Monday, February 20, 2012

What do Translators do in their free time? The ITA conference 2012

I have just come back from Israeli Translators Conference in Jerusalem on February 13-15. The question that may come into mind is what exactly do translators do at such a conference.
The banal answer is what everybody else does: talk, eat, complain, and drink coffee.  However, due to the nature of the audience, the entertainment is a bit difference.  Of course, there are the nuts and bolts seminars on converting PDF’s, CAT (Computer Aided Translation) tools, and pricing (I and my partner Tzviya Levin gave the last).  There were discussions on translating Alice in Wonderland, personal names into Hebrew, Jewish place names, the Hebrew word davka, to name just a few. While most translators do not need to know those, they are far more interesting than the more practical lectures.
Finally, there are the special events in my mind.  This year, we learnt about translating Mozart’s arias into Hebrew and even got to listen to opera singers perform them. We heard the woman who actually chose to translate Shakespeare’s sonnets into Hebrew.  We even received interesting historical surveys of Israeli film and Pashkevil, the ultra-orthodox version of popular newspapers.
However, fundamentally, the conference represents the annual opportunity to leave our little caves (granted with computer windows) and interact with real flesh and blood human beings.  It is a pleasure to meet the faces behind the email addresses and see the variety of people who choose to make translation their profession. 
Of course, after three days, all the translators were extremely tired of constant social dialogue and were quite happy to return to their caves and get back into word games.
If you want more information on the ITA and/or the conference, go to the ITA site.
I’ll be visiting the states for two weeks, but will go back to writing when I get back.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tongue twisters

A tongue twisters is a logical (more or less) series of words that test a speaker’s ability to pronounce properly.  Ideally, a tongue twister forces the speaker to say one word at a time in order to clearly distinguish it from the following  and proceeding similarly-sounding words.
Children (small and big) enjoy testing their mettle with these.  The classics that all American children learn are “Peter Piper picked a pick of picked peppers. How many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?” and “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.”  In my opinion, the most difficult tongue twister in English is “Sixth sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick” which simply cannot be said quickly and coherently.  (It is okay to try: I said Big and small children.)
The French have some challenging ones also.  Un chasseur sachant chasser sait chasser sans son chien de chasse is a real mouthful, literally.  Cinq chiens chassent six chats is not easy while Mon père est maire, mon frère est masseur is just cute, which is also important, since it sounds likes My father is a mother, my brother is my sister but means My father is mayor, my brother is a masseur. (Taken from
I am not very impressed with Hebrew tongue twisters.  They are cute, but Hebrew is simply too poetic (in sound) to make it difficult to pronounce. The best I have seen is גנן גידל דגן בגן, דגן גדול גדל בגן [Ganan geedel dagan bagan, dagan gadol gadal bagan] meaning A gardener grew a cereal in the garden, a large cereal grew in the garden.  If you want to see more, see
I will let native Russian speakers tell about their toughest tongue twister. I am also interested in tongue twisters in other languages.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Code Words

Every language has code words.  These literally mean one thing, but have a specific context understood to a person who understands the culture.  They are similar to slang, which represents alternative or original definitions to existing words, but can be distinguished.
Modern Hebrew has many such terms.  The classic one every blond (and not so blond) female who visits Israel learns is the invitation  לשתות קפה(lishtot kafe], to drink some coffee.  It is the equivalent to the offer to see someone’s art collection.   While it is true that you may drink some coffee (or see some art), the invitation is to get to know you, in the biblical sense.  If you do something that appears less than brilliant, someone might say   תהי בריא[tiheye bari], literally be healthy.  Actually, it is the Israeli equivalent of the southern expression bless your heart, meaning that you are rather stupid.  When an Israeli, says לך תוכיח שאין לך אחות [lech tochiah sheh ain lecha ahot], literally go prove that you have no sister, what they mean is that there is no way to prove that you are telling the truth. 
If you know of any local examples of coded words in your language, I would be interested in hearing.
As the Hagashash Hahiver, the Israeli comedy quartet that was the “Shakespeare” of modern Hebrew, would say סע בשלום, המפתחות בפנים [sa beshalom, hamavtahot bifnim], safe journey, the keys are inside, or as any Israeli would understand, it is time to go.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


A preposition is a short word describing the physical or lexical relation between words, such as in, on, or about, to name a few.  Every language has them, but the actual use may vary, especially in sentence with compound objects (of the preposition, not things).
For example, French insists on placement of the preposition before each noun to ensure clarity: Il a parlé de l’indépendence, de la dignité and de la gloire de la France.  In Hebrew, a speaker can insert all of them or omit the last ones:   הוא דבר על העצמאות, על הכבוד ועל התהילה של ישראל   or, without additional prepositions, הוא דבר על העצמאות ,הכבוד והתחילה של ישראל .  The prepositions are underlined in all of the sentences, with the translation being He spoke of the independence, dignity, and glory of France and Israel, respectively. English has a clear preference to drop unnecessary prepositions, as demonstrated in the previous sentence. 
The most curious case is Russian, which often omits all of its prepositions entirely due to its grammatical structure that has built-in prepositions.  Some examples include он мне дает деньги and она работает дураками [On mne daet dengue] (He gives money to me) and [ana rabotaet durakami] (She works with fools, respectively).  In these cases, it is not necessary to add to or with because the ending on the noun expresses the relation without additional words.  Of course, in many cases, Russian does use prepositions, but, like English, tends not to repeat them.
To conclude, I would like to cite Abraham Lincoln’s beautiful use of prepositions in the Gettysburg’s Address:
“…to ensure that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people can long endure.”