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Brave New Words

A blog about translation, language, literature, and other related topics. Updated every approximately every five days.

Last Build Date: Sun, 16 Oct 2016 14:55:29 +0000



Sat, 25 Jul 2015 23:00:00 +0000

It’s time for me to have a summer break. Enjoy the warmer weather and see you back here before too long.


Mon, 20 Jul 2015 23:00:00 +0000

I like Michael Rosen’s work for children (I use The Sad Book in my children’s literature course at the university) and I’m always interested in what he has to say about language and lit. So I was excited to read his book, Alphabetical.

What a fun, interesting book! You can dip in and out and you can return to it, as there’s so much to learn from it. Sometimes it’s a bit random, as though you’re getting access to what’s going on in Rosen’s brain at any given moment. As he writes about the alphabet, topics range over the Rosetta Stone, nonsense, jokes, umlauts (he jokes about “adlauts”: umlauts used unnecessarily, especially in company names), fonts, and much more.

Here’s a typical example of how he gives history about each letter: “‘A’ starts its life in around 1800 BCE. Turn our modern ‘A’ upside down and you can see something of its original shape. Can you see an ox’s head with its horns sticking up in the air? If so, you can see the remains of this letter’s original name, ‘ox’, or ‘aleph’ on the ancient Semitic languages. By the time the Phoenicians are using it in around 1000 BCE it is lying on its side and looks more like a ‘K’. Speed-writing seems to have taken the diagonals through the upright, making it more like a horizontal form of our modern ‘A’ with the point on the left-hand side.” (p. 2)

But often the chapters go beyond the letter themselves. For example, K is for Korean and Rosen discusses the singer of the popular song ‘Gangnam Style’ as a way into looking at the Korean tongue. Korean is the “earliest known successful example of a sudden, conscious, total transformation  of a country’s writing.” (p. 163) In 1446, the king of Korea created a new alphabet (rather than using Chinese characters) because he was “saddened” that the people of his country couldn’t make themselves understood in writing. Rosen notes “I cannot think of anything in the world of alphabets more humane than that.” (p. 164)

Of course I was particularly interested in references to anything Scandinavian. Rosen mentions how a runestone from 1362 was found in the US in 1898, which seemed to prove that the Vikings had been in America. (p. 337) And he gives a list of some English words from Old Norse, which entered the English language when the Vikings came: “Anger, bag, bask, birth…rotten, rugged, run, skid…window, wing, wrong.” (p. 341)

Basically, this is a book can you return to many times. There’s so much information in it and it’s all fascinating. 

Love Your Translator

Wed, 15 Jul 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Ah, translators! Invisible, overworked, underpaid, and…underloved? Check out the Love Your Translator campaign and Facebook page. Get some stickers and show love for translators!

Translation Agency

Fri, 10 Jul 2015 23:00:00 +0000

This online translation agency is large, seems to pay fairly, and has received quite a bit of recognition. I have never worked with them, but they might be a useful company for people who are looking for freelance translation work.


Sun, 05 Jul 2015 23:00:00 +0000

This comedy sketch may be old news to some of you, but I only recently was introduced to it and it made me laugh. It’s about how difficult Danish can be to understand, even for Danes. I lived 20 minutes from Denmark for years, and I still would rather speak English to a Dane!

Polyglot Blog

Wed, 01 Jul 2015 02:14:00 +0000

Alex Rawlings is a polyglot who blogs about it here and also teaches workshops on it.

Subtitles by Machine

Thu, 25 Jun 2015 23:00:00 +0000

A couple of months ago, Swedish TV4 caused a bit of a scandal when they said their subtitles were done by machine. They then backtracked on that, but given some of the mistakes they make, it’s hard to know what to think. Here’s an article about it.

Language Detectives

Sat, 20 Jun 2015 23:00:00 +0000

This episode of the Shelf Life program from the American Museum of Natural History is all about languages and it looks really interesting. Here is the information I received:

“At the American Museum of Natural History, we have tons of content that visitors don’t get to see, including the research our scientists do. So, we have been releasing new videos each month about our collections, each packed with exciting behind-the-scenes content, and we are reaching out to science bloggers like you, who we know love science as much as we do, to help show off our amazing collections.

This month is all about languages, and how an anthropologist and a computational biologist come together to study ancient languages in the 7th episode of the Shelf Life series, The Language Detectives.”

Should You Date a Translator?

Mon, 15 Jun 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Should you date or marry a translator? What would it be like? Well, this humorous link struck home. I think it’s pretty accurate!

A Round-Up of Articles on Children’s Literature

Wed, 10 Jun 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Children’s lit is one of my big passions. I think more of it needs to be translated, and we need greater diversity in the field generally.

Here’s a helpful list of LGBTQ books.

And another piece on LGBTQ books for younger readers.

This article is on diversity in children’s lit in general.

This article is on picture books, but why do they suggest you need to be a child to appreciate picture books? I think good picture books are for everyone!

The Scientist in the Crib

Fri, 05 Jun 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Since becoming a parent, I’ve gotten even more interested in children, their language acquisition, and their development, so I recently read The Scientist in the Crib by Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff and Patricia K. Kuhl.

The book is about how children learn about the world and what we adults can learn from studying children, especially babies. There’s a chapter particularly about how children learn language. But what is actually involved in learning a tongue? “First, you have to break up the continuous stream of sounds into separate pieces and identify each sound accurately...Then you have to string the sounds together into words...Then you need to understand all the nuances of meaning each word can have...And, finally, you have to figure out something about the larger intent of the sentence.” (p. 92-3) Gopnik, Meltzoff and Kuhl call it “code-breaking” and say how challenging it is, but “most complicated of all, people speaking different languages hear sounds totally differently.” (p. 96)

But what does language do for us anyway? Well, ”the most obvious advantage of language is that it lets us communicate and coordinate our actions with other people in our group…The fact that we speak different languages also lets us differentiate between ourselves and others…And the development of language is probably linked to the development of our equally distinctive ability to learn about people and things. It allows us to take advantage of all the things that people before us have discovered about the world.” (p. 100)

Here’s how it works: “Babies master the sounds of their language first, and that makes the words easier to learn….Babies seem to learn some general rules about the words in their particular language before they learn the words themselves.” (p. 109) As parents, we need to talk to our babies often, especially in a slow and slightly exaggerated way, so they can hear the sounds and then start understanding the words.

If, like me, you hope your child will learn a language from a young age, when should you start? The earlier the better. “Children who learn a second language when they are very young, between three and seven years of age, perform like native speakers on various tests…If you learn a second language after puberty, there is no longer any correlation between your age and your linguistic skill…Early in development we are open to learn the prototypes of many different languages. But by the time we reach puberty, these mental representations of sounds are well formed and become more fixed, and that makes it more difficult to perceive the distinctions of a foreign language.” (p. 192-3)

The Scientist in the Crib is an interesting, if somewhat repetitive, book, and I recommend it to parents in particular.

Brave New Reads

Sun, 31 May 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Brave New Reads is a great summer reading program run by Writers’ Centre Norwich. It encourages people to take a chance on books that they wouldn’t necessarily ordinarily read. Although the activities (including reader workshops that I run) are solely in the East Anglia region, the book suggestions are for anyone. I especially appreciate how at least one book each year is a translation!

Bilingual By Music

Mon, 25 May 2015 23:00:00 +0000

I discovered Bilingual By Music recently and love the idea. It’s a CD set with two CDs. Each CD has children’s songs on it, but sung in two languages, English and Swedish. It’s a great way for children (and adults) to learn or improve their language skills. I’ve been listening to the Swedish CD with my daughter a lot and we both love it. I believe Bilingual By Music also has a Danish version, and I hope they produce some other languages as well, because music is an excellent entry into a language.

Word Count Ratio Tool

Wed, 20 May 2015 23:00:00 +0000

We all know that 5000 words in, say, German does not equal 5000 words in Russian. That can make it hard to work out fees. This word count ratio tool might help with that.

Translation vs. Interpretation

Fri, 15 May 2015 23:00:00 +0000

As I’ve mentioned before, many people seem confused about the difference between translation and interpretation. So any articles that can help illuminate this for folks (especially clients) are welcome. Check this piece out.

Guide to Contacting Translation Agencies

Sun, 10 May 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Many translators work with translation agencies, but it can be difficult to know how to first make contact with them. Someone sent me this guide to contacting translation agencies.

New Translation Statistics

Tue, 05 May 2015 23:00:00 +0000

Here are some fascinating new translation stats.

“How many translations are published in English and how accurate is the often quoted figure of 3%? Which are the most translated languages and which literatures are we missing out on? A new report from Literature Across Frontiers (LAF), Publishing translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland: 1990 – 2012, finally answers many questions surrounding translation statistics. The report, prepared by Alexandra Büchler and Giulia Trentacosti, is a welcome addition to the translation reports and surveys published on LAF’s website and will be launched in electronic format on Monday 13th April, on the occasion of the London International Book Fair 2015.

The key findings presented by the report are based on analysis of two distinct data sets: raw data extracted from the British National Bibliography for the period 1990 – 2012 and processed data for the period 2000 – 2012. The raw data make it possible to produce statistics comparable to those published by other book markets, while the manually processed data provide an annual list of literary translations comprising fiction, poetry, drama, children’s books and creative non-fiction, so far for the period 2000 - 2012. The processed data sets have been further analysed with respect to genre and source language.

LAF director Alexandra Büchler said: “The report brings us, for the first time, reliable data and statistics on the publishing of translations in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Our analysis shows that the often quoted 3% estimate indeed corresponds to the established average of all translations recorded in the British National Bibliography over the past two decades. This is embarrassingly low, compared to the percentages recorded in other European countries, including large book markets with healthy domestic book production such as Germany, France, Italy or Poland. Literary translations represent a slightly higher share, consistently exceeding 4% with a peak of 5.23% in 2011. The statistics show a steady growth of literary translations over the past two decades in absolute numbers and this is very encouraging. General translations grew by 53% between 1990 and 2012 and literary translations by 66%. This is of course reflected in only marginal percentage growth due to the growth in the overall publishing output. Also encouraging is the diversity of source languages with small European languages like Swedish, Norwegian and Dutch among the top ten translated languages alongside two non-European languages, Arabic and Japanese. On the other hand, most Eastern European languages are seriously underrepresented and we are clearly missing out on entire swaths of literary landscapes in our immediate neighbourhood.”

The next step LAF plans to take will be to publish the long awaited database of literary translations for the period 2000 – 2012 and to conduct further analysis which will tell us more about the trends and patterns of publishing translations beyond the basic quantitative information brought by the present report. Another task will be to process the raw data for the earlier period and subject them to a similar analysis.”

More on Hyperpolyglots

Thu, 30 Apr 2015 23:00:00 +0000

In the last post, I discussed Michael Erard’s book Babel No More. In the book, he offers some resources for learning more about hyperpolyglots and about learning languages in general. I haven’t yet been able to get any of these books/websites, but I hope to. Here’s a selection:

Andrew Cohen: Strategies in Learning and Using a Second Language

Earl Stevick: Success with Foreign Languages

Carol Griffiths: Lessons from Good Language Learners

Erik Gunnemark: Art and Science of Learning Languages

Polyglot Project:

He also recommends the ASSiMiL language courses.

Babel No More

Sat, 25 Apr 2015 23:00:00 +0000

What is a hyperpolyglot? Someone who knows many languages. But how many? Six? Eight or more? Eleven? Or even 30? And what does “know” mean? Being able to speak, write, read and listen like a native speaker? Being able to talk about daily matters? Having a basic conversation? Just saying a few words? Or…?In Babel No More by Michael Erard, Erard travels around the world to explore what it really means to learn a language, how the brain deals with language, and how you can learn many tongues. He meets researchers, neuroscientists, people who know many languages, and others, and he visits multilingual groups, such as in India.He shows how our view of language in general and multilingualism in particular has changed over time. Erard writes, “Go back to prehistory, a time of linguistic wildness, when we can imagine that each roving band of humans grunted its own dialect, and uncountable versions of half-congealed speech codes could be overheard at every cave and watering hole. Any one of these codes had a range, not a center nor an edge; not until bands clashed, merged or partnered and settled into villages did they acquire a physical place, a homeland. Over thousands of years, these became city-building empires that swept many languages away. On borders and in cities, people spoke several languages…so did everyone in geographically isolated places where trading and navigating required knowing the languages of one’s equally isolated neighbors. All this was endangered, thousands of years later, in the era of the nation…monolingualism became the standard model in most places, because the boundaries of the nation were drawn to include all the people who spoke alike. This unity was threatened by multilingualism and its taint of barbarity, impurity and unnatural mixing.” (p. 90)And now, he adds, many counties just want one national tongue. I live in England, where there are people from all over the world, but English is the only language most people know. Young people might study other languages, but not seriously. “Politicians lectured Britons on learning languages so they could get jobs in the European Union, while universities removed foreign-language requirements and shut down language departments when enrollments dropped. Further, the government was constantly exporting English teachers, textbooks, courses, and programs, helping the country to earn £1.3 billion a year. In other words, learning language was for citizens of other countries-who would then compete with Britons for jobs. The irony was underscored by the fact that by 2005, immigrants had transformed London into a place where at least 307 languages are spoken, making the capital of one of the most monolingual countries in the European Union the most multilingual city on the planet.” (p. 71)In other countries that Erard visits, such as Germany, a number of people want to learn multiple languages. But why? Some because it’s fun or a challenge, while others need to for work. Still others want to understand how language works, so they see learning languages as a sort of course in linguistics. Others learn many languages in order to have many selves. Erard interviews some people who dedicate their whole lives to learning languages, sometimes even to the detriment of their jobs or families.But how many languages can you really know? Erard suggests we have too high expectations for our language skills. You’ll never speak another language like a native. “If you want to be better at languages, you should use native speakers as a metric of progress, though not as a go[...]

Educational Videos

Mon, 20 Apr 2015 23:00:00 +0000

If you know Swedish, you might find these educational videos useful, especially the ones on literature and language.

Sign Language and Music

Wed, 15 Apr 2015 23:00:00 +0000

The sign language interpreter for Melodifestivalen (the Swedish run-up to Eurovision), Tommy Krångh, has rightfully made the news recently. His interpretations of pop songs in the contest are fantastic; they’re moving and theatrical. I’m so glad we all can have a chance to see them and learn from them, and I’m also glad that they are bringing new awareness to sign language interpretation. Check out some of his work here and read about him in this article.

Tony’s Reading List

Fri, 10 Apr 2015 23:00:00 +0000

This blog is all about reading in translation and it has lots of great reading suggestions.

The World Atlas of Language Structures

Sun, 05 Apr 2015 23:00:00 +0000

I’m loving this website, The World Atlas of Language Structures. I’m a linguaphile nerd, and it really speaks to me, plus it’s useful!

Language-Learning Apps

Mon, 30 Mar 2015 23:50:00 +0000

A few weeks ago, I referred to one language app, and now I’ve been told about another, the “Vocabulary Trainer”. It’s a “a mobile app to learn the most frequent words, travel phrases and slang (in total over 10,000 words and phrases) in over 30 languages.” It sounds intriguing, but I’m not sure if I think apps are the best way to learn languages. They can help in the moment, but I wonder if the material actually stays with you. What do you think?

Language Family Trees

Thu, 26 Mar 2015 00:45:00 +0000

These pictures of the Indo-European and Uralic language family trees are lovely, and also quite helpful.