Oct 7, 2002

The Powerpuff Girls Extravaganza. A distinguished guest to the great kiddie bash has posted some pictures of the party that required at least 10 days of planning and opened up a crater in my bank account. There were many mini-monsters around, devouring brigadeiros and applauding the canine performers. The Mermie had the time of her life as assistant to the dog tamer and didn't miss the chance to bow to the public after each intervention in the canine entertainment.

Oct 4, 2002

Portuguese Joke. In case you didn't know, Brazilians love to tell jokes about the Portuguese. And when this Brazilian comes across a language joke featuring two Portugaleses, she simply can't resist it.

Um suíço, à procura de orientação para a direção a tomar, pára o carro junto ao acostamento onde dois portugueses estão à espera.

- Entschuldigung, sprechen Sie Deutsch?, perguntou.

Os dois portugueses ficaram a olhar pra ele...

- Excusez-moi, parlez vous Français?, tentou ele.

Os dois continuaram a olhar pra ele impávidos e serenos.

- Parlare Italiano? Continuaram calados.

- Hablan ustedes Español? Nenhuma resposta.

- Do you speak English? Ainda nada.

Angustiado, o suíço desiste e vai-se embora!

O primeiro português vira-se para o segundo e diz:

- Sabes, talvez devêssemos aprender uma língua estrangeira.

- Para quê?, pergunta o outro. Aquele sabia cinco línguas e não lhe serviu de nada...

Oct 3, 2002

Pela Estrada Afora. Shopping for the Mermling's presents I found out that the Disquinho collection is being remastered and reissued in CDs by Warner. These were the stories I used to listen to when I was a kid. I loved the colorful vynils and the songs, many of which I still know by heart. The storytelling is wonderful and the orchestration by Radamés Gnatalli is simply delightful. Since the recordings were done in the 1960's, the language used by the actors to tell these Brazilian folklore and traditional European tales is more elaborate than today, without sounding completely stilted. It's just like your old aunt is telling you stories. I'm enjoying Little Red Riding Hood just as much as the little Mermaid.



Oct 2, 2002

Oct 1, 2002

The Mysteries of Translation. "I am an avid reader, but a shockingly monolingual one. The English language is the golden prison I inhabit: richly and divertingly adorned, but with all the exits closed off, preventing me from making my escape to French or Russian or Italian or Chinese. Only the Spanish door is slightly ajar, but its opening is just barely wide enough for me to peek through longingly." (Read more of this excellent article)

via language hat via billy clark


Related links: a glossary of translation terms
ten reasons why English is so difficult to translate (just ten?)
Unrelated but relevant:
understanding and planning for translation services

FrenchZine. One of those great places you find when looking for something completely different. The cyberculture section will send you off into the Labyrinthe.
Mamão com Açúcar. At Blethers I discover about a writing contest that appeals to my notions of no-bull efficiency and inclination to prolixity. It's quite simple. You just have to start a sentence on November 01 and find an ending for your novel, 50 50,000 words later, by November 30. What could be easier than that?

Sep 30, 2002

Happy Translator's Day. Let's celebrate meditating on why St.Jerome rules over both secretaries and my peers, and spice it up with this article called Translators, Hostages of History. Quick quote:

"Are translators born meek, do they become meek or do they have meekness thrust upon them?"
Adieu Beau Voyageur. He's been having so much fun here in Brazil. And when he leaves there will be a choir of hôtesses brésiliennes singing their au revoirs...Over the AIM telegraph I showed him this chanson and he commented: 'That Bizet is heavy!' I find this song hilarious, really. Ton souvenir reste à plus d'une! And the hôtesses chasing the flies away from his face!

What a great relief for the traveler to have escaped Tony Last's fate. And if the odalisques didn't wail, they wouldn't be odalisques, would they?



Piracicaba, Center of the Universe. I drove this back this morning from Piracicaba, hometown of the Hairy Hungarian (no relation to the Hairy Eyeball), aka Corcovado Cowboy and Mein Liebling. I had a fun time there, starting from the celebration of the 36th anniversary of CENA, where I met Vincent, a talkative French researcher who is currently living in the enigmatic Laos. Never having met anyone who ever ventured in that remote part of the globe, I pestered him with questions, while sipping my three caipirinhas, one at a time. The booze by the way caused a heavy fog to descend over my head, blurring any recollections of what he said. Well, I can tell you that they speak Lao and that they use stickier rice as a utensil for eating rice, but it is possible that I already knew that. Weary, mystified by opiate tales of Laotian grandeur and squalor and drunk as a skunk, I thought it best not to drive home myself, lest I should crash straight into a cow or pamonhazilla.

To cure my hangover, the next morning we went to a park nearby, for some walking and reading. At the park, I was greeted by a passing woman with a very baptist "Jesus Loves You", amen, and how can she be so sure? The park was just beautiful, with trees and plants, and chirping birds all the nature fixtures including warm weather and a tiny lake for some skinny dipping Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe style. Of course, as any savvy Brazilian, I had brought my bikini along. There are just too many courses of water in this admirable country. Waterfalls, streams, and tiny lakes in parks like the one we visited, where swimming was verbotten, but who takes any heed of the signs. We didn't. The ripples made by the Hairy Hungarian and the Enigmatic Mermaid can't possibly damage the biomass that much. Oh, it was the most delightful swim, our bodies immersed in the ice cold water which turned warmer closer to the surface and made us feel like giant floating thermometers, with the tip just about to sizzle under the hot sun.

Of course, just as it was getting poetic, with memories of Hungary flooding mein Liebling's imagination and a stream of thermometric metaphors running through my brain, five pamonhazillas arrived with a bottle of wine and a joint and proceeded to take wild Acapulco jumps from the trees into the shallow lake, barely 30 inches away from us. Darned reverie-spoilers.

Sep 27, 2002

Sep 26, 2002

Tic-Tac-Toe. From Gaby407, one of the first weblogs I ever visited, on to The Theory.Org.Uk Trading Cards (Deleuze, Lacan, Foucault and Pierre and Gilles)-- the perfect link collection for the pseudo-intellectual who has seen everything).




Ever wondered what is the country that produces Powerpoint presentations on Gross National Happiness ?

Lazarus. My home office computer passed away this afternoon only to regain life shortly after I had taken the trouble of transplanting the Last of the Mohicans in my minuscule home office. My office-office now looks like it's been ransaked by a violent mob. There is a very unique sadness emanating from no longer used computer cords. They looked like Ophelia's melancholy hair afloat on the cold floor as I walked out of the glass doors carrying my favorite dictionaries. Inspired by the Holy Ghost of Metonymy, and since Saint Jerome's day is approaching anyway, the Mermaid and the Litterati urge you to recite Valery Larbaud's prayer while kneeling down in corn, every morning before you sit at your Lazarus or Ophelia.

Dottore eccelso, luminare della Santa Chiesa, beato Girolamo, sto per intraprendere un compito irto di difficoltà, e fin d'ora vi supplico di aiutarmi com le vostre preghiere, affinché io possa tradurre in quest'opera com lo stesso spirito nel quale è stata composta.

Or as translated by Ivone Benedetti:

"Doutor Excelso, luminar da Santa Igreja, bem-aventurado Jerônimo, estou por começar uma tarefa cheia de dificuldades, e desde já vos suplico que me ajudeis com vossas orações, a fim de que eu possa traduzir para o português a referida obra, imbuído do mesmo espírito com que ela foi escrita."

Blogaphasia. Enough with my aphasia already. I've been working hard and metendo os pés pelas mãos recently whenever the project instructions extend over ten lines. But yesterday was cool.

I had an interpreting assignment in downtown São Paulo. I love the Centro, and this time I had some minutes to spare so I visited the Mosteiro de São Bento, founded in 1598. It was lovely and it was crowded at 8.30 am, even though they weren't saying mass or singing Gregorian chants.

After about six hours of interpreting non-stop, I walked straight into the heart of the persian bazaar: to Rua 25 de Março, a chaos of street peddlers, thousands of fashion stores, thousands of people jumping the puddles of rain illuminated by the shimmering lights of fake jewellery. The beauty of quinquillarie is that at 25 de Março you can get an American-flag ornamented belt for R$3.70 instead of the R$124 charged by Acessórios Modernos.

I arrived just before the stores closed, but in time to sneak into Palácio dos Enfeites for some browsing of PowerPuff Girls kiddie party paraphernalia. I explain, the Mermaid Jr. is turning three next week and I fully intend to transform my house into an extension of Cartoon Network to celebrate the occasion. I'll have the Hairy Eyeball play the Macaco Louco.



Esperanto in 10 Minutes and Brazilian Poetry in Translation. Here's a lively thread on Kuro5hin. And a new blog called Polynym, with regular postings of Brazilian poetry in English translation.



Sep 24, 2002

Children in East Timor Learning Finnish from Schoolbooks. Oh my!

Sep 23, 2002



Oh god, Alexander Von Humboldt is the Hairy Eyeball's doppelganger! And he is bearing gifts to his faithful guide Sacaweejja: a little offering of French perfume, which he snatched at the Duty Free Shop. In return, Sacaweeja will escort him to dinner at the Jardins tonight. Should she take him to Carlota or Veridiana after her interpreting assignment ends? All depends on who's paying. Sacaweeja is very very broke.

Update: in the end we landed on the amiable and cheap red-checkered tables of Jardin de Napoli for a pizza feast. The Hairy Eyeball was last sighted boarding A's car and purportedly heading towards a den of vice and iniquity only two blocks away. He was quite mad at Sacawejja for not driving him back to his 1156 dwellings on Cerqueira César. But Sacawejja trusts he was left in good hands and that his scalp remains intact, if not his neurons, which were at severe risk of imminent depletion last night.

English is a Strange Language. This cute little poem has just popped in the mail.

English is a strange language.
There is no egg in the eggplant
No ham in the hamburger
And neither pine nor apple in the pineapple.
English muffins were not invented in England
French fries were not invented in France.

We sometimes take English for granted
But if we examine its paradoxes we find that
Quicksand takes you down slowly
Boxing rings are square
And a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

If writers write, how come fingers don't fing.
If the plural of tooth is teeth
Shouldn't the plural of phone booth be phone beeth
If the teacher taught,
Why didn't the preacher praught.

If a vegetarian eats vegetables
What the heck does a humanitarian eat!?
Why do people recite at a play
Yet play at a recital?
Park on driveways and
Drive on parkways
How can the weather be as hot as hell on one day
And as cold as hell on another

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy
Of a language where a house can burn up as
It burns down
And in which you fill in a form
By filling it out
And a bell is only heard once it goes!

English was invented by people, not computers
And it reflects the creativity of the human race
(Which of course isn't a race at all)

That is why
When the stars are out they are visible
But when the lights are out they are invisible
And why it is that when I wind up my watch
It starts
But when I wind up this poem
It ends.

Sep 21, 2002

Linguablogging: Glossarized. It's my pleasure to inform you that the term linguablog has been included in the Samizdata blog glossary. And to beef up this entry a little, let's throw in an online English- Farsi dictionary a ham-ham glossary and this news about the important going-ons on the streets of Kangirsuk.



Sep 19, 2002

English as She is Spoke. This fabulous linguablogging item was shamelessly stolen from Prentiss. Here is the deal: "The original English as She is Spoke, considered the worst phrasebook ever written, has been reissued by McSweeney's, the English half is available online, and a comparison with Babelfish is out there as well."

And to think two Portuguese scholars committed this book and I had never heard about it.
Dar es Salaam in Delft Blue. "In the fall of 1998 I spent three months in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where I taught photography at a local institute.

During this period, I collided with the enormous differences between the Tanzanian and my own culture. These differenceunfortunately make it very difficult to achieve a mutual understanding and comprehension of each other. Nevertheless, I dare say that after the three months I understood that these cultural differences are not invincible.

With the support, the patience and the courage of several Tanzanians who guided me into their culture, I discovered we are all basically the same, regardless of colour or race.

Only the circumstances we live in -which largely determine us- differ enormously, reinforcing the impression we inhabit different worlds, not one.

As a result of this new understanding I asked a large group of people in my neighbourhood in Dar es Salaam to pose for the camera with a favourite object. I then asked them why they chose this specific object. A selection of these photographs is shown here.

via plep, always the good stuff



"The Cosmetic Spoon was made of ivory in a form of a nude elegant girl swimming with a lotus flower. Her wig is made of black ivory. The cosmetic box in the shape of the lotus - a sacred flower in Egypt - is painted in a soft pink colour. Above the knees on the swimmer's leg there is an engraving of the diminutive deity Bes who was the patron of women, dance and music."

The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts also displays this lovely Renoir. From Egypt to Russia to China in one entry: a great Chinese calligraphy site, complete with English translations.

Sep 18, 2002

Ignoring Foreign Customs can Kill a Business Deal. Mersurgeon General's Warning: Do Not Try This at Your Next Meeting. Head to BBC Languages for a nice little read on Working with the Japanese instead.

The after-lunch business meeting started nicely. The black suits from the New York public relations firm sat on one side. Across the table were the Japanese suits, prospective clients.

Then, during the long pauses for translation, one mind wandered. The lead New Yorker started toying with the lead Tokyoite's business card. Then, almost unconsciously, a convenient corner found its way to the New Yorker's mouth, where a lunch morsel was lodged between incisors.

"I wanted to die, I wanted to get out of that office, I wanted to get out of that building," recalled Peter McKillop, who works in Hong Kong for an American bank. "And he didn't stop. He carefully worked his way around. Upper and lower teeth." (Read more)



IBM gives Handhelds Multilingual Voice. "The computing giant plans to unveil its ViaVoice Translator software--capable of translating English to and from German, French, Italian and Spanish--for Pocket PC-based personal digital assistants." (Read more)

Related link: Think in English, E-mail it in French




Unsung Heroes: Opera Translators. "Translating words to fit music is a slippery, subtle and tricky business. The paramount consideration must be clarity. Clarity of meaning and clarity in the rendering of the words themselves, so that they are intelligible when sung. It isn’t possible to make English actually sound like German, French, Italian, Russian or Czech but it is important somehow to give a flavour of the original language because that flavour is directly reflected in the music to which the words were set. The sound of music sung in Italian is shaped by the preponderance of open vowel sounds, both within and at the ends of words. It is almost impossible to create the same effect in English, a language rich in consonants." (Read more)



Sep 11, 2002

The Verbs of Boro. "The verbs of Boro challenge me, not with déjà vu but with jamais vu", writes Mark Abley. The September issue of Harper's Magazine brings a fascinating list of these vessels of verbal meaning, compiled from the Brick essay, which the Mermaid transcribes verbatim.

anzray: to keep apart from an enemy or wicked company
mokhrob: to express anger by a sidelong glance
zum: to wear or put on clothing for the upper part of the body
egthu: to create a pinching sensation in the armpit
ur: to dig soil (as the swine do), to move curry (while cooking)
khonsay: to pick an object up with care, as it is rare or scarce
gobram: to shout in one's sleep
khanti: to be wounded without bleeding
khale: to feel partly bitter
onguboy: to love from the heart
onsay: to pretend to love
onsra: to love for the last time, to arouse the female oracle for the last time
gasgrom: to search for a thing below water by trampling
dasa: not to place a fishing instrument
goblo: to be fat (as a child or infant)
khar: to smell like urine or raw fish
asusu: to feel unknown and uneasy in a new place
gabkhron: to be afraid of witnessing an adventure
serrom: to examine by lightly pressing
khen: to hit one's heart
bunhan bunahan: to be about to speak, and about not to speak

My September 11 Nightmare. Osama Bin Laden decided to wipe out the Cristo Redentor while the Pope was perched up there saying mass. What a huge blow to the Rio de Janeiro landscape and to the Roman Catholic Church! Who could have foreseen that Osama would dismiss far more glamorous targets such as the Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower for that big old plaster amulet. The pilots who were going to hijack the planes were incredibly blond and good-looking, and they spoke perfect Oklahoma English.

I was a eight-year old little boy and I tried to reason with them by saying that Osama had picked a bad target, all they were going to hit was Japanese tourists with their digital cameras. I also insisted that that the rock was probably not going to crumble from the impact of the plane, and the international press doesn't care about Brazil anyway. They wouldn't get 24-7 coverage on CNN, except for the Popecide maybe.

A lot of chasing around in my apartment building followed. I was running up and down the fire escape, and eventually fell down from a balcony and broke my neck. The cuter hijacker took pity of the dying boy, the plans for mass destruction of the Pope mass were averted and the Cristo Redentor was saved.
Triple Kissing Debate Rages On. Hey John Burke, I swim in the waters of Piracicaba, Rio de Janeiro, São Sebastião, Brasília, Florianópolis and have been known to visit the dunes of Itaúnas and the arrabaldes of Osasco in the not too distant past. For scientific accuracy, I will be conferring with Isa Mara Lando, my correspondent from Copacabana to check on the carioca practices of triple kissing. That is if I can get her to stop sieving the National Geographic Channel feed for translation errors for a single minute. Here is the latest blunder she caught: ".....os micos-leão estao sendo cruzados com outros grupos para aumentar o seu POOL GÊNIO...".

I can also send the Hairy Eyeball on a ethnographic kissing expedition from Oiapoque to Chuí, if he drops his jealousy, finds his passport and promises to report his findings on the barbaric triple kissing custom.



Caption: Holy mother of linguablogging discredited at the end of the two-year ethnographic triple-kissing survey?

Sep 10, 2002

Machine Translation for the Mapuche. "Mapudungun, is a language spoken by several hundred thousand Mapuche Indians in Chile. The language is not in any immediate danger of extinction, but the Mapuche fear that over time Spanish, the national language, will take over and Mapudungun will fade away.

To prevent that, computer scientists from Carnegie Mellon University Language Technologies Institute in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are developing new machine translation tools with the Mapuche. Institute director Jamie Carbonell says the initiative, backed by a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, is important both for cultural and scientific reasons. "The minority language or the home language encodes much of the culture. So, you do not want your cultural belief, your cultural tradition [or] your heritage to die with the language. And it often does. If a language disappears the culture that is promulgated [through] that language usually disappears as well. And so we want to preserve it for cultural reasons." (Read more)

Siemen's Branding Gaffe. "Mel Brooks, who turned Nazi shtick into a Broadway hit with "The Producers," must be chortling over the current embarrassment of Siemens AG. The German electronics firm owns half of BSH Bosch Siemens, an appliance maker zinged this week for planning to use "Zyklon" as a product name in the U.S.

It was an innocent mistake: Zyklon means "cyclone" in German, and cyclone is a commonly used product name. But in the English-speaking world, "zyklon" is best known as for its association with Zyklon B, the name of the poison gas used to kill millions in the Nazi death camps. That's not quite the image Siemens wants to project." (Read more)

Sep 9, 2002




Chinese-art.com - highly recommended, as well as this musty old article on Bridging the Language Gap. Here's an excerpt:

The world is multilingual, and it’s going to stay that way. All international enterprises, and many domestic ones, have to address this challenge if they want to succeed. Much has been written on their spectacular failures. (My favourite: Coca-Cola’s “Coke Adds Life” slogan, as translated into Mandarin: “Coke Brings Back Your Dead Ancestors.”) There are several approaches to overcoming the language barrier. Listed in order of effectiveness:

The Apollo-Soyuz system requires each party to learn the other’s language, then use it exclusively. This is both the hardest and the most effective way to overcome language differences, because it fosters cultural insight. To work, no more than two languages must be involved, and both sides must make a heavy commitment to fluency in the other language; the Apollo-Soyuz mission itself failed linguistically because NASA budgeted only 300 hours for Russian lessons. As a result, English became the mission’s official language by default.

Done correctly, Apollo-Soyuz works remarkably well. West African and North American tribes have negotiated and maintained long-lasting treaties using variations of this system.

Robert Henderson also lists the Canadian system, auxiliary languages and machine translation as alternatives to the obvious: hiring a translator or interpreter.