Arabic writers, why so bold?

Arabic writers, why so bold?

I have a bit of a rant.

First, I would like you to do me a favor and go visit this page: http://goo.gl/lyylAu. It is a technology blog in Arabic. Even if you can’t read it, please just take a look. Now, trot along with me to another page, this one a web forum (nominally dedicated to Harry Potter fandom, but this article is about an interview with John Hurt: http://goo.gl/SEqdjg. And another forum posting here (this time with a light background) about protecting the v-Bulletin admin control panel from hackers: http://goo.gl/4oyNUz

What do you see? The more “professional” technology blog used a few different fonts, used bold text for titles, and it looked… normal. To me, at any rate. The two web forums? Everything is bold.

Why so bold?

I’ve seen this in Arabic on the internet since I first started seeking out Arabic on the internet in around 1996 (back then you had to use Arabic Windows or the Arabic Language Kit on a Mac to see Arabic, now it just works. Thanks Unicode!). For some reason that I do not understand – and I would really like to hear an answer – many Arab writers seem to prefer bold text. I do not. I think it is the Arabic equivalent of TYPING IN ALL CAPS. I FEEL AS THOUGH I AM BEING SHOUTED AT. I don’t care for it.

I was willing to occasionally complain to friends or coworkers and then let it go, but then I started reading In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation by Mona Baker. The book is very good so far. As I’ve mentioned, I am guiding a book club of like-minded translators through it. We have reached the sample texts in chapter 2:

With the above proviso in mind, we can now look at examples of strategies used by professional translators for dealing with various types of non-equivalence. In each example, the source-language word which represents a translation problem is underlined. The strategy used by the translator is highlighted in bold in both the original translation and the back-translated version. (2011, p. 23)

Sounds good, nice and clean, and easy to follow. In this section, there are examples in Arabic, Spanish, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Greek and a few others. Rather than jump straight to the punchline, I’ll share a German example from page 33 (as an image):

GermanSample
Looks great! I do not speak German, but I can follow right along. The same goes for Spanish, Greek, and the other Latin-based scripts. But for Arabic… Can you guess?
ArabicSample
Anyone have a guess as to where put is in the Arabic sentence? If you do not read Arabic, here is a hint: the whole Arabic statement is in bold text. For the curious, here it is (I have used a red box to mark put):
ArabicSampleMarked
Now, in the first edition of the book – published in 1992 – typesetting mixed Arabic and English was a bit more difficult than it is today. I could forgive the typewriter-like font and bold-appearing text back then; it was just nice to have Arabic samples in an English book on translation. Now, however, things are a lot easier (thanks again, Unicode!). Anyone with a copy of Microsoft Office, OpenOffice (or its sisters), or InDesign (for real DTP) can properly lay out Arabic text. I am not an expert in Arabic typography or DTP, though I am trying to learn more about both, but I can tell a bold font from one that is not. Add to that that the Arabic used in the cover art is broken… It is disconnected (this is from the web page, but the graphic is the same):

ArabicCover

The Arabic word here is supposed to be لغة, language (لغة for those who prefer bold…).

Oh, and by the way, I do not read Chinese or Japanese, but I think the book has the same problem for both of those languages. Here is an example:

ChineseSample

So, again I ask: why so bold?

 

Literary Translation, Culture, and maybe Ethics

pigpenI have just started reading the Arabic translation of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, translated by Said Alhasniya, reviewed and edited by the Arabization and Programming Center (سعيد الحسنية and مركز التعريب والبرمجة), and published by Arab Scientific Publishers, Inc. (الدار العربية للعلوم ناشرون).

Before I get into the meat of the issue, let me first be clear: This is not about Islam or any nutjob conspiracy about creeping Sharia or Islamization. This is about translation of a very popular Western novel into Arabic.

I cruised along, enjoying myself – I’ve read the books in English and seen the movies that have come out – until I got to the first flashback scene where Katniss remembers meeting Peeta behind the bakery. Peeta’s family has a pig; this is part of the story because Peta is instructed to throw some bread to the pig – no spoilers, OK?

In the Arabic translation it says:

اعتقدت أنه كان يراقبني في أثناء سيري بمحاذاة حظيرتهم التي احتوت على الحيوان المقزز الذي يربّونه

[I thought he was watching me as I walked along the pen that contained the filthy animal they were raising]

The original:

He must have been watching me as I made my way behind the pen that held their pig

The word “pig” comes up a few more times in the same passage, and each time the translator uses the “filthy animal” euphemism. So, why is it a big deal? I am well aware that Islam considers pigs unclean and forbids eating them. But really, this is a symptom of a larger problem, what appears to be a decision that when translating things into Arabic, anything that might offend Muslims must be toned down. One other example that comes to mind is the Arabic dub of the movie Ratatouille. In that movie, wine becomes juice, even when the characters on screen are becoming obviously intoxicated by it. To see the food critic asking juice recommendations to go with his fresh serving of reality, ultimately to select a fresh, cold apple juice (a red liquid served in a wine glass, from a wine bottle) just boggles the mind.

Certainly observant Muslims would not have wine with their dinner or raise pigs behind a bakery. That is their choice, and their cultural norm. But to make the characters in books and movies who are clearly exhibiting non-Islamic behavior seem to be observant, or to think that one can avoid insult by using a euphemism… Well. I don’t think it is right. Part of why we read non-fiction books is to have adventures in our imaginations, to experience new things and see new points of view.

I don’t think it is right as a translator, regardless of my personal faith. If I were translating a book from Arabic into English, let’s say a sci-fi or speculative fiction novel set in an alternate universe or a future in which Islam is the predominant religion, and there is some off-hand reference to something that would be perfectly normal in Islam, but which might seem odd for a Western non-Muslim audience in the story. Let’s say a group traveling somewhere pauses to pray; though other than these kinds of things there is no overt reference to Islam. As a translator, I would leave it in. No reason not to. On the other hand, were I to westernize the story, I could change that pause to a rest break, or references to the prophet into references to a war hero from long ago or some other type of role model.

It would not be right. To me, the fact that the family is raising a ‘filthy animal’ demonstrates to the reader that they are not Muslims, and the word خنزير (pig) would not make that any worse. Just like the fact that the French characters in Ratatouille drinking wine is a simple, normal expression of French culture that did not budge the film from its “G” rating here in the U.S.

Having said all of that, part of the company name given credit for editing is “Arabization”. Maybe they feel this sort of thing is appropriate; but if so it should probably be “Islamization”, as I know many Arab Christians who enjoy both wine and pork products

Having said all of that, I would welcome level-headed, non-religious debate about whether it is appropriate for translators to change literary devices that could be offensive to their target audience.

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50 Essential Books of Poetry That Everyone Should Read

tarjema:

I came across this post thanks to WordPress’ suggestions. I’ve read several of these books, but not nearly all. It looks like a great list!

Originally posted on Flavorwire:

It’s National Poetry Month, and you’re probably thinking: “I should really read more poetry. But where oh where do I start?” Well, sound the trumpets, because here is Flavorwire to the rescue! After the jump, you’ll find a list of 50 essential books of poetry that pretty much everyone should read. There’s something for everybody here, from the deeply established canonical works to riveting, important books by newer poets, from the Romantics to the post-modernists, from the goofy to the staid. NB: as with other lists like these, only one work per author has been included, and there is a bias against the “Collected Poems of” unless necessary. Obviously, inevitably, painfully, there are many, many poets and works of poetry, both of great renown and less so, that are missing here and should still be read by everyone. This list can only reflect personal taste, chance meetings, and wild subjectivity…

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In Other Words, Part 1

Coffee shop readingThis series of blog posts will deal with a translation textbook titled In Other Words – A Coursebook on Translation by Mona Baker.

I have a small group of fellow translators with whom I will be working through this book. No matter how much experience we have, we can all benefit from making some effort to improve ourselves. This book, and our little book club, represent one way we can continue our professional development. I’ll be using this blog, or at least this series of blog posts on it, as an online place for us to chat about what we read and what we learn; or what we disagree with and why.

So for now, I’ll get going with chapter one, the introduction.

Mona Baker starts out with the purpose of the book and discussing the issues facing the “professionalization” of translation.

Part of the problem facing translators is that there is a long-standing image of a translator as someone advanced in years, cloistered in a room full of musty books, but who – in younger and more vigorous days – was widely traveled and experienced in several career fields. Like Baker, I have no wish to disparage those who came to translation in this fashion. Bilingual adventurers with a flair for both languages can, and often do, make wonderful translators. The issue facing those of us who come to this career younger – and my experience kind of splits the difference, I’ll get into that later – is the feeling among the other type that we can’t possibly know enough to be good. Taking some college courses, or other classes on translation, and just jumping in… well, that just isn’t how it’s done. Baker goes a bit farther in combatting this life-experience is the only way mindset:

“The ability to translate is a gift, they say: you either have it or you do not, and theory (almost a dirty word in some translation circles) is therefore irrelevant to the work of a translator. . . . [T]o take the analogy with medicine a step further: if we accept this line of thinking we will never be seen as anything but witch doctors and faith healers.”

A bit harsh, perhaps, but witch doctors and faith healers worked for many, many generations of man’s existence. I’m sure that many of the incredible and renowned translators of yore were translators by happenstance rather than by selected profession; often operating based on a desire to spread their faith or to understand a foreign culture – again, the adventurer/translator. Today we have professional doctors, regimented education, and examination boards. There is no reason why we should not have professional translators. Organizations like the American Translators Association in the U.S. and similar organizations in U.S. states and regions, Canada, Europe and elsewhere in the world are making strides. Certification examinations and continuing education requirements bring us at least to the level of certified experts in the field of computers and networking. Just as with the field of technology starting in the 1990s, more and more colleges are starting to offer higher-level degrees in foreign language and translation.

Baker goes on to describe how professionalism requires us to engage in a greater degree of introspection. We have to analyze how we do what we do; to break it down to its parts and build it back up again. Over the course or reading through this book, that is exactly what we will be doing.

And a discussion of professionalism would be half-done if we do not discuss ethics. Translators have to be faithful to the source text, sensitive to the target language and translate the meaning into a form appropriate to the target audience. Different types of translation will require or permit different kinds of freedom. Poetic imagery can be shifted to match the target culture in order to convey the right feelings; or it may be translated exactly in order to retain the feeling of `otherness’ in an attempt to teach the reader about the source culture.

So more on all of it later, but here is where we start!

Why I still don’t use Translation Memory

I recently received an email asking me about an article I wrote in 2005 titled Why I Don’t Use Translation Memory. First, they wanted to know if I had changed my mind, and second, if there was any more I had to say on the topic.

In essence, the answer is a simple yes. The article is still valid. Here are the reasons why I still don’t use translation memory tools:

1- They are expensive! Most TM tools range from $900 – $1500 for the freelance user versions.
2- In my freelance work – which is a relatively small amount, I hold a full-time job – most of the work I get is either hard copy or an image of hard copy. The state of Arabic Optical Character Recognition is such that I would not want to rely on it for production use. If anyone knows of any cheap, reliable OCR, let me know!

Two reasons. That is about all there is to it. Now, I have looked into using open source translation memory tools. Specifically, I have looked closely at OmegaT and Anaphraseus. These products both have a lot of potential, and I will be experimenting with them more in the future. They might change my mind, having taken cost out of the picture. The best part is they both run on Windows, Mac, and Linux/FreeBSD systems.