How the pandemic has widened the opportunity to take translated literature to readers

October 27th, 2020 by The fear and uncertainty created by the deadly invisible pathogen permeated at first our public spaces and our physical boundaries and then, slowly but perceptibly, our homes, our conversations, our skins, our souls, and our hopes. For a while, it seemed as if survival was the only mother tongue in a country of more than a thousand languages. At Indian Novels Collective, a literary translation group, our story-telling and translation projects were disrupted. Our literary and publishing ambitions sank low. Our partnership conversations were uncertain and tentative. But slowly, human tenacity and will kicked in and we began to deal with the reality of delays and challenges, staunchly refusing to surrender to the victorious virus. In fact, we are now optimistic that translation – a perennially under-recognised genre – can use this moment as one of renewal, where possibilities of collective resilience are reaffirmed in the most unexpected ways. Drawing attention to translated literature Indian Novels Collective is a non-profit organisation set up in 2018 in order to spur greater investment and interest in literature across India’s many languages. The Collective has tried not just to provide resources but also to build a community around significant works of Indian literature. Our goal is to create a change in how Indian literature is perceived altogetherby making available information and resources to ensure that the literature of major Indian languages can be appreciated across the country, and indeed, the world, through high quality translations, conversations, dialogues and performances. Just as European literature easily accommodates French, German Russian, Czech or British authors, among others, in its corpus, we would like readers of present and future generations to be able to appreciate and engage with, for instance, Tamil, Gujarati and Assamese authors with equal ease. Read more: Scroll.in

Wizard battles and demon circles revealed in newly translated Christian texts

October 7th, 2020 by Have you ever heard the story of a wizard battle that supposedly took place when an early church was constructed? Or how about the story of a border guard who defied King Herod's orders and spared Jesus' life? Scholars have now translated these and other "apocryphal" Christian texts (stories not told in the canonical bible) into English for the first time. More than 300 Christian apocryphal texts are known to exist, Tony Burke, a professor of early Christianity at York University in Toronto, Canada, wrote in the book he edited "New Testament Apocrypha More Noncanonical Scriptures (Volume 2)" (Eerdmans, 2020). "Apocryphal texts were integral to the spiritual lives of Christians long after the apparent closing of the canon and that the calls to avoid and even destroy such literature were not always effective" wrote Burke. Ancient Christians often debated which texts told the truth about Jesus and which did not. By the end of the fourth century the church had 'canonized' the texts which they thought were accurate and included them in the bible. One of the newly translated texts tells of a battle against 'diabolical' wizards who are trying to destroy an ancient church being built as a dedication to the Virgin Mary in the city of Philippi in Greece. The text is written in Coptic, an Egyptian language that uses the Greek alphabet, and may have originally been written around 1,500 years ago, Paul Dilley, a professor of religious studies at the University of Iowa, who translated the text, wrote in the book. The story is told in two texts that were both from the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Egypt. At that time, much of the population around the Mediterranean had converted to Christianity, although some still followed polytheistic faiths. Read more: Bitdefender

Emotions Get Lost In Translation, A New Study Finds

January 4th, 2020 by Researchers find that different languages express emotions differently although they may be translated to the same word, implying the need for greater emphasis on communication in cultivating collaboration across global teams. Today more than ever we are living in a world where the distance between time and space has been made shortened due to the advent of technology. Often, we find ourselves working on global and cross-cultural teams, where companies pride themselves on their global footprint and reach. As I’ve written before, this diversity has a positive and direct impact on the company’s bottom line, where diverse companies produce 19% more revenue. The word diversity also signifies that something is composed of distinct and differing elements. Thus, diversity in itself is the creation of variability, but the symbiosis of that variability is what brings about beauty and progress. So how can teams ensure that this diversity works in symbiosis? Scientists may have found an interesting answer for us, and it lies in communication. In fact scientists have long been fascinated with communication, more importantly how emotion is conveyed through language. A recent large scale study of language and the expression of emotion examined a cross section of various languages, ranging from those that are spoken by thousands to those that are spoken by millions of people. Language is used to express the whole spectrum of our human experience, from the mundane to the depths of the soul. In fact philosophers and writers have used language throughout centuries, sometimes in prose and sometimes in poems, to unveil the depths of the human experience and the inherent emotions that arise with it. As we try to understand those seminal works translated from the original language, we may find ourselves lost in translation because some of the original meaning, intention or play on words can only understood in the context of the original language it was written in. This dichotomy is precisely what the authors of a recent research study on language and emotion found: different cultures prescribe different words to various emotions, and words to express a particular emotion may not be found in a certain language or may have a slightly different understanding. To illustrate an example, the researchers state "Persian, for instance, uses the word-form ænduh to express both the concepts of 'grief’ and ‘regret,’ whereas the Sirkhi dialect of Dargwa uses the word-form dard to express both the concepts of ‘grief’ and ‘anxiety.’ Persian speakers may therefore understand ‘grief’ as an emotion more similar to ‘regret,’ whereas Dargwa speakers may understand ‘grief’ as more similar to ‘anxiety.’” In this example we see how seemingly same words have different and nuanced connotations, which may imply different association with different emotional states. Another example that research give is the existence of a word to describe a feeling in one language but does not exist in the other. One such example is the German word Sehnsucht, which expresses a desire for an alternative life, however, has no direct English counterpart. In this way we see the difficulty of expressing and translating our emotions across language, and that although we may experience the same emotion, a word in one language may be understood differently than in the other. In such a way language may not give us the tools to accurately describe everything we mean. Read more: Forbes

Found in translation: How 57 different languages have interpreted Charlotte Brontë’s ‘Jane Eyre’

October 3rd, 2019 by Translators are the unsung heroes of literature. Or, to be fair, largely unsung – they have a share in the International Booker Prize which recognises author and translator, who divide the 50,000-pound prize money and there is International Translation Day on September 30. It’s a chance to celebrate the small presses which publish translated novels and poems, as well as the amazing advances in online translation and, above all, the human translators whose skills matter now more than ever. But let’s also remember that translation has always been an engine of culture. Literary classics – as well as modern bestsellers – reach more readers through translation than the language they were written in. Take Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre: it has been translated into at least 57 languages, at least 593 times. This changes how we think about Jane Eyre. What was a thoroughly English book – anchored to Yorkshire and published in 1847 – becomes a multilingual, ever-changing global text, continually putting down roots in different cultures. In Iran, there have been 29 translations of Jane Eyre since 1980. When Korean is taught in a school in Vietnam, a translation of Jane Eyre is on the syllabus, as an example of Korean literature. It also changes how we have to study the novel. I couldn’t hope to grasp Jane Eyre as a global phenomenon by myself, so everything I have found out has been thanks to a group of 43 co-researchers in many different countries, as part of the Prismatic Translation project. Read more: Scroll.in

Machine learning has been used to automatically translate long-lost languages

July 1st, 2019 by In 1886, the British archaeologist Arthur Evans came across an ancient stone bearing a curious set of inscriptions in an unknown language. The stone came from the Mediterranean island of Crete, and Evans immediately traveled there to hunt for more evidence. He quickly found numerous stones and tablets bearing similar scripts and dated them from around 1400 BCE. That made the inscription one of the earliest forms of writing ever discovered. Evans argued that its linear form was clearly derived from rudely scratched line pictures belonging to the infancy of art, thereby establishing its importance in the history of linguistics. He and others later determined that the stones and tablets were written in two different scripts. The oldest, called Linear A, dates from between 1800 and 1400 BCE, when the island was dominated by the Bronze Age Minoan civilization. The other script, Linear B, is more recent, appearing only after 1400 BCE, when the island was conquered by Mycenaeans from the Greek mainland. Evans and others tried for many years to decipher the ancient scripts, but the lost languages resisted all attempts. The problem remained unsolved until 1953, when an amateur linguist named Michael Ventris cracked the code for Linear B. His solution was built on two decisive breakthroughs. First, Ventris conjectured that many of the repeated words in the Linear B vocabulary were names of places on the island of Crete. That turned out to be correct. His second breakthrough was to assume that the writing recorded an early form of ancient Greek. That insight immediately allowed him to decipher the rest of the language. In the process, Ventris showed that ancient Greek first appeared in written form many centuries earlier than previously thought. Ventris’s work was a huge achievement. But the more ancient script, Linear A, has remained one of the great outstanding problems in linguistics to this day. It’s not hard to imagine that recent advances in machine translation might help. In just a few years, the study of linguistics has been revolutionized by the availability of huge annotated databases, and techniques for getting machines to learn from them. Consequently, machine translation from one language to another has become routine. And although it isn’t perfect, these methods have provided an entirely new way to think about language. Read more: MIT Technology Review

Hidden meanings: Using artificial intelligence to translate ancient texts

August 13th, 2018 by The ancient world is full of mystery. Many mysteries, in fact. Many mysteries indeed. Who built the monolithic and megalithic structures found all over the world? Why did they build them? How did they build them? What technology did they use? And perhaps most importantly from the point of view answering all the other questions: Where are the texts that the builders produced? We assume that if the ancients were capable of building structures that modern humans cannot replicate even now with the latest technology, they must have been a literate civilization which recorded and stored information. But where is it? These are among the multitude of questions that have actively and specifically preoccupied archaeologists and historians for more than a century. A huge amount of progress has been made as a result of the dedicated pursuit of the answers. It has spawned a multibillion-dollar global tourism industry and some relatively well-funded academic projects. A lot of museums and films can also be said to be somewhat beholden to this obsession with the ancient past. But in terms of definitively answering those big questions, progress has been rather slow and painstaking. The Rosetta Stone It would, of course, help if more artifacts like the Rosetta Stone were discovered. The Rosetta Stone, created in around 200 BC and discovered in the year 1800, is a black stone on which three different languages were written – Egyptian hieroglyphics, Greek, and a more common Egyptian language called Demotic. This stone enabled people studying ancient cultures to finally understand the Egyptian hieroglyphics which cover acres of surface area on pyramids and temples in the country. The presumption is made that the three statements on the Rosetta Stone are direct and literal translations of each other, but since academics have been studying it for a long time, we can probably safely make that presumption. Other ancient languages, however, are proving more evasive. The Indus Valley civilization, which is said to be one of the oldest ever discovered, used a language that is defying almost all attempts at translations because it has no established relationship with any other language on Earth, although it is pictorial in part. The Sumerian language is more amenable to translation because some Sumerian people appear to have been bilingual, also speaking a contemporary language called Akkadian. Translation work has so far been undertaken by humans, but soon, artificial intelligence systems will, inevitably, be used to not only speed up the process, but also improve accuracy – and perhaps identify similarities and patterns across many languages humans may not have the time or ability to interpret. Read more: Robotics & Automation

‘Untranslatable’ words tell us more about English speakers than other cultures

August 10th, 2018 by When the word “hygge” became popular outside Denmark a few years ago, it seemed the perfect way to express the feeling of wrapping yourself up in a crocheted blanket with a cosy jumper, a cup of tea and back-to-back episodes of The Bridge. But is it really only the Danes, with their cold Scandinavian evenings, who could have come up with a word for such a specific concept? And is it only the Swedes who could have needed the verb “fika” to describe chatting over a coffee? The internet abounds with words that lack a single-word English equivalent. In order to be really lacking an English equivalent, it must be a single, indivisible unit of meaning, as phrases are infinitely productive and can be created on demand by combining different words. Take, for example, the claim by Adam Jacot de Boinod in I Never Knew There Was A Word For It, that Malay has a word for the gap between the teeth that English lacks: “gigi rongak”. Well, this appears to be a phrase, and it translates literally as the perfectly cromulent English phrase “tooth gap”. In fact, English even has a single-word technical term for a gap between the teeth: “diastema”. Okay, that’s actually a Greek word, but it’s in use in English, so it’s also an English word. Does that matter? Where we get our words from tells us something about our history. Take, for instance, Quechua – the language spoken by people indigenous to the Andes and the South American highlands. The Quechuan word for “book” is “liwru”, which comes from the Spanish word “libro”, because Spanish colonisers introduced written forms of language to the people they conquered. In fact, English does now have a word for “hygge” – it’s “hygge”. Read more: The Conversation

Welcome To The Era Of Big Translation

July 22nd, 2018 by Despite the increasing ability to reach foreign customers, the lack of quality translation methods is still the most challenging aspect of global expansion. Currently, even using the most advanced software services are an expensive, complicated, and inaccurate process. The result is that too often, businesses sacrifice millions of dollars in profit because marketing to global consumers is too complex to be worthwhile. That’s why we need an era of “Big Translation,” to leverage our existing technological tools and scale up translation capabilities to a level that actually matches global communication needs. Big Translation, a large-scale translation efforts by people speaking two or more languages, would allow businesses, individuals, and even tweeters to get what they want translated easily and affordably. The idea is banking on the fact that the world certainly isn’t lacking in translation talent. Nearly half the world speaks two or more languages–that’s 3.65 billion people with the potential to contribute to translation. Presently, a number of innovators are trying to tap into our world’s language talent. Chief among them is the groundbreaking idea that bypasses traditional translation tools and moves to a more accessible mobile app platform. In just six years (2020), there will be 6.1 billion smartphone users. If even just a fraction of these users were to be bilingual, the sheer human translation power we would be able to tap into through mobile translation platforms would far exceed the computational capacity of any machine translation system. Translation could finally be fast and inexpensive but also guarantee the complete accuracy of human translation. Allowing smartphone users to provide quality translation in real time will help shape the on-demand marketplace–a marketplace that has has already attracted more than $4.8 billion in investment. Companies like Uber, AirBnB, and now translation startups like my company, Stepes, are defining the competitive edge in the sharing economy. Big Translation would fundamentally change how we can do business internationally. Downstream, it will affect how we access information, receive entertainment, and spend our free time. In other words, Big Translation has the potential to change the way we live our lives. In a world where anyone could get fast and easy translations, what could we accomplish? Read more: Fast Company

Artificial intelligence goes bilingual—without a dictionary

November 30th, 2017 by Automatic language translation has come a long way, thanks to neural networks—computer algorithms that take inspiration from the human brain. But training such networks requires an enormous amount of data: millions of sentence-by-sentence translations to demonstrate how a human would do it. Now, two new papers show that neural networks can learn to translate with no parallel texts—a surprising advance that could make documents in many languages more accessible. “Imagine that you give one person lots of Chinese books and lots of Arabic books—none of them overlapping—and the person has to learn to translate Chinese to Arabic. That seems impossible, right?” says the first author of one study, Mikel Artetxe, a computer scientist at the University of the Basque Country (UPV) in San Sebastiàn, Spain. “But we show that a computer can do that.” Most machine learning—in which neural networks and other computer algorithms learn from experience—is “supervised.” A computer makes a guess, receives the right answer, and adjusts its process accordingly. That works well when teaching a computer to translate between, say, English and French, because many documents exist in both languages. It doesn’t work so well for rare languages, or for popular ones without many parallel texts. The two new papers, both of which have been submitted to next year’s International Conference on Learning Representations but have not been peer reviewed, focus on another method: unsupervised machine learning. To start, each constructs bilingual dictionaries without the aid of a human teacher telling them when their guesses are right. That’s possible because languages have strong similarities in the ways words cluster around one another. The words for table and chair, for example, are frequently used together in all languages. So if a computer maps out these co-occurrences like a giant road atlas with words for cities, the maps for different languages will resemble each other, just with different names. A computer can then figure out the best way to overlay one atlas on another. Voilà! You have a bilingual dictionary. Read more: Science

Historically, men translated the Odyssey. Here’s what happened when a woman took the job

November 21st, 2017 by The Odyssey is about a man. It says so right at the beginning — in Robert Fagles’s 1996 translation, for example, the poem opens with the line, “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns.” In the course of the poem, that man plots his return home after fighting the Trojan War, slaughters the suitors vying to marry his wife Penelope, and reestablishes himself as the head of his household. But the Odyssey is also about other people: Penelope, the nymph Calypso, the witch Circe, the princess Nausicaa; Odysseus’s many shipmates who died before they could make it home; the countless slaves in Odysseus’s house, many of whom are never named. Emily Wilson, the first woman to translate the Odyssey into English, is as concerned with these surrounding characters as she is with Odysseus himself. Written in plain, contemporary language and released earlier this month to much fanfare, her translation lays bare some of the inequalities between characters that other translations have elided. It offers not just a new version of the poem, but a new way of thinking about it in the context of gender and power relationships today. As Wilson puts it, “the question of who matters is actually central to what the text is about.” Composed around the 8th century BC, the Odyssey is one of the oldest works of literature typically read by an American audience; for comparison, it’s almost 2,000 years older than Beowulf. While the Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War, the Odyssey picks up after the war is over, when Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, is trying to make his way home. Both poems are traditionally attributed to the Greek poet Homer, but since they almost certainly originated as oral performances and not written texts, it’s hard to tell whether a single person composed them, or whether they are the result of many different creators and performers refining and contributing to a story over a period of time. (The introduction to Wilson’s translation includes a longer discussion of the question of who “Homer” was.) Wilson, a professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, has also translated plays by the ancient Greek playwright Euripides and the Roman philosopher Seneca. Her translation of the Odyssey is one of many in English (though the others have been by men), including versions by Fagles, Robert Fitzgerald, Richmond Lattimore, and more. Translating the long-dead language Homer used — a variant of ancient Greek called Homeric Greek — into contemporary English is no easy task, and translators bring their own skills, opinions, and stylistic sensibilities to the text. The result is that every translation is different, almost a new poem in itself. Read more: Vox

Found in translation: USC scientists map brain responses to stories in three different languages

October 29th, 2017 by New brain research by USC scientists shows that reading stories is a universal experience that may result in people feeling greater empathy for each other, regardless of cultural origins and differences. And in what appears to be a first for neuroscience, USC researchers have found patterns of brain activation when people find meaning in stories, regardless of their language. Using functional MRI, the scientists mapped brain responses to narratives in three different languages — Americanized English, Farsi and Mandarin Chinese. The USC study opens up the possibility that exposure to narrative storytelling can have a widespread effect on triggering better self-awareness and empathy for others, regardless of the language or origin of the person being exposed to it. “Even given these fundamental differences in language, which can be read in a different direction or contain a completely different alphabet altogether, there is something universal about what occurs in the brain at the point when we are processing narratives,” said Morteza Dehghani, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC. Dehghani is also an assistant professor of psychology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, and an assistant professor of computer science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. The study was published in the journal Human Brain Mapping. Read more: USC News

Can translations save India’s endangered ‘mother tongues’?

October 3rd, 2017 by In “Translation as Culture”, an article which theorises her work with Mahasweta Devi’s fiction, Gayatri Chakravorti Spivak writes of the irreducible emotional and ethical charge of translating from the mother tongue: “...translation in the narrow sense...is also a peculiar act of reparation – toward the language of the inside, a language in which we are ‘responsible’, the guilt of seeing it as one language among many...I translate from my mother tongue.” Spivak’s words touch on the slippery affective terrain that opens up when we call a language “mother”, and seek to transcribe this “intimate” tongue in an “alien” sign-system: a site that is both personal and political, fraught with identity and difference, love and loss, guilt and responsibility, ridden with the angst of separation and the anxiety of reparation. Always already strained, these filial relations are further fractured by the dysfunctional contexts in which literary translators operate today – multicultural yet hegemonic, globalised yet often segregated or displaced. What it generates is at best a complicated sense of linguistic belonging – to an enormous, broken family of languages, with multiple mothers, one’s own and those of others, in which degrees of kinship, equations of power, loyalties and alliances, the rules of engagement and the stakes of representation are forever shifting. Read more: Scroll.in