Category Archives: Multilingualism

Happy (belated) European Day of Languages 2022!

26th September marks the European Day of Languages, an event which has been celebrated every year since 2001 by the Council of Europe and European Commission.

Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

The day is designed to celebrate and promote linguistic and cultural diversity across Europe, a continent which is home to 24 official languages, but in which over 200 languages are actually spoken!

The European Centre for Modern Languages (Council of Europe) have put together some fantastic resources for the occasion, which can be used in the classroom, at home, or just for personal enjoyment! These range from posters to challenges to jokes and quotes. You can have a look for yourself here.

We particularly love these posters which show some amazing facts about languages in Europe and across the world! They are also available in various languages at the link above.

Taken from the ECML website – download your own here!

What will you do to celebrate European Day of Languages 2022? You could:

  • Watch a foreign-language film (with subtitles)
  • Read a book or article in a foreign language or in translation
  • Learn a few phrases of a new language
  • Send a message to a friend in another language and see how they respond!
  • Try/cook some food from another culture that has always intrigued you
  • Have a look at the resources we’ve linked to above!

Happy celebrating! Bonne fêtes! ¡Felices Fiestas! Schöne Ferien!

Prismatic Jane Eyre Schools Project: Resources

The Prismatic Jane Eyre Schools Project (2021–2022) has now come to a close. This was an AHRC-funded joint project between the University of Oxford and the Stephen Spender Trust.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Jane-eyre-1024x244.jpg
Image taken from the Stephen Spender Trust website

On 30 September 2021 — International Translation Day — the nationwide competition was launched. Entrants were asked to compose a poem in a language other than English inspired by a selected passage from Jane Eyre. The competition accepted submissions in any language, and 136 entries were received in 26 languages — including Sindarin, a form of Elvish devised by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Up to 100 entries to the competition have been included in an anthology, which will be published online and in print in September 2022.

The Project drew on translation as an educational tool to explore how Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel has been translated since its publication in 1847 and how its plots and themes can be used as a springboard for new creative works. It comprised of three core activities: a series of translation workshops; a nation-wide translation competition (as mentioned above); and a bank of resources for teachers and pupils.  

The bank of resources aims to allow more young people to enjoy creative translation activities based on Jane Eyre. Initially developed to support entries to the competition, these resources now provide a lasting legacy for the Project.  

Three types of resources are available: 

  1. A handout that outlines an approach to creating a poem from a passage of prose (all languages) 
  2. PowerPoint workshops for teachers to deliver in school with accompanying worksheets (Arabic, French, Polish, Spanish) 
  3. Pupil-led activity worksheets (Arabic, French, Polish, Spanish). 

The Project’s resources are available here and here. To accompany these resources, we’ve created a short video explaining what creative translation is, and why it’s important. The video is available to view below.  

Prismatic Jane Eyre: Translators’ Video

Why do we need people to translate when we have machine translation?

In recent months we’ve been enjoying one of our favourite podcasts, LinguaMania, produced by the Creative Multilingualism programme. We were particularly intrigued by this episode on translation, as it’s a question we get asked lots by students who are thinking about what role languages can play in their future. On the surface of it, translation may seem like just the kind of skill a robot could pick up, but it’s actually a very nuanced process which requires a great deal of empathy and creativity. Let’s let the experts tell us more…

Some people ask why they should bother learning a language when there are online apps and websites which can translate quickly and accurately.

In this episode of LinguaMania, Matthew Reynolds and Eleni Philippou argue that translation is so much more than just changing words from one language into another. Translation is creative, it’s personal, and it can help build communities. We also hear from Adriana X. Jacobs, Professor of Jewish and Hebrew Studies, and Yousif M Qasmiyeh, doctoral student researching the translation of Jane Eyre into Arabic.

Listen below or read the transcript here.

Translating Nonsense

This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf, we revisit the Babel: Adventures in Translation Exhibition, which was curated by the Creative Multilingualism programme and ran at the Weston Library last year. You may remember that we featured two resources from the exhibition on the blog: one on translating fables, and one on translating Cinderella. Now we bring you the final resource in that collection, this time on the exciting theme of translating nonense…

One of the items displayed in the exhibition was a collection of translations of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, his 1871 sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice is a popular topic in Oxford, as Carroll himself was a scholar in Maths at Christ Church College. The daughter of the Dean of Christ Church at the time, Alice Liddell, is said to be the original Alice who inspired Carroll’s stories.

Illustration by John Tenniel

In this sequel, Alice goes through the looking-glass, or mirror, in her sitting room to find an alternative world on the other side, a world a bit like our own but also a bit different. While exploring this world she comes across a looking-glass book, a book where the words are written backwards and need to be read in a mirror. The text that she reads is the poem ‘Jabberwocky’.

You might have come across this poem before as it has taken on a life of its own outside of Carroll’s novel. The poem recounts the adventure of a warrior who slays the fearsome beast, the Jabberwock. But the intriguing thing about the text is that it is written in nonsense: half the words were invented by Carroll.

Of course, this poses something of a problem if we’re thinking about translating the text, because how can we go about translating words that are made up? Because Carroll invented these words, no dictionary definition of them exists, and meaning can therefore be elusive. Take the second word of the poem, for example, ‘brillig’ – does this mean brilliant, bright, murky, rainy, cold, a particular time of day, or something else entirely?

Nonetheless, lots of translators have risen to this challenge, creating versions of ‘Jabberwocky’ in other languages which are just as playful as the original English. We might even approach the translation of a text like this as an opportunity to have some fun with the translation process: if meaning is not fixed, perhaps as translators this is a chance to focus on other elements of the text, such as rhyme, rhythm, or onomatopoeia. Take a look at the resource we’ve linked to below for more ideas about translating ‘Jabberwocky’. Perhaps even have a go yourself at translating the poem yourself – it could be frabjously good fun!

Click here for the worksheet.

How do metaphors shape our world?

We’ve touched on metaphor in this blog before, when we featured Marianna Bolognesi’s post ‘Do you have butterflies in your stomach or little deer jumping in your heart?‘, and Sally Zacharias’s post ‘Multilingual Moon Metaphors‘. So we couldn’t be more delighted that our friends at the Creative Multilingualism Research programme have dedicated a whole episode of their podcast series to the subject.

We tend to think of metaphors as poetic language, but we actually use them all the time in our everyday speech. But how do metaphors in different languages work? And can the metaphors we use affect our thinking? In this episode of LinguaMania, we explore how we use metaphors across the world, looking at the different ways of representing abstract concepts, such as emotion and time, through idioms and metaphors.

The episode features researchers Jeanette Littlemore, Lera Boroditsky, Zoltán Kövecses, Sally Zacharias, and one of our brilliant tutors in German, Katrin Kohl. Thanks for the insight!

Listen to the episode below or on the Oxford University podcasts website.

Why should we read translated texts?

This week, we’re back to the Linguamania podcast, produced by the Creative Multilingualism research programme. The third episode in the podcast series explores the question ‘Why should we read translated texts?’ and features two of our brilliant Modern Languages tutors: Prof. Jane Hiddleston, Tutor in French at Exeter College, and Dr Laura Lonsdale, Tutor in Spanish at Queen’s College.

In this episode of LinguaMania, we’re exploring what we lose or gain when we read a translated book. Are we missing something by reading the English translation and not the original language version? Or can the translation process enhance the text in some way? Jane Hiddleston and Laura Lonsdale from the University of Oxford discuss these questions and also look at what fiction and translation can tell us about how languages blend with one another and interact.

Listen to the podcast below or peruse the full transcript here.

Understanding our Natural World

Before our usual blog kicks off today, please note this special announcement: as a result of the developing Covid-19 situation, we regret that we have had to cancel the Modern Languages Open Day which had been scheduled for Saturday 2 May. Please keep an eye on our ‘meet us‘ pages for details of open days later in the year.

Now, where were we?… We’re on a roll with the podcasting as this week we check back in with the Linguamania podcast, produced by Creative Multilingualism. In the second episode of this fascinating series, the speakers focus on the topic ‘Understanding our Natural World: why languages matter’. Here’s the podcast…

This podcast draws on the research of Felice Wyndham, Karen Park, and Andrew Gosler, who are academics in Strand 2 (‘Naming’) of the programme. This strand is themed around ‘Creating a Meaningful World: Nature in Name, Metaphor and Myth ‘. They examine the creativity at work as people across diverse language backgrounds respond to the natural world through naming, metaphor, and myth. This includes questions like:

  • Are words influenced by local environments?
  • How do we explain similarities and differences between linguistic diversity and biodiversity?
  • What do different approaches to naming reveal about the role and mechanisms of creativity in language?

Birds provide the natural lens through which this research is pursued: the migrations of barn swallows link a multitude of different languages; owls bear an otherworldly salience acknowledged across cultures; and each community boasts those birds unique to place that hold special significance.

Linguamania Podcast

There’s an exciting new podcast out there for all you language lovers. Creative Multilingualism, an AHRC-funded research programme examining creativity in language learning, has launched a podcast which explores different aspects of language learning and how these interesect with the programme’s different strands.

Produced by researchers from Creative Multilingualism, the LinguaMania podcast explores some fascinating perspectives on languages and language learning, asking: Do we really need human translators? Why do we use metaphors and what do they teach us about other languages and cultures? How much of an unfamiliar language can we understand? Would creative language teaching make the subject more popular? Can languages help protect the natural environment? And so much more… So stop what you’re doing and start exploring the wonderful world of multilingualism!

The first episode examines the question “How ‘foreign’ are ‘foreign languages’?” Many people think foreign languages are alien to us, unless of course we’ve spent years studying them. But is this really the case? Or can we actually understand some words in a different language – even if we’ve never studied that language before?

In episode 1 of the LinguaMania podcast, Professor Martin Maiden suggests that languages aren’t always as foreign as we think, especially if we have some tricks up our sleeve to help us decipher them. You can see the full transcription of the podcast on the Creative Multilingualism website.

And here’s the episode itself…

Artificial Intelligence in the World of Languages

This post originally appeared on the Creative Multilingualism blog, an AHRC-funded research project that explores the role of creativity in language learning.

What role will Artificial Intelligence play in the world of languages – will it be an opportunity or a threat for language learners? What impact might AI have on endangered languages? Will machine translation ever replace the need for language learning?

In September 2019, Creative Multilingualism worked in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh and JNCL (Joint National Committee for Languages) to hold a workshop on the topic of Artificial Intelligence in the World of Languages.

The event brought together academics, teachers and leaders in tech and AI to discuss the impact of improvements in machine translation and language learning technology on future language learners, teachers and speakers of endangered languages.

Watch the below film to hear from the workshop’s participants on three key questions:

  1. Is AI a threat or an opportunity for language learning?
  2. Could Google Translate replace the need for language learning?
  3. Why should we learn languages?

What do you think? Are the machines going to replace us?

Multilingual Moon Metaphors

This post was written by Sally Zacahrias, a lecturer in Education at the University of Glasgow, and originally appeared on the Creative Multilingualism blog. Creative Multilingualism is an AHRC-funded project investigating the creative dimension of languages – extending from cognition and production through to performance, texts and translation to language learning.

The year 2019 will be remembered by some as the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings. It has been for Moon enthusiasts the chance not only to reflect on Armstrong’s first steps but also what the Moon means to them on a more personal level. The Moon has been compared to a mirror that reflects our passions and beliefs.

As Philip Morton in ‘The Moon. A history for the future’ wrote:

…what people see when they look at the Moon is indeed, for the most part a reflection of themselves – of their preoccupations and theories, their dreams and fears. It has been used for such reflection, or projection in science and fiction alike (Morton 2019:20).

These Moon celebrations also provided me with an opportunity to explore what the Moon meant to people of different cultural and language backgrounds. The Moon is a powerful lens for understanding and comparing different cultures as, firstly, it features so strongly in all cultures and, secondly, it has come to symbolise many everyday concepts (love, friendship, beauty, time) that are shared between members of different cultural groups.

Culture can be thought of as a set of shared ways to frame concepts that characterise groups of people and often these understandings are reflected in the metaphors used by people belonging to those cultural groups. When linguists talk about metaphors they mean that they describe one thing in terms of another, so ‘The Moon is made of cheese’ is an example of a metaphor. The surface of the Moon (which is strange and a bit abstract) is being compared to a cheese with holes in it. One way to find out what the Moon means to people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds is to look at the various Moon idioms they use, a specific type of metaphorical expression. Here are some examples that I have collected as part of this project:

IdiomLanguageLiteral
Translation
MeaningAbstract
concept
associated with the

Moon
être dans
la lune
Frenchto be in
the Moon
head in the
clouds
thinking/day-dreaming
spadł z
księżyca
Polishto fall from
the Moon
behaving
strangely
thinking/
irrationality
er lebt
hinter dem Mond
Germanhe lives
behind the Moon
he has no
idea what’s
going on in
the world
irrationality/
strange
behaviour
I love you to the Moon
and back
English to love
someone
very much
love
oli mumanzi nka kwezi Rutooro you’re as
brave as the Moon
very bravebravery/
emotional
strength
many
Moons
ago
Englisha long time
ago
time
月有陰晴圓缺 Mandarinthe moon is dark bright
round and
missing a
piece
to say life is uncertain,
not all plain
sailing
life
14 قمر Arabicfull Moon/
Moon of 14
beauty
(woman’s)
beauty

During the summer, I and a team of science and language students from the School of Education at University of Glasgow ran a couple of workshops, ‘Stories and Science of the Moon’, for families as part of the Glasgow Science Festival. One activity involved asking family members what they thought each of these Moon idioms meant. I showed them the idiom in the original language and its literal translation. Interestingly, although the participants said they didn’t know the language about 70% of the answers were correct!

One plausible explanation for this is that many of these idioms are based on what we call ‘embodied’ metaphors. These are when mental images that we have developed through our interaction with the physical world are used to understand more abstract concepts. So, ‘I love you to the Moon and back’ is based on the image of a long distance representing the intensity of a feeling. These embodied metaphors are thought to be understood across almost all languages and cultures. So, when trying to understand an unfamiliar expression, such as an unknown idiom, we use these embodied metaphors as sense-making resources.

During the workshop, we also explored how narratives and images of the Moon from around the world have changed our perspective of how we understand the universe and our place in it. For example, we looked at how Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer-mathematician, wrote about travelling to the Moon in ‘Somnium – the Dream’ in 1609, considered by many to be the first ever piece of science fiction. The story was written in Latin, at a time when people thought that the Earth was at the centre of the universe. However, Kepler believed differently. By telling a story in which a boy and his mother are taken to the Moon by the moon spirit, and by using the Moon as an analogy of the Earth, Kepler was able to change people’s perspectives of what they normally take for granted. Seeing the everyday through a different image, narrative or language can really transform our sense of reality!

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

We also explored how almost every civilisation has used the Moon to govern daily life. Its regular phases and movements have been used for calendrical purposes to mark time in many cultures. Ancient time was both measured by the phases of the Moon but it was also the measure of our activities: certain behaviours were assigned to particular phases of the Moon. This can be still seen today in certain religious and cultural festivals that are orchestrated by the Moon, for example, Easter, Ramadan and the Chinese Moon festival.

To explore how the Moon features in people’s lives today at a more individual level, and to discover what the Moon means to people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, I have interviewed a number of families, all living in Glasgow, over a period of six months. The families spoke either Arabic, Polish, Mandarin or English: some of the languages that make up Glasgow’s vibrant linguistic landscape. I have been looking at how the family members use metaphor to talk about time, and other abstract concepts, in relation to the Moon. We tend to think that time is a universal concept, experienced the same way by everyone. However, my data shows that people’s conceptions of time, when talking about the Moon, vary in interesting and subtle ways depending on their cultural background, the stories and books they’ve read, the languages they speak and their age.

This study shows that although we all share and know the Moon, different cultures and languages have responded to the Moon in contrasting ways. Understanding this diversity allows for a more complete picture of what makes us human, and how we through our different languages relate to our natural world.

A special thank you to all my language enthusiasts who have been part of this project’s creation: Dangeni, Rui He, Nourah Alshalhoub, Heba Elmaraghi, Idris Al Adawi, Agnieszka Uflewska, Aneta Marren, Annette Islei, Colin Reilly, and to the families I interviewed!