Who drives our culture? Conventional wisdom says it is Hollywood. After all, it is the ﬁlm industry that produces the most highly paid artistes and the most visible ‘A listers’. Film is a visual medium and it churns out icons at a steady, lucrative rate. The four-hour Oscars telecast is beamed live around the world.
By contrast, the announcement of the Man Booker Prize does not even get its own TV slot in schedules. The announcement is allowed to interrupt the news broadcasts, but the analysis and reactions are made to wait until a scheduled bulletin and it’s never the lead story.
A few years agao, I blogged about the campaign to save the Iraqi translators who had worked for British troops in the country. Appallingly, the British Government refused to give them asylum, even though it was their work helping (perhaps, even keeping alive) British soldiers that had got them into trouble in the first place.
Via Aavaz, I learn that the British Government may now repeat this shameful episode in relation to translators working with British forces in Afghanistan. They want to give compensation, in lieu of asylum.
This really is not good enough. We have a duty to protect these people. Failure to do so would not only be a moral outrage – it would damage the reputation of British forces abroad and make it much harder to recruit local translators for future military operations.
Why does the British Government drag its heels on these ethical no-brainers? I worry that it is down to the confused debate about immigration in this country. Asylum seekers, refugees, economic migrants and illegal immigrants are all very different types of migrant, but they are all spoken of as similarly illegitimate and unwelcome. We cannot allow an immature debate at home to hobble our soliders working abroad.
Browsing through the Global Voices ‘Most Read in 2012‘ articles, I noticed for the first time the effort that the site makes to accomodate multiple languages.
First, each article has a header saying ‘this post is also available in…’ Then, within the text, any quotes are presented in their original language, followed by a translation. This article on a Citizens’ Basic Income initiative in Switzerland is a good example.
Such efforts always introduce a design problem. The foreign language breaks the ‘flow’ of the text, much like a banner advert in the middle of an an article. On the Global Voices pages, the designers have made some slight attempt to slightly de-emphasise the original text in favour of the English translation. However, the long list of alternative languages at the tope of the article presents a barrier to actually reading the text, even when the type size is small.
Technical advances could help solve this problem. Automated tools like Google Translate allow you to put a rudimentary translation behind a single mouse click (you can read this very blog post in French, Arabic, Chinese or Hindi, for example).
However, it strikes me that some development of HTML standards to accomodate alternative languages would help. It is possible to embed extra data into any piece of text on a website. I ranted a bit last month about how quotes and links should include citation information within their code. The abbreviation tag (<abbr>) typically allows the writer to include more information for the reader, about a particluar acronym. An example of this feature in action: HTML.
It would be great if a ‘translation’ tag or an ‘original language’ tag were made available in HTML. Then, any given piece of text could be directly associated with any alternative language translations. This would allow web designers or app creators to display the translations in the way most appropriate to their content. It would also give readers the flexibility to show or hide the orginal language text.
Translation is a highly cultural and political act. How a piece of text is translated matters, and the nuance and tone imposed on the text by a sympathetic or antagonistic translator can have huge consequences. Technical innovations that allow the original and translated texts to be compared easily would mean more transparency, greater international and inter-cultural understanding, and perhaps even help students to learn foreign languages, and the art of translation. It may also help unify projects like Wikipedia, where there are almost three-hundred encyclopædias evolving in disparate directions.
Does anyone know if there has been any work or research done on this subject?
Last week, I published two e-Books for English PEN.
The first is Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot, edited by Mark Burnhope, Sarah Crewe and Sophie Mayer. This is a fantastic piece of literary campaigning for three prisoners of conscience. The government of Vladimir Putin, in collaboration with the Russian Orthodox church, have sought to censor the satire and criticism directed at them by the punk art collective Pussy Riot, by convicting three of them on a charge of ‘hooliganism’.
There is little English PEN or I can do to help with the legal battle. But what we can do is ensure that the feminist poetry and the dissident message is not suppressed. Catechism amplifies what Putin sought to silence.
The other project is PEN Atlas: 10 Literary Dispatches from Around the World. It has been published to coincide with the international translation day conference taking place today in London. It is a re-packaging off some of the best content from our PEN Atlas online project.
In creating these publications, I applied some of the lessons learned during the course of my Insignificant Woman project. I also advanced my knowledge a bit too.
I had been using the EPUB conversion cool within Lulu.com to create my e-book files. This tool is simple and easy to use (you just upload a Word Document) but is somewhat limited. For example, when you want to place two headings adjacent to each other in the text, it creates unnecessary page breaks. However, by good fortune I happened across the Sigil tool on the Google Project Hosting repository. It is not an entry-level program, but it is perfect for someone like me, who has basic knowledge of HTML and CSS. I used it to tweak an existing EPUB file for Catechism, but then used Sigil to create the PEN Atlas file entirely from scratch. Later, I used Calibre to convert and EPUB file into a Kindle ready eBook.
As the death toll rises, there seems to be very little I can say on the latest natural disaster to wreak havoc on unsuspecting peoples.
One thing that struck me: I was watching a report on the relief effort, and a random Kashmiri farmer was being interviewed. His son had an arm in a sling, and they were describing their predicament. They were talking in English… It never ceases to amaze me the capacity that other nationalities have for bilingualism, when in the UK its a struggle to get students to take a GCSE or a Standard/Higher in another language.
Clearly these people have a different conception of language and nationality to us islanders. Kashmir is a divided region of course, with several ethnicities, affiliations and identities. The requirement to speak more than one dialect is a fact of life.
Next time there is a river bursts its banks and swamps an English flood plain, I wonder how many people will be able to describe their experiences to the foreign news agencies?