I started working at the Churchillplein in The Hague last week.
Churchillplein 6 is home to the International Baccalaureate, the world’s leading non-profit educational organzation, motivated by a mission to improve the world through education.
Other neighbours include Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
Such neighbours might inhibit an easy flow of discourse and wit in many, but I learned today that my department had 500,000 words translated in 2013 – and, I’d guess, at least the same again was left untranslated. That’s the equivalent of twelve and half novels…
My word-count productivity, in short (or rather, not), looks set to rise vertiginously.
Shoredays, yoredays – I see them as special days, days which stay with you all your life. They’re not fixed places in time nor in space – it’s like they’re at the edge of your existence, a kind of metaphorical beach between the sea and the land…
For my New Year’s greeting this year I refer to this sonnet by my poetic alter ego, Freddie Omm:
endings & beginnings
(in a winter’s garden)
BEGIN with the word that comes first, like light
from a twilit winter’s garden, when soft rainfalls
drop on dewy, leaf-pocked grass, showering bright
like a sudden flow of MOMENTS through the calls
of a goosequilled V tooting past, this starry night…
I sometimes try to freeze TIME, so it stops
and in an INSTANT feel and think all blend
and merge within MOMENTS—consciousness drops
like heaven’s rainfall in a winter garden—
inconsummate, unbegun, word without END,
but now SOMETIMES I forget such somethings,
and in your love I’ve found SEASONS to care
about the here, NOW, not some perfected place where
there are no more ENDINGS and BEGINNINGS.
viersen, 29-31 december 2013
Although the Nazis claimed Jazz was “Negermusik” – devised by Jews to undermine Aryan culture – they did have a Hot Jazz band of their own, called Charlie and his Orchestra.
It was part of the weirdest propaganda effort of the war, devised by Joseph Goebbels and aimed at subverting the morale of Allied civilians and invading troops.
Charlie and his Orchestra featured a crooner, Karl Schwedler, who’d lived in the USA before the war and could warble his way through the latest hits with a tolerable, if decidedly Teutonic, accent.
More to the point, he could twist the original lyrics to give them pro-Nazi slants – transcreation avant la lettre (or rather, seiner Zeit voraus)…
So Cole Porter’s You’re the Top‘s lyrics, which started out like this:
You’re the top! You’re a Waldorf salad/You’re the top! You’re a Berlin ballad. /You’re the boats that glide /On the sleepy Zuider Zee, /You’re an old Dutch master…
You”re The Tops, You”re A German Flyer/You”re The Tops, You”re Machine Gun Fire/ You”re A U-boat Chap With a Lot Of Pep/ You”re Grand, You”re A German Blitz, The Paris Ritz…
Many of the lyrics are battier even than this, with ludicrously sinister insults about Jews (I’m fightin’ for democracy/I’m fightin’ for the Jew, from I’ve Got a Pocketful of Dreams) and “Negroes”:
“A negro from the London Docks,” Schwedler raps over the intro to the St Louis Blues, “sings the Blackout Blues.” Schwedler goes on to sing: I hate to see the evenin’ sun go down – cos da Germans, dey don bomb dis town! and blames “Churchill’s bloody war” for making him “feel so sore.”
More than a quarter of the British civilian population is estimated to have listened to the German broadcasts which played these recordings. Churchill is said to have found them hilarious.
In any case, this pioneering example of transcreation is a cautionary tale – transcreation can be used for evil, as well as good objectives. And, even under the direction of a Kommunikationsgenie, a Strategiemeister like Goebbels, it’s a weapon which can backfire badly – if you go for the wrong, badly-devised strategy, and sing from the wrong song sheet…
Reviewing Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think (by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier), Mark P. Mills, writing in the City Journal, takes a distinctly rosy view of the data revolution, a revolution powered by an estimated 1200 exabytes (1.2 zettabytes and growing) of stored data.
In a week in which the traitor-hero, whistleblowing ex-spy and fugitive Edward Snowden has been tasting the Kafkaesque experience of statelessness in a Moscow airport lounge, this book is timely, even if its optimism seems naive.
Mills reckons that the emergence of Big Data “marks the pivot in history when computing will finally become useful for nearly everyone and everything.”
Big data analytics will see software growing from a $350 billion to a multi-trillion dollar industry as companies and governments mine the information consumers leave scattered on the web and turn it into profit and power.
One can, of course, view this as benign, and Mills points out that the NSA, Google, Facebook and Amazon can monitor data without invading personal privacy. They are more interested, initially, in the patterns and correlations that the data reveal, rather than the specific content. He writes: “Sometimes the data associated with an object, activity or transaction have more value than the thing they measure… Observational data can yield enormously predictive tools.”
But this won’t always be so.
At some point, Big Data will end up hacking itself to pieces and consuming them in a vast, self-referential mess of bytes.
Karl Lagerfeld, known for bon mots as well as fashion, claims “Auf jung machen macht alt” (Acting young makes you old).
This may sound odd coming from a man addicted to his trademark, wrinkle-hiding sunglasses and high collars (He once said: I am like a caricature of myself, and I like that. It is like a mask. And for me the Carnival of Venice lasts all year long).
But he looks pretty sharp for a 77 year old and he’s surely right to warn against the affectations of youth.
Lagerfeld, also known as Kaiser Karl, was criticised for expressing disparaging remarks about curvy women, something he later tried to make up for by photographing one.
He claimed that anorexia is caused not by the beauty standards set by fashion but by psychological problems (People who have that [anorexia] have problems to do with family and things like that).
That sounds sort of half right.
Just like Auf jung machen macht alt, really.
transcreation may seem a bullshitty type of word, a neologism we didn’t need.
but is it?
here’s a stab at some answers:
no, it isn’t bullshit:
it fuses the words translation and creation. this is a new discipline, especially geared to international advertising campaigns which are developed in one country and then adapted for others.
yes, it is bullshit:
adapting ad campaigns has always involved more than word-for-word translation – creation has always been part of it, so the word didn’t need inventing.
in fact, translating anything creative, be it the works of du fu, nizami, snorri sturulson, dante, or a line of copy, always requires additonal creativity if it is to succeed. in this sense, distinctions between translating and transcreating could be seen as superfluous….
… but in that case – if all translation is creative, where does that leave word-for-word translations?
are they worthless, then?
no – they are essential, even if somewhat limited in what they do. they”re an essential part of good translating. they”re like a first draft, and more than this:
they are the best means of arriving at a precise idea of the sense of the original.
in other words, word for word translations are of great use –
either for highly technical documents, about scientific or legal subjects,say,
or any text where a perfect replication of the sense of the original is paramount,
or as a basis for a more “creative” translation (more creative, for example, in adding poetic rhythm analogous to the original to an otherwise dry and unrhythmic translation purely of the meaning).
but word-for-word translations go no further than giving the sense, and that limits them – because they struggle to get across the ideas, concepts, sound and voice of the original.
in fact, the husband and wife translating team richard pevear and larissa volokhonsky (celebrated for their translations of tolstoy) split their duties, with volokhonsky doing a literal word for word version which her husband (whose russian is basic) uses as the basis for his far more literary, structured – sophisticated in its echoes, terms, and symbolism – more reader-friendly final version.
they are widely seen, today, as the best translators of classic russian novelists operating today, and their translations are masterclasses in translation.
of course literary and advertising translation are different animals.
but i do think we can take some lessons from their example. what it suggests to me is that to produce a worthwhile, effective translation, a thorough knowledge of the ins and outs of the language must be combined with creative insight.
that creative insight covers a wide scope of abilities.
first, the ability to immerse oneself in the whole world created in the original text (or campaign).
and then, from this basis, to shape a translated version which may only be a version, but is the truest approximation possible of that world in another language.
second, the ability to mimic the sound of the original in a way that works in the target language.
the sound of language operates most obviously at the level of the word and the sentence, and the cadences they create, which carry paragraphs and make them soar with verbal music.
it also extends, in hypnotically cumulative ways, across chapters and beyond – whole books, epics and series of novels.
from homer and virgil through vondel, shakespeare, gibbon, tolstoy, dickens, balzac, proust, pound and waugh and powell, the essence of classic works is often found in that characteristic sound, which some would call the writer’s voice.
that voice can never be captured.
(and as time passes, so one generation’s attempts to do capture it come to sound dated, limited, inadequate to the next…)
but, in the more workaday world of advertising, campaigns and messages and language are more about today’s consumers than timeless literary quality. and the concept of an advertising voice is not established (except in the sense of a brand voice, or the tone of voice we want the advertising to express).
in advertising, the essence we try to adapt from one language to another comprises
- the overall campaign concept or idea
- the tone of voice (eg. humorous, ironic, hard-sell, corporate etc)
- the link to the target audience which 1 and 2 embody.
this third aspect is the strategic consumer insight.
this insight into the consumer connection may be the very hardest of all to transplant from one culture to another (leaving aside problems of language alone)…
and this may be the single most compelling argument in favour of transcreation (as a term) – the fact that (unlike most classic literature) the best campaigns may not be strictly translateable at all, because they speak so directly – uniquely – to their target in an inimitable voice which expresses their innermost culture…
campaigns like that cannot be translated: they can only work if they are re-created from scratch.
so what’s my bottom line on that term, transcreation?
bullshit or not?
not wanting to hedge my bets, i’d say
it sort of is but it describes something very important…
Something crucial to making ideas understandable in different languages and across different cultures, and something which is partly but not wholly conveyed in the terms “translation” and “adaptation” because in some cases, the only way to get an idea across is to recreate it virtually from scratch.
what do you think?
It doesn’t take long to run into the first hurdle. In the very first sentence a simple little word is untranslateable, word for word (as words so often are): Generalin Palikow.
In the context it doesn’t mean a female General, but the widow of General Palikow.
To translate this as “Widow Palikow” would be faintly absurd – bizarre not just to the reader’s eye but also in evoking indecorous, pantomimic, cross-dressing echoes of the Widow Twankey.
Wholly inappropriate for the dignified Generalin Palikow.
So what about just leaving it as Generalin Palikow?
At first, I was tempted by this (and I see in the Wikipedia article about the book and film they too have left it so). But then I saw that most readers would wonder what on earth was meant. They’d probably go for the female General option. And so, in the very first sentence, I would have confused, given them a bum steer.
A brazen cop-out, I thought, which would never do.
What about Mrs Palikow? It’s what she might have been called in Britain (well, much more likely Lady Palikow, as most British generals were either knights or lords at the time) and the USA, if she had been transplanted there. But to call her Mrs would give the lie to where she is, who she is in her time and place.
So much for Mrs Palikow, then.
The Generalin – General Palikow’s widow is probably the best way – at least for that first mention. It gets the right sense across immediately, and explains the meaning upfront. Keyserling refers to her as die Generalin throughout the book, giving this agreeably wise old bird (far from military herself) an incongruously militaristic aura so typical of the period. Once the reader knows what’s meant, we can do likewise.
I wonder if it was this hurdle in the first sentence which put off my predecessors, interpid translators of yore, who gave up the Keyserling game before they’d started…
Or maybe there’s further unsuspected, far more treacherous conundrums ahead.