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Edinburgh hosted this October a new event – the Kite and Trumpet Festival – celebrating Polish art, design and theatre dedicated to children. As a parent of two bilingual children I was overjoyed. The programme was fantastic and offered 11 days of arts and crafts workshops, theatre productions and daily access to a Playroom, or “Bawialnia”, featuring educational toys and beautiful books by Polish designers and writers/illustrators.

The majority of events took place at the Summerhall, while some were held at the Scottish Storytelling Centre and North Edinburgh Arts. We particularly enjoyed the preserve making workshop with Polish illustrator Katarzyna Bogucka followed by a free tasting of Polish pierogi. We had a dab at letter writing with a real goose feather and ink (messy!) and explored the meaning of bilingualism with experts from the Bilingualism Matters Centre at the Edinburgh University.

We also attended a theatre performance by a group from my home city – Teatr Pinokio – which was shown in conjunction with the Scottish International Storytelling Festival. The Storytelling Machine was very funny and entertaining both in English and Polish.

I feel incredibly lucky to be living in a city with access to so much culture in my own language and my children’s second language. I really hope that Kite and Trumpet festival returns again next year!

Bilingualism Matters

October 19th, 2017

Last Tuesday, I took my kids to a workshop for bilingual children, which was held at the Summerhall as part of the Kite and Trumpet Festival of Polish Art for Children. The workshop was run by Bilingualism Matters – a Centre at the University of Edinburgh.

The workshop was full of fun, but at the same time a great trigger for discussion with children about the importance of keeping their second (and third) language alive by any means available.

I particularly liked the balloon metaphor – language being like a balloon, which can float away if we do not anchor it with various ways of using the language, such as speaking, singing, playing, reading and keeping in touch with family abroad. I have never openly spoken to my children about language loss – it was always implicit in my efforts to encourage contact with Polish by various means. The workshop has helped make them more aware of this challenge. Raising bilingual children is not easy, so I welcome the support offered to parents through events like this and the opportunity to meet other parents facing the same obstacles as myself.

Art in Translation

March 5th, 2013

Last year I had a wonderful opportunity to work for an award-winning online journal Art in Translation, founded at the Visual Arts Research Institute (VARIE) of the University of Edinburgh. The journal is a highly applaudable initiative which serves the art historical community through making foreign research more readily accessible, but also elevates the role of translators in the process. Their own mission statement reads:

“Art in Translation (AIT) is the first journal that takes as its mission the publication of quality English language translation of the most interesting articles on visual culture presently available only in their source language. (…) It will introduce the English-speaking readership to new areas of scholarship that share as their main qualities their excellence and originality.”

One such article is Stanisław Czekalski’s “The Internationale of Automobile Salons and the Hagiography of Revolution. Mieczysław Szczuka at the Crossroads of New Art” (June 2012 issue of the journal). The author looks at the Constructivist movement in Poland in the 1920s and the dilemma of artists such as Szczuka, who were caught between political ideology and the need for artistic freedom, between communist propaganda and Western commercialism.

It was a great pleasure to work on the English translation of the above text. It is always very gratifying to work on a project, which allows one to learn, and not just linguistically. It also allowed me to work in tandem with my husband, who happens to be an art historian and a native speaker of English, and therefore a perfect proofreader of my translation.

As a side-mention, an important source of existing English translations, which I used in my work, was this anthology: Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (eds), Art in Theory 1900-2000. An Anthology of Changing Ideas (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003).

On British Irreverence

December 18th, 2011

I have recently re-watched the British animated film “Father Christmas” (1991), which is based on two graphic novels by Raymond Briggs – “Father Christmas” (1973) and “Father Christmas Goes on Holiday” (1975).

As on the first viewing of the film, I was amazed at the subversive interpretation of this classic children’s character – Santa is a grumpy old man, who likes his liquor and complains about his job. He goes on holidays to France, then Scotland and Las Vegas, where he over-indulges on drink, food and partying before returning home to read his post and prepare for his busies day of the year. We never hear him say “Merry Christmas” – instead he calls it “Bloomin’ Christmas” – and that’s the curse word (milder version of “bloody”) he uses in every sentence in the film.

Raymond Briggs Father Christmas

Brigg’s Santa is not unlikeable and he has a good heart, but he is depicted as much more human than the St Nicholas I had grown up with in Poland. Watching this animation, my reaction was a totally mixed one including disbelief (are you for real?), confusion (but you can’t do this!), amusement (this is funny!), guilt (I shouldn’t be seeing Santa’s naked bottom!) and awe (you couldn’t get away with this in Poland!). It also brought home the fact that, despite seeing myself as an open-minded person, I have been brought up with a certain model of the world and that it is hard to see beyond that experience.

This irreverence and taboo breaking seems to me a very British thing: from King Henry VIII’s break up with the Catholic church to comedy shows of today (“Father Ted” is a good example) – Brits seem to be always questioning authority and testing the limits of what is allowed and what isn’t. “Father Christmas” made me realise that there is a big difference in mentality between Britain and Poland, with the latter one desperately trying to hold onto its national heroes and traditional figures of authority (political, religious or cultural) and maintain their special status – above everyone else. In Britain, nothing is really off-limits – one can make jokes about the Queen, the Prime Minister, the Church, the politicians and Santa Clause. After all, we are all only human!

“So jump up on my sleigh and we’re all on our way to another bloomin’ Christmas!”

Raymond Briggs - Father Christmas

This is a rather amusing story of one of my favourite radio stations and how I got to know of its existence. Nowadays, I listen to it online on my laptop or through my wifi radio and I love it just the same as the first time I heard it. This is a story of true love at first hearing, followed by a heartbreaking separation and a happy reunion after years.

After my graduation in Poland in June 2004, I joined my husband to be in the UK and we started off living in a very central area of Brighton. We were flat-minding a lovely little apartment in the first few weeks while searching for somewhere else to live in the long term. We were driving back home one evening when we picked up this fantastic radio station that really mesmerized us. Very quickly we found it on our home radio and just marvelled at the great music taste of the DJs and the programming. It played everything from jazz, blues, chanson, world music, film music and classical, often in playful sequence with original track immediately followed by a sampled version or around some theme. We were intrigued by the fact that the station was French (neither of us speaks any French) and played music non-stop with only short news updates and introductions. Most of the DJs were female with very sexy and velvety voices.

Alas! After we moved into our flat in Brighton’s ‘posher but duller’ twin – Hove – we were out of range of our mystery radio station. Had I known this, I would have negotiated a 10% discount on rent…

Soon after this, I read a whole article in a Brighton newspaper about the radio station FIP (France Inter Paris), a niche French public station broadcast from Paris, whose radio waves mysteriously cheat the laws of physics and reach Brighton of all places (but not Hove!). After two FIP-lean years, I discovered to my great joy that FIP could be played online from their own website with all track titles provided live, and a few years later I upgraded the sound quality thanks to my wifi radio. Whenever I put FIP on, I feel like I am joining a celebration of musical eclecticism or embark on an expedition of musical discovery.

In the meanwhile, I learnt that FIP was illegally re-broadcast in Brighton for seven years by its most avid fan who installed two transmitters in the area. This continued until 2007 and a closure of the pirate station by Ofcom to the dismay of many Brightonians. Nevertheless, Brighton continues to reverberate with the Parisian sound with a local appreciation society Vive la FIP keeping up its regular DJ nights and get-togethers for the fans of the station.

Bonne écoute!

Fear and Trembling

March 19th, 2011

Having read Amelie Nothomb’s autobiographic novel entitled “Fear and Trembling” (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter), I reached for the film under the same title. It is directed by Alain Corneau and features Sylvie Tastud as the main character – Amelie, the writer herself.

Though the story takes place in Tokio, it does not leave the perimeters of interiors of a Japanese corporation, where Amelie is hired as a Japanese-French interpreter on a one year’s contract. Her dream job soon turns into nightmare as a sequence of events and cultural misunderstandings put her in conflict with her superiors, particularly, the beautiful but distant, Mori Fubuki, and result in her degradation within the company structure.

I greatly recommend both the book and the film to all linguists, anyone interested in Japanese culture and the East/West divide.

This post is now slightly overdue, but just wanted to comment on one aspect of living abroad – voting from abroad.

Back in July this year, we had a presidential election in Poland, obviously quite a serious one following the tragic death of the president and many other high ranking officials in a plane crash in April.

I was listening to the radio on the election day and heard of Polish families living in the United States travelling for hundreds of miles in order to be able to cast their vote in the large US cities. Compared to that my 15 minute bus trip to the Polish Embassy in Berlin was such a trivial affair – not really worth mentioning. It did make me wonder however what I would do in such situation and if my patriotic feelings were strong enough to warrant making a much bigger effort (not to mention the expense). The answer, is no, my emotional attachment to the Polish political machinery has its limitations, and rationally thinking – there is enough Poles living in Poland to allow them to make those decisions themselves.

However, this does not stop me from voting whenever possible – I did vote in London in 2007 when to my horror I discovered the biggest queue ever going round the Polish Embassy building in London. It took me 5 hours to finally get to vote, but somehow once there in the queue with fellow Polish voter-wannabes it felt impossible to back out. Also, it was probably the one time when I really felt part of the Polish community in Great Britain and derived some comfort from that. It felt good to cast my vote that day – particularly as it did bring a change of government – and it reminded me why we shouldn’t take our civil rights lightly or for granted.

The way in which book and film titles are often translated into German has bothered me for some time now, but spotting another such example recently has finally triggered this blog post and an attempt to explain this phenomenon.

I have recently enjoyed reading the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer and while I was trying to purchase the last part (in English) on the Amazon.de I couldn’t help but notice the German translation of the title: Bis(s) zum Morgengrauen. It made me grind my teeth. Bis(s)?? It’s a play on words which turns an innocent preposition into the noun ‘bite’ (der Biss) – as if the book wasn’t already the most hyped vampire story on the market and required hints regarding its content? The English title contains no such puns, so why employ it here? It somehow makes it sound more trivial, gimmicky and lacking elegance. OK, I admit this is no high literature, but still… why would you do that?

biss twilight

So I started thinking of other examples where the translator (or publisher?) decided that the original title wasn’t clear enough and required the inclusion of a ‘plot summary’ to avoid any surprises. The premise seems to be that a reader/viewer must be informed and forewarned, in case they didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. Ambiguity is clearly unwelcome in Germany.

Below are some classic examples of what I am talking about:

  • EN: Bridget Jones Diary – DE: Schokolade zum Frühstück: Das Tagebuch der Bridget Jones (Chocolate for Breakfast)
  • EN: The Life of Pi – DE: Schiffbruch mit Tigger (Ship-wrecked with a Tiger)
  • FR: La Reine Margot/EN: Queen Margot – DE: Die Bartholomäusnacht (Bartholomew’s Night)
  • EN: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – DE: Supergute Tage oder Die sonderbare Welt des Christopher Boone (Supergood Days or the Strange World of Christopher Boone)

  • In the case of film titles, it seems that the standard thing is to either keep the original or translated title with the addition of a subtitle, which should come with a spoiler warning! Below I provide the German titles only as it is obvious which films they refer to. The subtitle in each of these cases does not exist in English, but has been added in the German version:

  • DE: Avatar: Aufbruch nach Pandora (Departure for Pandora, this subtitle does not seem very accurate to describe a brutal conquest attempt of a planet)
  • DE: Snatch: Schweine und Diamanten (Pigs and Diamonds)
  • DE: Jerry Maguire: Spiel des Lebens (The Game of a Lifetime)
  • DE: Operation Walküre: Das Stauffenberg Attentat (Stauffenberg’s Assassination Attempt)
  • DE: The Motorcycle Diaries: Die Reise des jungen Che (The Journey of the Young Che)

  • So why does the German audience require this extra information? The answer may be: because of the high Uncertainty Avoidance Index.

    This takes us to Geert Hofstede, a Dutch sociologist, who between the years 1967 and 1973, conducted a large scale study of IBM employees in 70 countries to establish the values and beliefs shared on the national level. On the basis of this study, he created four dimensions of culture (later extended to five, each scored as a rating on the scale 0-100), which constituted his model of culture. Despite many criticisms of his approach and conclusions, Hofstede remains to be one of the most frequently quoted cultural anthropologist and his survey was adapted and applied in many other fields, including cross-cultural business relations and marketing.

    Based on Hofstede’s study, the Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI), also referred to as ambiguity tolerance, reflects the ‘extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations’ (Hofstede, p.113). Countries with high uncertainty avoidance index tend to have more laws and rules to eliminate what is unpredictable and people tend to avoid risk-taking. Low uncertainty avoidance cultures tend to be more tolerant and open to adventures, and life in such countries tends to be less rule-governed.

    Germany, while not at the highest end of the scale – has a UAI score of 65, which is considerably higher than the UK’s score of 35 or the USA’s 46. In terms of language, this would explain the German’s need for disambiguation, clarity and information as all of these eliminate risk. According to a study by Singh & Pereira, the use of local metaphors, puns and idioms is also a result of the rootedness in traditions and ritual, which typifies high uncertainty avoidance cultures (p. 103).

    So, are we getting somewhere here? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. This hypothesis still does not explain why in Poland, which has an even higher UAI score (78), title translations do not show a similar tendency as in German and are usually very faithful to the original. Is faithfulness in translation also some expression of risk-avoidance (as opposed to a more creative approach), but in another cultural context? Perhaps this calls for a more in-depth comparative study before we jump to any conclusions. We can however speculate.

    Bis(s) später!

    Works cited:

    Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations. Sage Publications.

    Singh, N., & Pereira, A. (2005). The Culturally Customized Web Site. Customizing Web Sites for the Global Marketplace. Butterworth Heinemann.

    Several months ago I celebrated a round birthday and decided to spend the gift money wisely – on something concrete and useful. I have to say I am a bit of a sucker for technology, but I couldn’t think of any new gadget that I needed or could justify having, and then I had an ‘Eureka’ moment.

    As a translator living abroad I find it necessary to keep in touch with the language back home in as many ways as possible. Regular visits and phone calls with friends and family are useful, but limited. Listening to the Polish radio is another way to keep in touch with the news as well as the language. Until recently, I was always using my laptop to tune in with some Polish radio stations online, but the sound quality did bother me quite a lot as the laptop speakers are usually not very robust. I therefore decided to investigate if there were any standalone devices to receive internet radio using your wireless network at home.

    I was really happy to see that there was a wide selection of internet radio players available and so my research to find what I wanted began. The devices I looked at offered some slight variations – some required connection to your computer, some required connection to an amplifier and speakers, some used access to some dedicated servers to receive music, all in all, most of them were not exactly what I was looking for. I wanted to find something that had its own speakers and could play independently of any other equipment, and something that was just that – a wifi radio, not a multi-functional combi device for all multimedia needs and then some. I then came across the brand Sangean – one I was already aware of thanks to my parents FM radio purchase from a few years back. Back then, we marvelled in the shop at the depth and quality of the sound it produced, and were wondering why we had never heard of the manufacturer – a US-based company.

    And so I started digging and found that Sangean already has some sort of cult following of radio-fanatics and in general is really well rated. The WFR-20 radio promised to have good sound, as well as a slick design – and it did everything else that I wanted – connected to the wifi network in your home to play any Internet radio station one could dream of. Bingo! Where do I send the money? Amazon. Amazing.

    A few months later I love it still as much as the first day it arrived. If I could take one object to a desert island with me – I would take my radio (hoping for some wifi access…). The sound is absolutely fantastic, it is easy to use, looks good and plays all my favourite stations: Polskie Radio 3, ChilliZET, BBC Radio 4, FIP and whatever else my heart desires – reggae, bollywood and blues are just a few turns of the dial away…

    Image courtesy of Ian Hayhurst (flicr)

    Image courtesy of Ian Hayhurst (flicr)