What’s your word of the year 2017?

It’s the end of the year and as usual various authorities will be announcing their “word of the year”. In fact, it’s already started. One of the large English dictionaries, Merriam-Webster, has just announced its choice. They have gone for feminism. Merriam-Webster loosely base their choice on words that attract many searches on their website. The rise of feminism in this sense is associated with political events in the USA, in particular, the Women’s March in Washington DC (January), a rejection of feminism by Kellyanne Conway, a Trump spokeswomen (February), and the Harvey Weinstein scandal (October).

In November, Collins chose fake news as their Word of the Year 2017. Macquarie and Oxford selections have yet to be announced.

Meanwhile in other languages, a variety of self-appointed groups organise votes, panels of experts and committees to choose their own word of the year. In France, La Charité-sur-Loire has promoted itself as a town of books, following the model of Hay-on-Wye (Y Gelli) in Wales, and each year organises a Festival de Mot and their word of the year is chosen. In May 2017 renouveau was chosen, reflecting the climate of optimism surrounding the presidential elections.

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Translating Harry Potter

Miniatures of Harry, Hermione and Ron

This year 2017 has seen the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the first book in the Harry Potter saga, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which came out in June 1997. The series went on to break all records and laid the foundations for a successful multimedia franchise, including eight extraordinarily popular feature films. All in all, J.K.Rowling’s story has become one of the defining international social phenomena for children born over the last thirty years.

Whatever the merits or otherwise of the books, the production of so much material translated into over 80 languages put translators in the eye of the storm. Translation decisions could not be made lightly, since they would need to be maintained over the rest of the series, but they invariably needed to be made fast, as publishers rushed out the latest volumes.

So it is that, in the ensuing period of relative calm, the wizardry of Harry Potter translators has become the subject of study, delight, confusion and criticism.

In this article we take a brief look at the translations into French, Spanish and Catalan of some of the people and places in the books and compare the strategies (or not) of these versions. Continue reading

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My life as an hermaphrodite

a / an hermaphrodite (Ngram)

I recently read a novel with this curious title.  You may be thinking, as I did, why “an hermaphrodite”? Why not “a hermaphrodite? These questions lead to a more general inquiry. When is an initial “h” pronounced in English? If you are curious, please read on.

Most often an initial “h” is pronounced but some words (with French etymology) have a silent “h”, as in the corresponding French word. Without an initial aspiration “h” sound, there are really very few such words in English:

  • hour; honour; honest; heir

Incidentally, there are a few words with a silent medial “h” too:

  • aghast; vehicle; Thai; exhausted; ghost; why; what; where; when

For most English words, however, the initial “h” sound is pronounced:

  • heart; house; heavy; hope; hat; hut; hotel; historic; etc.

So far, so good. But when it comes to putting “a” or “an” before these words, there is some disagreement. Modern usage favours “a” when the “h” is pronounced and “an” when it is silent:

  • a heavy heart; a hope; a house; a historic battle; a happy occasion
  • an honour; an heir; an honest answer

Some authorities, however, recommend “an” before sounded “h” when the first syllable is not tonic. Following this rule, we hear and read expressions such as these:

  • an historic day; an hermaphrodite; an heretical belief; an horrific accident; an hotel

To my mind, these pronunciations and spellings are rather ridiculous, and I am confident that most native speakers would agree with me about this.

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Normalising translation in film

BALLA CON LUPIAt the end of this month the Trafilm conference will take place in Barcelona. Coinciding with this event, I decided to write this film-related post.

I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last, to comment on the well-attested observation that translations tend to be less transgressive than original texts. Venuti considers this to be one aspect of a more general domestication strategy in translation, which other writers have referred to as normalisation. The focus is on standard syntax, intelligibility, avoidance of polysemy, elimination of obscurity; in short, a general flattening effect. These issues are discussed in depth in the three texts referenced at the foot of this text.

An example that springs to mind is the film “Dances with Wolves” (1990). A literal translation of the title might be “Baila con lobos”. (Not “Bailes con lobos”.) In the story “Dances with Wolves” is a translation of Šuŋgmánitu Tȟáŋka Ób Wačhí, the name the Lakota Sioux give to Dunbar, the protagonist. A finite verb without a subject is sometimes used as a proper name in the exotic tradition of English versions of American Indian names. In the film, there are other translations of Lakota Sioux names that follow the same pattern: “Stands with a Fist” (Napépȟeča Nážiŋ Wiŋ) and “Smiles a Lot”(Iȟá S’a). Continue reading

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Open-access translation research journals

Open Access logo PLoS white

Open Access logo

Today the latest issue of Parallèles,  the journal of research in translation and interpreting of the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting of the University of Geneva, came out.

A brief look at the contents shows that there is something here for everybody:


  • Tous les visages du traducteur. Une exploration traductologique de la métaphore du masque
  • Study on the use of machine translation and post-editing in Swiss-based language service providers
  • Les fonctions de la traduction en sciences humaines et sociales
  • La (auto)censura en audiodescripción. El sexo silenciado
  • Avatars contemporains de Darwin : traductions françaises de The Origin of Species (XXe-XXIe siècles)

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