speak, and guide him or her through each step (of course, depending on the target readership’s level of cooking). It will give pan sizes, cooking or baking temperature, an indication of doneness at each stage, the speed for the stand mixer and the length of time to beat at that particular speed. Many a French recipe, translated word for word into English, would look terse, or even unfeasible. Pan size? Oh, just use whatever you have. Indications of doneness? We’ve given you the cooking time – surely that’s enough! Storage instructions? But they go without saying. I suspect that the underlying reason is an assumption that the user of the cookbook will have cooked with a family member during childhood, or spent considerable time watching someone cook full meals, or know what the end result should be. In other words, a great deal of previous knowledge tends to be assumed, so I think that this is where the heritage comes in.

Ingredients have to be listed in order of use – a common recommendation in most English-language cookbook style guides, but not necessarily followed in France. If there is an instruction at the end of the recipe telling the cook to stir in the raisins that have been soaking
Carmella crepes-chandeleurin rum for 24 hours, I’ll start the recipe with an instruction to soak them 24 hours ahead. Here is an example I saw only yesterday: Now that we have transitioned from galette des rois season to la Chandeleur and crepes are everywhere, celebrity chef Thierry Marx published an online recipe for a crepe cake. One of the instructions is « Ajouter le lait préalablement porté à ébullition ». After so many years in France, I still find this discombobulating. As someone who cooks quite a lot, I transform it according to logical English-language order. Useful advice, though, is often a thorny issue, as notes generally appear at the end of the recipe in French – too late for some! If possible, I incorporate them as relevantly as possible, but layout does not always permit it.

Photos, too, may be problematic: English-speakers expect the end result to resemble the photo, but French books may provide an “artistic interpretation.” A recipe for a large cake may show several individual portions or be decorated with unspecified ingredients. In cases like this I find myself resorting to what a fellow translator told me is known as “creative insubordination”.

 

AB: You once told me that cultural issues crop up in the most unexpected ways. Please give us some examples of these.

CAM: Well, one needs to be au fait with all sorts of issues.  A chef who provided a recipe in a book I translated recently advised his readers to use only Iranian pistachios, for, in his opinion, nowhere else are such fine quality nuts produced. I don’t know how well this would go down in a country with a ban on many products from Iran, not to mention the fact that California is also a major pistachio producer.
Carmella lobstersThe solution is to find something a little neutral and bland (no pun intended) to say instead. Preparing live lobsters was an issue that triggered a long discussion with the translator with whom I was sharing a project. After research showing that crustaceans feel pain, Switzerland passed a law outlawing the boiling of live lobsters. How long will it be before other countries implement similar legislation? We do try to keep in mind the shelf life (again, no pun intended) of the recipes. Awareness of sustainability may not be as pronounced here as in the countries where the book is to be sold, so for seafood, for example, we may add a note advising the cook to check that certain fish, eels, or whatever, may be used responsibly.

Carmella community gardenPre-#MeToo, I gave a workshop to students working on the translation of a compilation of recipes from community gardens in Paris. A recipe for nettle soup was preceded by a short text on the long legs of a gardener wearing an attractive mini skirt. I asked the class what their reactions were. After some thought, the mainly women students said they found it perfectly acceptable, and a good reflection of the French way of life. The book was to be marketed to tourists in Paris and community gardens in large US cities. The dual-nationality American professor, who hadn’t really noticed this previously, was outraged and said, “Censor it!” I think it was her opinion that ultimately prevailed. 

 

AB: How do you deal with dishes that are well-known in France but possibly unknown to English-speaking readers?

CAM: When I have to translate a recipe for a little-known regional specialty, I usually ask if I can include a short history or explanation of the dish. I enjoy the extra research and if there is room, certain editors are happy to have a little bonus.

Carmella macaron-v-macaroonAgain, as the world becomes more and more foody, fewer explanations will become necessary. Some ten or fifteen years ago, we would have to explain that macarons are not the same as macaroons! Now, macaron doesn’t even require italics. Kouign amman seems to have emigrated from its native Brittany and hit the US, or at least parts of it.

Amusingly, I sometimes also have to deal with the reverse phenomenon. French chefs like to “frenchify” typically Anglo-Saxon recipes. I’m thinking of apple pie and cheesecake in particular, which they often explain to their French readers. The texts for these usually need complete rewriting and so I’ll draft a suggestion for the editor. It’s an opportunity for me to add a little culinary history or fun fact, though not every editor is receptive to this type of adaptation.

 

[1]

Carmella bookshelf Andrea bookshelf rotated
Carmella's bookshelf of cook books Andrea's bookshelf of cook books

Blog Editor's note: British spelling has been used in this interview.

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici.


Interview with British wordsmith (and translator) Ros Schwartz

 

ChevalierOur guest interviewee is Ros Schwartz, a prolific, prodigious and prize-winning literary translator (French>English), as this interview and her CV below make clear. Ros was awarded the Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for her contribution to French literature by the French Government.In 2017 she received the John Sykes Memorial Prize for Excellence from the UK Institute of Translation and Interpreting.

Ros lives in London, where she divides her time between literary translation and working as a Royal Literary Fund writing fellow at King’s College London. She is co-chair of English PEN’s Writers in Translation Committee.

 

  Ros S
 
Jonathan
   The interviewee - Ros Schwartz The interviewer - Jonathan Goldberg

 

JG: . Since you completed your university studies in France, you've been extremely active both as a literary translator and in many branches of the translating profession. We'll talk about your career in a moment, but take us back to your school years. Where were you brought up, at what age did you begin to study French and how strong was your command of French when you entered University?

RS: My parents instilled in me a love of the French language, literature, music, food and wine that has become a lifelong passion. They were both ardent Francophiles, which was quite unusual for 1950s austerity Britain. The songs I heard in my cradle were those of Edith Piaf, Charles Trenet, Yves Montand and Mistinguett. They sang me to sleep with En passant par la Lorraine and taught me to sing Au Clair de la Lune before I knew my ABC.

When they didn't want me to understand what they were talking about, my parents would speak to each other in French, so naturally I made it my business to decipher and master this language very quickly.

At school, an inspirational French teacher, Miss Tucker, passed on to me her love of French literature, and I embarked on a French degree. But I wasn't cut out for academia, and the University of Kent and I parted company. I ran away to Paris, aided and abetted by my tutor, David Bradby, the distinguished historian of French theatre who remained a dear friend until his death in 2010. He helped me find my first job as an assistante in a Paris Lycée. I spent 8 years in Paris, doing a variety of odd (and I mean odd!) jobs (including working for the Gare d'Austerlitz telephone information service – there are probably people still wandering around Bordeaux  today trying to find the train to Port-Bou). During those years I immersed myself in every aspect of French life, from signing on as student at the radical university of Vincennes to picking grapes in Provence, unaware at the time that this was the best possible training for a literary translator. My friends in Paris devoted themselves to teaching me the slang of Belleville and the poetry of Verlaine.

 

JG. You have a LèsL from Université Vincennes-Saint-Denis (Paris VIII). What language courses did you take there?

RS: I actually did a degree in English and American studies with a minor in Italian. The 1970s were an exciting time to be in a radical French uni – the 1968 afterglow. Having been at a staid UK university (and dropped out), I took courses in subjects I could never have imagined, such as "Donald Duck and Anglo-Saxon Cultural Imperialism". But it was at Vincennes that I had my first taste of literary translation, under a tutor called John Edwards. He passed on to me his passion for translating.

 

JG:. Did you become a translator at the outset of your career?

RS: I lived in Paris for eight years, and then spent a year in India. On my return to the UK, I discovered that despite having languages (I also have Spanish), I was completely unemployable, having never worked in the UK. In Paris I had taught English in companies as a way of keeping body and soul together, but had no 'real' work experience. I was too old to go into a job at a very junior level, too inexperienced to go in at a higher level, and too much of a maverick to fit into a company culture. So I had no option but to invent my own career. I launched myself as a translator, having translated one book before leaving Paris, for which I had not yet found a publisher.

 

JG:. You've translated over 100 books from French into English. How long did it take you to establish the kind of reputation that put your services in such high demand?

RS: The publishing world is quite small and once you've got a foot in the door, editors tend to pass your name on. Colleagues too. It took a few years of letter writing, taking on other types of work, notably cookery books.

 

JG. Which of the books was the most challenging, linguistically or in other respects?

RS: Each book has its own set of challenges. My translation of Lebanese novelist Dominique Eddé's Kite was interesting because Eddé writes in French but with an oriental sensibility. It took me way out of my comfort zone, and by the end I had a curious feeling that I'd translated from Arabic, so different is the novel's structure and language from the western narrative tradition. Re-translating a classic, Saint-Exupéry's Petit Prince had a whole set of challenges, linguistic, stylistic, ethical, translating for children, creating different voices. More recently, I translated Translation as Transhumance by Mireille Gansel (The Feminist Press, 2017). It’s the memoir of an extraordinary woman who is a translator-activist as well as a poet. Every word of the French is exquisitely judged, so one false note in the translation would jar horribly. My most recent translation, A Long Way from Douala is by the Swiss writer of Cameroonian origin, Max Lobe. He writes in French but uses a lot of expressions in Camfranglais, which is an urban slang made up of English, French and words borrowed from local languages. I’ve talked about about the challenges in a recent interview  https://www.looren.net/en/blog/better-tu-fais-ca.

 

JG:  Do you find time to study the works of other literary translators? When you do that, do you have the source and target texts before your eyes?

RS: I'm not an academic, I'm a hands-on practitioner. I read voraciously, both translations and other literature. I am in permanent dialogue with numerous translator friends and colleagues. My work with English PEN's Writers in Translation Programme awarding promotional grants leads me to read a lot of sample translations. And as a mentor and external supervisor I see students' work. But I don't have time to 'study' translations. There aren't enough hours in the day.

 

JG: For those contemplating a career as a literary translator, would they have any realistic prospect of making ends meet, short of achieving the kind of success you've had.

RS: Making ends meet has nothing to do with critical success. Literary translation simply isn't well paid. And there is a limit to how many books you can translate in a year. Sadly a lot of translators find themselves churning out books in order to make ends meet. The quality of their work suffers. Most translators also have a day job. For years I made my living from running a small translation company and only did one literary work a year, for publishers who value quality and would give me the time I needed to do a good job. Now I lead workshops and am fortunate enough to have a two-year position with the Royal Literary Fund, an organisation that sends writers into universities for two days a week to help students with writing skills. Other colleagues work as teachers or editors or do something completely different as a way of earning a living.

 

JG: In 2009 you and Amanda Hopkinson jointly won the International Dagger Award for your translation of Dominique Manotti's Lorraine Connection. How did you divide the work between you and ensure a unity of style?

RS: I drafted the entire novel, then Amanda went over it in minute detail and made lots of suggestions, most of which I incorporated. Then we met up and thrashed out the problem sections. It was creatively satisfying. I've collaborated with Lulu Norman on a number of translations, and with Steve Cox and Sarah Ardizzone. For me, collaboration is a form of professional development. You learn a lot from working 'à quatre mains' and the end translation benefits enormously.

 

JG: In that same year you organised a series for peer-training translation workshops with the Translators Association, funded by the Arts Council of England. Could you explain the concept of a "peer-training workshop".

RS: Yes, it's a translator-led workshop for practicing translators. It can be language-specific or subject-oriented, e.g. translating sex/poetry/subtitles. The idea is to compare notes on techniques and strategies for dealing with challenges we all face. Although there are numerous undergraduate and postgraduate university courses for beginner translators, there's little mid-career training, so we decided to remedy that by devising our own workshops. I also run translation surgeries, where colleagues working with different language combinations bring along a specific issue which we discuss collectively. It’s interesting to see the crossovers and common challenges translators from different languages face, and to see the solutions the hive mind can come up with.

JG. You were also awarded the "Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres". Tell our readers how and why you were so honoured.

 

Ros Scwartz Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres Cert (small)

RS: . It's a slightly mysterious process. In June 2009 I received a letter from the French Embassy in London telling me I'd been 'nommée au grade de Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres' in recognition for my 'travail de traduction, et plus largement votre rôle dans la diffusion de la littérature française'. According to the French Ministry of Culture ,the award is made to people for 'la contribution qu'elles ont apportée au rayonnement de la culture en France et dans le monde'.

I imagine it's because I've always worked with French publishers and the Book Office here to bring French titles to the attention of UK publishers (in fact that's how I launched myself).

 

JG: You have also organised or overseen online translation courses, including one  offered by Birkbeck College. Could you compare the advantages and disadvantages for the participants of online courses as a substitute for face-to-face instruction. Why would a college offer courses free to applicants from throughout the world?

RS: There's no substitute for face-to-face teaching. The online course was one strand of a project that involved a weekend 'taster' course and a summer school. It was for those who attended the summer school and who wanted more practice, and for anyone thinking of doing translation who wanted to try their hand. We received funding for the project which enabled us to offer the online course free. But we weren't proposing it as a substitute for face-to-face teaching, and nor were we suggesting that anyone completing the online course was ready to launch their career. But it's good to be able to offer it to budding translators around the world, not all of whom have the means to come to London for the summer school or to go to university.

One of the most interesting translator development formats I’ve been involved in is the Vice-Versa programme run by the Collège International de Traducteurs (CITL) in Arles, France. The one-week workshop brings together six translators from French to English and six from English to French, under the supervision of a tutor from each language. Each half-day session is devoted to a translation by one of the mentees. So each person has the full attention of eleven others. It’s enriching to have input from the mother-tongue participants as well as from those working in the same language direction. CITL also runs a two-month residency with three translators for each language and three different tutors each in attendance for two weeks. The fledgling translators emerge from this ready to spread their wings. I thoroughly recommend this programme. Details https://www.atlas-citl.org/citl/.

In October 2019 year I was involved in a workshop and mentoring scheme to train literary translators in Cameroon. It was part of research project led by the University of Bristol and Bakwa publishers in the capital, Yaounde. Cameroon has two official languages, French and English (as well as over 250 local languages), but there is no literary translation activity between French and English. We ran a week-long workshop to train a group of promising translators in each language, followed by a three-month mentorship. The short stories the mentees translated, written by emerging writers from a previous workshop as part of the project, will  be published in an anthology later this year. This experience has reinforced my conviction that mentorship is the most effective way of fostering new talent. 

Cet entretien est accessible en français ici. Traduction Jean Leclercq.