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?
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:
Is AI a threat or an opportunity for language learning?
Could Google Translate replace the need for language learning?
Why should we learn languages?
What do you think? Are the machines going to replace us?
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
Abstract concept associated with the Moon
être dans la lune
to be in the Moon
head in the clouds
spadł z księżyca
to fall from the Moon
er lebt hinter dem Mond
he 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
to love someone very much
oli mumanzi nka kwezi
you’re as brave as the Moon
bravery/ emotional strength
many Moons ago
a long time ago
the moon is dark bright round and missing a piece
to say life is uncertain, not all plain sailing
full Moon/ Moon of 14
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!
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!
In late November, Oxford welcomed the writer Ari Gautier and his translator into English, Prof. Blake Smith, for a discussion about Francophone Indian Literature and about Gautier’s writing in particular. Part of the ‘World Literatures’ strand of the Creative Multilingualism programme, this event was convened by Prof. Jane Hiddleston and Sheela Mahadevan. Here we reflect on a few highlights…
Currently based in Oslo, Ari Gautier spent his childhood in
former French colony Pondichéry, India. He is the author of Carnet Secret de Lakshmi and Le Thinnai, two novels which creatively
intersperse Tamil, Hindi, Créole and English with French, reflecting the
multilingual identities of those living in Pondichéry. His works give an
insight into the impact of the French rule on the lives of Pondichéry citizens,
their constantly vacillating identities, the multicultural aspect of the city,
the Indian caste system, and the history of Pondichéry.
The ‘World Literatures’ strand of Creative Multilingualism
is interested in texts where multiple languages brush up against one another,
prompting questions about the boundaries of what a language is. This research
wants to explore how worldliness and cultural transfer is present within a text
from the moment of its inception, and how multilingualism speaks to
multiculturalism. The research aims to expose interactions between different
languages within a text, not just by examining the different languages in which
a text is written, but also seeking out the traces of other languages through
allusions to them or even by the notable absence of certain languages in a
text. Gautier’s novels, with their interspersing of at least five languages, therefore
seem like a perfect fit.
Prof. Smith gave a useful overview of the status of Francophone Indian Literature. To begin with, he acknowledged that it’s not necessarily something the general English reader will be aware of. When we think of Francophonie, we perhaps automatically think of certain countries in West Africa, Canada, or French-speaking East Asia or Oceania. However, France had a colonial presence in India from the seventeenth century. That said, Francophone Indian Literature was only really published from the late nineteenth century onwards and, during the twentieth century, French acted as a secondary language for many writers who were primarily writing in other languages. Academic interest in the French colonial legacy within Indian writing is fairly recent, and Prof. Smith recommended an anthology of Francophone Indian short stories for anyone who wishes to explore further: Écriture indienne d’expression française, edited by Vijaya Rao (Yoda Press & La Reunion par Le GERM, 2008).
The panel then turned to a discussion of how multilingualism operates within Gautier’s writing. Here is an extract from Gautier’s novel, Le Thinnai:
— Gilbert, va m’acheter un Suruttu à la boutique. Il te reste encore de la monnaie, n’est-ce pas ? Voyant Gilbert fouiller désespérément ses poches, mon père lui dit d’aller chez Karika Bhai et d’acheter un paquet de Suruttus sur son compte. — Oh, je suis à la retraite depuis une bonne dizaine d’années. J’ai fait le strict nécessaire sous les drapeaux pour pouvoir bénéficier de la retraite et je suis retourné au pays, répondit mon père après s’être allumé une cigarette. — Pourquoi vous n’y êtes pas resté ? Vous ne vous plaisiez pas en métropole ? — Ce n’est pas une question de s’y plaire ou pas. J’avais juste envie de revenir parmi les miens. Même si je m’étais fondé une famille là-bas, il me paraissait tout à fait naturel de rentrer chez moi. — Mais la France, c’est aussi chez vous ! Vous êtes citoyen français. Papa laissa échapper une bouffée de fumée ; il tapotait la cigarette sur le bord du cendrier et parut réfléchir. — Oui, je suis français. Mais je suis indien en même temps. C’est ici que je suis né, mes ancêtres sont d’ici. Mes racines sont là. Même si j’ai vécu en métropole pendant quelque temps, il m’a paru normal de rentrer chez moi. Il n’y a aucune différence entre moi et un Breton ou un Normand qui aurait envie de retourner chez lui après avoir passé du temps en dehors de sa région natale. Sauf que moi, c’est un peu plus loin… Il marqua un temps d’arrêt pour tirer une bouffée. Mais vous connaissez aussi bien que moi l’histoire de notre pays ; surtout, l’histoire de Pondichéry. Ma famille est française depuis deux générations et je fus le premier à partir en métropole. Jusqu’ici nous n’avions que le statut de Français sur les documents ; mais nous étions profondément indiens. Enfin, nous le sommes toujours. Comment pouvez-vous vous sentir français, sans avoir jamais mis les pieds dans ce pays. Mes parents viennent d’un milieu modeste et n’ont pas eu accès ni à la langue ni à la culture française. L’univers français nous était totalement étranger. La seule chose qui nous rapprochait des Européens était le culte de la religion catholique. À part ça, nous vivions dans deux mondes différents. Notre allégeance à la France se trouvait enfermée dans une vieille malle en ferraille dans l’espoir qu’un jour, un des descendants l’ouvrirait et utiliserait ce morceau de papier. Pendant longtemps, nous ne fûmes pas considérés comme citoyens français ; nous n’étions que des sujets de la nation. —Mais, toute ces années passées dans l’armée française n’ont pas su éveiller en vous un sentiment d’appartenance à ce pays ? Mon père écrasa la cigarette au fond du cendrier et se versa une nouvelle rasade. Il se leva pour aller servir le vieil homme et vint s’asseoir sur le petit thinnai. Il tenait le verre de whisky dans sa main droite et regardait les bulles de soda qui remontaient à la surface du verre. Il reprit la parole en se passant la main gauche sur les cheveux d’avant en arrière ; geste qu’il avait l’habitude de faire quand il réfléchissait longuement. — Je ne connais pas votre histoire, l’ancien, mais vous avez l’air de quelqu’un qui connaît la vie. Vivre en exil est une énorme malédiction. Certes, mon éloignement fut volontaire ; mais à mon époque, nous n’avions pas beaucoup de choix. Partir était le seul moyen d’échapper à une vie indigente. Nos parents et grands-parents qui avaient opté pour la nationalité française avaient fait de nous une génération d’immigrés dans notre pays qui était la France. Indigènes de la nation, nos vies n’ont connu que les tranchées, les coups de feu et les rations militaires. Inconscients et aveugles ignorants, nous sommes partis combattre nos frères malgaches, indochinois et algériens. À aucun moment, la notion que nous étions coupables de complicité involontaire aux massacres d’un pouvoir colonial ne nous a effleurés. Nous nous battions contre des ennemis de notre Mère patrie. Nous en étions fiers. Mais malgré notre fidélité envers elle, l’idée du retour fut plus instinctive. Après tout, nous n’étions que des indigènes des Troupes Coloniales ; la France n’a jamais été notre patrie. Cet attachement ambivalent que nous avons envers elle est une anomalie de l’histoire.
And here it is
in Prof. Smith’s English translation:
“Gilbert, go buy me a suruttu at the shop. You still have money, don’t you?” Watching Little Gilbert fumble despairingly in his pockets, my father told him to buy a suruttu from Karika Bhai, and add it to the soldier’s account. “Oh, I’ve been retired for twelve years now. I did the absolute minimum to earn my pension, and now I’m back.” My father answered, lighting a cigarette. “Why didn’t you stay? You didn’t like it in France?” “It wasn’t a question of liking it or not. I just wanted to come back to my own people. Even if I started a family there, it seemed natural to come back home.” “But France, that’s home too! You’re a French citizen.” My father exhaled a puff of smoke. He tapped the cigarette on the edge of the ashtray and seemed to think it over. “Oh, I’m French. But Indian, too. I was born here. So were my ancestors. My roots are here. And after spending some time outside their own province, even a Breton or a Norman wants to go home. It’s the same with me. But my home is a little farther… you must know the history of Pondicherry as well as I do. My family has been French for generations, but I was the first one to go to France. Until then we were just paper Frenchmen; really we were Indians. Really we still are. How can you feel French, if you’ve never set foot there? My parents came from nothing; they didn’t know French or French culture. The only thing that connected us to the Europeans was the church. Besides that, it was two different worlds.” “But all those years in the French army, didn’t they make you feel like you were part of the nation?” My father crushed his cigarette in the ashtray and poured another drink. He got up to fill the old man’s glass and sat back down. He held his whisky in his right hand, watching the soda bubbles rise to the surface. He ran his left hand through his hair, which he always did when he had to think hard about something. “I don’t know your story, old one, but you seem like you know a thing or two about life. Living in exile is a curse. Sure, I chose it, but back then there wasn’t much to choose from. Leaving was the only way out of poverty. Trenches, gunshots, and rations, that was all we knew. We fought our brothers in Madagascar, Indochina and Algeria. We never thought we might be guilty of anything. We felt nothing, saw nothing, understood nothing. We fought the enemies of the motherland. We were proud. But in spite of our faithful service, we wanted to come home. We were just colonial soldiers. France was never our country. What we had with it was just a quirk of history.”
of French culture and how far it can coexist alongside an Indian identity is
central to this passage, a fact that is emphasised and complicated by the fact
that the novel is written largely in French. But, of course, this passage is
not entirely in French. What about that reference to a suruttu? A suruttu is a
cigar, what we would call in English a ‘cheroot’, from the French cheroute, which itself comes from the
Tamil curuttu/churuttu/shuruttu/suruttu. In this way, a single word, referring
to an everyday item, can illuminate a complicated multilingual interaction.
the reference to the Tamil word thinnai
is an example of what we might think of as an untranslatable word. A thinnai is
a raised platform built adjacent to the main entrance of a house. It is common
in Tamil Nadu, a state in the south of India. Traditionally, it was a place
where elders could rest to talk to neighbours and friends, and where strangers
could stop for respite when passing through the town. Thus, in a text written
mostly in French we see how a reference to another language can evoke a whole
set of cultural values – hospitality, community, conversation. The porous
borders between languages can facilitate and reveal the coexistence of multiple
talked about his own multilingual background, explaining that he spoke French
with his father but Tamil with his uncle. Growing up in Pondicherry, he said
that every street seemed to have its own language and he moved around a lot:
his universe evolved with languages. When asked about the fact that his first
novel included footnotes to explain Tamil words to non-Tamil speakers, but his
second novel did not, Gautier confirmed that this was a deliberate decision.
Footnotes could be seen as a form of linguistic colonisation – an attempt to
make the Tamil words fit more comfortably within a French-language text. By
deciding not to explain the Tamil in his second novel, Gautier refused to
compromise Tamil. He said that using footnotes made him feel alien to his own
The wide-ranging discussion moved on to cover many aspects of Gautier’s writing, including its cinematic quality, the role of received memory in constructing his narratives and the question of mythology. While we don’t have room to touch on all those topics here, we will end by mentioning one further question that was raised, and which again highlights the porous potentiality of multilingualism: the use of Creole in Gautier’s novels.
Le Thinnai includes a character called
Lourdes, a servant who speaks in Creole. One of the important roles Creole
plays in a novel written largely in French is to recognise a community that has
been overlooked. Gautier explained that in Pondicherry there is a problematic
hierarchy between what is known as ‘haut-créole’ and ‘bas-créole’. Someone who
is ‘haut-créole’ is of mixed French and Indian descent, whereas someone who is ‘bas-créole’
is not of French descent but nonetheless speaks a creolised form of French. The
character Lourdes is ‘bas-créole’. She insists that she speaks French but other
characters think she is speaking in Creole. The inclusion of Creole in this
novel therefore performs the difficulties of thinking about translingualism:
how far is it a language in its own right? How far is it a corrupted form of
French? Might we think of it as an enhanced form of French?
These are just a few of the questions raised by the notion of multilingualism and translingualism in World Literatures. You can dig a little deeper into Francophone Indian literature by reading Prof. Smith’s piece ‘Indian Literature speaks French‘ or follow Ari Gautier on Twitter.
This post was originally published on the Creative Multilingualism blog. Creative Multilingualism is a four-year AHRC-funded programme investigating the interconnection between linguistic diversity and creativity. Regular readers of Adventures on the Bookshelf will remember Prof. Matthew Reynolds’s earlier post about translations of Jane Eyre. In this post, Prof. Reynolds talks about the process of mapping different translations of the novel.
In April, Prismatic Translation’s Associated Researcher in Digital Humanities, Giovanni Pietro Vitali, stayed in Oxford to work with me on mapping the global diffusion of translations of Jane Eyre. Giovanni Pietro’s trajectory has taken him from Pisa to Perugia, Nancy and Leipzig (where he trained in Digital Humanities); he is now a Marie Curie Fellow attached to Cork, Reading, and NYU.
Mapping Jane Eyre’s translations is a challenge, on several fronts. First, where do you locate a translation on a map? It will have been done by a translator in a certain place, or places; but then it may have been published somewhere else; and it can be read wherever there is a reader who understands its language – which is, in many cases, pretty much anywhere.
Usually, we can find no information about where a translation has been written (often translations are anonymous). We don’t want to attach the translations to particular nation states, because languages don’t correspond to nation states: think of the many languages spoken in India (or indeed the UK), or the many states that have Spanish, French or Portuguese as official languages. So we have opted for the place of publication – not endeavouring to put boundaries around the territory inhabited by a translation, but showing the point from which it came out into the world.
Yet where exactly is a place of publication? For one set of maps, which allow readers to trace the development of the cover images in connection with the place and time of publication, we have used the publishers’ street addresses (this necessitated much careful work on the part of the project’s researchers – and caused some anguish!). Here we find a by-product of looking at the world of books through the lens of Jane Eyre: tracking the translations, we discover the bits of cities where publishers cluster, and find harmonies between the books’ designs and their locales. But for the general maps, which allow us to see and understand the spread of Janes across the world, street addresses seemed too specific. For these visualisations, the city seemed the right unit of location.
When I made this theoretical decision, I hadn’t quite understood the relationship between the computer-magic of Digital Humanities and the mind-numbing, slow, human labour that lies behind it. Once you know a translation’s place of publication, the computer can do quite a good job of assigning latitudes and longitudes to the given names. But not a perfect one: it can’t know if you mean Paris (France) or Paris (Texas), the Tripoli in Libya or one of the lesser-known Tripolis in Lebanon or Greece. And you can’t know when it is going to make a mistake – which means that every point needs checking by human eye and hand. In the case of Jane Eyre the number of points that have needed checking (so far) is 543.
But latitude and longitude still do not amount to a city. For that, you need to find the outline of each city and paste it onto your map. In our case, that meant 171 cities from Addis Ababa to Zutphen. You find the outline of a city in a long list called a ‘Shape File’; and there are separate Shape Files maintained by every State. So you go to the Shape File for India and find Ahmedabad; then you go to the Shape File for Syria and find Aleppo, and so on. And on. The process is not so very painful when you are dealing with Berlin or Rome; but when it is Dushanbe in Tajikistan, or Kaifeng in China (written in non-alphabetic characters) you feel your life draining away as you struggle to be sure you have pinpointed the right place.
Then, after days of labour, the moment of magic, when you are suddenly able to witness the spread of Jane Eyres across the world, like this:
Or zoom in for a more detailed view, like this:
And this is only the beginning. The maps that we are currently working on organise the translations according to region and language, allowing a more analytical understanding of the processes at work; and they also show the translations unfolding year by year. So now (or, soon) you will be able to see before your eyes the startling spread of Jane Eyre translations that had already happened by 1850: Berlin, Brussels, Paris, St Petersburg, Stuttgart, Grimma, Stockholm, Groningen and – Havana!
This post was originally published on the Creative Multilingualism blog. Creative Multilingualism is a four-year AHRC-funded programme investigating the interconnection between linguistic diversity and creativity. The programme is split into seven research strands, one of which is ‘Prismatic Translation’. In this post, Prof. Matthew Reynolds, Co-Investigator on the strand, explains how they have been looking at translations of Jane Eyre through a multilingual prism…
I spent March mainly in Pisa, working on fifteen Italian translations [of Jane Eyre] with a group of graduate students and early career researchers co-ordinated by our collaborator in the project there, Professor Alessandro Grilli.
It was an exhilarating experience, eight or ten of us grouped around a table in an airy room high up in an eighteenth-century palazzo overlooking the oldest botanical garden in Europe (even older than Oxford’s!) sharing our findings with the help of a projector pointed at the uneven wall.
Various discoveries emerged which will make their way into the webpages that are being created and book that is being written. The earliest Italian translation, done anonymously and published in Milan in 1904, mainly follows the 1854 French translation by Noémi Lesbazeilles (née Souvestre): for instance, Bertha Mason’s ‘red eyes’ become ‘yeux injectés’ and, in turn, ‘occhi iniettati’ (injected/blood-shot eyes’). Here we can see translation, not jumping from one language to another as though they were separate boxes, but moving through the continuum of language difference, following pathways in which Italian and French are joined.
Just occasionally, however, when the French was puzzling, the anonymous Italian translator turned to the English for help. When Jane hears Rochester’s voice telepathically calling across the moors, Charlotte Bronte wrote: ‘’O God! what is it?’ I gasped.’ Lesbazeilles-Souvestres takes this in a surprising direction: ‘J’aspirai l’air avec force’ (‘I breathed in forcefully / took a deep breath’). This must have struck the Italian translator as peculiar; the English must have been checked; and a simpler equivalent was found: ‘mormorai’ (‘I murmured’ – ‘gasped’, in its sense here, is a tricky word to match). Usually in translation – or at least in people’s ideas of translation – the translator works from the original and occasionally looks at other versions for help. But here we have the opposite: the French becomes the source text and the English serves as a guide to its interpretation.
One of the researchers, Caterina Cappelli, is someone I first met when she translated my novel The World Was All Before Them for her Masters thesis some years ago. Now, she has done an extraordinary piece of research, tracking the word ‘plain’ (also ‘plainly’ and ‘plainness’) through all its 49 appearances in the novel, in 13 different translations. That is, 637 occurrences of the word. As its frequency suggests, ‘plain’ is a crucial term for Brontë. Jane is plain (not beautiful), she speaks plainly (frankly), and she likes plain (simple) things; in the story, things are heard plainly (clearly) and become plain (are understood); and the novel itself is described as ‘a plain tale’ (a realist novel, that shows the world as it is).
One of Brontë’s ambitions in her writing was to re-assess this word, creating a woman character who can be admired for her mind and principles rather than her looks, and writing a story that can be valued for its truth-telling as much or more than for its excitements. For Brontë, ‘plain’ is what the literary critic William Empson called a ‘complex word’: a bundle of culturally-charged different meanings that need a whole play or novel to open up their synergies and contradictions.
In the Italian translations, the explosion of meanings hidden in the word becomes, well, plain. This one English word is translated in – wait for it – sixty-eight quite different ways, in terms that correspond to: simple, ugly, clear, insignificant, sincere, well, open, modest, frank, easy, distinct, dull, common, smooth, white, and so on, and on. Here is a table constructed by Caterina:
And here is a visualisation:
For more on Prismatic Translation, see their pages here.
Back in February we brought you news of an exciting translation competition being run by the Creative Multilingualism Programme, in connection with the exhibition at the Bodleian Library on ‘Babel: Adventures in Translation’. We are now pleased to share the winners of this competition.
Magical Translation The task was to create a modern version of Cinderella in any language with an English prose translation. We received some fantastic entries in this category which played cleverly with the Cinderella story, adding twenty-first-century twists like Cinderella losing her luggage tag instead of a slipper, or being tracked down by the prince using social media. The best of these stories engaged with the question of Cinderella’s identity, manipulating the traditional tale to reflect on issues like Cinderella’s sexuality, her race, the prince’s gender identity, or the role of feminism in fairytales.
The overall winner of this task was fifteen-year-old Alice, whose version of the story, written in Spanish, sees Cinderella transported to the streets of Buenos Aires and dreaming of a football career…
En las calles sucias de La Boca, Buenos Aires, Cinderella Muños trabajó incansablemente por su madrastra y sus dos hermanastras. “Trabaja duro y agradece” le dijeron a ella. A Cinderella siempre le encantó el fútbol y soñaba jugar para su equipo local: Boca Juniors, a pesar de siendo una niña. Sus padres tenían boletos de temporada, sin embargo, tristemente cuando murieron, los boletos fueron entregados a su madrastra. Cinderella tenía prohibida ver algún partidos. A pesar de eso, su amor por fútbol nunca se detuvo y en las calles de La Boca practicaría todas las noches. Cinderella fue devastada perderse la victoria de Boca Juniors en las finales de la Primera División contra Plate River. Mientras se sentaba tristemente en las escaleras, vio un sobre de oro que contenía tres entradas para una fiesta para celebrar la victoria. Su madrastra se las arrebató como quería que sus hijas conocer el famoso futbolista: Jorman Campuzano. se vistieron de azul y amarillo (los colores del equipo) y salieron, dejando a Cinderella completamente sola. Estaba muy triste mientras ella pateó su fútbol por las calles oscuras. En la fiesta, Jorman miró fuera la ventana y él estaba asombrado por la curiosa figura quien dominó la hábil patada del arco iris. Se impresionó aún más y pronto se unió. Cuando el reloj golpeó a las doce, ella escapó, dejando atrás su fútbol, con el nombre: Cinderella Muños. Poco después, Jorman la encontró y la invitó ella probar para el equipo, y desde ese día, ella nunca más tuvó que ver a su madrastra o hermanastras.
In the dirty streets of La Boca, Buenos Aires, Cinderella Muños worked tirelessely for her stepmother and two spoilt stepsisters. “Work hard and be grateful” she was told. Cinderella always loved football and dreamed of playing for the local team, Boca Juniors, despite being a girl. Her parents owned season tickets however, sadly when they died, these tickets passed to her step mother Cinderella was forbidden to watch any matches. Despite this, her love for football never ceased and in the streets of La Boca she would practice nightly. Cinderella was devastated to miss Boca Juniors’s victory in the Primera division finals against Plate River. While she sat sadly on the steps she noticed a golden envelope which contained three tickets to a party to celebrate the victory. Her step mother snatched them away as she wanted her daughters to meet the handsome footballer Jorman Campuzano. They dressed in blue and yellow (the team colours) and set off, leaving Cinderella all alone. She felt very lonely as she kicked her football along the dark streets. Up at the party, Jorman looked out the window and was amazed by the curious figure who mastered the skilful rainbow kick. He became ever more impressed and soon joined in. As the clock struck twelve she ran off leaving behind her football with the name: Cinderella Muños. Shortly after, he found her and invited her to trial for the team, and from then on never had to see her step mother or sisters again.
To see other winners and highly commended entries in this task, check out the page on the Creative Multilingualism website here.
The task was to create a fable – an animal story with a moral – in any language with an English prose translation. The fables we received were wide-ranging and hugely imaginative. Stories were written in French, German, Italian, Irish (Gaelic), Korean, Spanish, and Yoruba. We read tales about foolhardy frogs leaping on the heads of crocodiles, a jealous rat envying a peacock’s beauty, dogs looking for love, a dolphin betraying its mother’s trust, and a crow going head-to-head with an eagle. The strongest stories in this task were filled with vivid imagery, linguistic courage, and showed a willingness to engage thoughtfully with the structure and purpose of the fable genre, often illustrating complex morals with subtle simplicity.
The overall winner of this task was thirteen-year-old Clémence, who wrote a poignant and visually striking fable in French about the consequences of not preparing for winter.
‘Un hiver long et froid’
Un jeune Cacatoès a huppe rouge se positionna sur la branche la plus haute du grand chêne. Son plumage était d’un des plus majestueux et sa huppe d’un couleur cramoisi. Son regard lumineux faisait scintiller la foret pleine de végétation. Ou, c’est ce qu’il croyait. Ses parents cacatoès pépiait sans cesse de leurs fils précieux. En bas, dans l’un des trous les plus sombre vivait une petite famille d’écureuil roux. Leur fourrure était toute douce, comme les nuages et portait un point d’interrogation tout doux pour une queue. Ils étaient silencieux et rapides, travaillait dur et s’organiser. Leurs petites moustaches repairaient le vent tourner au nord, symbolisant l’arrivée de l’hiver, un hiver sombre et froid. Le plus jeune écureuil regarda le haut du grand chêne avec intérêt. Il n’avait jamais récupéré les noix là-haut, celles qui était les plus juteuse. L’idée lui monta à la tête. Quel mal ferait t’il d’essayer. En plus l’hiver s’approcha de plus en plus, il fallait faire des récoltes. ‘Mais que fais-tu là-haut petit écureuil.’ Lui chanta le cacatoès. ‘Et toi, tu n’as pas fait tes provisions’ réponds l’écureuil. ‘Moi, je suis trop beau et intelligent pour telles taches ! L’hiver viendra quand ça me chantera !’ ‘Toi tu te crois sorti de la cuisse de Jupiter mon pauvre. La neige et le vent te changera les idées.’ L’hiver arriva sans même dire un autre mot. La famille écureuil se tenait au chaud autour de la grande réserve lorsque la famille cacatoès, on ne les distinguer presque pas avec la neige nacrée.
A young red crested cockatoo positioned himself on the highest branch of the large oak. His plumage was one of the most majestic and a crimson colour. His glowing eyes made the forest full of vegetation glitter. Or, that’s what he believed. His cockatoo parents constantly chirped about their precious sons. At the bottom, in a dark hole, lived a small family of red squirrels. Their chestnut fur was soft, like clouds, and had a question mark for a tail. They were silent and fast, hard working and organised. Their little moustaches sensed the north wind coming, symbolising the arrival of winter, a dark and cold winter. The youngest squirrel looked up the large oak with interest. He never collected the nuts up there, the ones that were the juiciest. The idea rose to his head. What harm would it do to try. In addition the winter was coming and provisions where needed. “But what are you doing up there little squirrel?” Sang the cockatoo to him. “And you, you have not yet made your provisions” answered the squirrel. ‘I am too handsome and intelligent for such jobs! Winter will come when I want it too! ‘ ‘You believe yourself to have come out of the thigh of Jupiter my poor. Snow and wind change your ideas. ‘ Winter arrived without even saying another word. The squirrel family kept warm around the great reserve unlike the cockatoo’s family, we hardly distinguish them against the pearly snow.
You can read more of the highly commended fables here. Well done to all the winners and many thanks to everyone who took part! Some of the winning stories will be on display this Saturday, 15 June, at the Oxford Translation Day. This is a day full of translation events, which are free to attend. You can find the full programme here.
If you are near Oxford and your thirst for translation has not yet been quenched, do consider going along – and be sure to check out the winning Babel stories while you’re there.
This week on Adventures on the Bookshelf we’re continuing our exploration of the exhibition ‘Babel: Adventures in Translation‘. A couple of weeks ago, we looked at the Cinderella story and how it has been transferred and adapted across cultures. This week, we’re thinking about how to translate fables.
You probably know that a fable is a short story that aims to convey a moral, usually involving animals. Famous examples include ‘The Boy who Cried Wolf’, ‘The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse’, and ‘The Hare and the Tortoise’, to name but a few. Such stories have been popular since ancient times, and can be identified in many different traditions, including Aesop’s ancient Greek fables, and the Sanskrit Panchatantra, which are among the world’s most translated texts. These stories have enjoyed an enduring popularity and are still widely told today.
Although we might think of these stories as being primarily for children, they were originally written for adults in order to promote a moral message. But, of course, when it comes to translation, that raises all sorts of questions: how far is it possible to transfer a moral framework between different cultures and communities?; why are animals afforded such a key role in fables, and do animals have the same associations across the world?
Below, we’ve included a worksheet that was designed for visitors to the exhibition. However, you do not need to have seen the exhibition to undertand it. Take a look at some of the discussion points raised, including, intriguingly, the surprising study that found that children who were told the story of ‘The Boy who Cried Wolf’ were actually more likely to lie after hearing it! You can right click and open the images separately to see a bigger version, or access a pdf here.
Remember, the exhibition runs until 2nd June – do pay a visit if you can!
In February, we brought you news of an exciting exhibition that is currently running at the Weston Library in Oxford, ‘Babel: Adventures in Translation’. The Babel exhibition is running until 2nd June. If you’re passionate about all things multilingual and interested in how translation has shaped cultures, we would recommend a visit – perhaps after coming to the Modern Languages open day this Saturday. You can also get involved in the creative translation competitions, which run until 15th May, organised by the Creative Multilingualism Programme.
For now, we thought we’d delve a little deeper into one of the exhibition cases: traversing realms of fantasy. This case includes a number of fascinating items, including translations of Through the Looking Glass, translations of the Harry Potter series, and various translations of Cinderella. As one of the curators tells us: “Fantasy allows us to travel without restriction to new places, and inhabit or invent new scenarios. Fairy tales, magical plots and even insignificant items such as a slipper can prompt inventive retellings and manifold adaptations. It’s not surprising therefore that fantasy and magic are uniquely well suited to being passed on from one cultural group to another. Translators play a vital role in that process –and it’s often futile to distinguish rigidly between translation, retelling and creation.” (Katin Kohl, Faculty Lecturer in German, Fellow of Jesus College, in the Babel Teacher’s Guide).
The story of Cinderella is an example of how a fairytale can overlap many diverse cultures. Versions of the story have been around for millenia and exist all over the world. While the premise of the story often remains the same – a young girl is mistreated by her family before escaping, with the aid of a magical creature, to a better life – details can vary from one tradition to another. The Cinderella story raises questions like: to what extent can translation be considered a process of transformation? Does the translator have an obligation to remain ‘faithful’ to the original text? What does ‘fidelity’ even mean in the context of linguistic transfer?
Here is a worksheet produced for visitors to the exhibition. It touches on versions of Cinderella from France, Germany, Ancient Greece, the Caribbean, Korea, Nigeria, and Cambodia. If you’re interested to find out more, have a read of it (if you’re struggling to read it within the blog, try right-clicking and opening the images separately, or access a pdf here). You don’t need to see the exhibition itself to understand the material included here but we would certainly encourage you to do so!
Those of you interested in translation might be interested to hear that there is an exhibition at the Weston Library in Oxford on ‘Babel: Adventures in Translation’, which is running from now until 2nd June. Part of the Creative Multilingualism Programme, this exhibition explores the history of translation from ancient to modern times, examining how translation has shaped our understanding of history and cultural transfer, and also asking what role translation might play in the future.
In connection with the exhibition (which is free to enter, no booking required), we will be running a ‘Library Late’, with lots of translation-based activities, and a new competition which is based on some of the items exhibited. Read on to find out more…
Babel: Adventures in Translation takes visitors beyond the ancient myth of the Tower of Babel and society’s quest for a universal language to explore the ubiquity and power of translation in the movement of ideas, stories and cultural practices around the world. Through a stunning selection of objects ranging from a 2nd century papyrus book and illuminated manuscripts to animal stories, religious books and a bilingual road sign, Babel explodes the notion that translation is merely about word-for-word rendering into another language, or that it is obsolete in the era of global English and Google Translate.
Treasures from the Bodleian Libraries’ collections, both ancient and modern, illustrate how stories have travelled across time, territory, language and medium. Highlights on show include a 4000-year-old bowl inscribed with a language that still resists deciphering, an unpublished Tolkien notebook revealing how he experimented with Esperanto before creating his fictional Elvish languages, and an experimental 1950s computer programme designed to generate love letters.
Exploring themes of multiculturalism and identity, the exhibition considers issues that are more relevant than ever as Britain approaches Brexit. It also tackles the tricky question of how to translate for the distant future.
The Library Late
To complement the exhibition, we’re holding an evening of multilingual merriment on 8 March with language tasters (from Esperanto to Sign Language), mini-talks, interactive translation activities, live music, and more! Sign up for your free ticket via Eventbrite.
To celebrate the launch of the exhibition, we’re holding a competition for school pupils from year 5 to year 13. There will be prizes of £50 — £100 for the winners of each age category and overall task winners. There are three tasks to choose from; you are welcome to enter more than one task but you are only permitted to send in a maximum of one entry per task. The tasks are as follows:
A) Magical Translation
Create a modern version of Cinderella in a language and medium (text, audio or video) of your choice with a typed English prose translation.
B) Fabulous Translation
Create a fable – an animal story with a moral – in a language and medium (text, audio or video) of your choice with a typed English prose translation.
C) Futuristic Translation
Create a warning about a nuclear waste site – in a language and/or medium that will communicate effectively with people in the year 10,000.
There are prizes of £100 and £50 to be won. The entries to each task will be judged in four age groups: Years 5-6 (age 9-11), Years 7-9 (age 11-14), Years 10-11 (age 14-16) and Years 12-13 (age 16-18). There will be prizes of £50 for the winners of each age group for each task, and an overall winner for each task will receive an extra £50, bringing their total prize to £100. Certificates will be awarded for Commended and Highly Commended entries.
How to enter
To take part in the competition, upload your entry using the registration forms on the Faculty of Medieval and Modern Languages website (there is a separate registration form for each task):
The deadline for entries is noon on 15 May 2019. Winners will be notified (via email) by 30 May 2019. For inspiration about the tasks, please see this page. If you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck!
We’ll be posting more about the Babel: Adventures in Translation Exhibition later in the spring. We hope you can visit it and immerse yourself in the history of translation, and that you can take part in one of the competitions. Nonetheless, if you’re not able to visit the exhibition in person, we’ll be exploring some of the content digitally in the coming weeks. Watch this space!
This post originally featured on the Creative Multilingualism blog. It was written by Julie Curtis, Professor of Russian Literature at Oxford and Fellow of Wolfson College. Prof. Curtis is also the Director of Outreach for Medieval and Modern Languages. Here, she reflects on the transformation of a Russian ‘New Drama’ play, Oxygen, by Ivan Vyrypaev, into a UK hip hop version, provoking questions about translation, transformation, and creative ownership.
2002-2018: Ivan Vyrypaev’s play Oxygen, and its 16-year journey between a basement theatre studio in Moscow and a basement rehearsal room at the Birmingham Rep Theatre.
When Ivan Vyrypaev’s play Oxygen was first performed in 2002 at Moscow’s edgiest theatre, Teatr.doc, it caused a sensation. On the one hand it depicted an act of extreme violence – a young man battering his wife to death with a shovel in order to start a new relationship with a woman he believes will offer him more ‘oxygen’ – and it also used aggressively obscene language, transgressing against one of the strongest taboos of Soviet-era theatre. On the other hand, the play had a haunting beauty, deriving from the poetic inventiveness of its use of Biblical motifs, specifically the Ten Commandments, and the musical structuring of the language around refrains, patterning and other compositional devices deriving from both classical and contemporary musical traditions, such as rap.
The play became known as the flagship play of the ‘New Drama’ movement which has arisen in the era of President Putin, and which remains one of the few spheres in which challenges are still offered to official state narratives about society, politics, gender and sexuality, national identity and international relations. It was seen at the theatre by a narrow range of Moscow intellectuals, but gained wider impact within Russia when it was turned by Vyrypaev into a film in 2009; and it also attracted attention internationally – it has been staged in many countries of the world, including a brilliant production (featuring world-champion break-dancers from Russia) staged by the RSC at Stratford in 2009.
Dr Noah Birksted-Breen is a theatre director and Russian scholar who has for many years been exploring contemporary Russian drama and staging it at his London-base Sputnik Theatre. When he joined the Creative Multilingualism team, he attended an event organised by Professor Rajinder Dudrah which brought the grime artists RTKAL, Ky’orion and Royalty from Birmingham to perform on the stage of the Taylor Institution. Their verbal ingenuity, the Rastafarian frame of reference they deployed in their performance, and above all the powerful and infectious rhythms of their art provided a lightbulb moment for me and Noah – we looked at each other, and wondered aloud what would happen if we introduced them to Vyrypaev’s work….
A couple of years later, and that thought has translated into reality, with a performance based on extracts from Vyrypaev’s work being rehearsed in the Birmingham Rep by the brilliant UK rap, hiphop and grime artists Lady Sanity and Stanza Divan, directed by Noah. On Thursday I went along to watch the final research and development session, before the performance later that day curated by Rajinder at Birmingham City University. It prompted all sorts of thoughts in my mind about how issues of ownership and collaboration came together to produce this spectacular meeting of minds across two very different cultures:
Vyrypaev owns his text, and is very protective about performances of it across the world;
But Noah is one of the most admired directors of contemporary Russian drama in Britain, so Vyrypaev willingly licensed the text for Noah’s project in Sasha Dugdale’s translation, trusting to both Noah’s knowledge of Russian culture and his artistic gifts to create something which would be both new and true to the original;
Rajinder knows the rap and hiphop scene in Birmingham via our project partners Punch Records also from the city, and together they recruited artists who would bring their talents to bear on very unfamiliar material, originating from an entirely alien society;
Once Lady Sanity and Stanza Divan got to know the text, they worked with Noah on how to make it their own, retaining the skeleton of the piece and certain elements of the refrains, playing with the ideas of the male and female characters with the same name – the two Sashas became the two Jordans…
Lady Sanity and Stanza Divan have focused less on the violence and the obscenity, but have translated the relationship between the two to fit into the witty ‘clashing’ routines typical of rap/hiphop/grime performances; this allows them to develop a gendered rivalry which is absent from the original, with Stanza Divan using sarcasm (‘Calm down!..’ – to use a phrase typical of some male politicians…) to scorn and disparage the sharp-tongued teasing of Lady Sanity;
But they retain the relative social positions of the two Russian protagonists; she more educated, and from a more comfortable, secure background, he instead from a disadvantaged, broken family and dropping out of secondary education;
And above all they retain the message of the final section of Vyrypaev’s original, concerning the difficulties faced by the young in today’s world, where so many threats loom;
Did their UK hiphop theatre work absorb Vyrypaev into their British world? Or did Vyrypaev lead Birmingham’s hiphop performers into new areas? Above all, they said, they recognised that elements in the text of the original were primarily about the freedom of self-expression, and that chimed in with the same preoccupation in British hip-hop and grime art.
The generosity of very many different people’s collaborations brought this work of art into being: but who ‘owns’ the creative result? Is cultural transposition different from translation?
Watch the below film to find out more about the hip hop theatre version of the Russian play Oxygen.
A blog for students and teachers of Years 11 to 13, and anyone else with an interest in Modern Foreign Languages and Cultures, written by the staff and students of Oxford University. Updated every Wednesday!
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