Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Funny Thing happened on the way from the Book Fair

I have just returned from the Gothenburg Book Fair, which is held once a year in Gothenburg, Sweden, and where Scandinavian authors meet and greet their agents, publishers, readers and other authors. The theme for this year's book extravaganza was "Freedom of Expression" and included Nobel Peace Prize winning author Shirin Ebadi as well as many other authors who have been persecuted due to their writing.
The Gothenburg Book Fair, for someone who has not been there, is a mass of impressions, people, sounds, poetry, art, and above all, the business side of writing and publishing. I was there meeting with Camilla Läckberg, a mystery author, and her agents, discussing my translation of one of her mystery novels.

But a funny thing happened on the way from the book fair....

I'm in the Amsterdam airport, waiting for my connecting flight home to Seattle. While in the airport, I picked up Shirin Ebadi's autobiography, and was reading it to pass the hours between flights. When I was in the second security line to get on the plane, I expected the same-old tired "did you pack your own bags" questions, and was not surprised as they came, but then, the line of questioning took an interesting turn:

Q: Why were you in Sweden?

ME: To go to the Gothenburg Book Fair.

Q: Did you buy this book there?

ME (thinking hunh?): No.

Q: Where did you buy this book?

ME: Here at the airport.

Q: Why are you reading this book?

ME: For fun. She won the Nobel Peace Prize. (I point to the Nobel Peace Prize winning author blurb).

Q: (Looks sceptical.)

ME: And to educate myself a bit.

ME (thinking): How ironic coming from the Freedom of Expression theme to be interrogated about my reading habits! And I'm dark, too (from a European perspective)! Coincidence? I think not!

The Questioner takes my passport and tickets and disappears and I am left to wonder if I will be allowed to fly home or whether I will be strip-searched or what. Eventually, I am reunited with my passport and ticket and allowed to board, but not without wondering about when reading a Nobel Peace Prize winning author made a person into a suspect. And whether I am now on some kind of secret list of Peace Prize -winning author- book- reading dangerous fliers. It does make a person think. And I thought last month's bug spray situation was troublesome! I find this kind of questioning much more dangerous somehow, and definitely intimidating.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Spanish dictionaries in Firefox toolbar

If you translate from Spanish and use the online DRAE this will make you scream with joy. From Jorge Letralia, a sweet little tool that adds two authoritative and useful dictionaries to your Google Toolbar in Firefox.

I use the DRAE and Diccionario panhispanica de dudas all the time, and now here is a handy tool that lets me avoid the very slow page load and clunky interface of their online search pages. No dictionary could contain the cuss words that I have uttered as I click around laboriously on that web site, which of course I appreciate very much for its being free and useful, and yet... it has also been a source of daily frustration for me for the last few years.

Thanks a million, Jorge!

Now if we wanted to get really slick, one search would return results from both dictionaries, and just label their sources.

Elif Shafak acquitted of 'Insulting Turkishness'

my favourite author~Elif Şafak
Originally uploaded by quasileo.
Recently Elif Shafak was brought to trial for "Insulting Turkishness" in her book The Bastard of Istanbul (Bapa ve pik), under Turkey's Article 301. Like Orhan Pamuk, she has now been acquitted. Asli Bican, translator of the work to English, was also accused, but those charges were dropped.

More details here on the case here, with an interview with Shafak in the Guardian; the trial and almost immediate acquittal (Subscription only, in The Chronicle of Higher Education); here in Spanish from; and here in what looks like mostly French and Turkish you can follow the latest from various blogs.

Siné, a young woman living in Istanbul, says on her Myspace blog:
The foxy leaders who have realised for some time now that the most powerful and maybe the only useful tool to shake the dominant AKP rule is through using the nationalist card, are now in a constant battle to monopolise this dangerous ideology. Now that CHP and MHP are openly collaborating against AKP, it seems that we won't be seeing the light of day for a much longer time. Enjoy the darkness...

You see why I love blogs - you would not get this detailed analysis from most English language newspaper articles nor would you get the interesting personal perspective.

A tip for aspiring international news and blog-searchers: notice I got very different results on this breaking story by searching on "Shafak" vs. "Safak".

Thanks to Marilyn Hacker for the original link.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

BigHal chat translator

This looks like a nifty product: BigHal, an automatic translator that plugs into your IM chat application, like AIM, Yahoo Messenger, GoogleTalk, or ICQ.

It has a pack of different languages installed. The person on the other end of the chat doesn't have to have the software for it to work.

I can picture some very interesting international group chats happening with the help of this tool!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Fun with Swedish -- a funny post

C.M. Mayo forwarded me this blog link:

The blogger, an American living in Stockholm, gives a Swedish word for the day, and there are links to a Swedish pronunciation key as well. The blog is called How to learn Swedish in 1000 difficult lessons. The author, Francis Strand, writes on Swedish culture, esp the performing arts, and the issues of the day in both Sweden and the USA, especially gay politics. (Note: the Swedish election is coming up next week and it is a tight race between the Social Democrats and the Moderates!) The author has a wry sense of humor.

Pick up your Swedish word for the day by checking out this blog!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

ALTA's 29th Conference in Bellevue One Month Away!

The program for the 2006 ALTA conference in Bellevue Washington has been completed, thanks to very hard work by members of the host committee, and has been sent off for layout and printing. A number of changes have occured to the program since the preliminary program was posted, and we also have the mainland Chinese FITS General Secretary coming to speak about the FITS translator conference in Shanghai in 2008! The bilingual readings have been set up, thanks to the hard work of Alexis Levitin, and integrated into the program. It wouldn't surprise me if this conference had the widest variety of world languages represented! Deadlines for discounted hotel reservations are coming up soon, as well as the deadline for early-bird registration, so look at today.

I will be host committee chair for one more month, and then the baton will be passed to the Dallas ALTA office, which will host the 30th annual conference near their headquarters in Dallas. Information on that conference should be available by the time the 29th conference convenes. Contact the Dallas office via the website if you are willing to host literary translators in your area in the upcoming years.

ALTA and the ALTA 2006 Host Committee would like to welcome you to Bellevue, Washington next month.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Armchair immersion for regional Spanish

Some odd verb forms confused me for a while the other day, and then the most casual of web searches turned up useful information. There's great resources out there! So I would like to outline some of the process that I go through to find relevant information on the web.

Because of all the regional variations of Spanish it is very easy to make mistakes in word meaning, the register or level of voice in a poem or story, or the tone of a conversation. And because I like to translate from a broad variety of countries I haven't actually been to, the regional variations are tough. I first ran into this while translating "Florentino y el Diablo", a long long poem by Alfredo Arvelo Torrealba, which is full of 100-year-old venezolanismos!

With contemporary poetry from a Latin American country I have always tried to look at country-specific dictionaries in the library, and books of slang. Stories are especially useful when they have a lot of dialogue and you see the way that regular people talk. If I'm translating Chilean poetry I can poke around on the web and find glossaries like this one, or listings of phrases, or explanations of grammatical variations Chileanisms. It is helpful to search on Google both in English and Spanish; in this case, the search [chilean + slang] gave me great results, but a search in Spanish on [chilenismos] gave me longer word lists like this one from So, then what, once you've found this sort of resource? I tend to read it all through quickly so that I can be alert to regional word use. (For example, "pendejo" or "cabro" is not so harsh and rude in Chile as it would be in Mexico - and that's important to know. Don't even get me started on the multitude of meanings for "huevón".) Then I copy and paste all the slang from a particular country into a text file on my own hard drive, so I can search through all of it easily.

In conjunction with that level of research it can also be useful to read some blogs from a particular country. You can search in Google for [blogs + chile] and see what comes up. Again, what I am usually looking for is a personal, somewhat informal voice that will help me in translating contemporary literature. Another option is searching in Technorati, which focuses specifically on blogs. Searching here on [chile] will get you tourist blogs in English; not what you want. So take some common slangy word from a glossary, and search on that: for example, take huevón, or "weon", or even more goofy... search on [weon + po]. That gets awesome, extremely colloquial results.

Happy armchair immersion, and I hope this is helpful for people translating from other languages as well as from Spanish.