Saturday, October 13, 2018

Valencia, plus or minus

My wife and I recently visited Spain, more specifically Valencia, for the first time, spending a total of a week in that city. The purpose was to attend a conference (see previous post) but we also played tourist. Seven days does not make you a connoisseur of a city but still creates clear impressions, however errant they may be.  So, I apologize in advance for any rushed judgments.

As the name of the city suggests, the oranges and orange juice were plentiful and good.  For that matter so were the coffee and beer, which I thoroughly enjoyed (but did not abuse). As for the Sangria, I am allergic to grapes and chose to avoid it but not because of its taste.  In terms of meat, there was lots of jamon (ham) and its cousins.  Of these porcine delicacies, I acquired a tasted for certain sausages (whose name escapes me but they are small and red) but found the bacon rather limp. We spent the whole time in the old city and ran into two phenomena, churches and smiles.  Our walking guide said that there were 24 churches in only the old city only, albeit with only a few actually regularly active. They do provide interest, both architecturally and historically, but that is a matter of taste. Actually, the most interesting site to visit in the old city is the covered market. It is clean, large and filled with tempting food, especially oysters, one of my favorite foods.  The oysters I sampled, twice, were among the largest I had ever eaten. In terms of atmosphere, the smile and good humor of the residents is contagious.  The Spanish way of rolling through life is a nice contrast after the tension of Israel.

Less is not always worse but sometimes detracts. For example, the level of knowledge of English outside the hotel was close to absolute zero.  For example, I had to ask a question at a bank and entered a branch of a major European bank.  There were at least 10 bankers, assumingly with college degrees, but only one could speak French while none could speak English.  I was rather surprised to see this level of monolinguism in a city of 1 million people.  Likewise, the desserts and pastries in particular were far from tempting and not worth taking seconds. I find this surprising given the high-quality raw materials that we saw at the central market. A bit spoiled by my French heritage, I also found local use of spices in food to be a bit minimal and unbalanced, aside from saffron, of course. Furthermore, the lack of light in the sky until 8:00 in the morning was almost uncomfortable but the Valencians are not to blame for that. On the other hand, I was impressed by train system in Spain.  We took the express train from Madrid to Valencia and sat in the quiet wagon.  The trip was indeed fast and quiet.  Speeds reached some 300 kph with almost complete silence in the cabin.  We took advantage of it on the way back to Madrid and enjoyed our siesta.

On the bright side, we didn’t see much of the three things and were quite happy to make do without them: sugar, salt and litter. Those sweets we did eat lacked the overbearing sugar content typical of American and many Israeli desserts. Likewise, people with high blood pressure can relax in Spain, apparently, as cooks don’t overdo the salt, at least where we ate. Finally, the Valencia I saw is a clean city, almost without the plastic bags, cigarette buds and sunflower seeds that are typical of many Mediterranean cities. You can  call it addition by subtraction.

All in all, we had a wonderful time, discovering an unknown world and fueling a desire to explore other regions in Spain. Writing this post, I thought of Alexander Dumas, who funded his writing by writing travel guides, including to Spain and Russia, funded by hosting governments of course. I paid my own way but enjoyed the never-ending process of unfolding the world and discovering alternative realities.  Hasta la vista, Spain.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Premature death notice – in translation

My wife and I just attended the IAPTI (International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters) conference in Valencia, Spain. Some 200 translators and interpreters from five continents participated. A good time was had by all. While there was no formal theme to this conference, we learned (as we already knew) that the reported imminent disappearance of human translation is mistaken. On the contrary, translators and interpreters can look forward to a long, fruitful career.

The conference began appropriately by bridging the past and present. Emily Wilson explained her new translation of Homer’s Odyssey into English in terms of elucidating the many individual perspectives embedded in the narratives of that book, which had been often ignored by previous translation. In other words, her modern translation emphasizes the diversity of viewpoints. On a similar level, Sergio Viaggio make a strong argument for interpreting from the first language into the second language in handing testimony of witnesses in international crimes against humanity hearings by emphasizing the importance of strengthening the voice of the victims, even at the expense of the ease of understanding of the justices. This need to amplify the voice of the underprivileged, a modern concern, was present in many lectures, including in regards to women’s rights, the handicapped and IAPTI African initiative. These were only a few of the lectures and topics.

As for the future of the profession, it is clear that human translators will continue to exist, albeit with adjustment to the modern world. Clearly, machine translation, whether neural translation or Google translate, will take on an increasing role in both general and standardized texts. However, whenever complete understanding is necessary, professional translators have a clear role. As several lectures explained,  one role is to transcreate, transferring the message without using the exact and inappropriate words of the original. Moreover, as Ralf Lemster explained, translators have two main paths to success: attack the mass market applying the technical time-saving tips that Xose Castro succinctly and enthusiastically provided or specialize in narrow area applying the business savvy of Allesandra Vita.

In any case, we left Valencia with hope, direction and optimism and fueled by the content of the lectures, lecturers and participants. The challenge they consciously and unconsciously posed to the translators, that is to grow, observe, adapt and improve, is a bit daunting but actually quite achievable. If we do so, translation will be alive and kicking for a long time to come.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Foreign insecurity

Going abroad exposes people to the unknown and unfamiliar, with the feeling becoming severe as they grow older.  The innocent abroad may have to cope with alien languages, customs, foods, sights or any combination of those. Granted that some people are more flexible than others for reasons of nature or age, these differences still cause stress. Travelers deal with this discomfort in many different ways.

For frequent fliers, furniture provides an island of security. One of the charms or peculiarities of many international hotel chains is that the rooms are alike regardless of the country in which it is the hotel is located. This predictability even includes the mattress, which is why I won’t stay at a Marriott hotel anywhere. So, for the traveler whose senses are being overwhelmed by the strange world outside the hotel, the room provides an island of peace.

Food serves other functions besides nurishment. It is way of coping with emotional turmoil. So, many travelers seek familiar friends when travelling to help them ease the load of overexposure. Brits may seek an English breakfast while Americans may seek a pancake but both receive the comfort food they need to continue on their discoveries.

Alcohol is also a tried and proven way of relaxing. People used to this method at home often increase their consumption abroad, sometimes to the embarrassment of their friends. As they say, when life gets tough, the tough go drinking or is that shopping.

The opposite of chaos is order. So, people struggling to make sense of the foreign world around them often grasp the tool of routine and schedule to keep their sanity. There may be 50 different sites that they want to visit but some visitors need to spend a certain, i.e., significant, amount of time every morning, afternoon and night going through their motions at their pace. These acts include washing, pampering, sleeping, meditating or email writing, to name a few activities. This insistence on routine may drive their fellow travelers crazy but it allows sensitive souls to enjoy whatever activates they do actually get to.

One of the most discerning aspect of foreign travel is language. All around you, people, including small children, are talking but you do not completely or sometimes even minimally the content or subcontent of the words.  It is like Kipling’s Mogli entering a village for the first time, an extremely humbling experience. After a day or two of such linguistic isolation, the best medicine is mame lushen as they say in Yiddish, one’s mother tongue. It is amazing uplifting to find someone that speaks the same tongue as you do. All of a sudden, you are no longer dumb, in both meaning of the words.

For those with only partial fluency in a language and a certain sense of humor, puns are a way to release the stress. On a recent trip the United States, my wife, whose English is rather good but still not native, constantly made puns with words in English.  I also do so in my secondary languages. Again, our companions may not always appreciate them but humor, however poor, is a solution to mental overexertion.

Like all changes, even positive ones, travel creates stress. There are countless ways to deal with it but it almost always has to come out somehow. Curiously, often after returning to the familiar grounds of home and country do people realize how insecure they felt abroad.

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Going native

Natural and foreign are relative concepts.  A good example of that is my personal perception of foreign language use in Israel. I will explain.

Hebrew is official language and, more importantly, the language of daily use for almost 75% of the residents of Israel.  Thus, in contrast to pre-State Israel, speaking Hebrew is a natural act for most Israelis.

 Likewise, at the college where I teach, Muslim, Christian and Druze Arabs speak Arabic to each other as they would do naturally in their own villages and families.  That makes complete sense.

In my neighborhood, there are many Ethiopians. In the morning, I can hear from my office the older generation talking to each other in Amharit as they sit on the benches surrounding the playground.  Many barely know Hebrew. So, Amharit as a language belongs to Israel.

Likewise, in cafes and squares, older Hungarians and Romanians sit and discuss the world in their mother tongue as they have for some 50 years, at least.  As the song notes, this is a tradition.

French is also heard throughout Israel. Older immigrants from North Africa and recent ones from France are more comfortable using their mother tongue than their adopted tongue, something I can understand.

In ultra-religious neighborhoods throughout Israel, but mainly in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Zefat, the street language is Yiddish because Hebrew is a holy language that should not be used on banal matters. While I would disagree politically, I have to respect a person’s choice to use a language.

All this brings us to English. Immigrants from numerous English-speaking countries have come to Israel, including myself.  Many came as families with English as the language of communication in the house. Not only that, there is no need to learn Hebrew as almost everybody can understand English. Yet, for some reason, I find the use of English in the street foreign and even offensive, however illogical that is.

The only reason I can find for this feeling is that I am imposing my ideology on my fellow Anglo-Saxons. Specifically, I came to Israel determined to be Israeli and use Hebrew in my personal life.  While I teach English in English, I have always spoken Hebrew with my family and friends. It is a matter of pride. I find it lazy and unacceptable for English speaking immigrants not to try to speak Hebrew. Of course, I don’t hold that standard to speakers of other languages.  That is another story, isn’t it? So, I concur with Bertrand Russel who said, “"Man is a rational animal — so at least I have been told.”

[Rendering of an ancient picture of the Tower of Babel from a 2500 year old, one of four such images from]

Monday, August 20, 2018

Childish name calling

All languages label important stages of human development. It is even more vital in a modern society where services and expectations are dependent on the age of the human being.  For example, people over 60 are called senior citizens so discounts, health services and funeral arrangements can be directed at them. The fact that a 60-year-old can be a full active member of the workforce, an invalid or world traveler is irrelevant to the label. However, the manner of this labeling does vary. For example, English treats stages of child development by their practical impact while Hebrew tends to be descriptive.

In English, babies become toddlers as they learn how to walk. In fact, the word toddle is a rather archaic word for unsteady walking. Then there is a rather unclear stage of several years between mobile independence and forced schooling referred as children or preschoolers. After this stage, they become school age children, a rather industrial description. Then, the fun begins, unless you are a parent of course.  The responsible child becomes a young adult, excuse me teenager or is that an adolescent? The first term is either hopeful or sarcastic although there are moments when 15 years old do behave like  adults. The second term is based on the teen suffix in the numbers between 13-18, giving hope that this too shall pass, sometime around the last “teen”, 19.  That last term is much clinical, coming the Latin term for growing up, which is technically correct even it does not always seem so.  As you can see, there is no much judgment in the terms themselves; the speakers need to add the correct tone of voice as in: listen to me, young lady (man)!

Hebrew has slightly more explicit terms. A  תינוק [tinok] becomes a פעות [paot] as it learns to walk, from the root meaning small, who then enters the  גיל הרך [gil harach], the period when children generally obey their parents. The last term is literally the soft age, implying the period of time when children must be protected. Then begins the fun. The word נער  [na’ar] means young and applies to someone in junior and senior high school. The parental term is טיפש עשרה [tipesh esre], which is based on the words for stupid and teen (as in the numbers 13-19). This word more accurately describes the behavior of the age group although, to be fair, I know quite a few senior citizens who are even more foolish. The word מתבגר [migbager] is the equivalent of adolescent.

As a word of disclaimer, my daughter is now 21 years old. Even she would admit that she often acted very foolishly during those years. Fortunately and unexplicably, we both survived the experience. So, happily, she can walk, does not need protection (as she has a rather scary dog, a bull terrier), is no longer is forced to attend school, sometimes acts like a lady and is noticeably growing up. She is now an adult, whatever that means.

*Picture by Toa Heftiba and not of my daughter

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The joys of detour

My wife and I hosted a group of translators and editors at our house this last week. Some seven colleagues travelled to Karmiel for an evening of conversation and enrichment, enriched by a short lecture by Uri Bruck on websites and Internet strategy. The group brought together a wide range of specializations, from literary to CNC as well as a wide variety of backgrounds.  It was a pleasant and fruitful gathering.

Upon analysis, the most striking element shared by the participants was the fact that everybody had “fallen” into translation after a successful career in something else. Otherwise phrased, each translator had acquired a body of knowledge in specific fields, including its lingo and techniques, and then began translating. Some of the previous (and current) lives that came up included nursing, teaching, machining and planning. While today more young people study translation as part of their initial higher education, traditionally translation has begun as a second career.

However, the timing of this choice is actually an advantage. When asked by aspiring translators about the elements of success in this business in the age of Google and machine translation, I emphasize this point: you have to be expert in some field in order to carve out a niche.  Language and process are unique in each field of endeavour. Once a person becomes a maven in an area, however narrow that field, the quality of the translation will lead to success. Linguists that do not understand a field, no matter how skilled they are in search techniques, simply cannot produce the same quality translation. By contrast, people with language skills can learn translation techniques at any time.

The old Carnegie Hall joke, “How to you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!” applies in a different way to translation.  How do you have a successful career as a translator? Practice something else. Then practice translation.

Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Sibling performance – a trivia quiz or, to paraphrase Woody Guthrie, what were their names?

Relations between brothers and sisters range from non-existent or hostile at one extreme and best friends at the other.  Most siblings can spend an evening or even a weekend together and maintain comfortable civility. A few go way beyond that and build careers together, becoming collectively famous.  Of course, fame is short lived since new stars replace the aging ones. 

As a personal challenge, one that I failed, I tried to remember the names of the siblings in some famous groups of at least three brothers or sisters. For those who like quantitative measurements, you get two times the points if you recall the names of a group that is not from your era.

1930’s – 1950
The group that made the best transition from vaudeville to Hollywood, the Marx Brothers never stopped making me laugh, no matter how many times I saw their movies. I was able to remember three of the four, yes four, brothers. One point for each name.

There was nothing classier than the Andrew Sisters, elegance personified, even today.  Their renditions of the songs remain the benchmark. Given their time period, take two points each for each of three sisters.

1960’s -1970’s

The symbol of 1960’s pop music was the Jackson Five, who actually lived down the street from me when I was growing up, not that I actually ever saw them.  They have long since become adults and had successful solo careers, making remembering their names easier. I remembered three.  1 point of each.

Baseball had a unique trio of brothers that played at the major league level simultaneously and doing so quite respectively.  The Alou brothers even once played in the same outfield.  I remembered all three, giving me 6 points.

1980’s – 1990’s

The rebirth of disco was due to two performers, John Travolta and the Beegees. Since I was not a fan of this music, I failed to remember the names of any of the three Gibb brothers that played in that band.  Add 1.5 point for each brother to your score.

Alas, R&B is not my cup of tea either.  Still, I have heard of the Pointer Sisters, one the top groups of the 1980’s.  Again, I paid the price, not remembering the name of any of the three sisters and failing to get any of the six points available.

I am sure that many of my readers can do better than me, a measly 15 points.  I should mention there is a 5 points bonus to those who can identify the ship that is the subject of the Woody Guthrie song mentioned in the title. On the other hand, if you succeeded in getting all of the points, do you have any time to spend with your brothers and sisters? If anybody gets a high score, let me know so I can bow down in awe.

(Answers below for those too lazy to google them.)

1.       Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo
2.      Laverne, Maxene and Patty
1.       Jackie, Tito, Germaine, Marlon, Michael
2.      Moses, Jesus and Matty
1.       Berry, Maurice and Robin
2.      Anita, June and Bonnie