How much do Arabs read, and what do they read?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated April 23rd as World Book Day. Raseef22 is taking this occasion to reexamine the numbers that are so telling about the status of reading in the Arab World today.

How much do Arabs read?

According to the 2003 “Human Development Report” issued by UNESCO, an average Arab reads far less than one book; it takes 80 people combined to complete one book in a year. In comparison, an average European reads 35 books per year, and an Israeli reads 40.

The 2011 Report on Cultural Development issued by the Arab Thought Foundation stated that Arabs read for an average of six minutes per year, while Europeans read 200 hours annually.

The numbers vary from one report to another concerning the amount of reading in the Arab world. A 2008 report prepared by Synovate, a multinational market research firm, said that Egyptians and Moroccans spend 40 minutes per day reading newspapers and magazines, compared to 35 minutes in Tunisia, 34 minutes in Saudi Arabia, and 31 minutes in Lebanon. Concerning reading books, the Lebanese spend 588 minutes reading per month compared to 540 minutes in Egypt, 506 minutes in Morocco, and 378 minutes in Saudi Arabia. These numbers reflect a more positive situation than those reported previously. The difference is that the latter set of numbers includes reading the Qur’an. The earlier numbers only count reading literature and disregard reading newspapers, magazines, textbooks, files and reports for work, and books in the entertainment category.

How many books to Arabs produce?

The UNESCO report concludes that the Arab world translates 1/5 of the books translated by the small nation of Greece. Nearly 10,000 books have been translated into Arabic between the end of Al-Ma’mun’s rule (813-833 a.d.) in the Abbasid Caliphate and the current age. This number is equal to the number of books translated by Spain in a single year.

In the first five years of the 1980s 4.4 books were translated for every million Arabs (less than one book per million Arabs per year). In Hungary, the number was 519 books per million; in Spain it was 920 books per million.

Why?

The Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) released a statement reporting that the illiteracy rate in the Arab world is 19.73%, with a huge disparity between men and women; women make up 60.60% of the illiterate population. If we add to this the fact that millions of Arabs live in poverty, and are concerned only with meeting their primary needs and not with purchasing books, some of the factors in the full picture become clearer.

Moreover, there is an idea that connects the desire to read with the nature of the political system in place. It is said that where liberty prospers, the number of readers increases. In democratic societies, the individual citizen is seen as an important factor in public life. So, even if it is only a small amount, individuals care about cultural and political output. That is why the numbers about reading in the age in which political ideology prospered among the educated in the Arab World were far greater than those today. And now, because most Arabs have handed their futures over to fate and feel that participation in the public arena is futile, the concern for reading has regressed.

I translated this article from http://raseef22.com/culture/2015/04/23/reading-habits-in-the-arab-world/

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To Translate, It’s Not Enough To Understand a Language, ‘One Needs To Feel It’

tarjema:

I wish I could have attended this in person!

Originally posted on Arabic Literature (in English):

A panel made up of an Arabist, a specialist in modern Arabic Literature, and an author discussed the aspects of translations that delight and nettle them at the Seventh Emirates Airline Literature Festival, which took place at the beginning of this month:

By Sawad Hussain

Photo credit: Sawad Hussein. Photo credit: Sawad Hussain.

Translation from any language into another is a tall order, each having its own cultural references and local idioms. But translation from Arabic is another story altogether: one-sentence paragraphs; subjects separated from their verbs by lines on end; colloquial Arabic, from any possible number of countries, mixed in with Modern Standard; the tense being a mood rather than actually stated throughout the text; and the list goes on.…

As such, it wasn’t surprising that the Seventh Emirates Airline Literature Festival dedicated a session to unravelling “The Sticky Arts of Translation and Interpretation.” Though Arabic wasn’t mentioned explicitly in the title, the session primarily…

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‘Dictionary of the Revolution': Defining Words in Flux

tarjema:

What an amazing project!

Originally posted on Arabic Literature (in English):

On January 31st, A Dictionary of the Revolution launched a kickstarter to boost the project toward its final phase:

dictionary_revolutionThis fund-raising campaign is focused on building the dictionary a digital text and sound archive for the material that Amira Hanafi and her team have collected in the past year. Through one-on-one interviews, leaping off from particular hot-button words, “A Dictionary of the Revolution makes space for viewpoints that are no longer represented in the media or in the Egyptian public. The book and archive preserve the memory of a moment in Egyptian history when many voices could be heard.”

Open to the public, Hanafi writes, the Dictionary archive “could be used for research, as the basis for other projects, or just exist for posterity: so we don’t forget the uprising in Egypt as time passes and things change.”

The campaign’s minimum goal is $2,500, and it’s already more than halfway there.

Dictionarist…

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Interview with Ehab Abdelmawla

Ehab Abdelmawla has written a few books now, the first of which is اليعسوب, The Dragonfly. Here is the summary from the dust jacket:

Date: 2071

Location: The United Southern Arab States (Egypt, Sudan, and Nubia), Eastern Desert Sector

The World: Women, men, and… Dragonflies

It is a scary new world with different class separations, under the control of a harsh and unforgiving Queen. She has a hatred of men and everything to do with Y chromosome. She is even working to eliminate them completely through an insane program of genetic manipulation. She has placed women at the forefront, making high-level positions, university education, and prestigious jobs available only to them, giving them preferred treatment in all things. She has selected the strongest, most handsome, smartest, and most talented of men to be Dragonflies. They are men who owe her absolute allegiance; she has built them self-contained colonies with everything they could want. This leaves nothing for ordinary men but service, hard labor, ignorance and poverty.

Seif is a dragonfly who spent 14 years living in the Mother Colony, which directly reports to the Queen’s Palace. He finds himself on a highway on the border of Aswan. He does not recall how he came to be at this place, nor where he is, but he knows one fact: He does not want to go back to the colony, where all of his wants are fulfilled. He does not want to be a dragonfly, with all of the advantages available to a man in that nightmare world and its frightening events. Instead, he would like to become an ordinary man with nothing save poverty, ignorance and hard work.

The punishment for insurgency was clear, no other choice was given: life in detention at the Waterfalls Prison, or a visit to the Submission Proclamation Room after five years.

In the Colonial prison, Seif meets a group of men who have set their sights on achieving two goals: first, escape from that hellish prison. Second: eliminate the queen and bring things back to normal: Men and women, and nothing else.

I’m currently reading The Dragonfly. I’ll post a full review when I finish, and with the author’s permission I may provide the introduction and the first chapter or two in English… I will probably translate at least one of his works. I have long thought that the English-speaking world could benefit from seeing (and reading) more SFF written by authors who come from completely different cultures.

What follows is my translation of an interview Al-Seyassah conducted with Ehab.

enjoy!

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Ehab Abdelmawla: The “Pay to Publish” principle has brought us to this state of chaos

Cairo – Amal Ziyadah

A novelist whose travels among several European countries have left a deep impression on him dreams of many things for his country, and he is working hard to achieve them. With his desire for enlightenment, to show the opposing viewpoint, and to discuss issues in the open, he refuses all forms of censorship. He has released the novel “The Dragonfly”, in which he discusses things that have been kept silent, as well as a number of national and international issues.

Al-Seyassah met with author Ehab Abdelmawla to talk about the novel and its particulars. Abdelmawla spoke about the “fatal trinity”; dangerous to any who try to address them, and he criticized publishers that are solely concerned with making a profit at the expense of the quality, and his personal artistic and cultural message.

AS:                Why did you decide to concentrate on the lives of the Nubians in Egypt in The Dragonfly, despite their role in people’s imagination?

EA:                The primary, overarching plotline in the novel is concerned with equality and the dispensation of justice and rights. This is because how people understand duty is the real path to national progress. Any kind of segregation, whether based on gender – male vs. female – or denying people’s rights because they are minorities, is completely unacceptable. In the long run, human beings must be protected regardless of gender, color, religion, or race. The worst thing one of these people will experience is the feeling of oppression, making them lose confidence in the justice system. When that collapses, all other systems collapse. If a person is stripped of their rights, if he or she is repressed and loses the ability to produce, they lose their humanity and become animals for others to prey upon.

AS:                You have dedicated a lot of space in your novel to the matter of persecution of women, why?

EA:                There isn’t enough space for me to respond to the issue of persecution of women and restrictions on their rights in society after the appearance of the so-called “State of the Caliphate”. I did dedicate some space to the matter in the introduction to this novel. I will only refer to the last part of the introduction; it might answer the question. I wrote, “I do not wish to dispute the rights Islam has provided to women. I will be satisfied with a single point. In the Holy Qur’an there is a full Surah (chapter) called An-Nisaa’ (Women). Is it mere chance that the greatest expressions of justice in the world and throughout history are found in that very chapter? “Believers, stand firm for justice. Bear witness for God, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, or your relatives, whether rich or poor. God is more worthy than both. Do not follow desire that you may be just. If you dissemble or refuse to speak, God is ever aware of what you do.””

A real issue

AS:                As an engineer, how were you able to expose real issues in your sci-fi creation?

EA:                It was inevitable for real issues to come up when dealing with issues in science fiction; novels reflect reality. I cannot stop short of talking about segregation or fall into that trap by limiting myself to one color within a single novel. Our lives contain all of reality: romance, imagination, terror, action, comedy, tragedy… my novel no less so. It cannot be restricted to one category. Some readers have made comments like this, and it pleases me.

AS:                If we went with you back to the beginning, when you started writing, what would that look like?

EA:                It sprang from my love of the Arabic language. The Holy Qur’an was the first book I read, and I was deeply affected by it. I learned Arabic from the Qur’an. My passion for the art of fiction in literature came from the writings of Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and others.

AS:                Is there a cap or any limits to freedom in creativity?

EA:                Some try to create limits by trying to stay away from the trinity of religion, sex, and politics, especially in Egypt and the Arab world. In Western countries, there are no hard lines that should not be crossed; therefore, whether or not this trinity is addressed is based on a given society and the controls that rule it.

AS:                Is what’s right for the West right for us?

EA:                It would not be appropriate for an author to write a children’s book for the Islamic world about Mark playing with a pig in its pen, for example, if the target audience was in an Islamic country with Eastern traditions. The author would replace the pig with a different animal, like a rabbit. That is one aspect. On the other hand, we have to delineate two types of authors. The first type operates from an unlimited vision, the second has a specific plan and he works within the scope of that plan.

AS:                What is the difference between the two?

EA:                The first type of author’s work does not have a specific agenda driving it; the work can talk about anything: sex, homosexuality, drugs, or alcohol in order to attract attention. He goes against the flow, or courts a specific subset of readers in order to increase sales in a world with decreasing education and young people who do not have good Arabic and do not understand the teachings of their religion – other than the grace of the Lord. These people are contributing to the collapse of a fundamentally worn out system, one they live in, for the prospect of profits.

AS:                Have you read something like that?

EA:                Yes, from a young author. In the first few pages of his novel, he described, in mind-numbing detail, an erotic scene between an eager fun-seeker and a beautiful girl. Because of this, I did not finish reading the novel. I don’t care to read this kind of writing. Unfortunately, most – but not all – novels that have gained prominence and gotten famous in the last decade are drenched in this kind of thing, so everyone believes that it is the path to fame and success in the Arab world. This kind of thing is wrongly called art and creativity. Even so, I have seen a certain subset standing up to change this prevailing formula. They have to pay the price, though, in order to elevate people’s taste and to fix what has been corrupted by others.

AS:                What about the other sort of authors?

EA:                Those authors have a vision and a goal in mind. They approach the “fatal trinity” in order to achieve a specific goal. An author might want to tear down something held sacred or sacrosanct, for example, and this goal is clear throughout his work. Only the audience has the right to judge him, to accept or reject his work. At the same time, any author who shows people the error of their ways by examining the issue must also provide the opposing view in order to give people the same freedom God gave them at creation, to choose between good and evil.

Desire for the Forbidden

AS:                Do you support censorship?

EA:                I emphatically oppose censorship in all its forms. I am against the prohibition of things that lure many under the name of “desire for the forbidden”. I stand on the side of enlightenment, of clear thinking, of showing the opposing viewpoint, and argumentation.

AS:                You have visited many European nations; what have you seen there that you would like to bring to Egypt?

EA:                Places are like people. They each have their own personalities and distinguishing features. Just as you might meet a person who affects your life, a place can affect you the same way. There are things I have seen in Egypt that I would love to see in other countries, and vice-versa. Perfection has not come to the world yet, and it isn’t going to. If we look at Egypt, it is a developing country. There is a lot left to do before it can go from developing to “advanced”, but the one thing that I would like to see in the near future would be more education and a reduction in the number of people who are illiterate. Education the key to everything. We need citizens who read and know the value of books. It is sad and shameful devices like the Amazon Kindle, though it supports 33 other languages, including low density languages like Afrikaans, does not support Arabic. The prevailing impression is that Arabs do not read.

AS:                What are the biggest problems authors face?

EA:                In short: publishing and distribution companies. I am lucky to be working with a publishing house that wants to change how most of the publishing world operates: the “pay to publish” principle. This has brought us to a state of “literary chaos”. There are so many titles that are not fit to print out there that the sanctity of books is adversely impacted. People lose confidence in the content of books, and they waste their money.

AS:                How has your publisher changed this concept?

EA:                The founders know that the problem is three-dimensional: the relationship between author and the publisher, the relationship between the publisher and the distributor and bookstores, and finally the attempt to get the author’s name known through major distributors. Based on this outlook, the publisher decided to dive in to this swamp in order to change it. I have confidence in them, and I have confidence in their ability to change this situation.

Structural Division

AS:                What does your writing ritual look like?

EA:                I could not call it a ritual, it is more like a work system. I may have been fortunate in that I was attracted to literature at a young age, but at the same time I like science, geography, and history. I studied engineering. All of this has left its traces on how I work when writing a novel. I start with a working outline from top to bottom that creates structural divisions between every chapter of the novel.

AS:                What is the funniest comment you have received?

EA:                It was a hashtag from a fan on the page: #WeAreAllAbdelmawla.

AS:                What is your most recent writing project?

EA:                I am working on a novel that is nearly complete called “Obscurantism”. In this book, I address the issue of how things that obscure reality in the modern age are attractive, and that they will drag us all into the abyss if we do not change. I chose this title as shorthand to cover the concept of the confusion, disordered thinking, and the randomness of the decisions we all suffer from.

AS:                Will you put out sequel to “The Dragonfly”?

EA:                Yes, I’m writing a sequel to the book, as well as a second and third book for the “Mars Trilogy”; 1, No Return; 2, Possibilities; 3, Ages.

AS:                What message would you like to give the readers?

EA:                I do not need to put it explicitly. Anyone who reads my work will understand that my message lies within the same scope as the various issues in the books and how they are addressed between the covers of a single literary project; a hidden thread binds them all – the one direction I hope we will all go together. But let’s leave that to the reader.

Translating good stories

tarjema:

This article is a couple of years old, but it certainly looks to me as though it is still very relevant. I will be posting more as time goes on, but I’ve been approached to translate an Arabic SF novel into English; I’m reading the book right now and I’m very interested in the project. I will probably be getting in touch with the blog’s author as well, just to ask some questions (after I read through more of her blog to see if my questions are already answered, of course).

Anyway, enjoy the read!

Originally posted on Lydia Moëd:

After such a positive first couple of posts, I thought it was time to talk about some things that annoy me. Two things annoyed me repeatedly at the London Book Fair: snobbery about genre fiction, and use of the phrase ‘lost in translation’. I thought I’d talk about the genre fiction one first.
(again, please bear in mind that I hate the terms ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ fiction, and that I do think ‘literary’ fiction is to some extent a genre of its own, but that I hate the term ‘commercial fiction’ even more and I don’t know any other words for the stuff I want to talk about. Now, onwards!)

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About a cat…

Since hearing from Said Hassanieh about the post I made concerning “filthy animals“, my interest in finishing reading The Hunger Games in Arabic has been renewed. I started over, this time paying closer attention to the story and how it is being told. This post concern’s Buttercup, a cat Prim rescued and brought home and Katniss was going to drown rather than feed.

As I have said, I aspire to translate literature someday. I know that when I do, any other translator will be able to pick on my work and find little things like this to pick on. When someone does, I will feel like an idiot and question why I ever set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. I admire the courage, skill, and artistry of those people who brave the world of literature. I have been impressed by the first by Said Hassanieh’s translation, and once I finish reading through this series I will be picking up some of his other translations. His Arabic is wonderful, clean and easy to read, and very expressive.

That said…

The paragraph introducing Buttercup struck me when I read it. It comes in right at the beginning of the first chapter, and I think it sets a lot of tone for the story. In this chapter we learn the following bits of information about Katniss:

  1. She loves Prim and will give her nearly anything. We don’t know it yet, but the family is subsisting barely above starvation; Katniss hunts and they eat her game to supplement their rations, and Katniss sells anything extra to buy the things they need.
  2. Katniss is in charge. Prim stopped her from drowning the cat and begged to be allowed to keep the cat. Katniss let her, and mom took care of the cat’s health.
  3. Katniss is willing to make hard choices and values things that pay their own way.

I’ll go into a bit more detail after the text especially about why I think these things are important and what happened in the translation.

Sitting at Prim’s knees, guarding her, is the world’s ugliest cat. Mashed-in nose, half of one ear missing, eyes the color of rotting squash. Prim named her Buttercup, insisting that his muddy yellow coat matched the bright flower. He hates me. Or at least distrusts me. Even though it was years ago, I think he still remembers how I tried to drown him in a bucket when Prim brought him home. Scrawny kitten, belly swollen with worms, crawling with fleas. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged so hard, cried even, I had to let him stay. It turned out okay. My mother got rid of the vermin, and he’s a born mouser. Even catches the occasional rat. Sometimes, when I clean a kill, I feed Buttercup the entrails. He has stopped hissing at me.

جلس أبشع هرّ في العالم على ركبتي بريم، فبدا وكأنه يحرسها. رأيت هذا الهر بخطمه المنتفخ، كان فاقداً لنصف أذن، أما لون عينيه فيمثل لون الكوسى الفاسدة. أطلقت بريم اسم الحوذان على هرّها هذا، وأصرّت على القول إن لون فرائه الأصفر الداكن يماثل لون تلك الزهرة النضرة. يكرهني هذا الهرّ، أو دعني أقول على الأقل إنه لا يثق بي. أظن أنه لا يزال يذكر ذلك اليوم الذي أحضرته بريم إلى المنزل، كان ذلك منذ سنوات عدة، عندما حاولتُ إغراقه في دلو مليء بالمياه. كان هرَاً صغيراً وهزيلاً يمتلئ بطنه بالديدان، وتتنقل البراغيث في أنحاء جسده. كان آخر شيء أحتاج إليههو فم إضافي ملزمة بإطعامه، لكن بريم توسلت إليّ بشدة، وحتى إنها بكت، كي أدعها تبقيه في المنزل، فرضخت لمطلبها. سارت الأمور على ما يرام في ما بعد لأن والدتي تمكّن من من تنظيفه من تلك الحشرات، فبدا وكأنه ولد من جديد، حتى إنه تمكّن من اصطياد الفئران بين الحين والآخر، كما اعتدت أن أطعمه أحشاء الفرائس بعد تنظيفها، لذلك كان يتوقف عن المواء عندما يراني.


Back-translation (translated as though it were an Arabic document, and I am trying to make it read as well in English as I can):

The ugliest cat in the world sat at Prim’s knees. It looked like he was guarding her. I saw this fat-muzzled cat that had lost half an ear, yet its eyes were like the color of rotten zucchini. Prim gave this cat the name of the buttercup, insisting that its dark yellow fur looked like the color of that bright flower. This cat hates me. Or, let me at least say that it has no confidence in me. I think he still remembers that day, when Prim brought him to the house several years earlier, when I tried to drown him in a bucket filled with water. He was a small gaunt cat, his belly full of worms and fleas moving all over his body. The last thing I needed was another mouth to feed. But Prim begged me, she even cried, so I would let her keep him in the house. I gave in to her request. Things were alright after that because my  mother was able to cleanse him of the vermin. It seemed like he was born again. He was even able to catch mice from time to time, and I used to feed him the entrails of my kills after I cleaned them. That is why he stopped meowing when he saw me.

Alright. Before I start with the critique: the first time I read the Arabic was well over a year after I read the English. The cat is not a major character in the story, though he has some value (as I listed above). The larger part of that value is retained in the translation – it was an ugly little sick kitten that Katniss had tried to kill but ended up letting Prim keep it (showing Katniss was in charge, not mom). It is in the last couple of sentences where some of the impact is lost, and that is where my focus is going to be. Keep in mind that this is a bit of foreshadowing; the cat will be taking over Katniss’ role as guardian and a hunter when she goes off to fight in the Hunger Games.

One major note: This novel, in English, is written in the first person, present tense. This voice is generally used to make the reader feel as though they are going through the experience with the narrator. I haven’t read enough Arabic literature to know the justification (do Arab authors avoid that voice?), but the translator changed the whole thing to first person, past tense. Is this a big deal? I do not know, but I feel like I need to find out, especially if I ever plan on translating an Arabic novel into English – or if, someday, I stick my neck way out and translate an English book into Arabic. Why? Well, here is the question. If I find a sci-fi or fantasy novel written in Arabic in the first person and past tense, would it be appropriate to change it to the present tense in English? It is a global decision that impacts the entire work.

The physical description of Buttercup is alright. I could argue about fat (the Arabic) vs. mashed-in; but since I am not a native speaker of Arabic, I can’t be sure that this is not the perfect word to describe the shape of a cat’s muzzle for those breeds that have flat faces, like Lizzy here:

Red Persian

Were the assignment mine, I think I would try to find a cat fancy web forum in the Arab world and see if there is a technical name for it, or (more appropriately) a nickname that pokes fun at this look.

Buttercup. That’s what Prim (named after a flower herself) names the cat. In my translation below, I’ll show you how I would have done it differently; but the short version is that I feel the definite article doesn’t belong. By making “buttercup” (الحوذان) definite, it changes the structure from an indirect object (Prim named the cat…) to a possessive noun construct (Prim gave the cat the name of the…). The easiest fix would have been to put the name in quotes, but one of the many things that makes me a fan of Hassanieh’s work is that he avoids all of those cheap tricks and writes in a very clean style that is easy on the eyes.

Alright. I’m going to stipulate the rest of the description, and Prim’s pleading, Katniss caving in, and mom healing. The translation is very solid and keeps all of the points and impact that the author is expressing.

The next thing I take issue with is the cat being “born again”. This is a case where I think the translator simply misunderstood the English. Buttercup was “a born mouser”. This means he was a natural hunter of mice, driven by instinct, and that he was good at it. Good enough that from time to time he caught a rat (much larger and generally more inclined to fight back than a mouse). I think it is important to get this phrase right because of what it shows us about Katniss’ character. She can make hard decisions; as a hunter she regularly kills and cleans animals, and she was prepared to euthanize this bedraggled cat. She has a soft heart; she gave in to Prim’s pleas. She has deep appreciation of people (and cats) that are able to pull their own weight in the family – this attitude is further explored in her conflicted love/anger at her mother, who has a gift as a healer but let the living family down when her husband died. And again, the cat is going to be filling her shoes as hunter/protector soon.

These things are first hinted at in this innocent little description of the cat, so I think it is important to get it right. The cat hates Katniss – or at least, doesn’t trust her. Katniss recognizes the cat’s value, both emotional (Prim loves it) and intrinsic (as a fellow hunter), so she starts to feed the cat the parts of her game that the people won’t eat. This brings us to another place that I think the translator missed the point. Katniss feeds the cat entrails, and now it doesn’t hiss at her. The Arabic says it stops “meowing” (المواء). A hiss and a meow are two very different things, as anyone who has spent any time with cats knows. A cat will meow for basic communication. Hungry, lonely, looking for a mate, maybe trapped or hurt. Hissing, on the other hand, shows anger and a readiness to attack or defend itself. The fact that Buttercup used to hiss at Katniss demonstrates the hatred/mistrust that Katniss attributes to her attempt to drown the bedraggled little critter. Cats tend to not meow most of the time (other than my sister-in-law’s dear, departed Hairy – she taught him to talk pretty, and he used to chirp at the birds), so there doesn’t seem to me to be much significance to the fact that Buttercup stopped meowing when Katniss came around unless it is that Buttercup was afraid of her.

So here goes. Feel free to laugh behind your hands or right out loud:

يجلس عند رقبتي بريم ابشع هرّ في العالم، يحرسها. الهرّ، ذو خطمة محطمة، نصف أذن غائب، وعينيه لهما لون الكوسى الفاسدة. اطلقَت بريم عليه اسم حوذان، أصرّت أن لون فرائه الأصفر الداكن المشوش يشبه لون الزهرة النضرة. يكرهني هذا الهرّ. أو على الأقل، لا يثق بي. بالرغم من السنوات التي مضت، اعتقد أنه لا يزال يذكر أني حاولت اغراقه في دلو مليء بالمياه عندما احضرته بريم إلى المنزل. كان هرّا صغيراً وحزيلاً، بطنه متورم بالدودان وتنتقل البراغيث في انحاء جسده. كان آخر شيء احتاج عليه فم اضافي ملزمة بإطعامه. لكن توسلت بريم عليّ بشدة، حتى كانت تبكي، فلا تركت لي اختيار غير الموافقة. سارت الأمر على ما يرام. والدتي نظفته من تلك الحشرات، وهو  صياد الفئرات طبيعي، وأحياناً يصيد جرذاً. في بعض الأحيان بعدما أقوم بتنظيف فرائسي، اعطيه الأحشاء. توقف عن البخيخ عليّ.

الأحشاء. عدم البخاخ. هذا الحد الأقصى لنا في اتجاه الحب.

As always, I eagerly welcome commentary and criticism. I am a novice at translating into Arabic, and have not read a great deal of Arabic literature. I have a lot to learn about style and convention, and appreciate any honest effort to help!

How a Tomato saved my sanity, or at least my job

Translation is one of those art/science things, much like writing novels. And, much like novel writing, there is a lot of information available about technique, methodology, finding work, marketing… Some good books cover how to keep yourself on task, but I’m not so good at that part of the job.
Screenshot_2014-12-16-12-19-55I have often suffered from procrastination. I think most of us have. Sometimes the hardest part for me is to just sit down and work. I usually know what I have to work on, but keeping myself on that task can be challenging at times.

One of the many times I spent an hour searching the internet for advice on how to be productive (rather than being productive), I came across an article about the Pomodoro Technique. You can follow the link for a neat little video explaining the system, but here is the short version:

An Italian (thus pomodoro, Italian for tomato) grad student was working on studying for his exams and was facing this kind of dilemma: how to stay focused, but still stay fresh enough to study everything he needed to. He came up with an idea, probably not a new thought, to do intervals. He had a kitchen timer, shaped like a tomato, that would time up to 25 minutes, so he went with 25 minutes of work and a five minute break, with a 15-minute break after four “pomodoros”.

That’s the short version. I had a timer on my iPhone that was pretty straight forward, a circle that drew itself and shrank and numbers on the screen counting down. It worked alright, and I liked that it ticked like a clock, even in the background of music I was listening to. But the design was uninspiring. When I gave up my iPhone and moved back to the Android world (with a Samsung Galaxy Note 4), I went looking for a timer. Most of them looked a lot like the iPhone one, and then I ran across Pomodoro Challenge in the Google Play store.

The visuals are industrial, the colors are very attractive (to me), and the slight mean streak reminds me of another of my favorites – the “sudo” (or superuser do) command line utility in Unix/Linux/FreeBSD. If you compile it with insults active, it flips you a ration when you mistype your password. Pomodoro Challenge does similar things. When you start out, you are given the rank of “Unrepentant Slacker” and work your way up from there. So far I have worked may way up through Recovering Slacker and Dead-eyed Drone to Resigned Attendant; there are 11 higher ranks, I’m looking forward to seeing how high I can go as I use it daily – a few days before Christmas, then five days off didn’t do much for my standings.

Anyway, this app is fantastic. Between the design and achievements, I am really enjoying using it. The Pomodoro Technique works.

The Sorcerer’s Stone 1 حجر الفيلسوف

Many translators do not care to have their work critiqued in the open, so I want to start by expressing my admiration for this work. Raja Abdallah (رجاء عبد الله ) translated the first two books, three and four by another translator, and each of the others had their own translators. I will not speculate on the reasons for the change, but I would have tried to stick with one translator for the entire series in order to keep a consistent voice. I have not read them all yet, just the first two, so I will have to address that as it comes. There are a few things that jump out at me as a reader from the very beginning of the Arabic version of the book. Most of which are negative and persist throughout the entire translation. Before I go into those things that I do not particularly care for, let is begin with the positive. I am sure no one will mind if I quote the first full paragraph:
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.
Here is the Arabic:

تفخر أسرة «درسلى» والتي تقيم في المنزل رقم 4 بشارع «بريفيت» بأنها أسرة طبيعية.. وهى فعلا كذلك، لا أحد نتصور أن تتورط مثل هذه الأسرة فى أية أمور عامضة أو مريبة!

And finally, a back-translation. I am going to perform these back-translations a bit more literally than I would normally want to do. This is to demonstrate the translation techniques used by Abdallah. I want to reiterate; I have great admiration for anyone who tackles the translation of a book, especially one as well-known and well-loved as Harry Potter. I will be pointing out differences in how I might have done it, but remember that I am not a native speaker of Arabic, and I would not even consider myself a very skilled Arabic writer. That is, after all, part of why I want to go through this exercise. Reading and analyzing these texts will help me develop my own skills. Hopefully I will gain an audience and start to hear feedback on my commentary. Back to the issue at hand:
The Dursla family, which resides in house number 4 on Privet Drive, is proud that it is a normal family.. It really is, no one would imagine that this kind of family would be involved in any strange or mysterious issues!
Here are the things you will notice, and I left them there on purpose to illustrate.

  • Dursla – the translator here follows a convention that I have seen in many places and that I suspect is widely accepted. The Arabic letter ي ya’ in the final position gives the long “ee” sound, as in “Dursley”. The Arabic letter ى, without the two dots underneath, is actually an alif (the ‘ah’ sound), and not a ya’. This means that, were I to have read the Arabic version of the book before reading the English or seeing the movie, I would think the family name was “Dursla” not “Dursley”. As one proceeds, other Arabic words that must end in ya’ use the alif instead (fi, which means “in” is fa, ‘hiyya’, the feminine she or it, is ‘ha’, but these are obvious to any reader). Though it is widely used, I personally do not care for it. The two-dot version of the letter is under the “D” on the keyboard, the non-dotted alif is the letter “N”. No shifting or special characters required.
  • Two dots, but a different kind: You’ll see that the first sentence ends with two periods instead of one. In my head this makes it feel like an incomplete ellipsis. I feel like the whole book is breathless and full of incomplete sentences because of this. This appears to be a publisher (and probably broader than the publisher) accepted form; each of the seven books uses the two-dot sentence ending (more frequently in the first couple of books, less so in the last book of the series). By contrast, the Arabic translation of Hunger Games uses only a single period to end a sentence.
  • On punctuation, the translator seems to love exclamation points. Far more than J.K. Rowling does. This first paragraph ends with one. One could argue, I suppose, that it is for emphasis rather than exclamation; in that scenario the exclamation point takes the place of the phrase “they just didn’t hold with such nonsense”.
  • Quotation marks. I applaud the use of the French-style chevrons rather than English-style quotation marks. I think they suit Arabic text much better, though it is a bit awkward to put them in (in Word and in Open/LibreOffice one must use insert symbol). On the other hand, reading further into the book we find that quotation marks are used around non-Arabic words, but are not used for actual quotations – real quotations have no special punctuation to separate them.

These are the issues in the first paragraph. They are present throughout the entire book; at least it is consistent! Consistency means that the reader’s eyes can adjust to these points, and move on.
Now to the point where I hang it all out here. Everyone feel free to laugh behind your hands or right out loud. Here is how I would translate this. I expect that my biggest problem here is going to be the one that most beginning translators (and, though I consider myself a professional – and have a certification from the American Translators Association – in translating from Arabic into English, I am a beginner when going into Arabic) suffer from: overly literal work.

يفخر السيد والسيدة درسلي، سكان منزل رقم 4، شارع بريفيت، بأنهما عاديين كاملين، وممتنان على ذلك. هم من آخر الناس الذين ممكن تتصورهم يتورطون في أمور غامضة أو عجيب لأنهم لا يقبلا سخافة من ذلك النوع.

Back translation:
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, residents of house number 4, Privet drive, are proud to be completely normal, and they are grateful for that. They are among the last people you could imagine being involved in anything mysterious or strange because they do not accept that kind of silliness.
Or, at least, that was what I was going for.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone readthrough

January 2015 is nearly here, and I am going to start on a project I’ve been meaning to do for some time. I want to do a read-through of the Arabic and English versions of Harry Potter! I bought the entire Arabic series from a bookseller in Florida through eBay, and I picked up the English books as they were published. I bought the first one on a lark – it was on the clearance shelf at a Hallmark store at the Landmark Mall in Alexandria, VA. I was there for work, away from home and my wife for a long time and just decided to give it a shot.

English and Arabic Harry Potter

English and Arabic Harry Potter

I have long been a fan of fantasy and sci-fi books. I actually got started, as many kids do, with the Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis; I doubt I was more than seven or eight at the time. I also read the Belgariad series (and the follow-up books) by David (and Leah) Eddings in my tweens and teens. And, of course, the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. All excellent books. I have read hundreds of others, but these were the tales that got me started.

JK Rawling’s epic – that is what it is, like it or no – captured the hearts and minds of a generation, and will probably keep on capturing them in the future – my own 5- and 7-year old kids love the stories. I grabbed the Arabic books for many reasons, mainly to practice reading Arabic using a familiar set of stories.

I fully support the translation movement. I really believe that a love of reading can lead to a love of all sorts of intellectual pursuits. I’m not silly enough to think that it always works that way, but I really believe reading, especially in speculative fiction like science fiction and fantasy, can help someone learn to think creatively and actively. In fiction we can safely explore society and relationships in a safe environment. We can explore race and gender relations, and break free of the confines of socially accepted norms.

I am confident that I will be making plenty of those kinds of observations, but my primary focus will be the story and the translation. I do not plan to analyze Harry Potter as philosophy or as an example of great storytelling, but rather to discuss the choices made by the Arabic translator. I will offer some alternatives, and I hope to learn more about the art of translating literature as I go.

When I finish with HP, I will (if I can find hard copies or legal electronic versions) move on to Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books, and possibly to the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings – I have paperbacks of the Lord of the Rings in Arabic, and I will be searching for the Hobbit and Hunger Games (the trilogy has been translated, it is just hard to find a copy where I will not pay more for shipping than for the books!).

Happy reading!

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?