When in French: love in a second language

Updates: on a slightly different tack, Why Italian football does not make sense in the English language, followed by How morality changes in a foreign language (you are more likely to deny the truth) while Reasoning is sharperEmotions shape the language we use, but second languages reveal a shortcut around them

Elif Batuman’s brilliant The idiot embodies the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in a novel “mostly about semiotics” (GdnIrish Times | interview), which is also extremely funny:

Hungary felt increasingly like reading War and Peace: new characters came up every five minutes, with their unusual names and distinctive locutions, and you had to pay attention to them for a time, even though you might never see them again for the whole rest of the book. I would rather have talked to Ivan, the love interest, but somehow I didn’t get to decide. And yet in the next moment it seemed to me that these superabundant personages weren’t irrelevant at all, but the opposite, and that when Ivan had told me to make friends with the other kids, he had been telling me something important about the world, about the way to live, about how the fateful character in your life wasn’t the one who buried you, but the one who led you out to more people.


Lauren Collins‘ (@laurenzcollins | New Yorker inc Danish postmodernWhen in French (2016; Gdn | New York Times | articlepodcast ) came over a bit en-US in the reviews, with over-use of words such as ‘charming’ and ‘disarming’, but eulogising is a problem for writing about La France in general; in fact, like another American Lauren’s Flâneuse, When in French is rather more serious than the blurb and branding would suggest, if a tad inconclusive.

En-US not being en-GB is kinda the point (see chapter 3). As Lauren discusses in flawless AmE in the podcast from Shakespeare and Company, BrE, at a 10 degree angle to her own English, was her ‘gateway language’ to foreign languages more broadly. (Note in passing: the copy the library supplied me with is the US edition, a very odd size…)

Those looking for a standard memoir are likely to be disappointed. Long sections explore linguistic relativism, with her key thesis made up of two points:

  • a language is not just about grammar; your use of (a) language depends on a range of factors including time and place, and where you are in your life (Lauren is a mother in French)
  • ‘language’ in a relationship has to be learned, even if you share a native language; factors in play include culture, class etc (George Steiner: intimacy as “confident, quasi-immediate translation”; translation occurs both across and inside languages; categories which may require translation include scientist/artist, atheist/believer, man/woman)

No Francophile at the start, she hated life in Geneva, with the lack of a dominant Swiss culture an issue (nothing to belong to, or conversely to be outside); she spoke French there, but not the French “we love”, ie of France, where she has now become a passable dinner table brawler, with its lofty, abstract nouns, courtesy of greetings and salutations, culture of argument, rhetoric and logic.

Having lived for several years in London she compares the UK attitude to first languages (often maintained by immigrants) with that in the US (stigmatised), however the preference in both for second languages which have been studied is a clear double standard.

From here, bulleted notes.

Chapter one (The past perfect/Le plus-que-parfait) makes some points on the move to a third city:

  • Geneva had long been a place of asylum, but its tradition of liberty in the religious and political realms had never given rise to a libertine scene; even though nearly half the population is foreign-born, the city remains resolutely uncosmopolitan
  • The stores were full of things we neither wanted nor could afford. I reacted by refusing to buy or do anything that I thought cost too much money, which was pretty much everything…Geneva syndrome: becoming as tedious as your captor.
  • I had been conditioned to believe in the importance of directness and sincerity, but Oliver valued a more disciplined self-presentation.
  • Language, as much as land, is a place. To be cut off from it is to be, in a sense, homeless.
  • Grocery stores, as much as cathedrals or castles, reveal the essence of a place.
  • The concepts we are trained to treat as distinct, the information our mother tongue continuously forces us to specify, the details it requires us to be attentive to, and the repeated associations it imposes on us – all these habits of speech can create habits of mind that affect more than merely the knowledge of language itself. 

Chapter two (The imperfect/L’imparfait):

  • Europe’s multilingual empires have given way to monolingual nation-states, founded on the link between language and identity
  • America is the graveyard of languages, extinguishing the native languages of immigrants within a few generations

Chapter three (The past/Le passé composé):

  • in London, “history had discredited the flag-waving impulse, so – at least for foreigners, who were exempt from the strictures of the class system – the greater part of fitting in was showing up”
  • the vibrancy of British English; “in public speech, trying to be memorable and coming off as slightly unhinged remained more advantageous than trying to be bland and succeeding”
  • the intellectual arsenal of a country where words were deployed like darts
  • a superb megalopolis of words…I strolled in the mews of understatement…I stalled in the roundabout of the English non sequitur
  • after a discussion of Vladimir Nabokov’s re-translation of his own memoirs she concludes: “if translation is a catalyst, the B that turns A to C, sometimes it seems to work in reverse; after translation C does not revert to A, but rather into A+ (or A-), an entity that has been permanently altered by the transformation”
  • body language: where does instinct give way to expression, or biology shade into culture?

Chapter four (The present/Le présent):

  • speaking a second language can be “a frequency devoid of complexity, color and jokes”
  • the English as a lingua franca issue: “everyone, from everywhere, speaking a common language – my language – poorly…English, somehow, is everyone’s property…while I was gone, strangers have moved into my childhood home, ripped down the curtains, and put their feet up on the couch”
  • the relative difficulty of languages can be assessed by breaking them into parts:
    • level of inflection – the amount of info a language carries on a single word
    • size of vocabulary – languages of larger, literate societies have larger vocabularies
    • structure – OTOH the simpler the society, the more baroque its morphology
      • large societies have frequent interaction with outsiders, and hence the languages undergo simplification, while members of relatively homogeneous groups share a base of common knowledge, enabling them to pile on declensions without confusing each other
    • see the Language Weirdness Index, which analysed 1694 languages (most straightforward: Hindi; English: 33rd)
  • small languages stay spiky, while large languages lose their sharp edges amid waves of contact, becoming beveled as pieces of glass
  • US State Department: French is among the easiest languages for an English speaker to learn, requiring 600 hours of instruction; 25-50% of basic English vocabulary comes from French
  • note that the French 70, 80 and 90 are as byzantine as their Danish equivalents, which the Swiss have simplified (“perhaps as a courtesy to their bankers”); the Swedes have also simplified
  • two schools of thought on the difference between languages:
    • each language expresses itself uniquely
    • all languages are variations on a universal theme
  • English and French as opposing systems – English is global, convenient and casual, while French is particular, hierarchical and painstaking; she feels more authoritative in French
  • English consider people intimates until proven not to be, while the French only love one person

Chapter five (The conditional/Le conditionnel):

  • can the lexicon of a language reveal truths about its speakers? do ‘untranslatable’ words prove that speakers of different languages experience the world in different ways, or do they just get a lot of snow in ‘Eskimo’ lands (in Hampstead they have 20 words for bread)?
  • a language carries within it a culture (heritage?); ways of thinking or being; you assume eg your Americanness agrees with you, because you never question it (no logic in your habits); you are more likely to question a second culture
  • does each language have its own worldview? do people have different personalities in different languages? could – or would – you become someone else if you spoke eg French?
  • a vision of a parallel life, a latent alter ego, righting a linguistic version of having been switched a birth…
  • issues of self-representation: speaking another language like wearing a mask, pretending to a character or attitude one doesn’t actually possess, taking on a new identity (as can’t express oneself), the line between adaptation and dissimulation…
  • I wanted to speak French and to sound like North Carolina. I was hoping, though I didn’t know whether it was possible, to have become a different person without having changed.

French vs English:

  • in French the grid is divided between public and private, rather than polite and rude; its emphasis on discrimination and relentless taxonomising may feel almost like an ethical defect
  • French language and culture is doctrinaire, hung up on questions of form, classifying each person into vous or tu, outsider or insider, potential foe or friend (pompous or paranoid?) vs English flexibility and egalitarianism
  • French as a reprieve from the relentless prerogative of individualism as expressed in the avoidance of cliche; a sense of community, an attempt to join in rather than distinguish yourself
  • the strictures of French, the elegance of its form, a secular catechism, both comforting and sublime, correctness as not vanity but courtesy
  • in French: difficult to be excited in a non-sexual way, enthusiasm and fun need to be tamped down; American English increasingly sounded like exaggeration, speaking in all caps
  • semantic bleaching vs baking soda, reinvigorating and expressive palette; discrimination rather than effusiveness
  • English: simpler, less Machiavellian than Italian
  • French: its austerity makes you feel more complicated, its formality heightened its potential for feeling, shedding superlatives like Chanel’s advice to remove one piece of jewellery
  • men and women: more distinct and less adversarial, the interplay of gendered adjectives and sexual politics; without this there can be confusion over who’s supposed to do what when, a resentment over the melding of roles

Chapter six (The subjunctive/Le subjonctif):

Linguistic relativism vs universalism:

  • the academy is split on the question of whether one’s language shapes one’s worldview
  • language at the structural level – do the distinctions each language obliges its speakers to make (what they must say) result in differences in memory, perception and practical skills
  • languages as either prescription glasses, changing the way you see the world, or vanity contact lenses (basically negligible)
  • the idea that languages possess and inculcate different ways of thinking spread from the Romantics in France to Germany in the 18th century
  • as critics of the Enlightenment the Romantics preferred the emotional, the local, and subjective, adopting the creed of nationalism as a means of spiritual renewal, with language as the font of national identity (see eg Herder, and, surely, Wilhelm von Humboldt)
  • Franz Boas (Columbia, early 20th century), then Edward Sapir at Yale, who trained tada! Benjamin Lee Whorf
  • Whorf demolished in the 1960s by Noam Chomsky’s theory of universal grammar – language as a biological instinct, with us each equipped with a grammatical toolkit as independent of culture as breathing or walking
  • the differences between languages are trivial – a visitor from Mars would view them as dialects
  • 1994: Stephen Pinker’s The language instinct, an obituary for the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
  • we know how to speak like spiders know how to spin webs; children acquire language without formal instruction, thought is not the same thing as language…
  • Boutros Boutros-Ghali: much in the way democracy within a state is based on pluralism, democracy between states must be based on pluralingualism; linguistic diversity as a check on political monoculture, as unhealthy as mass-cultivating a single crop
  • how language encodes space: geocentrically, intrinsically and egocentrically
    • English makes use of all three: walk south on Main Street, continue in front of the library and turn right into the park
    • relativist Guy Deutscher: Guugu Yimithirr only offers the geocentric option and its speakers have suburb navigational skills, with their brains turned into compasses – > language influences culture
    • universalist John McWhorter: this confuses causation with correlation, like saying tribes with no words for clothing do not wear clothes; their navigational abilities are a function of their environment, flat land in the Australian bush
    • but…plenty of people in similar environments use egocentric orientation systems, and children can master geocentric ones with exposure to very limited landscapes
  • a number of neo-Whorfian experiments have illustrated the connection between features of languages and the different way their speakers behave, suggesting that language can shape culture, rather than merely reflecting it
  • language and gender: Lera Boroditsky analysed 765 artworks, finding that 78% of the time the gender of the figure matched its gender in the artist’s native language, see eg the Statue of Liberty
    • does not prove causation (and what when nouns aren’t gendered??)
  • more neo-Whorfian attacks on Chomsky’s universal grammar, eg colour:
    • do languages add colour terms in a predictable sequence of seven stages of the rainbow, or does this assume that colour is a natural property of the physical world?
    • some languages do not encode colour as an abstract dimension independent of other properties of material objects
    • categorical perception of colours, snow etc is shaped by our engagement with the material world, with lexical categories serving as a means of focusing selective attention on relevant distinctions; a belief in the naturalness of categories is a Whorfian effect in itself (Aneta Pavlenko’s The bilingual mind)
    • a Russian can distinguish between dark (siniy) and light (goluboy) shades of blue 10% faster than English speakers
    • Geoff Dyer: do you see things if you don’t know what they are (from Yoga…); why technical vocabularies develop
    • the best metaphor for Whorfian effects: predictive text, when you more often than not accept the suggestion
  • if you feel like a different person in a different language, is it perhaps because you are; during the transition from one language to another people undergo deaths, births, triumphs, displacements etc
  • if the mother tongue the language of the true self? a primal vehicle, a reservoir of emotion, a second language can be a river undammed, where you play a different, or no, role; the emancipatory detachment effect
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#FLmultilingua 3: everyone is a language learner

Week 3 of #FLmultilingua had two foci:

  • language learning as creative art
  • creative arts in language learning

The creative arts section was not for me, although the theory of migratory aesthetics looks worth a closer look (see Essays | an essay | 2006 exhibition). The rest of the week was theory heavy; notes follow.

The capabilities approach: the freedom to achieve potential

Developed by Sen & Nussbaum, an evaluative framework to assess individuals’ well-being. Aims to develop an environment that promotes ‘humanly rich goals’ (Nussbaum, 2006).

The term well-being is interpreted in terms of the freedom to live the life that an individual has reason to value. The notion of reason to value is important, as individuals must be able to choose their own values and objectives upon reflection.

The notion of capabilities refers to the freedoms to achieve what individuals are actually able to do and to be, in other words their potential. The actual achievement, the practical realisation of one’s chosen way of life is defined as functioning. The conversion of capabilities into functioning is determined by agency, which is the ability of people to act and bring about change according to one’s own values and objectives (Sen, 1999).

Individuals’ agency, freedoms and achieved functionings are not perceived in isolation as they strengthen society and, at the same time, are affected by socio-political-economic-environmental and cultural constraints. Development is conceptualized as enhancing freedom and removing obstacles in order to foster human flourishing.

Sen leaves his approach deliberately open, without specifying what capabilities should count as valuable, as he believes that this process needs public consultation and public reasoning. Conversely, Nussbaum argues for a list of universal capabilities, to be underwritten by constitutions and underpinned by the question “What does a life worthy of human dignity require?” (Nussbaum, 2000: 14). She develops a provisional list consisting of ten capabilities, based on two overarching capabilities: practical reason and affiliation.

Education is considered a meta-capability as it enables individuals to nurture all the other capabilities they value. Nussbaum  advocates three main capabilities for human development: critical examinationaffiliation and narrative imagination.

Three central capabilities for education:

  • critical examination: linked to the capacity to reflective thinking and self-reflection; Socratic dialogue as a central tool to guide critical thinking logically
  • affiliation: the ability to perceive oneself as a member of a local group, but also as bond to all other human beings, tied to them by recognition, love and compassion
  • narrative imagination: a combination of the first two capabilities; the ability to take the perspective of others, both consciously and compassionately; this capability of empathy is cultivated through literature and the arts (Von Wright, 2002: 410)

The celebration of heterogeneity and diversity is central to the capability approach. Sen encourages intercultural dialogue that “celebrates the multiplicity of identities” (Crosbie, 2014: 92) and warns us against plural monoculturalism which poses obstacles to real intercultural dialogue.

The capabilities approach encourages educators to perceive language education beyond competency and skilled-based models, ie beyond the acquisition of skills to a more intercultural language education: “Skills and learning outcomes serve an instrumental dimension of education that follows neoliberal imperatives”.

Crosbie identifies 12 capabilities for language and intercultural studies (the capability L2 literacy and communication consists of the traditional language skills and sub-skills):

Multilingual and multimodal literacies in the classroom

What are the implications of linguistic diversity for educational practices? There followed a summary of Burcu et al (2014). Snippets:

  • until recently, children’s home languages have been at best overlooked or ignored; at worst, they have been treated as an impediment to the acquisition of the dominant language, something to be actively discouraged (the tosproget issue in Denmark)
  • in most western countries, linguistic diversity is increasingly the norm; greater mobility means that more and more pupils are in contact with a wide range of linguistic backgrounds, and may have hybrid, multiple and dynamic forms of identity
  • while the explicit role of education is to allow children to fully develop their potential, this does not usually extend to the wealth represented by the linguistic repertoires so many children have access to
  • the barriers created by an educational system that privileges the dominant language(s) while disregarding others can result in loss of the home language, disengagement and poor literacy outcomes

Non-verbal meaning-making strategies

Most of our everyday communication is translingual – we draw on a diversity of codes, not just language, inc body language, visuals… We use images, symbols and icons to make meaning in conversations and understand the world around us. We call these semiotic codes. In addition to that, our conversations never happen in an ‘empty space’. They are always embedded in a context (the environment, the speakers’ agenda etc) which provides meaning also.

How useful and ‘effective’ are such non-verbal meaning-making strategies? Do images easily translate cross-culturally or are visual strategies, like language, a more complicated medium of communication than we initially consider it to be?

Final thoughts

The thrust of the MOOC can be found in Alison’s statement at the end of her TED talk: “One language cannot explain the whole world”. Is anyone saying it can? And this is my issue: it’s all very lovely and well-meaning, another stick for white liberals to beat themselves with, but it’s felt increasingly one-sided as the weeks went on. Things are rather more complex than presented, and the migrant (as in refugee) narrative finally took over.

Updates: International Mother Language Day was in the UK largely another exercise in guilt (Bilingualism Matters’ Refugee languages welcome!) and in DK a chance to celebrate the dansk; news stories on the day included the Social Democrats’ proposal to remove the right to benefits from citizens who don’t speak Danish and the proposed banning of teaching in Arabic in private Muslim schools (both redacted as too depressing). See The Salzburg Statement for a Multilingual World (no Danish translation when I looked).

#FLmultilingua 2: language and power

Week 2 of #FLmultilingua:

  • explored what it means to speak ‘good English’ and to have one’s language scrutinised for observance of rules of sound and grammar
  • looked at the power that lies behind the authority to decide whether a language is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and to impose some standards over others
  • reflected on the concepts of ‘language deficit’ and ‘language plenty’, and about the ways in which language policies work to establish which languages have value, and which don’t

Learning to live in a multilingual world

Exploring language and power in the context of globalisation: the expectation to speak ‘good English’ has the power to institutionally re-define an individual’s affective relationship with the language of their family and ancestors.

Verbal hygiene: can or should we clean up language?

‘Verbal hygiene’ is a term coined by sociolinguist Deborah Cameron in the first edition of her book, published in 1995.

As Cameron (2012) defines it, verbal hygiene refers to the “[…] motley collection of discourses and practices through which people attempt to ‘clean up’ language and make its structure or its use conform more closely to their ideals of beauty, truth, efficiency, logic, correctness and civility”(p. vii). Central to Cameron’s discussion is the idea that, behind the ostensible desire to regulate language and ensure standards, verbal hygiene practices hide a range of deeper social, moral and political anxieties.

All very emotive, but the rest of the step was unrelated to these issues, making instead the case against state monolingualism (or societal language; just substitute Danish for English):

Speaking English has become a touchstone in discussions of what it now referred to as social ‘cohesion’, ‘integration’ or ‘inclusion’. Essentially these terms are code for ‘assimilation’: both new immigrants and settled minorities must demonstrate their allegiance to British culture and values.

More verbal hygiene: book | vid | article.

Quiz intro: “Language is the site of power struggles. Verbal hygiene may be an unavoidable component of our capacity to reflect on language and is not necessarily always negative. However, the imposition of norms and rules hides power relations and should not just be taken at face value. Questions about who has the right to prescribe, for whom, what they prescribe and for what purpose can be asked to expose these power relations…Many of the answers you give here will be correct. This is another way to demonstrate the nuanced aspects of verbal hygiene. While there are subtle differences in understandings, consider which of these definitions you prefer for your situation.”

  1. Verbal hygiene is…a set of practices that aim to prescribe specific grammar rules | newspapers’ style guides and ‘politically correct’ language | requests for migrants to learn the language of the country where they now live
  2. People engage in verbal hygiene practices because…they worry about a language disappearing or becoming impoverished | they are concerned that some words or phrases may be offensive or inaccurate | they wish to ensure that people can communicate effectively and understand each other
  3. Verbal hygiene practices are not simply about language. They also…stand for anxieties about social change and become more widespread at times of economic or political insecurity | are symbolic of demands for assimilation made of particular groups of people and of anxiety or fear about the ‘alien other’ | express unequal power relations between those who can prescribe forms of linguistic conformity and those who have to adapt to this (or resist it).

What is the danger in letting some languages die?

Are there any dangers in adopting fewer languages worldwide? Like ecosystems and biodiversity, are languages something that should be actively protected?

The Unesco Atlas of world languages in danger estimates that today there are as many as 2465 languages with varying degrees of vulnerability. This…raises important questions about their future, the cultures which they represent, the cultural identity of their speakers, diversity of ideas and the linguistic diversity in the world.

Language, especially our mother tongue, is something we very often take for granted. We acquire it at a very early stage in our life and imitate linguistic behaviours, eg politeness or directness of people in our surroundings. These concepts, which usually have been taken for granted, become less obvious when we start learning another language and new cultural norms…

[David Crystal] compares a language system to an ecosystem in which, what is important, is not the individual unit but the interdependence of its various elements and their harmonious functioning. Similarly to biological species, languages do not function in isolation but develop by contact with others. If one of them were to die, this might have serious consequences on other languages in the same ecosystem. Diversity, he adds, is important for the survival of mankind. If we have a look at the natural ecosystem, evolution is what makes species stronger and guarantees their survival. The greater the variety, the stronger the ecosystem is…

Language is also an important part of one’s identity. This is a tool which connects and identifies us with other members of the same language community. Losing a language could therefore mean a loss of who we are.

From Being human at Language Fest:

We don’t all have one language in common. Without ‘naturally’ shared cultures and languages but with the desire to communicate and connect, we are at each other’s mercy. Falling back into English, a ‘foreign’ language to us all, and one that most people in the room are only just learning, is not an option. There is no ‘neutral’, no ‘pure’ way to communicate. We can’t easily cloak our communicative difficulties with a (supposed) lingua franca. There is no easy way to artificially smooth the sharp linguistic edges of our intercultural communication. Insisting on English now could mean silencing this group’s self-expression, dismiss their Lebenswelt and suppress those unexpected encounters that might be potentially meaningful to us all. But how then to connect when all we can bring is good will and our linguistic vulnerability?

On languaging

Swain defines languaging as a (2006: 98) “process of making meaning and shaping knowledge and experience through language”, with language learning a process rather than a definable outcome, a journey taken by language learners through which they have an opportunity to explore and discover new meanings, learn and internalise new knowledge and expand their range of experiences.

Example: French immersion programmes in Canada in which students were tasked with writing a story in French; students carrying out the exercise required used both French and English; English to negotiate meaning and mediate differences between the languages, to help students to organise their ideas, negotiate the differences in meaning between French and English as well as to internalise new meanings.

Their research supports Vygotsky’s view that the language learner ‘uses…the native language as a mediator between the world of objects and the new language’ (Vygotsky, 1986: 161). Learners very often build their new linguistic identity and their newly acquired understanding of the country (or countries) where the language is spoken through the experiences and knowledge of their mother tongue.

While our mother tongues are necessary to negotiate new meanings, it is a newly acquired language that expands our knowledge and self-understanding in a profound way. Mikhail Bakhtin observed that ‘language is a social event’ and as such profoundly affects the learners’ understanding of the world around. The more languages one speaks, the more alternative modes of knowledge one can create and, consequently, comprehend.

From the quiz:

  • languaging…can be defined as having a go, trying a new language…a process in which one creates new experiences through language…does not concern itself only with learning a language
  • learning a new language involves…using one’s mother tongue as a mediator between two languages…creating a new identity through analysing our first language…expanding our knowledge and self-understanding

Alison Phipps (2014) in her TED talk ‘ Learning to live in multilingual worlds’ looks at languaging as ‘having a go,’ ‘trying a new language and learning to live in a multilingual world.’ This means that one needs to leave a zone of linguistic comfort and perfect articulation of their mother tongue in order to embark on a bumpy journey of discovering a new linguistic and cultural world; “one language cannot fully explain all the meanings encapsulated in the world”. She calls for a more ethically-oriented way of conceiving the value of languages:

I think it’s really important we learn the languages which have shaped the histories of the places where we grow up and where we live. So within Scotland, those would be the languages that have shaped our religion, but which have also lived amongst us. It would be important here for us to really understand Gaelic, and Scots alongside English, but also to understand ancient Greek, Hebrew, Latin, languages which have shaped the culture, the buildings, you see roundabout us, being part of the projects of making a land and a country.

But equally, at this moment in time, it’s really important that we learn the language of our neighbours, that we ask the question, what is it the languages of our neighbours are, and how might we meet one another and greet one another in some of those different languages? It’s important that we learn to speak the language of trade, but also of humanitarian aid.

#FLmultilingua 1: language riches

Multilingual learning for a globalised world, FutureLearn MOOC, three weeks from 16 October, from the University of Glasgow.

Spotted this one during #FLemi, and was sorry to have missed it – I even watched the hangouts on YouTube – but it’s on again! And I’m contributing to discussions. Note: all quotes edited.

This course offers you the opportunity to explore multilingual education and how it can impact and improve education and even wider society. We will discuss why languages matter, and consider how languages challenge the way we live, every day.

Our languages are an essential part of who we are as human beings. They are instruments of communication and are often a source of dignity and of human pride. Our life experiences and views of the world are bound up in our languages. Our sense of self might be strengthened by our ability to speak the language we choose or curtailed by our inability to understand the language that speaks to us. Some scholars even say that the right to speak one’s languages should be established as an essential part of the right to be oneself. They suggest that this language right should be honoured in all forms of communication.

English is the language of worldwide communication. Should this change? Should people’s personal language practices influence the way we communicate on a global scale? How might the claim for people’s language rights challenge the language arrangements in our societies? What is gained and what is lost from speaking just one language?

In this course you will explore how people’s language practice, and the personal connection people have to the language(s) they speak, provoke important philosophical and pedagogical questions around the ways we form personal relationships, engage in business relations and even view the world around us.

You will:

  • be introduced to different multilingual environments, consider what these mean for learning languages, and encounter some of the latest research in researching for working multilingually
  • experience and critically evaluate the idea of active citizenship, discovering ways in which language minorities can be empowered through the equal treatment of all languages and cultures
  • deepen your understanding of other languages and cultures through consideration of language rights, and films and workshops developed through their practices
  • address the ways in which the creative and performing arts can help translate meanings and enhance understandings in multilingual environments

Should we all just speak one language?

Glasgow as a multicultural city with inhabitants hailing from across the globe

Week 1 approached the question above historically, ethically and aesthetically, celebrated the language riches in our learning community and reflected on the sensory qualities of languages and the value of exposing oneself to unfamiliar language sounds. The terms monolingualism and multilingualism were clarified and pressing ethical questions surrounding some forms of structural monolingualism were explored.

Consider the language riches you bring to the course from all over the world

Being able to speak your language is an emotional and ‘embodied’ affair. It can evoke memories and even bodily sensations. Happiness hormones might arise when you hear somebody address you in your mother tongue, especially when you are far away from home and feeling a bit low or depressed. Languages are an essential part of who we are as human beings. They unfold their beauty best when they are (it sounds so simple) performed.

Did you ever wish to ‘go native’ in another language and abandon your language roots? – “I would discover new parts of myself, parts of myself that belong with that language” vs your’ language is “the language with which I communicate with myself…it defines who I am”. But you can, of course, have more than one, depending on both time and place. Can you have more than one at the same time? Do the languages you ‘have’ make up your identity?

Do you take on another persona when you speak another language? “language being so tightly interwoven with culture so you have to conform to different social and cultural norms when you speak in another language”. See Aneta Pavlenko on emotions and multilingualism and the bilingual mind.

Jan Čulík highlights the strategic importance of language-based study of foreign cultures, arguing that the west is making the mistake of interpreting non-English speaking cultures incorrectly, exclusively on the basis of its own cultural experience. The impact of this is global destabilisation.

It’s all about context, both in your persona when you speak another language and when “everyone speaks English”, where it’s easy to think everyone is using a shared cultural lens. Interpreters still needed!

Monolingualism and multilingualism in today’s world

David Gramling (Researching Multilingually) and The invention of monolingualism (2016):

Monolingualism became a thinkable structure for imagining the multiply-languaged world round about the late 17th century…the word is gaining new political power, and symbolically de-competencing people not perceived to be sufficiently cosmopolitan, communicative, or competent in matters of global relevance.

Reactionary multilingualism: becoming multilingual in an orderly way will solve all kinds of social frictions, socioeconomic divides, cultural misunderstandings, and apparently, irreconcilable religious commitments between Islam and Christian secularism.

Until the mid 2000s British politicians were relatively uninterested in what language citizens or residents chose to speak. Many conservatives saw any pressure upon people to speak a certain language, in a certain way, as an invasion of the kind of privacy protected as far back as the Magna Carta. Only recently has it become a common assumption that civic and community life is at its best when it happens through many cultures, but in one shared language.

Real monolingualism lies not with individual speakers, and the way they communicate or don’t communicate with the world, but with a new technological and technocratic effort in the last quarter century to make all of the world’s languages do similar things, and work in the same general symbolic direction.

Computer scientists are hard at work at erasing the problem of language diversity, such that, eventually, it will be unnecessary for us to learn each other’s languages the hard way. This process requires reducing each language to the common denominator of meaning that all other languages have. And this urge to make languages themselves translatable, similar, and manageable is what I call monolingualism.

(The technological drive for the universal transposability of meaning has given us the GILT industry, which promises to instantaneously transpose and distribute monetized content into scores of linguistic markets, peopled by imaginary end-user monolinguals…monolingualism is a much more modest and therefore effective vessel for (re)organizing meaning than slogans like Monolingualism can be cured! tend to convey.)

Resisting monolingualism may mean deepening into our own local meanings. Delighting and growing through those meanings, honouring the historical and social richness of our language repertoires, and expecting that others do the same. So becoming willing to engage in difficult, human, and often rudimentary dialogue with others about those meanings, constitutes true multilingualism. And no online translator can do that for us.

See Simon Jenkins: no point in learning languages (riposte | Mary Beard). Hmm…substituting cultural for lingual has parallels, but not a direct ‘translation’. On language-based study of cultures, GCSE French is about as instructive as a city break.

From revolutionary monolingualism to reactionary multilingualism: Monolingualism: a user’s guide  (19pp) | The wager of critical monolingualism studiesHard and soft multilingualism | Alison Phipps: What does it mean to be languaged in today’s world?

Linguistic imperialism (see British Council): ‘a world, a culture’ attached to each language can paradoxically empower and disempower its speakers depending on political and personal circumstances:

linguistic adjustment to the world around us can be a complex and deeply penetrating process. The process is full of losses, gains and paradoxes. Whether we live all our lives in one country, whether we migrate, become displaced or travel we need languages and sooner or later we’ll come across the power of a dominant language. How we deal with this power and whether we uphold it or subvert it, whether we use it or abuse it depends mostly on us. Let us hope that no matter how we face this challenge, our humanity comes out of it intact.

-> is it necessary for everyone living in the same territory to speak the same language? language as a tool (if you use a tool the wrong way you may have problems), as social capital; but it is more than communication and goes beyond the linguistic – part of one’s identity, involving all the senses, emotions, body language…

-> it’s about identity and culture; when English is used as a lingua franca it’s lost its context: is this then linguistic imperialism?; usage can cause issues for native speakers, from misuse of words (tights are not y fronts) through misunderstandings to not being able to express yourself properly and giving up: “The language situation prevents us from doing certain things, like making jokes.” (Sherry Simon)

-> the “everyone speaks English” mantra masks cultural differences

And at #edfringe17 (more)…

#FLemi: English as a medium of instruction

English as a medium of instruction for academics, FutureLearn MOOC, four weeks from 26 June, from Soton’s Academic Centre for International Students and the Centre for Global Englishes (@cge_soton):

There has been, in the past, a sense that non-native speakers of English are somehow second best, that native speakers of English have ownership of the language in its best or most correct form. That attitude has changed in recent years, thanks to research into English as it is used in the world today by its millions of users, of whom only around 20%are native speakers. English is the world’s language. It’s a lingua franca.

There is no single standard model of EMI:

  • a university may choose to operate totally in English, including its support services, or take a bilingual/trilingual approach, or teach a certain number of programmes in English
  • an academic may use English in class because the texts the students need to work with are only available in English
  • international experience requires a shared mode of communication; for the most part this turns out to be English
  • in distance learning

In EMI English is the vehicle for instruction through which academic content is conveyed to students – we are not teachers of English, but teachers in English. This is the difference between EMI and CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning), which has two functions – to teach both content and a language at the same time. (But it’s a continuum – you can decide where you are on it : P)

Points around the study of English as a lingua franca (ELF) or an international language (EIL):

  • the use of English as a lingua franca around the world has shaped the development of English
  • English users in an EMI context frequently adjust the way they speak (accommodate), according to who they’re speaking to or what they’re speaking about, rather than just trying to be ‘correct’
  • they focus on what they feel more comfortable with, but also what is going to be intelligible for the people they’re talking to
  • the aim is to use English effectively in intercultural communication contexts – what is going to be most communicative for each other, not what is going to be most like the way a native English speaker speaks
  • translanguaging – the majority of ELF users are multilingual, hence when a group of people are together speaking in English, if they have other languages in common, they move in and out of those other languages
  • people are often much more comfortable using English in different ways
  • English as a lingua franca takes the pressure off – people no longer feel they have to mimic native English speakers, but can engage in intercultural communication in whatever way is going to be most effective, in that setting, at that time

Links:

What kind of English do you expect to hear and use in the classroom – native level? accurate? non-standard? should the standard of language be assessed? what about genre style? does the medium (speaking or writing) make a difference to whether variation in English is acceptable or not?

How important is language accuracy in EMI teaching?

  • correction of language does not often help learning unless it is supported and space is given to reflect and consolidate feedback
  • emphasising correct/incorrect language might reduce communicative effectiveness at moments where genuine communication is key
  • exposure to varieties of expressions, whether ‘standard English’ or not, will help students to prepare for the diverse worlds they will meet outside education
  • students will always have an active role in forming their linguistic identities and choices, so discussing their language development and communicative choices can be a positive way of working together

The labels ‘accurate’ and ‘mistake’ are rarely used in communication research. These ideas are more connected with social judgements of language and speakers than actual language use. In fact, research reveals that communication is a complex and always negotiated process, and that language varies according to context because of how humans communicate.

EMI settings are intercultural settings where English tends to be used flexibly, with speakers drawing on behaviours and resources that go beyond a culturally specific or rule-based ‘English’ taught in some language schools. If we think of language as part of communication rather than as a restricted code to learn, the only model we need to consider is a model of behaviour rather than words and language patterns only.

Facilitating students’ movement towards an academic field requires more than isolated vocabulary and grammar; it requires facilitating effective communication and appropriate treatment of content. Emphasising shortcomings in language and rewarding ‘accurate’ English is likely to alienate and discourage students for whom EMI is a struggle, as would showing off a superior knowledge of the English language compared to them.

If we take this idea of the EMI practitioner not being limited to modelling ‘target language’, we can prioritise effective communication alongside the display and encouragement of positive attitudes to flexible communication.

(This is all very well, but what about the potential for misunderstandings, inaccuracies etc?? and *whispers* what when native speakers can’t understand what’s meant?)

Assessing when accuracy is important (or less so). Is it sometimes more important to be accurate in language use than at other times? How do we decide when it is important?  The issue of how important accuracy in language use is in teaching can be controversial and everyone has their own opinion on how far teachers should use accurate English. Many aspects of language that were previously considered to be errors, whether in grammar or vocabulary, are now acceptable for very many speakers (hmm…).

English used in EMI is a tool for communication, a way of communicating ideas that does not necessarily have a fixed or standard form. English forms can be very varied in EMI settings, as the users and uses of the language, within very different cultural spaces, are very different. Passion and enthusiasm trumps accuracy!

The native speaker issue:

  • can sometimes be less aware of the difficulties that international students face in a multilingual context, and sometimes they make fewer concessions to the difficulties international students may be experiencing
  • are often criticised for being difficult to understand in international settings (article)
  • the effect of a native speaker altering their language to be more intelligible and how others perceived his actions – Joey Barton became famous for changing the way he spoke when he was taking part in a press conference in France, while playing in Marseilles (he mimics French English)
  • communication in EMI settings has its own norms and parameters, which are quite different from the rules of speaking that we might associate with standard English (eg can and can’t sound the same if mumbled…)

English speakers with no other language often have a lack of awareness of how to speak English internationally.

The international university involves an understanding that international university English is not the language of [native English speakers], but a lingua franca in a multilingual setting, and therefore not only is it not native English, but not English only either. But while internationalisation guidelines tend to look favourably on multilingualism and diversity, using English systematically is often seen as important for students’ development and progression. An open language policy allows relatively free and multilingual expression of ideas, with English the core language of assessment, administration and most whole-group interactions.

Intercultural awareness and competence:

  • our messages are loaded with various potential meanings, cultural ways of seeing the world and particular ways of positioning ourselves in relation to others
  • consider whether our interpretations of others’ meanings are what they intended us to understand, and be prepared for the possibility that our meanings have not been received in the ways you meant them to be
  • consider that ways of communicating that you think are ‘intelligent’ or ‘high-status’ could be seen as ‘cold’ or ‘foreign’
  • be aware of othering and stereotyping, often located in people’s thinking (assuming difference, avoiding discomfort and lacking knowledge of others to fill perceived gaps in understanding) and feelings (lack of empathy and emotional engagement)

More:

  • self-awareness – be aware of your own background and preferences, and understand why certain behaviours make sense to us more than others; reflect on how we see ourselves in multiple and flexible ways in order to understand the same agency in others; awareness of the cultural preferences and expectations that we carry with us
  • awareness of others – be prepared for differences in expectations and ways of expressing meaning; empathy and respect for the ways of thinking and behaving that others may have
  • ways of thinking and communicating can enable us to show respect and empathy to those with (what appears to be) different values, behaviours and expectations
  • how can you balance preparing students to communicate within your field (eg genre conventions and ways of thinking) and respecting their communicative choices and identities?

Summing up…aimed at non-speakers, the native speaker of English could almost feel under threat. See too this vid on native vs non-native teachers.

#FLtranslation: working with translation

Update: more from Translation Studies corner at The translator made corporeal: translation history and the archive, at the British Library on 8 May 2017 (see @translator_2017#translatorcorporeal | website | in Asymptote)…”the tension between certain translated texts needing to look as if they were written in that language, and other situations where texts need, for one reason or another, to look more ‘foreign’” (source)…

Working with translation, started 24 October, four weeks, from Translation Studies in Cardiff’s School of Modern Languages (@cardiffmlang).

What is translation?

Definitions, perceptions, misconceptions…are translators ‘just’ messengers who ferry things across borders? This view is rooted in the history of the word ‘translation’ in English and European languages. Other languages offer different images and metaphors, eg bridging, carrying the sense across, a creative retelling, turning over an embroidery, giving a new life…

Types of translation:

  • interlingual – between languages
    • literal: close to the original; translations rendering each word separately (interlinear) are rare
    • sense-for-sense or free: focus on conveying the sense or meaning, even if the words or ways of expression change; what counts as freely conveying the sense to some people may be criticised as taking too many liberties by others; depends on beliefs, ideologies and ideas about the purpose of the text and its translation
  • intralingual – within the same language
    • shares with translation ‘proper’ the idea of changing form but maintaining meaning and the need to adjust to different audiences and expectations, eg between registers, as in formal and informal speech, or between regional varieties
    • indicative of the richness of perspectives, knowledge and cultures that exist within linguistic traditions (however forgotten; see Robert Macfarlane)
    • language does not just explain but helps generate meanings, create new understandings and bring new energy to familiar entities
    • err…related to editing, eg exercise on translating a parking ticket from technical writing to Plain English (“Your translation should be readable, easily understandable and cover all the points of the source text.”)
  • intersemiotic – moving between different types of language, such as verbal and visual codes; between media or sign systems, when ideas expressed verbally are translated into images and/or movement

Pillar of salt metaphor: a ‘backward gaze’, ie staring at or obsessive working with the text results in something that lacks life.

The dictum that something gets lost in translation further suggests that the ‘imitation’ is inevitably imperfect, with the figure of the translator subordinated to that of the creative author.

The origin of the English word ‘translation’ suggests that translation is about transferring meaning in space. One influential perception is that meaning can be carried over and reach the other language or culture intact:

It’s as though there was some core content that you wrap in paper (ie express in language) and send on its way. At the border the packaging or language is changed but the content remains the same, to arrive untouched at its destination…These images ignore the profound connection between meaning and language as well as culture, and the fact that changing the language may affect meaning itself.

Translators mediate between two sides without taking sides – they are neutral and render information ‘faithfully’. At the same time, as bilinguals having access to information in both languages, translators have always been viewed with suspicion.

Techniques (editing again):

  • substituting words
  • paraphrasing meaning
  • simplifying sentences
  • reorganising information

Cultural translation:

  • creative solutions tailored for a new audience and locale (transcreation or localisation)
  • cultural factors can affect translation, from simple everyday contexts like the social norms associated with drinking coffee to complex phenomena such as localisation
  • translators as ‘cultural mediators’, needing not just linguistic but also cultural knowledge and cultural awareness (always remember to check your own assumptions)
  • professional ethics aim to avoid interferences caused by unconscious bias and assumptions
  • the meanings carried by verbal language (and by visual language or gestures) are coloured by cultural assumptions, social habits, expectations
  • in the 1990s translation scholars proposed what is now known as ‘the cultural turn’ in translation studies; besides Source Text/Language and Target Text/Language we also need to think of Source Culture and Target Culture
  • types of cultural communication:
    • intralingual – a set of behaviours, including language conventions and habits, associated with a particular activity or profession; see also Barack Obama’s ‘anger translator’
    • interlingual – combined with specialist translation, for instance when translating a legal text into the language of a country whose legal system differs substantially from that of the Source Text
    • localisation – eg the American Dream in other locales…localisation is all about the audience; it’s not about the original in itself, it’s about that text making sense and being usable for a particular place and for a particular set of people

Dilemma: when translating material for a publicity campaign for an international company, the translator becomes aware of possible issues due to cultural stereotyping which might negatively affect the reception of the advertisement. – The translator should contact the client and point out the problem. ( In this case the relationship is between client and translator only and discussing the issue will not cause undue interference.)

Who translates?

According to the ITI’s code of conduct, a professional translator should:

  • Only translate into their native language or ‘a language of habitual use’. The translator’s competence in those languages is assessed and certified by the professional body. (Art 4.1.1)
  • Translate in a way that ensures ‘fidelity of meaning and register’, unless they have been specifically required by the client to re-create certain elements of the source culture or context. (Art. 4.1.2)
  • Notify the client if there are errors, omissions or imprecise language in the source text. (Art. 4.1.4)
  • Keep information and material translated confidential. (Art. 3.5.1)

While the terminology used to discuss translation leads us to divide the world along linguistic and national lines (between source and target cultures, source and target language speakers), in our increasingly multilingual and globalised world there are many people who write, think and speak in more than one language but would not see themselves as translators. Languages often co-exist within the same geographical space, the same community. (This is like the Pole who doesn’t watch British TV, he’s Polish…)

Salman Rushdie describes post-colonial subjects and migrants as ‘translated men’, individuals who are forced to live a life ‘in-between’ in the constant negotiation between different languages, conceptualisations of the world and cultural traditions. Multilingual speakers are often oblivious of translation because they themselves live ‘in translation’, forging their identity and relationships in a constant tension between different languages and cultural allegiances.

Being a migrant, an exile, a traveller, makes you aware not only of the multiplicity of linguistic landscapes that surround us but also of the often very concrete examples of the impossibility of translation. When are multilinguals translators – and when does a non-native become a multilingual? Is it ‘interlingual’, ‘intralingual’, ‘translation between sign systems’, ‘cultural translation’ or a mixture of all of them?

Spectators as translators – what happens when you hear a song or listen to a performance in a foreign language? Research on intercultural spectatorship suggests that the response to foreign language performance, be it in the field of music, theatre or film, is never complete non-understanding. Even if we do not understand the language that is spoken in performance, we respond to it in a different way and create a different relationship of meaning. As spectators, we are used to giving meaning not only to sounds and language but to objects, gestures, facial expressions, and put those meanings together to create a story in our own mind. (Or we just like the tune. The ‘meaning’ of a lot of English pop music my partner grew up with was actually about completely passed him by.)

Some discussion of ‘non-native’ translators – see Exploring directionality in translation studies.

Where does translation take place?

Ooh, the spatial turn, you do wonder if it’s compulsory with FutureLearn:

We will look at the relationship between translation and space. Translation is, literally, all around us, whether we see it or not. We encounter it on the pages of books and on our computer screens, on the streets of our cities, in airports, museums and schools. And the way in which we think about the space around us, the way in which we inhabit it, whether we feel at home in it or not, is closely linked with languages and with translation.

We will discuss how translators like to organise their own space, as well as how they are at times forced to work in spaces and places which are less than ideal. And we will discuss how just by looking at the position of text on the page we make assumptions about what is or is not a translation.

The spaces of translation:

  • a book and its pages, in which translation and the original can be both visible or can collapse, one into the other
  • the public space of the museum, in which multiple languages encounter each other
  • a conflict zone, in which interpreters mediate between factions, often in very difficult circumstances
  • on the borders between states, between languages, between cultures
  • inside our nations and inside our increasingly multi-lingual cities (see The city as translation zone)

Linguistic landscapes:

  • the way in which different languages are displayed, mixed, perceived or contested in public spaces
  • the way in which languages face each other, overlap, or mix in multilingual cities
  • polyphonic cities – translation and multilingualism sit side by side, often mixed through forms of ‘translanguaging’
  • translation is not neutral – it changes spaces, it transforms them, and it transforms the way in which we can access space, who can access it, and to what extent; example: gender
  • space is also not neutral –  where do we position something on a page? translation and its original will change the relationship of power between those texts
  • a world in constant movement and mobility, constantly bringing previously disparate and distant ideas, representations and experiences into local frames of references
  • islands and bridges are not the only spatial images of translation (36 metaphors) – translation can also be found within one location, such as one city or even one street where multiple languages co-exist, clash, overlap or are creatively mixed
  • graphic and spatial arrangements, eg parallel texts – most people in the West will instinctively assume that the text which appears before the other is the source text (from top to bottom of the page and from left to right); spatial arrangement is enough to indicate a ‘hierarchy’ of reading

When does non-native become peer translation? Translanguaging – a book written by an author in a language which is not his or her mother tongue (translingual authors often make use of multiple languages in their writing), see also multilingual rock bands.

Key considerations when dealing with space and translation:

  1. Type: what type of translation (or interpreting) is appropriate in a given scenario?
  2. Visibility: how visible (or invisible) is the translation going to be in a specific place, and why?
  3. Location: what are the physical locations in which translation will take place and how can they be adapted, if needed, to ensure that the space is suitable for the activities that are being planned?
  4. Participants: who are the people taking part in the translation process and what is the relationship among them?
  5. Power relationships: are there any power implications in the situation and, if so, how are they going to influence the translation process or its outcomes?
  6. Ethical issues: what are the ethical questions posed by the specific situation in which translation will take place?

Tips:

  • it is essential to think about space when dealing with translation and interpreting
  • always question the assumptions we instinctively make on the basis of spatial arrangements, for instance assumptions about authority, power and originality
  • proximity and distance are important when translating or interpreting, too distant and translation becomes difficult, if not impossible; too close and it may become uncomfortable
  • space arrangements often have implications for privacy when translating and interpreting.
  • in many cases it is important to create a safe space in which translation can take place; how we do this varies from case to case

What is a good translation?

The Big Question: should a translation mirror the style of the source or refer to the style of the target (linguistic description vs social evaluation)? It depends on what the translation is trying to achieve.

The source text model: comparing the profiles

Anecdotes about interesting mistranslations abound, attracting so much attention that it may be easier to explain what a good translation is not than what it actually is. The understanding of quality depends on text and translation types as well as the context: the clients, users, audience and so on.

Some approaches concentrate on the relationship between the source text and the translation, expecting them to be equivalent in meaning and, sometimes, form. To measure how successful the transfer of meaning has been, some scholars suggest analysing the source text first, using criteria borrowed from linguistics such as:

  • the subject matter
  • the communicative situation (who is addressing whom)
  • register (the level of formality)
  • cohesion (logical links within the text)
  • the genre or text function (for example, an informative report vs a persuasive political speech)
  • the argumentative or narrative structure (how the points are made or how a story develops within the text)

The quality can be judged by analysing the translation using the same criteria as for the source text (genre, subject matter, etc.) and then comparing the texts’ profiles. If they are very similar, it’s a good translation; if there are mismatches, it’s not so good. Some models allow departures from the source text if they bring the translation more in line with the preferences and conventions of the target language – a translation that fulfills its purpose in the target language and culture is a good translation, even if it changes the source text.

The user and purpose model: assessing the function

Translation defined by purpose: in privileging the purpose, this approach is interested in the target text and context and a connection to the source text may become secondary. Some people are critical of this, suggesting that if a translation is very far away from the original, it would be misleading to call it a translation. Another point of criticism is that it is not always clear what the ‘function’ should be and whether it has been fulfilled.

A translation brief (from Sonia Colina’s 2015 book Fundamentals of translation (adapted):

brief

Good enough?

In the translation industry this criterion ensures resources are allocated effectively. How long would you expect the translator to spend working on your text, with what level of attention and how much revision? How much do you wish to pay for?

Technology has had a huge impact on how translations are produced to meet tight deadlines and sufficient quality standards. Given the industry focus on efficiency, the use of MT may be acceptable for some ‘quick and dirty’ internal tasks, where the gist matters.

Quality concerns not just the product but also the whole process, from recruitment/the commission, process management via a project manager with a system for handling queries, the scope of revisions depending on the available resources, and the profile and purpose of the project (from sample checks against the source text to a quick skim of the target text for basic readability and typos or a bilingual revision against the original).

Read the target text more than once, each time focusing on other issues such as flow and logic, or spelling and grammar. Consistency is extremely important: from the use of terms, to style, to punctuation. Some clients may prefer a particular house style, i.e. a set of language and editing rules. Other tips for efficient revision include reading on paper and not on screen and having the translation revised by someone else (not the translator).

Further stages of the translation process may involve IT checks (especially for specialised formats), product testing (for example, in game localisation) and client surveys.

However, quality control does not have to be present at every stage – eg a call for voluntary translators may have some quality control at a later stage.

Specialised translation:

  • translating specialised, as opposed to general, content from a field of knowledge (eg medical, legal, scientific, technical)
  • specialised texts tend to contain terms (as opposed to regular words) from the relevant field, as well as abbreviations and acronyms
  • some acronyms have an established target language equivalent, while others may be left in the original language, especially in translations from English, and explained in the target language
  • a key marker of translation quality is to render terms accurately and consistently

Key methods and resources for researching terminology:

  • specialised dictionaries, monolingual dictionaries or lexicons
  • reading about the subject in the source language and the target language
  • consulting specialists and fellow translators (eg on a forum)
  • looking up authoritative translations of similar texts, which show how relevant terms have been translated before
  • online terminological databases
  • translation memories

Sometimes it’s not easy to find an equivalent term – there may be more than one term (one borrowed from another language and one ‘native’)or there may be none. If there is no term in the target language a new term may be introduced through translation, by eg literal translation or calque (a French word for tracing paper), or by borrowing, eg importing the English word.

Specialised translation can sometimes pose cultural problems, as conventions for writing specialised texts vary across languages. For example, in English it’s acceptable to use personal pronouns such as ‘we’ in technical writing. The dominance of English means that Anglophone ways of writing and presenting knowledge exert a huge influence on how specialised texts are translated and written in other languages. The situation is so serious that scholars find non-Anglophone ways of constructing knowledge under threat and warn against ‘epistemicide’, or the killing of knowledge.

Literary translation – favouring fluency?:

  • from experiments in literalism to free adaptations
  • the dominant view among many contemporary publishers is that a well translated book reads naturally and the language flows well, sometimes to the extent of creating an illusion that the book has been originally written in the target language – this rests on the assumption that translation is simply about re-packaging the content in another language
  • “make the narrative read fluently” – making the language idiomatic and natural, so it does not read like a translation;  a good translation is ‘invisible’ (translators are only noticed to be blamed, never to be praised)
  • vs translation as a truly creative process – instead of seeing a translation as a mere copy of an original, we may consider it a text among many texts
  • what about literature that strives for unique ways of expression, sculpting language into shapes unseen before (or just using different effects)? If language in a literary piece is not a transparent container for meaning but instead draws attention to itself, how will such pieces be translated? – many translators and publishers prefer not to experiment too much
  • allowing foreignness – calls for literary translations that bend and inflect the target language, sound foreign and, indeed, read like translations
  • if a text is complicated, ambiguous and challenging, it may be inviting us to pause and see things in a new way or to develop our own interpretations – that complexity should be recreated in translation, even if the resulting text may become even more unusual than the original because of a close or experimental translation
  • eg long sentences should be recreated, even if the target language normally uses shorter sentences
  • translations should signal linguistic and cultural foreignness to expose readers to other cultures (‘foreignising’, making translators more visible and raising their status, making a difference through translation)
  • vs strange sounding texts may appear elitist or scholarly and put readers off; politically progressive translation depends on the context, eg if the source culture has been negatively stereotyped by the target culture, ‘foreignised’ translations could reinforce stereotypes of strangeness, primitivism
  • how to render foreign cultural references – ricotta or cream cheese?
  • good literary translation is about representing others in a responsible way – many dilemmas!

From comment:

Translations: either compare with originals or focus on the target audience and the translation function (as in industry)

Type of translation:

  • specialised – a high degree of accuracy is important
  • literary – opinion is divided:
    • for some people a well translated book or novel or poem will read very naturally as though it had been written in the target language
    • others prefer to know that they’re reading a translation for they like the style to be a bit different or unusual, or they want to see words and concepts from another culture
    • yet others prefer, whatever the message, to represent the source author, and maybe the community that’s depicted in the literary work in a fair way

The myths about translation, that it is easy, that anybody can do it, it’s just a matter of transposing one word for another or perhaps the opposite that it is an impossible task bound to betray and to fail the original every time…How to prepare for translation so that you can perhaps pre-empt some of the difficulties and issues that might come up.

Doing the Danglish: an introduction to linguistic relativism

Last updated: 4 Jan 2018

In her webinar on editing non-native English Joy Burrough-Boenisch highlighted the problem of “going native” – she even felt herself going Dutch and wrote a book to stop it (sample).  Turns out there’s even a Dunglish blog. This is interesting, as like in Denmark it’s often assumed that in the Netherlands  “everyone speaks English” faultlessly. But it is still a foreign language, and it’s all too easy to fall into more familiar patterns.

A further issue is the web of World English/es and Global Englishes, and the confusions that can arise when two parties try to communicate in their own particular versions of English.

Looking at (mainly) non-natives, at my Danish language school everyone bar the most committed switched to English in the breaks, leading to much mis- and non-communication. It’s increasingly hard for the native – as witness to a number of perplexing encounters in tourist locations I’m often tempted to leap in to ease communication between two parties who share only English as a common language.

For more, see Robert McCrum’s Globish: how the English language became the world’s language (Amazon | article | review); English as a lingua franca is going to need more than the 1500 word Globish.

While Danish is in no danger of being ousted by English, protectionist efforts are largely in vain, with (mis)usage spreading virally and Danglish definitely a thing – see Kay Xander Mellish (in K Forum) and The Local for starters.

It’s pretty easy to spot an English text which has been translated by a Dane rather than a native speaker, and while in most cases it may be ‘good enough’, it’s jarring for native speakers and can easily lead to issues somewhere along the line, in a global game of Chinese whispers.

From here it’s not such a leap to the idea that the language you speak affects the way you behave and express yourself. For example:

  • English has a large vocabulary, with lots of ‘redundant’ words, but at the same time prefers to imply and understate
  • Denmark’s smaller vocabulary limits expression; can be repetitive and feel exaggerated/’black and white’

The Economist even held a debate on the question (78% agreed that the language we speak shapes how we think) and regularly posts articles on the issue (You think what you talk | Do different languages confer different personalities?). The TED blog has 5 examples of how the languages we speak can affect the way we think.

This view has become known as Whorfianism (or linguistic relativism), after early 20th century linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf. We now have two camps:

There probably is some horse/cart confusion going on, however the prevalence of the need for native translations plus everyday exposure to Danish discourse puts me in the Deutscher camp (great names both, mind).

I borrowed the Deutscher from the library so I could look ‘Danish’ up in the index. There’s not much, but this is worth the effort:

the industrious Protestant Danes have dropped more consonants onto their icy windswept soil than any indolent tropical tribe

Charles the V, born in Ghent, spoke “Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse”.

More: How the language you speak changes your view of the world, Lost in translation (obv), Multilinguals have multiple personalities