Tag Archives: Translation

Mars Can(‘t) Wait, Or, What to Do When Things Slow Way Down

What to do, indeed? If indexing a book was the equivalent of traveling, my itinerary during much of May might have looked something like this:
Monday, May 4
Early May, and I am experiencing a rare slow time between trips. I try not to let it worry me too much, reasoning that I can always use the down time to catch up on reading.
Just got word of a possible trip to Mars. I would be leaving on Thursday, May 7. Am looking forward to exploring new horizons and collecting photos of the Red Planet.
Meanwhile, in Canada …
Wednesday, May 6
An agency contacts me concerning the prospect of doing a Spanish to English translation. I write back discussing terms and a prospective time frame for doing the project. The agency POC promises to let me know what the client said. However, still no word back from the client as of this writing.
Thursday, May 7
The day comes and goes without any word on when I might leave for the Red Planet.   What could be the holdup? Has the spacecraft developed a problem that needs repairing? Has the camera lens developed a crack, thus requiring a replacement before the desired photos can be taken? Who can say?
Meanwhile, in Barcelona, Spain …
A legal document needs to be translated from Swedish into English. The Barcelona contact and I discuss possible terms. However, the client, as in the previous case, never responds.
Friday, May 8
Finally get word from the Mars trip contact. Apologizing for the delay, she reports that a few trip details will be changing. These will have to be finalized and incorporated into the overall plan before I can take off for the Red Planet. She hopes to know by Monday when the spacecraft can be launched.
Monday, May 11
Manage to get hold of an anthropology professor at the local university. He had sponsored me for a tour of several archaeological digs in Central America back in 2012. Might he be planning any future such trips? Yes, a trip like that is indeed in the offing, and there’s a good chance I’ll get to come along. However, that trip won’t be taking place until some time this fall.
Meanwhile, still no word on when I might be able to leave for Mars.
Tuesday, May 12
Have just gotten word from a history professor at the same university. Having taken me on a trip a couple years back that involved touring the sometimes troublesome U.S.-Mexico border, he now proposes to take me on another trip, this time to various parts of Mexico where development has been uneven. If all goes according to plan, this trip will start on June 9, so there’s plenty of time to get ready. As I eagerly anticipate this new adventure, subsequent days see me taking care of paperwork that I need to submit before the trip.
Wednesday, May 13
A Maryland contact writes to discuss plans for an upcoming trip that would involve traveling through the alimentary canal and likely also to places where tasty dishes are explored — all, of course, for the purpose of studying food and nutrition. I might even get a chance to climb the Food Pyramid. While certainly willing to be considered for such a trip, I must first send my qualifications, as well as an example of a description of a previous comparable trip. Only after gathering similar data from other aspiring travelers can she select the final candidate who is to go on this trip.
Still no word of her decision as of this writing.
Meanwhile, in Madrid …
Thursday, May 14
Three Spanish to English documents await translation. This task promises to keep me busy as I await word concerning the Mars trip.
Friday, May 15
Finally get hold of my Mars contact, who now hopes the spacecraft will be ready for takeoff on Monday, May 18.
Monday, May 18
Monday comes and goes. Still no takeoff for Mars.
Wednesday, May 20
Word arrives of an upcoming trip to Northern Europe. This trip would require traveling back in time to the early 1700s, when a war — known as the Great Northern War — broke out between Sweden and Russia. The European trip contact and I discuss terms. From the standpoint of technical details, the trip seems doable, but there’s still the matter of timing. Given the extent of all there is to see and do on this trip, will it be possible to cover everything and still make it back on time? The matter is of pressing importance because, following the trip back in time, the trip coordinator will need to leave for Sweden, this time minus the time machine, in order to get together with a Swedish general and also visit Sweden’s army museum. Negotiations on the trip departure date are still pending as of this writing.
Meanwhile, in London …
Thursday, May 21
A Swedish business letter requires translation. I agree to take on the job in order pass the time during the seemingly interminable wait for word concerning the Mars trip.
And then, in early afternoon, a miracle occurs. I finally get word that the spacecraft is ready to take off for Mars!
Meanwhile, in Denver, Colorado …
That same evening, word comes that a certain Spanish document needs a translation. I agree to take on the job. Work on that will give me something to do while the spacecraft is en route to Mars.
And that concludes my report of present and future “trips”. True, it’s all armchair travel. However, unlike physical travel, at least it’s cheap, and it doesn’t even require a passport.


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Translator’s Library: Part One

As spring gets underway, the thoughts of translators — at least in Tucson, Arizona — have turned to … books.  That was the subject of discussion at a local lunch that took place at the European Deli on Sunday, April 19.

How-to or “tools of the trade” books such as Morry Sofer’s Translator’s Handbook, with all its continually updated editions, would seem to be obvious candidates for any translator’s attention.  However, that Sunday the group chose to focus on less obvious but still worthy mentions.  Foremost among these were translator biographies.  In that regard, Russian translator Kenny Cargill revealed that he had been reading a biography of Constance Garnett (1861-1946), a noteworthy translator of Russian literature. Some brief facts about her follow.

Based in the U.K., Garnett lived in an era in which women’s roles were closely circumscribed and translators typically tended to be male.  Undeterred, she pursued her education with full vigor and managed to break down gender barriers.  As a translator specializing in the Russian language, she was the first to translate works by Dostoevsky.   A number of other 19th century Russian authors, including Tolstoy, also received the benefits of her translating attention.  She managed to leave behind an enduring legacy in the literary translation field; her translations continue to be reprinted to this day.

To be sure, Garnett has not been without her critics.   Some have charged that her translations deviate too much from the source texts.  Some have even gone so far as to claim that, in taking liberties with the adapting of texts, she sought, in effect, to fill the role of author, rather than that of mere translator.  To judge the matter for one’s self would of course require a good grasp of Russian combined with a thorough examination of original and translated texts for purposes of comparison.  Only then could one determine whether Garnett, in penning her translations, took her adaptation of texts too far or whether she was simply exercising the leeway that applies to literary translation.

When not providing fodder for biographers’ pens, translators of all sizes, shapes, and backgrounds have managed to make it into fiction, a topic I covered during the lunch.  Fictional translators, like their real-life counterparts, have definitely experienced their share of travel and adventure — or misadventure, as the case may be.  A search for fictional translators’ tales at my local public library yielded a rather lengthy list of titles.  Below is a brief look at a small sample of these.

In Nina Schuyler’s The Translator, protagonist Hanne Schubert’s life literally takes a rough-and-tumble turn when she falls down a flight of stairs and consequently develops a rare but real condition in which she loses her native English but retains the Japanese she acquired later in life.  Faced with this new set of linguistic limitations, she takes what would seem to be the most logical step in response; she moves to Japan.  However, once there, her troubles are far from over.  The Japanese novelist whose work she recently translated accuses her of sabotaging his work.  In an effort to get to the bottom of things, Hanne seeks out the actor who served as the inspiration for the author’s novel.  A highly complicated relationship follows.

Georg Polger, a translator eking out a living in southern France in Bernhard Schlink’s The Gordian Knot, has plenty of relationship troubles of his own.  He is approached with the offer of a job as head of a local translation agency — an offer that seems too good to refuse.  Matters quickly heat up, however, when, having taken the job, he falls for the job recruiter’s secretary, only to discover her secretly photographing a military project of a classified nature.  Shortly after this revelation, she disappears.  Georg sets out on a quest to discover not just where — but who — she really is.  In so doing, he may be in over his head.

Meanwhile, not far from the Boston Harbor, Lydia Pallas (featured in Elizabeth Camden’s Against the Tide), a translator working for the U.S. Navy, would seem to be set for life, with all the comfort and security she needs.  However, all that is about to change.  A man on a quest to end the opium trade needs a translator.  Lydia accepts his mission, only to find that her new job is far more difficult and dangerous than she had anticipated.

Anyone with a young reader in his or her life should note that fictional translator tales don’t have to be for adults only.  Sacagawea, the young Shoshone woman featured in Scott O’Dell’s Streams to the River, River to the Sea, was actually not only a real person but also possibly the most famous interpreter in U.S. history.  She owes this distinction to the fact that she served as an interpreter during the Lewis and Clark expedition (1804-1806).  While definitely a worthy subject for plenty of nonfiction writing, she has enjoyed a generous share of fictional treatment as well.

O’Dell’s tale for young adults begins when, at the age of thirteen, Sacagawea is captured by members of the Hidatsa tribe.  As a captive, she becomes fluent in the Hidatsa language.  Enter French trader Toussaint Charbonneau, who wins her in a hand game and makes her his wife.  When they meet up with Lewis and Clark, the stage is set for the pair, accompanied by their baby son Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, to join the expedition, traveling from St. Louis, Missouri to the Pacific Coast.

Having survived a number of hardships and dangers on their journey, the group ultimately meets up with members of the Shoshone tribe.  It is during this encounter that Sacagawea, who has had no contact with her people since being taken captive, is reunited with her brother, now a chief.

Some background is in order concerning the Lewis and Clark approach to interpreting.  Modern-day interpreters serving at functions involving two or more nations or tribes typically speak multiple languages between them and can rely on headphones and other technology to speed the communication process.  By way of contrast, the interpreting that took place between the Shoshone and the English-speaking members of the Lewis and Clark expedition involved going through a long, arduous series of steps.  The Shoshone chief (or other  tribal spokesman) would communicate his message.  Sacagawea would then translate the message into Hidatsa, the language she had picked up as a captive.  Her husband, Charbonneau, long fluent in Hidatsa since he had frequently done trading with members of that tribe, would then translate the message into his native French.  An expedition member fluent in French then translated the message into English — the final step of the interpretation process.  When members of the Lewis and Clark party wished to communicate messages of theirs to the Shoshone, the whole process, of course, was repeated in reverse.

It should be noted that, regardless of circumstances beyond her control, Sacagawea was not merely the passive recipient of events that befell her.  On the contrary, O’Dell depicts her as a strong, independent individual and thus definitely a worthy and admirable character for modern-minded readers, whether male or female.

Rounding up this brief look at fictional translators, nine-year-old British girl Maddy, featured in Brian Falkner’s Maddy West and the Tongue Taker, has the amazing ability to speak every language in the world.  Her mother, at first wary upon discovering Maddy’s unique ability, soon finds ways to capitalize on it.  Once Maddy appears on a talk show, word spreads rapidly of her language abilities.  A certain professor seeks her out in the hope that she can translate some ancient scrolls located at a monastery in Bulgaria.  The professor seems trustworthy enough, and getting her parents to approve the trip does not prove difficult.  At first Maddy is thrilled to be embarking on this adventure abroad.  Evidence soon surfaces, however, that the professor is not quite all she seems.  What is her real motive in requesting the translation of the scrolls?  It would seem that they contain not benevolent information but evil spells.  Events take a sinister turn when the young, adventuresome translator finds herself kidnapped.  Her only hope of escape lies in turning to her friends, including a young, aspiring ninja, for help.

Two themes here will definitely ring true to real-life translators with a bit of age and experience under their belts.  First, the profit motive is alive and well in the world of translation, and the linguistically gifted can and do face the very real risk of exploitation.  However, on a brighter note, if one finds one’s self in a bit of a jam, beset by circumstances that threaten to overwhelm one’s problem-solving capabilities, the right kind of teamwork can make all the difference in the world.


Non-Fiction:  Biography

Garnett, Richard.  Constance Garnett:  A Heroic Life. — London:  Sinclair-Stevenson, 1991.  402 pp.

Adult Fiction

Camden, Elizabeth.  Against the Tide:  A Novel. — Minneapolis:  Bethany House, c2012.  362 pp.

Schlink, Bernhard.  The Gordian Knot. — New York:  Vintage Books, 2010.  246 pp.

Schuyler, Nina.  The Translator:  A Novel. — Newburyport:  Pegasus Books, 2013.  320 pp.

Young Adult Fiction

O’Dell, Scott.  Streams to the River, River to the Sea:  A Novel of Sacagawea. — Boston:  Houghton Mifflin, 1986.  191 pp.

Children’s Fiction

Faulkner, Brian.  Maddy West and the Tongue Taker. — North Mankato, Minnesota:  Capstone Young Readers, 2014.  355 pp.

Online Resources

Pima County Public Library catalog search results for translators in fiction:

Lewis and Clark Expedition entry in Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lewis_and_Clark_Expedition

Sacagawea entry in Wikepedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacagawea

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To Sweden by Radio: Part One

New Year’s Eve afternoon was bright and sunny in Tucson, the southern Arizona town I call home.  I looked at the clock.  It was about twenty minutes to four.  If I timed things just right, I should soon be able to hear the New Year’s countdown in Stockholm.

Stockholm?  Yes, that’s right.  Given the time zone difference, Stockholm, Sweden was eight hours ahead of Arizona.  In other words, while we Arizonans had the rest of the afternoon and evening to get through before we could finish up our old year, Swedes, including Stockholm residents, would be starting their New Year’s Day in just twenty minutes.  There was but one way an Arizonan could fast-forward the process and start the new year as soon as everyone in Stockholm and the rest of Sweden — through a form of radio-inspired time travel.

I sat down at my computer and pulled down my bookmarks menu.  Scrolling down to the radio stations folder, I instantly found and clicked on the link for P4, the Stockholm-based radio station that had long been my favorite Swedish station.  After a brief interval, the sounds of P4 soon issued forth from my computer.

I found — by no means for the first time — that a number of songs played on the radio station were in English.  I recognized the melodies of rock tunes I’d heard long ago.  No doubt the songs had been chosen with a young, English-speaking audience in mind, since the younger crowd had the strength and stamina required for staying up until midnight and seeing the new year in.  Since the end of World War II, English has been taught in Sweden to children as young as elementary school age.  No doubt the radio listeners currently tuned in to the Stockholm station had all gotten A’s in English.

The minutes passed.  With midnight in Sweden now just moments away, the radio station’s mood underwent a major change.  The rapid approach of the new year had not escaped the notice of the good folks at P4.  The music, for the time being, had come to an end.  A bell was ringing.  As it rang, a man began to read a poem.  The poem’s focus was “Nyårsklockan” (New Year’s bell). The verses spoke of ringing out the old and ringing in the new, about the death of the old year but also about new beginnings.  It was indeed a solemn occasion, a time for reflection on the events of the year rapidly drawing to a close, as well as a time for wondering what the new year would bring.

The man concluded his reading of the poem.  And then I heard the first Swedish song to go over the airwaves since I had tuned in.  Swedish voices broke into the strains of “Du gamla, du fria,” Sweden’s national anthem.  On that patriotic note, Sweden’s new year began.

No doubt about it, my Swedish radio-style New Year had been a moving and unforgettable occasion.  Feeling inspired, I posted a brief account of my radio listening adventure on LinkedIn, along with an accompanying Happy New Year’s message.  I also fired off an email about it to a local Swedish-American friend.

Having sent out those messages, I still felt a need to do something more.  Curious, I decided to see what online information I could dig up on the poem.  I learned that the poem bearing the title “Nyårsklockan” was actually a Swedish translation of the English “Ring Out, Wild Bells,” originally penned by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  The poet had probably little dreamed that his poem, published in 1850, would inspire Swedes to start an annual tradition.  However, that was precisely what happened.  To this day, the Swedish “Nyårsslockan” poem is recited annually in Sweden as New Year’s Eve draws to a close.

As for my Swedish-American friend, reading my account of the P4 listening session brought back old memories.  Having spent her growing up years in Sweden (she immigrated to the USA as a young woman in the 1950s), she recalled well how, during her childhood and teenage years, she got to stay up until midnight and hear the poem read on the radio.

No doubt about it, listening to radio stations based in far away places exposes one to far more than just foreign languages; one can also pick up priceless tidbits of information about a country’s culture.  One never knows what one might learn when listening to the radio!


P4 Stockholm radio station (http://sverigesradio.se/sida/default.aspx?programid=103)  (To hear what is currently airing, go to the upper right corner of the home page and click on the arrow appearing below the term “Lyssna direkt.”)

“Ring Out, Wild Bells” Wikipedia entry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_Out,_Wild_Bells)

“Nyårsklockan.”  Author:  Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  Translator:  Edvard Fredin.  (http://sv.wikisource.org/wiki/Ny%C3%A5rsklockan)

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Blog for indexers and translators

Greetings from a freelancer who offers both indexing and documents translation services.  Items I index are mostly books, but I’ve also indexed journals, tackling widely varied subjects ranging from history and medicine to (of course) linguistics and language learning.  I love the subject variety, because that’s a large part of what makes indexing fun!

On the translation front, I work with both Spanish and Swedish documents, translating them into English.  My translation subject specialties include medical and legal translation, although I’m willing to tackle other subjects as my schedule and expertise permit.

I’m going to wrap this up now, but I hope to add more soon.

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