Thursday, February 26, 2015

Dubbed magic

As a translator of written texts, my main focus is the transfer on the content and style of the text to be translated into the equivalent in the target language, English in my case.  Watching the Hebrew-dubbed version of Mary Poppins, I was reminded of the lecture by Richael Glickman I heard at the recent ITA conference regarding dubbing of children’s shows. I watched the move in awe at the level of translation.

The translator/dubber succeeded in doing took things that I could never imagine impossible.  Not only did the translator express the idea but added two elements that involve the ear. The syllables /  speaking time in the Hebrew must closely match that of the English.  That equivalence is far from simple since English uses some 40-50% more words.  In other words, Hebrew translators actually have to add fillers to “complete” the text.  Moreover, the nature of the sounds as reflected by the form of the mouth, such an open “o” or closed “t”, must be the same.  So, even the words in Hebrew and English are parallel in terms of length, they may be inappropriate in terms of the video picture. If the character ends the song with a open mouth, you can’t have the localized version with a closed sound.  It simply looks funny.

As a demonstration, watch the youtube video of Spoonful of Sugar in several languages. In my opinion, the Danish was masterful but the Japanese dubber did not quite succeed.  As for the Hungarian, anybody that has ever heard Hungarian knows why the song was not even translated. (

So, if you wish to appreciate the art of dubbing, I strongly recommend looking at scenes from Mary Poppins or most Disney movies in Hebrew or most other languages.  Amazingly, it actually appears like the song was written in the target language.  That is truly seamless translation. 

*I would be interested in hearing about dubbing in other languages.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Conventional Relevance

I just returned from my 5th Israeli Translators Convention.  Attending such an event requires a significant investment of money, time and energy.  Many people, translators and non-translators alike, ask what the return on this investment is.

The most obvious benefit is knowledge, whether immediately practical or not.  Dubbing, subtitling and faction translation are not even a marginal part of most translators business, all of which were explained in a wonderful clear manner, Yet, I feel somehow richer understanding the requirements and challenges of those fields since it expands my vision.
Of course, there were numerous technical workshops on various translation tools, including the MemoQ and SDL CAT tools (Computer Aided Translation), Abbyy Fine Reader and Word.  The concentrated and immediate access to experts is invaluable and really only available at conferences.

Of course, there were countless niche-specific presentations.  For those involved in the specific niche, the lecture provided priceless information. 

Finally, the conference was blessed by fascinating speeches from non-translators, ranging from Simcha Jacobici (the Naked Archaeologist), journalist Eetta Prince-Gibson, a Jerusalem based reporter, and Israeli writer Dorit Rabiniyan. 

Other areas of presentations included business, literary and cloud based translation.  Sometimes, it felt very frustrating only to be able to attend one lecture at a time.

The other major benefit, one that personally reinforces my energy and desire to do the best job possible, is the added proof, if one were necessary, that translation matters.  It affects how people understand the news, interpret the Bible, learn about other cultures through foreign fiction, cook a dish, understand a disease and defend their rights in court, to name just a few.  This often invisible part of the document production cycle is in fact no less important than the writing of the document itself.  In other words, even in some translators feel isolated and even neglected in their modern computer-equipped caves, we do indeed make the world better. 

So, it is back to work with a renewed understanding of why I read the small print of insurance contracts and articles of association.  We are relevant.  That confidence by itself is more than adequate compensation for the price of the conference.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A matter of choice

As parents know all too well, children function differently from adults.  They do have a logic to their choices, just not the same as their elders.  One of the ways children worldwide pick among similar options is by means of a song.  The actual words vary from country to country, but the idea is that the last syllable falls on the selected choice.
For example, in most English speaking countries, the selection song, with some local variations, goes like this.
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
Catch a tiger by the toe
If it hollers, let it go
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

The animal and punishment varies, including go to jail in the Welsh version.  Of course, children have additional verses to string out the process and add tension.

The Hebrew version consists of a chorus and seemingly endless verses.  The chorus is as follows:

Enden dino, sof al hakatino
Sof al haki kato
Elik belik bom

Unlike the English version, there is no clear meaning, as least to the non-scholar, to the words of the chorus.

The French picking process turns out, rather surprising, to be mispronounced German:

Am, stram, gram
Pic et pic et colégram
Bour et bour et ratatam
Am, stram, gram

The meaning, unknown to the children no doubt, is the following: one, two three, steal, steal, maybug, run, run horseman, one two three.  As they say in jazz, it is the rhythm that counts, not the words.

Russian children make hard decisions as follows:
На златом крыльце сидели:
Царь, царевич, король, королевич,
Сапожник, портной -
Кто ты будешь такой?
Говори поскорей,

Не задерживай 
Добрых и честных людей

This can be transliterated as follows:
Na zlatom krilze cidyeli /  Csar, parevich, korol, korolevich / sapojnik, portnoi / Kto ti budyesh takoi / Govori poskoryei / Nye zaderjibai / Lubich I chestnich lyudei
And translated as:
On the gold porch sat / Tzar, Tzarivich, prince, and young prince / shoemaker, tailor / Who are to be such? / Speak faster / Go ahead / of the good and kind people [Better translations are welcome]
The Russian version has clearly much more content.

So, if you have the privilege of hearing a child making a hard decision, listen to the rhythm of words and see if you can guess who or what will be picked.  You have to admit that the song method is much more entertaining than the adult version of flipping a coin.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Why was this Superbowl better than previous ones or a Guide For Foreigners

The Superbowl was played last night.  To those foreigners ignorant by default or choice, this game is the finals of the professional American football. Most foreigners probably did not even want to see the game as all they  would notice would be 22 rather large people jumping on each other, with the rules guiding this mayhem clearly incidental.  I have to confess that I did not see the game either for two reasons. First, due to time zone issues, the game was played in the middle of night.  Secondly, since my favorite team was , yet again, not in the Superbowl, I had no justification for ruining a good night’s sleep.  Still, based on what I read and saw this morning, I can say without any doubt that, as they say in France, it was a good year for Superbowls. To wit, here are some features that made this game relatively good, to be noted for next year if you consider ruining your night’s sleep to see that game.

1      The score was close both during and at the end of the game, 28-24, with New England winning.  While this game is supposed to represent the best two teams in the NFL, the results are often letdowns to all the leadup to the game, as in last year's dilly, 43-8.  No knowledge of American football scoring is required to see what a rout that was.

The referees did not decide the game.  Given the incredible number of rules, the number of people playing and the speed of the game, it is impossible to see everything accurately at all times.  The NFL uses video review for certain plays to reduce the human error factor. Yet, many games are “decided” by a controversial referee call, in complete disregard to any play or event that may have occurred beforehand.  Thus, the fans of the losing team blame the referees and claim that their team was robbed of a victory, thus permanently spoiling the taste of the victory for the winning team.  Fortunately, the referees did their job, apparently.

Katy Perry gave a half-time show that was entertaining without insulting anybody.  Somehow, unlike Janet Jackson, no article of clothing came off, an act that tends to upset the more conservative members of the audience.  I imagine many of the males watching the show were a bit disappointed. Not only that, she did not use any of those explicit terms that a person cannot use on American television (See George Carlin for the whole list).  As best I could tell, she did not feel any need to express herself in any other manner than singing and dancing.  All in all, it beats having the NFL apologize for these errors of etiquette.

They showed a Pete Rose in a sports shoe commercial.  For those unfamiliar with that name, he is a former outstanding baseball player banned from anything connected with baseball for life as a result of the cardinal sin of betting on baseball games when he was still a player.  By the way, reports are that some professional tennis players do the same thing, but that is another sport. It took chutzpah to use him to sell sports shoes, albeit not for baseball.  On a day of avoiding anything controversial, it is nice to add some cayenne pepper to the mix.

So, it is my hope that next year those unfamiliar with this famous American tradition will choose to ignore their complete ignorance of the rules of the game, the absurd local hour of its broadcast and the awful commentary and watch the Superbowl, paying attention to the important aspects.