Archive for the ‘Musings in Translation’ Category

The Joy of (not) Cooking

A great article came out in the Wall Street Journal today about tapas.  Tapas are Spain’s glorious contribution to the world cuisine.  Instead of ordering a full meal, tapas are all about ordering a variety of small dishes, each one a gem in a world of creative taste designs.  Wine, of course, is de rigueur. (Pardon the French when describing a Spanish delight.)

Tapas are served at places that specialize in these things.  The practice is a grandly social one of “tasca hopping”–going from place to place (tapa bar to tapa bar) to sample the tapas.  Do it with friends, and you end up with a delightfully full tummy at a fraction of the cost of a sit-down meal and with a whole lot more fun in the interim. 

Here is a link to this article, which is fun just to read!

Hooray for Spain!

¡Buen provecho!

Say What?

There’s a great Doonesbury cartoon today (March 28) in the Sunday funnies related to language.  A young character named Jeff is working in Afghanistan for the CIA and has apparently been assigned the job of surveying the tribal elders on their opinions of the surge and the Taliban.  This kid fancies himself as a Pashto speaker.   The hubris and perils of dealing in a foreign language without professional assistance become painfully (not to mention embarrassingly)  obvious.

See the cartoon here

 If you want to make a positive impression on foreign speakers, ad hoc translation and interpretation sure aren’t how to get the job done.  

Eloquence will never put your credibility in peril.  Call us.

What kind of impression is YOUR organization making?

The Google Behemoth

Google has set its sights on translation.  According to an article in the New York Times on March 9, 2010 (see the article here), the company has determined that it will single-handedly overcome the language barrier (single-handedly, that is, with the help of “a few hundred billion English words”). 

Machine translation, which is what this is, has long been a subject of intense disagreement among language professionals and the entities promoting automation.  David Bellos, Director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication at Princeton University, offered a clear perspective on this in a March 20, 2010, New York Times op-ed piece entitled “I, Translator” (see the article here).

Language and its use are a key distinction between humans and other creatures on our planet.  The human infant’s brain is enriched and exponentially expanded by listening, watching and experiencing the communications of other human beings all around it.  Mastering speech, syntax and written communication skills in one’s own language takes years, if not decades.  Some people never master it. And those who master it especially well become society’s writers, speakers and leaders. To think that a machine can replicate the talent of a gifted native speaker is inconceivable. 

Language is created out of need–the need to express something ineffable, something that specifically moves one human brain to reach out to another.  Language is created by feelings to create feelings. Machines don’t feel. Speaking or writing launches an arrow targeted squarely at the listener or reader. How it lands–or whether it lands at all–and how perfectly the language is communicated make the difference between inspiration or indifference.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that the magnificent human brain can be replaced by a language robot. When it comes to nuances and the fine details of foreign language translation work, no machine, no matter how sophisticated, will ever replace a sentient human being. Machines are incapable of that exquisite flash of insight with precisely the perfect word to nail the target. To get the job done right, ask a human.


A strange request came through today.

Ordinarily those of us in this industry bill for our services based on the word count of the document provided, in the case of outright translation, or else on the time spent, in cases such as editing or proofreading.  Most people are familiar with and understand that kind of measurement, and we all have charges correlated to what it will take us to serve our client well at a reasonable cost while still making a living for ourselves.

Most of us in general, and Eloquence Language Services in particular, seek to establish ourselves as professional providers of a service, not a product.  Translators and interpreters have spent years trying to educate the public about the importance of selecting a professional who can offer precisely that result.

So today a colleague just wrote a boatload of us in the business begging for anyone’s input on how to bill a job in GIGABYTES.  Gigabytes?  Talk about commodity pricing!  That’s a rather demeaning idea, considering that untold time and effort go into delivering a top-notch translation, and then to reduce it to no more than a bunch of ones and zeroes?  Geez, guys, give us a break!

Excuse me?

You can’t believe everything you read when it comes to a translation guide.  The following was reported by Mark Herman in the Nov/Dec 2009  edition of the translation industry’s ATA Chronicle with contributions by Costa Kanellos and Joseph Ciparick.

A 1949 book called the  English-Turkish Conversation Book written by one M. Vasif Okcugíl attempted to provide English sentences for those Turks wanting to speak the English language.  Each entry in the book is a phrase that is first written in English, then transliterated into Turkish orthography and then finally into Turkish itself.  Unfortunately, anyone using this book would have been looked at by any English speaker with puzzlement and then probably with either amusement or pity.  Here are some examples of a few of the English results.  Some are discernible, and others are just plain unfathomable.  A piece of advice?  If you speak Turkish, don’t buy this book!

Put your napkin to your front.

This paper is blotting.

Pleat your thumb and the second finger.

You did not administrate the establishment.

He did not take care to my advices.

Did you divine the enigma?

If I am not get up when I awake, I am deadly sleeping again.

Is it killed anybody?

They did not agitate the question.

What o’clock is it?


Of course, the real kicker in English is our determined propensity to pronounce similar spellings in different ways.  No wonder English is so hard for non-native speakers to master!  Think about the following examples, which we native speakers just take for granted (and for those of us with children, we spend years correcting them on):

“ONE”:    One    Gone      Tone

“OU”:   Hour    Four    Tour   Should    Moustache

“ERE”:    Where    Here    Were

“OO”:    Food    Good    Door    Cooperate    Blood

“IM”:    Climb    Limb

“IMB”:  Climber     Limber

“UMB”:  Plumber     Lumber

“IPED”:  Piped    Biped  

“AUGH”:  Caught    Laugh

“INT”:   Pint    Tint

And then the “king” of the confusing diphthongs,

“OUGH”:  Though   Through    Thought    Tough   Trough   Thorough    Bough     Cough     Hiccough



Trends in Translation and Interpretation

The world of translating and interpreting is going the route of many of today’s professions–specialization.

The Los Angeles Times just published an article by Tina Susman regarding how translation and niche specialization can play an important role in the world’s needs today.   Here’s a link to the article

It highlights a woman who specializes in the German language and waste management–“The Trash Lady”–and it illustrates how detailed and complex a translator’s job can be.  It also highlights how being a specialist is key to nailing down the finite details of the translation job.

Nicholas Hartmann, President of the American Translators Association, whose convention I just attended in New York, made excellent points about the need for professional competent human translators rather than using a machine or the native-speaking guy you have in your office.  He gave fascinating examples of embarrassing errors that have occurred recently even on the international level where due diligence was missing.

Translators who know their stuff are priceless when it comes to enabling accurate communication. 

Clearly, translation and interpretation aren’t going away any time soon.  So long as people must communicate with one another, Eloquence will be your language bridge. You can depend on us not to “trash” your job!


November 3, 2009

I just returned from New York, where I attended the 50th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association.  The ATA is our industry’s premiere organization.  What an event!  There were dozens of exhibitors, focus groups and meetings and hundreds of interesting sessions given in multiple languages by scores of top quality presenters.  Held at the beautiful Marriott Marquis Hotel right on Times Square, over 2,300 professionals attended this 4-day event.

What astonished me was that translators and interpreters came not just from the United States, but from fifty-three foreign countries to the American Translators Association conference!  What a strange feeling it was to be surrounded by thousands of people just like me who live and breathe the esoterica of what I do all day without needing an explanation.  Say what you will about the state of today’s world economy, it’s gratifying to know that the art of communication in word and speech is alive and well!

Contact Us

3555 Inverness Blvd
Carmel, IN 46032-9381 U.S.A

317.446.0951 (Main) 559.751.2878 (eFax)

Send us a note