Saturday, January 28, 2006

Tameme's all new website

Tameme, the bilingual (English/Spanish) journal of new writing from North America (Canada, the U.S., and Mexico) is coming back as a chapbook publisher. Our first title in the Tameme Chabooks ~ Cuadernos series will be a short story by Mexican writer Agustin Cadena, forthcoming this July. In March -- for the Associated Writing Programs conference bookfair -- we will have a "call for submissions" flyer at our table. So please stop by. And have a look at the all new wesbite, same URL, which has a great links page. And, by the way, if you have any suggestions for more links, please do let us know.

Friday, January 27, 2006

One city, one book: two languages

My San Francisco Bay Area town of around 90,000 people is declaring a "One city, one book" month. The librarians and the city council came up with a plan, and a list of possible books, but then scrapped it, realizing they had not invited input from the community. Last night I went to the first committee meeting, as one of around 8 "community members" to set the qualities we wanted to see in our One Book.

The central idea of the program is to get people in town talking with each other across normal social barriers. I've seen Harry Potter function that way; strangers see each other reading it, and talk to each other at the grocery store or train station. My town is said to be around 35-40% Latino, though I suspect the numbers are substantially higher if you include the unincorporated Fair Oaks neighborhood on the other side of the tracks. I'd set it more at 45%. Language and class are the barriers that divide our town. I put myself forward for this meeting primarily because I wanted to argue strongly that the book should be available in Spanish and English. I expected to meet resistance to this idea.

Our committee brainstormed a list of qualities for the One Book. (Doesn't it sound like Lord of the Rings... One book to rule them all, one book to bind them!) We were a committee of all white women, and I'd say all pretty upper class; and one latina librarian. To my (pleased) surprised, nearly everyone voted for "language accessibility" as their top priority; then "high interest and relevance to the community", then, third, "crossing age lines." After a while and more discussion, I finally said, "So, now, does that mean that we are absolutely ruling out any book that isn't available in Spanish?" And there was a long uncomfortable silence...

People talked the talk, and voted the vote, but when it comes down to it, I am worried that a few weeks from now when we come back with our lists of suggested books, about 90% of them will be chosen from whatever books in English that people like best. Are they going to take the time to narrow their field first, or to look up whether a book is available in translation? Probably not. But that's exactly the kind of effort it takes. In fact I think I'm about to see in action the way that the road to hell is paved with good intentions... And in my own head I had a tiny voice saying, "Put forth your friend's novel, it fits the other criteria, not available in Spanish, but think what a sales boost it would be for her book..." Hell indeed! And of course I won't do that.

Well, my point is, I would love suggestions. I thought of popular authors like Julia Álvarez but my top choice so far is Claribel Alegria and Darwin Flakoll's "Cenizas de Izalco/Ashes of Izalco" because it's cool, it's compelling, it's short, and it would tie in well for our heavily Salvadorean immigrant population, and it would give the anglos a little kick in the pants with Salvadorean history, but also it wouldn't be too heavy and disturbing as it's about difficult history from 1930 (rather than about something more recent). I have to go read it while thinking "Would a 13-14 year old possibly read this..." And then I'd like to look at books translated by ALTA members, and see if something jumps out as the perfect choice. Suggestions, anyone?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What to do with Latvian?

Latvian, the native language of my poet friend Dagny in Riga, is a language called "of limited diffusion". Finding good translators from Latvian to English would be a daunting task, and Dagny had a deadline. She was giving a reading in Croatia, and only had her poems available in Latvian and French. Could I help her out, since I was a translator? Now, Dagny works as a translator and is aware that it is best to have someone speaking Latvian do the translation, but the clock was ticking.
I did not want to leave my friend in the lurch, and she had thoughtfully provided the French translation as well as her sketchy English literal rendition. Yikes! What to do? I did not know if I could even find a Latvian translator who would translate her poetry for the usual fee for poetry (ie., nothing), and she really wanted to have me do the job. So, I did the best I could. I wasn't translating, I don't know Latvian and although I read French fairly well, it is my fourth language and not one I translate from. I took the English word-by-word translation provided by the poet, read the French for the feeling and emotion that the poet was trying to convey, and made it into the most poetic English that I could muster.
Luckily, my friend was happy with my rendition and her reading in Croatia went over well. Whew! But now what to do if she has a complete collection coming?
One of the ALTA panel proposals which has crossed my desk this month will address the issue of translating languages that are of limited diffusion and the various ways that authors, translators and co-translators have worked together in order to provide a English language work of literature. I am looking forward to attending this panel already, just to see how others have come to a solution for languages having limited numbers of literary translators devoting themselves to it. How do they manage? How is literary quality assured? How do you know? I'm going to find out!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Yes, Grammar is Fun

When I am not translating from Swedish, I have a normal life focused around kids, cats and charitable works. One program which I participate in is called Futures for Children, where I am able to mentor a child on the Navajo reservation. Now of course, with that degree in historical linguistics in my background, the first things I acquired to enable me to be a better mentor were a dictionary and an elementary language text in Navajo, the excellent Dine Bizaad by Irvy W. Goossen.
I know not everyone reads grammar for fun, but I do. When I open the covers, I am in another world, one where the constructs of daily life as I know it disappear, and another world is glimpsed without even needing an airplane ticket. I began to wonder, as I delved into the spoken ways of the Navajo language, why those non-Natives of us in the United States and Canada are often so unaware of the Native languages which have been spoken here for millenia.
And from there I speculated: where are the literary works in Navajo? Is there a Native Navajo literature being created right now? And for that matter, how do we literati read Native cultures here? Besides some New Age believers who have appropriated Native religion, where is the general knowledge of the Native world view in our education and our bookshelves?
I began to think back to Waukegan, my hometown with a Potawatomi name. Where were the Potawatomis in our city, in our schools, in our world view? I began to research the issue and found out that the Potawatomis were exiled from Waukegan to Wisconsin in 1832 after the Black Hawk War, even though the Potawatomi people had sided with the Americans and tried to prevent the outbreak of this war in Eastern Illinois. So, one hundred and fifty-odd years later, the only Potawatomi word I learned in school was the name of my hometown, and no one living there knew where the Potawatomi people who had inhabited Waukegan had gone or why they were no longer in the place they had called home for centuries.
So, spending the week reading a Navajo grammar instruction book brought me back to the larger issues of literature and life and my place in the stream of peoples, languages, ideas and names. I might even become a better translator for it.

Monday, January 23, 2006

story quilts and language lessons

Perhaps tangential to literary translation, but so many people I met at ALTA are language teachers, so it seems relevant! I love this site, Los hilos de la vida, which shows a collection of story quilts made by some women learning English as a Second Language. They tell the story in Spanish and English, and then planned and made their quilts together.

If you're in Northern California you can go to Boonville and check out their show at the local community center. But the blog is just great, with nice photos, and the stories in Spanish and English.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

SF in Spanish

I got this list of links for science fiction in Spanish from Sue Burke of Broad Universe, and they look like great places to get new SF stories, if anyone's looking:

...there are a variety of Spanish-language e-zines
available. You can get a good listing of them at E-Fandom:

I especially recommend the Argentinean e-zine Axxon:

For general news and reviews about the genre in Spain, visit:

I learned from Sue that there is a genre in Spain called "cape and beret" which uses elements of folk tales: "ghosts, curses, apparitions, ogres, witches, and demons".

I can't wait to check out Axxon, which seems very slick.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Canadian/Caribbean to Chinese; Australian/US to Hebrew (or not)

I came across an interesting post and comment thread today on Nalo Hopkinson's blog. Two of her science fiction novels, Brown Girl in the Ring and Midnight Robber are going to be translated into Chinese, and there was some discussion of how the creoles in the book will be handled - including a "mashup of Trinidadian and Jamaican".

Comments in this post let me to another sf writer's blog, where Justine Larbalestier discusses (with some disappointment and puzzlement) the fact that an Israeli literary agent said her novel was untranslatable into Hebrew:

So far, the book has sold to Taiwan, France and Thailand. I confess I have been wondering how those translations were going to get around the linguistic play in the book between Australian and USian English. Especially as I don’t speak any of those languages and don’t know much about them. Didi reckons a French translation could make use of Quebecois French.

I thought that ALTA readers might find it interesting to jump into one of those discussions! Especially anyone translating into/from Chinese, Hebrew, dialect, or creoles...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Article on translation blogs; the global blogosphere

The Austin Area Translators and Interpreters Association mentioned this blog in its January newsletter, downloadable here as a PDF file. In the article, on page 5, Frank Dietz explains many crucial elements of blogging in a few informative paragraphs. He points out that you can search blogs on Technorati, a search engine specializing in blogs and news; it's the place to look if you want to know what people are saying this very minute, ahead of any other news media, all over the world.

He also points out that blogs are easy to start -- you can have a free one in 5 minutes if you go to -- yet difficult to keep up, as you have to update it regularly or it fades from view.

The AATIA web site looks great and I love how their newsletters are freely available.

Dietz's article highlights the Global Voices site, which has been a useful resource for me. Global Voices tries to monitor and report on the international blogosphere. I've been developing a list of spanish-speaking women bloggers from the Americas (Mostly Latin American, but I want to include Chicana/Latina bloggers in the US/Canada too.) Anyway, Global Voices has been useful for that attempt, and so has Technorati. I'll talk more about this in another post.

Friday, January 06, 2006

UNESCO Index Translationum update 2006

I get occasional updates from the FIT website, in particular about UNESCO's Index Translationum, which I've found an intriguing reference, if not always what I need (what source ever is?). Today I received the announcement below about their latest update. When you have a moment, it's worth checking out to see how well it suits your needs:

We are glad to inform you that the first update of the world translation bibliography of Index Translationum for the year 2006, is now on line ( featuring some 40,000 new entries from the following countries: Albania (2004)*, Algeria (2003), Belarus (1997, 1998), Brazil (2004), Bulgaria (2003), Germany (1989, 2004), Hungary (1993, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003), India (2003), Indonesia (2003), Kuwait (2003, 2004), Mauritius (2004), Netherlands (2004), Nigeria (2004), Oman (2002), Poland (2003), Rwanda (2004), Saudi Arabia (2003, 2004), Spain (2004), Syrian Arab Republic (2002, 2003), Tunisia (2003), United Arab Emirates (2001, 2002, 2003).
* The dates here mentioned generally correspond to the year of issue of the listed publications.
Created in 1932, available free of charge on line and updated three times yearly, the on line edition of Index Translationum contains some 1,600,000 references (from 1979 to now) on all subjects: literature, social sciences, science, biology, art and history. The references registered before 1979 can be found in the printed editions of the Index Translationum, available in all national depository libraries and at UNESCO library in Paris. Information: <>
Nous avons le plaisir de vous informer que la première mise à jour de bibliographie mondiale de la traduction de l'Index Translationum pour l'année 2006 vient d'être publiée en ligne ( avec approximativement 40.000 nouvelles notices concernant les pays suivants : Albanie (2004)*, Algérie (2003), Allemagne (1989, 2004), Arabie saoudite (2003, 2004), Bélarus (1997, 1998), Brésil (2004), Bulgarie (2003), Emirats Arabes Unis (2001, 2002, 2003), Espagne (2004), Hongrie (1993, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003), Inde (2003), Indonésie (2003), Koweït ( 2003, 2004), Maurice (2004), Nigeria (2004), Oman (2002), Pays Bas (2004), Pologne (2003), Rwanda (2004), République arabe syrienne (2002, 2003), Tunisie (2003).
*Les dates entre parenthèses correspondent en général aux années de parution des ouvrages.
Crée en 1932, accessible gratuitement et mis à jour trois fois par an, l'Index translationum contient actuellement approximativement 1.600.000 notices en ligne (de 1979 à nos jours). Sa base de données concerne toutes les disciplines : littérature, sciences sociales et humaines, sciences exactes et naturelles, art et histoire. Les notices antérieures à 1979 peuvent être consultées sur la version imprimée disponible auprès des bibliothèques dépositaires et de la bibliothèque de l'UNESCO de Paris. Informations :
Tenemos el agrado de informales de que la primera actualización anual del Index Translationum, bibliografía mundial de traducciones, acaba de ser efectuada en línea ( con aproximadamente 40.000 nuevas referencias de los siguientes países : Albania (2004), Alemania (1989, 2004), Arabia Saudita (2003, 2004), Argelia (2003), Belarrús (1997, 1998), Brasil (2004), Bulgaria (2003), Emirates Arabes Unidos (2001, 2002, 2003), España (2004), Hungría (1993, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003), India (2003), Indonesia (2003), Kowait (2003, 2003), Mauricio (2004), Nigeria (2004), Omán (2002), Países Bajos (2004), Polonia (2003), República Arabe Siria (2001, 2002, 2003), Rwanda (2004), Túnez (2003).
*Les fechas entre paréntesis corresponden, en general, al año de aparición de las obras.
Creado en 1932, accesible gratuitamente y actualizado tres veces por año, el Index Translationum contiene hoy unas 1.600.000 referencias en línea. Su base de datos comprende todas las disciplinas : literatura, ciencias sociales y humanas, ciencias exactas, arte e historia. Las referencias anteriores a 1979 pueden ser consultadas en la versión impresa, que se encuentra en las bibliotecas depositarias y en la biblioteca de la UNESCO, París. Por más información : <>

Thursday, January 05, 2006

the task of the outsider

I am reading A Place in the Sun? Women Writers in Twentieth-Century Cuba, by Catherine Davies, and enjoying it very much. Here is a lovely quote from her introduction to the book, where she describes having tea first with Dulce María Loynaz and then with Nancy Morejón. I found myself marking up this passage, which is relevant for all translators:

The task of the outsider is to make connections between these apparently heterogeneous spaces without reducing the complex cultural map to a monochromatic transparency.

This book is about opening windows on to interior spaces: the inner spaces of women's lives, offices and homes but also the inside pages of their books. The greatest homage a critic can pay to a writer is to open her book and read her work attentively, to enter not only the shade of the living space to take tea, but to enter the ofen unvisited, unread world in the book. To read literature seriously means to tread carefully, to avoid the obvious. My aim is to enter into dialogue with the texts to which I had access, to examine their multiple layers of meaning, to communicate their discursive universes to other readers, to create ripples. It is, perhaps, the greatest and riskiest form of cooperation with a writer. I invite readers to open these windows and look through them with me. The woman writer may be surprised at what I see between the casing of her book. Where she sees patriotism I see sex; where she sees love I see horror; where she sees God I see mother. She sees animals, I see woman, she sees revolt, I see conformity; she sees sex, I see revolt.

This is so exactly how I feel, and what I aspire to as a reader, critic, and translator! How beautifully expressed! So relevant to the work I'm doing of re-evaluating and interpreting and translating! As I typed this passage a few weeks ago, I felt that it was the embodiment of the practice of feminist scholarship in a book by Liz Stanley and Sue Wise, Breaking out: Feminist consciousness and feminist research, and also in various books by Dale Spender which advocate direct dialogue with the subject of scholarship/research/literary criticism whenever it's possible. In other words, conversation, with all its risks, is key to taking apart the offensive pose of objectivity...

Then, just now as I looked at the back of Davies' book, I realized she's at University of Manchester, where Stanley and Wise also work or worked. Hell, they probably know each other. I don't know how to explain it, but this realization made me laugh at myself... as I realized yet again they are real people who talk to each other; which further made me think "And I could write to them, or call them up; the conversation continues, and... can include me. I can not just cite this book in my humble book; I can ask, and respond, and get responses in return." Which was a happy and freeing thought and one I am still not used to, in part because most of the poets I translate are dead and don't talk back.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Swedish Swearing and Translation Travesties

While websurfing during the winter break, I found, among other interesting reading, what appears to be a Master's thesis by a student at Luleå university, Katarina Källhammer, on Swedish literary translation. Her study, a 32-page work, was entitled "A Study of the English Translation of Populär Musik från Vittula (Popular Music)". Since studies on Swedish-English translation are not all that easy to come by, I clicked in and read it eagerly. Källhammer spends a great deal of time analyzing the problem of swear words and the difficulty of rendering swear words appropriately, and she examines various ways that Swedish swear words have been rendered into English.
Now we all know that translating swear words is not easy. Obviously, if I translated a line of a contemporary work as "Fie, seventeen!" the English language reader is going to react, probably in an extremely confused manner, to this literal rendition of mild Swedish swearing, pretty much equivalent to "Darn it!" The strongest Swedish word for excrement, spelled exactly the same as its English cousin, is also considered mild and is used as an intensifier, to the amusement of English-speaking students of Swedish. Quite frankly, the translator would render this word as the innocuous "very" and be at the exact level of the Swedish usage.
In her essay, Källhammer critizises Laurie Thompson at one point for "protecting" English speakers by not rendering some taboo words in their most virulent forms at certain places in the work. I doubt very much that this would be the case, as in other places in the work, Mr. Thompson has availed himself of most of the English language's rich f-word vocabulary. Anyone using any aspect of the f-word in a literary work is not protecting anybody from anything, so something else must be going on.
Magnus Ljung has written a wonderful work called "Om Svårdomer" (All about Swear Words), and his study will give us a clue as to the situation we are encountering here. He begins his work with swearing in Swedish and ends with swearing in American English, recognizing that swearing is completely different in the British Isles and the North American continent. Ljung progresses from a few pages to a major discussion (three pages for Swedish, fourteen for American English). Quite simply, there are not as many Swedish ways of swearing compared to English ways of swearing. In fact, the Swedish language is now borrowing English obscentities wholesale.
Let's take the cliche of piano keys for a moment. I see Swedish swearing occupying the middle three octaves and English swearing taking the entire register. That is, we have swearing in much milder forms and in much more severe forms than our Swedish-speaking counterparts. I am often amazed that Swedish speakers use English swear words in abandon (indeed, the influence of films and music from the Angl0-Saxon language realm has had a great impact), but I am also amazed at the apparent lack of understanding these words have on the native English-speaking ear (not to mention the inadvertant humor if, say, the word for excrement is pronounced "sheet", though lately, I admit, that mispronunciation is less common). It seems to me that the native Swedish speaker has attempted to bring the English swearing system into the Swedish register, and cannot comprehend the English-speaker's reaction. One has heard English-speakers called prudish and puritain from the Swedish side in this regard, but I counter that the Swedes do not fully comprehend our many levels of swearing, and leap to the most severe examples as normal swearing as opposed to extraordinary swearing, if I may call swearing extraordinary.
Now, having grown up in a Waukegan of many ethnic groups and a large working class base being devestated by a recession that began in 1970 and has kept going to this day, I was not raised with a firewall between me and the swearing of my culture and I can also swear with the best of them as needed. (Just get me talking straight Waukegani dialect, and you'll see.) So I hardly see myself as puritanical, and therefore would not avoid the f-word if necessary in a translation (or if I had just crashed the car). Nevertheless, I have noticed that if a Swede is translating from Swedish to English, the first word of choice for rendering a Swedish obscenity will be the f-word, ignoring the entire levels of swearing beneath that register. I believe this is a reaction to the borrowing of this word into the Swedish language at a lower level of offense than it has in its native English habitat as well as its ubiquity in present-day spoken Swedish. Ms. Källhammer's criticism of Mr. Thompson for not leaping to the most severe word in the lexicon can be understood in that light. The word itself does not need to be so severe in an English-speaking context, because it is not as severe in Swedish. So watch your language! And, if you are Swedish-speaking, take some time to peruse Ljung's enlightening book.