Category Archives: Translation

The Stephen Spender Prize 2022

The Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation, in association with The Guardian, is now open for entries. Anybody in the UK and Ireland can enter, regardless of age or linguistic skill. The Stephen Spender Trust’s (SST) Resources hub is full of virtual resources to make the prize accessible from home, as well as teaching packs to bring poetry translation into the classroom.

This year, the prize is more inclusive and vibrant than ever, from British Sign Language translation to new prizes for first-time entrants. SST’s virtual poetry booklets collect together poems in more than 17 languages.

SST Director Charlotte Ryland:

“Poetry translation is a perfect activity for these challenging times: it is a gentle and structured approach to creativity, without the intimidating blank page that can put off many would-be poets; it is an opportunity for parents and children to work together, in particular in families where more than one language is spoken; and it is a task that can be shared with peers and teachers.”

This year’s judges are acclaimed poets, translators and educators Khairani Barokka, Daljit Nagra and Samantha Schnee.

Khairani Barokka, Daljit Nagra and Samantha Schnee

Closing date: 15 July 2022

  • Categories: Open (adult), 18-and-under, 16-and-under, 14-and-under
  • Top prize of £1,000
  • All winning entries published in the 2022 Stephen Spender Prize booklet
  • Special ‘Spotlight’ prize for translation from Romanian, judged by Gabi Reigh

Full details on the SST website. Good luck to all participants!

We’re Back!

We hope you all had a restful break with family and friends over the last couple of weeks, whether you were observing religious traditions or hunting for chocolate in the garden (or both!)

Here at Oxford, Trinity term is already underway and it looks to be another busy one, albeit much sunnier than the last!

To ease us back into the new term, here are a few exciting events and opportunities to get involved in over the next couple of weeks!

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Modern Languages Subject Day – Tuesday 10th May, Exeter College

If you are a Year 11 or 12 student who is interested in exploring your options for University, then this day is perfect for you! This Subject Day will include opportunities to experience sessions in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. 

To register for your place, please fill out this form, which should take around 5 to 10 minutes to complete. The deadline to apply is Tuesday 3rd May at 9am.

If you have any questions, please contact outreach@exeter.ox.ac.uk.

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Songs We Learn From Trees – Thursday 5th May, The Queen’s College

On Thursday 5th May, at 4:30-8pm, the Queen’s Translation Exchange are running an in-person workshop and readings based on Songs We Learn from Trees, the first anthology of Amharic poetry in English.

Sign up here to attend!

Sign up for free here to discuss and celebrate Ethiopian poetry in an evening of readings by Ethiopian poets and their translator, followed by a drinks reception.

The event will feature the following poets:

  • Misrak Terefe
  • Bedilu Wakjira
  • Kebedech Tekleab
  • Alemu Tebeje
  • Hama Tuma [virtually]
  • Mihret Kibede [virtually]

with translator and anthology editor, Chris Beckett.

The poets will read from their own and other poets’ work in the anthology, as well as answer any questions the audience may have about the thriving poetry scene in Addis Ababa.

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Modern Languages Open Day – Saturday 7th May, Examination Schools

There’s still a week left to sign up to attend our in-person Open Day at the Examination Schools, here in Oxford.

The Open Day will offer an overview of our modern languages courses and a general Q&A for prospective students in the morning, with individual language sessions and a companions’ Q&A session occurring in the afternoon. Academics, current students and members of staff from the Faculty will all be in attendance to answer your questions and give invaluable insight into studying languages at Oxford. You can view the full event programme here.

Please note that booking for this event is compulsory – you can register your attendance here

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Modern Languages Summer School – 15th-19th August, Wadham College

Wadham’s annual Summer School programme is an excellent opportunity for Year 12 state school pupils to be an Oxford languages student for a week.

Students on Wadham’s Modern Languages Summer School, taken from Wadham College’s website

Throughout the week, pupils will take part in an academic programme, live in College, meet student ambassadors studying at Oxford, and receive information, advice and guidance on applying to university. 

The Summer School is completely free and Wadham will provide financial support to pupils to cover any travel costs.

You can find out more information and the application form here. Applications are currently open and the deadline to submit is Friday 3rd June at 5pm.

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TRANSLATION CONTEST

A reminder that the Prismatic Jane Eyre translation competition for schools is still open for entries:

The Prismatic Jane Eyre School Project is a nationwide creative translation competition for school learners run by the University of Oxford and the Stephen Spender Trust. The competition is a celebration of all languages taught in schools and spoken in homes across the UK.

Entrants are asked to produce a poem in another language inspired by a selected passage from Jane Eyre. The competition accepts submissions in any language from learners in Key Stages 3-5 / S1-6, and all entries need to be accompanied by a literal translation into English. Pupils will be rewarded for their creativity. Up to 100 entries to the competition will be published in a printed anthology, which will also be available online.

Support materials are available on our resources page. Additional activity packs are provided in four languages (Arabic, French, Polish, and Spanish). These materials give learners and teachers the chance to take part in creative translation activities related to Jane Eyre at home or in the classroom.

The competition guidelines and selected passages are available on this webpage. The competition deadline is 1 March 2022. 

Interested teachers and prospective entrants can receive regular updates about the competition (or the project more generally) by registering their interest using this form.

For queries, contact PJEschools@ell.ox.ac.uk.

PRISMATIC JANE EYRE SCHOOLS PROJECT

Prismatic Jane Eyre Project

The Prismatic Jane Eyre Schools Project is an AHRC-funded joint project with the University of Oxford and the Stephen Spender Trust (SST), the leading UK charity for creative multilingual activities in schools.  

Over 2021, the Project is running workshops in translation and creative writing for young people who are learning modern languages or are speakers of community languages. Using the classic novel Jane Eyre and research about how the text has been translated across the world since its 1847 publication, professional translators will deliver workshops to secondary schools in the UK.  

A nation-wide creative translation competition will be launched on 30 September 2021 – International Translation Day! The competition deadline is March 2021. Entrants are asked to produce a poem in another language inspired by a selected passage from Jane Eyre. The competition accepts submissions in any language, and all entries need to be accompanied by a literal translation into English.   

Up to 100 entries to the competition will be published in a printed anthology, which will also be available online.  

Support materials will be available on our resources page:  https://prismaticjaneeyre.org/resources/. Additional activity packs will be provided in the workshop languages (Arabic, French, Polish, and Spanish) by October 2021. These materials give learners and teachers the chance to take part in creative translation activities related to Jane Eyre at home or in the classroom.  

The competition guidelines and selected passages will be made available online on 30 September 2021 on this webpage: https://prismaticjaneeyre.org/competition-details/.   

If you are a teacher who would like regular updates about the competition or the project more generally, please register your interest using this form. https://forms.office.com/r/JV2k133s3Z.  

Queries can be directed to Dr Eleni Philippou at PJEschools@ell.ox.ac.uk

Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry in Translation

The Stephen Spender Prize 2021

The Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation, in association with The Guardian, is now open for entries. Anybody in the UK and Ireland can enter, regardless of age or linguistic skill. SST’s Multilingual Creativity hub is full of virtual resources to make the prize accessible from home, as well as teaching packs to bring poetry translation into the classroom.

This year the prize is more inclusive and vibrant than ever, from British Sign Language translation to new prizes for first-time entrants. SST’s virtual poetry booklets collect together poems in more than 15 languages.

SST Director Charlotte Ryland:

“Poetry translation is a perfect activity for these challenging times: it is a gentle and structured approach to creativity, without the intimidating blank page that can put off many would-be poets; it is an opportunity for parents and children to work together, in particular in families where more than one language is spoken; and it is a task that can be shared with peers and teachers.”

This year’s judges are acclaimed poets, translators and educators Khairani Barokka, Daljit Nagra and Samantha Schnee.

Closing date: 16 July 2021

  • Categories: Open (adult), 18-and-under, 16-and-under, 14-and-under
  • Top prize of £1,000
  • All winning entries published in a booklet
  • Special ‘Spotlight’ prize for translation from Urdu, judged by Sascha Aurora Akhtar

Full details on the SST website: https://www.stephen-spender.org/stephen-spender-prize/

Olga Tokarczuk’s Storytelling

Aleksandra Majak is currently working on her DPhil in English and Slavonic literature of the twentieth and twentieth-first century. In her project she looks on how the influx of Central Eastern European poetry in translation has galvanized a new, more ‘direct’ mode of poetic expression in the Anglo-American lyric of late modernism. In this post she shares some thoughts on the work of the Polish author Olga Tokarczuk.

Poster: Bartek Bałut
Photography: Łukasz Giza

‘Literature is built on tenderness toward any being other than ourselves,’ said Olga Tokarczuk in a deep, calm voice as she addressed the audience during her Nobel acceptance speech. In 2018, the Swedish academy honored her work for ‘a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life’. That – after Henryk Sienkiewicz, Wladyslaw Reymont, Czeslaw Milosz, and Wislawa Szymborska – made Tokarczuk the fifth Polish author to receive Nobel Prize in literature, and quite possibly the coolest one.

Tokarczuk is a feminist, activist and ethical vegetarian. Still, the most intriguing thing about this author is the way her at once intricate and disturbing books encourage readers to consider the boundaries between the real and the imagined; how, perhaps somewhere on the verge of both, we live in the world of stories yet untold. Indeed, she believes that ‘a thing that happens and is not told ceases to exist and perishes’. Much of her work muses on an ostensibly simple but ultimately rather complex question: why does storytelling matter?

Since her 1993 debut, The Journey of the Book-People, Tokarczuk’s works have explored stories of borderlands; often occurring at the intersections of languages, flowing between literary genres, and taking place botheverywhere and nowhere at once. Early responses to Tokarczuk’s work often focused on its peripheral status vis-a-vis more mainstream tendencies within Polish mid-1990s fiction, until her Primeval and Other Times (1996) – in which a fictitious village evolves into a microcosm of turbulent twentieth-century history and the lives of its eccentric characters intertwine – became her first widely appreciated novel.

Olga Tokarczuk and translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones during New Horizons festival, Wrocław, 2018, Photo: Maciej Kulczyński 

Written in Polish, her books have been translated into over 37 languages, each translation offering a subtly new interpretation of the original. Here, meaning is not – as Robert Frost’s oft-quoted line asserts – ‘lost’ in translation. Instead, it is through translation that literature otherwise ‘foreign’ to some audiences comes to matter. Antonia Lloyd-Jones, an alumna of MML at Oxford and now an award-winning translator of Polish literature into English (including Tokarczuk’s novels), sees a rising interest in contemporary literature in translation but also hopes to see more lost or forgotten classics revived: ‘postwar Polish literature is full of neglected gems.’

So what exactly do critics – most of whom read Tokarczuk in languages other than Polish – have in mind when they esteem the writer for her ‘narrative imagination’ and ‘crossing the boundaries as a form of life’? Part of the answer has to do with the writer’s fascination with the possibilities of telling the same story in multiple ways. Her most complex novels are narrated with unusual ease but in purposefully fragmentary threads – told by unreliable or eccentric characters, or emerging in moments of narrative breaks and silences.

In fact, the author’s keenness for decentralised, maze-like, and box-within-a-box plotlines took is rooted in her interest in psychology, which she went on to study at the University of Warsaw. The novelist once told The Guardian that reading Freud in her youth was her first step towards becoming a writer. Exploring his works on psychoanalysis brought her to the realisation that there are countless ways to interpret our experience – that storytelling, akin to the human psyche, is made up of constellatory rather than linear structures. This excerpt from the English translation of her Nobel lecture captures her desire to challenge narrative linearity (this is at 48:08-50:09 of the online recording of the lecture):

I keep wondering if these days it’s possible to find the foundations of a new story that’s universal, comprehensive, all-inclusive, rooted in nature, full of contexts and at the same time understandable.

Could there be a story that would go beyond the uncommunicative prison of one’s own self, revealing a greater range of reality and showing the mutual connections? That would be able to keep its distance from the well-trodden, obvious and unoriginal center point of commonly shared opinions, and manage to look at things ex-centrically, away from the center?

I am pleased that literature has miraculously preserved its right to all sorts of eccentricities, phantasmagoria, provocation, parody and lunacy. I dream of high viewing points and wide perspectives, where the context goes far beyond what we might have expected. […]

I also dream of a new kind of narrator―a “fourth-person” one, who is not merely a grammatical construct of course, but who manages to encompass the perspective of each of the characters, as well as having the capacity to step beyond the horizon of each of them, who sees more and has a wider view, and who is able to ignore time.

In all its contradictions, the concept of ‘a fourth-person narrator’ is both odd and fascinating. It combines as well as transgresses the well-known forms of narration that we first got to know in school: first or third person narrator; omniscient or limited perspective; direct address or the detached observer. Here the dream for ‘a fourth-person’ narrator, imagined as a tender and curious observer, is not only about the actual narrator but about the dream itself. Its potency, rhetoric, and creative power is able to transcend all the boundaries of traditional narrative. And if the project is intentionally left unfinished, why do you think that might be?

Her polyphonic vision of narration is also important if we consider the political situation of contemporary Poland. In this climate, literature has had a long-standing patriotic obligation towards promoting a monolithic idea of the country and its culture, which – as the noted historian Norman Davies, who works on Central Eastern Europe, has remarked – allows ‘myth to flourish’. Many of these myths have left their mark and much of the Anglo-American accounts of Poland became homogeneous in responding to this.

When the popularity of translation increased rapidly in the mid 1960s, commentaries promoted a naive belief that East Central European literature might be characterised by a few political clichés, prizing its universal aesthetics, and offering the reader an interpretation typically full of loose references to turbulent history or the poetry of witness or survival. It would be tempting though ultimately trite to look on the phosphorescent structures of Tokarczuk’s plots as a counter-balance to the daily reality of a country now overshadowed (and gradually damaged) by the politics of the ruling homophobic Law and Justice (PIS) party.

Tokarczuk’s polyphonic narration resounds ever more meaningfully in the growing popularity of autobiographical writing, particularly the type of one-season celebrity-authored work which has little to offer beyond self-promotion. One of Tokarczuk’s concerns about today’s printing market is the dominance of tales that ‘narrowly orbit the self of a teller who more or less directly just writes about herself and through herself’, thus creating an paradoxical and alienating opposition between the ‘I’ and reality. For Tokarczuk, this presents yet another potentially fruitful opportunity for her to cross the boundary.

Still, if reading Tokarczuk is an exercise in boundary-crossing, it is not without a certain paradox, for to cross the boundaries is to admit that they do exist. The author references this contradiction in a scene from her untranslated book Final Stories (2015), where one of the characters tells the story of an undefined borderland moved during the night to some entirely different place, leaving the people ‘on the wrong side’; as the speaker adds with irony: ‘as humans cannot live without borders, we set off to find one’.

Other than readily available online resources, such as the full version of her Nobel acceptance speech, for a first read of Tokarczuk’s somewhat challenging work I would recommended Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of a Dead in the translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones. This riveting novel toys with the genre of crime-fiction in its witty but dark quest to solve a mystery troubling the local community. Comparing the narrative to its film adaptation Spoor (2017) directed by Agnieszka Holland might spark a fruitful debate, especially in considering how the atmosphere and humour of the novel is translated into the visual language.

by Aleksandra Majak

International Book Club

Our colleagues over at the Queen’s College Translation Exchange are once again running their International Book Club this term. The club meets once a term to discuss a novel translated into English from any language. The next event will be held via Zoom on Wednesday 25 November 2020 at 8pm, and the conversation will focus on Gine Cornelia Pedersen’s book, Zero, translated from Norwegian and published by Nordisk Books in 2018. The translator, Rosie Hedger, will also join the discussion.

For more details about how to take advantage of this fantastic opportunity to think about the process of translation, take a look at the International Book Club’s webpage. You’ll also find information there about how to get a special discount from the publisher if you purchase a copy of the book being discussed, and details about the books which have been the subject of previous International Book Club events.

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.

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.