Category Archives: academic

Strategies in Translation

A Comparison of the Helen Lowe-Porter and David Luke Translations of Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kröger, Tristan and Der Tod in Venedig within the Context of Contemporary Translation Theory

Thomas Mann is one of the greatest German writers of the twentieth century, if not the greatest. There are probably more readers of the English translations world wide than of the original German versions, yet the most wide-spread translations are deeply flawed and these were written by Helen Lowe-Porter. This is a scandal in translation. Not only are there distortions and misunderstandings of the main themes sometimes caused by
deliberate omission of key sentences but also elementary howlers at the most basic level. These are not few and far between because every page of the short stories is riddled with errors. In the appendix to my dissertation,
I have classified 176 gross errors and so the reader can check this for himself. A knowledge of German is not necessary to recognise the errors as I have placed them next to David Luke’s generally reliable and accurate translations. Eminent academics such as David Luke and Michael Buck have pointed out these gross and frequent errors, yet her versions are still defended today by respected translation theoreticians and her bowdlerised translations still continue to be published without any radical alterations. This is an even greater scandal in translation. The debate between Buck and Luke with Professor Venuti is covered in the first chapter of my dissertation. The exchanges between the protagonists are extremely heated and make entertaining reading despite the seriousness of the subject.
However, Thomas Mann is a very difficult author to do justice to in translation and so that is why I have presented seven versions of two extracts for comparison. I have included two of my own versions, one very close to the source and one, which is easier to read and digest but which communicates the essential points. I, however, do not claim to be the ideal translator of Thomas Mann. That is why, when my thesis was published as a book, the publishers ignored my suggested title ‘A Scandal in Translation’and changed it to the embarrassing title ‘How to translate Thomas Mann.’
It is something of a sad, though necessary task to highlight all the Lowe-Porter deficiencies and so, I broadened the dissertation to deal with all the problems of translation contained in Mann’s oeuvre – translation of poetry, humour, philosophy and dialect for which different strategies are needed. What most people and particularly school and university teachers understand as translation is the strategy I have classified as ‘academic translation’. The ideal academic translation should communicate every aspect of the source text including nuances and transpose them into the TL (Target Language i.e., in this case, English) so that the translation reads like an original text in TL. This is fine for most everyday texts, but fails when confronted by a literary text or humour. This is also the mistake made in all the published translations of Thomas Mann’s oeuvre. For this reason, new strategies have to be developed and this is the essence of the dissertation, which points out the limitations of the most common approach to translation in the twentieth century – equivalence theory.
Most translators are dictionary bound and most theoreticians are dazzled by the notion of equivalence. Any experienced translator knows that there often aren’t any equivalents in the foreign language (TL) and so a broader definition of translation is needed. Texts differ greatly in their intention and use – a legal contract, a poem, a comedy script, a religious ceremony, a joke – to name but a few. Here, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept
of language games is very useful. The translator should be playing the same game as the source text. Thus if you are translating a comedy script, the translation should aim at being equally amusing as the original. This means that there must be greater lexical freedom. As a pun is often by definition untranslatable as it will be based on a unique similarity in the source language, the translator must invent another pun on similar lines. At this point, the reader might object, ‘But is this translation?’ The answer is in the affirmative if the transcreation is successful as was the case with Gotter’s contemporary translations of British Restoration comedies. People often forget that these principles apply to the Bible. The highly poetic versions of the translations of the twenty-third psalm whether it be Martin Luther’s version or that of the King James’s Bible are both referred to as translations even though they are actually transcreations. I prefer to keep to the simple word ‘translation’ as long as the translation process is seen in a wider context.

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Rhyme and Rhythm: The Input of Nursery Rhymes and Metered Verse into the EFL Curriculum

This contribution to the 3rd International Conference to the Faculty of Foreign Languages at the Vilnius Pedagogical University (September 25-26, 2008) repeats the main argument of the previous article arguing for the use of spoken nursery rhymes in the teaching of English with the difference that a qualitative distinction is made between nursery rhymes which have stood the test of time and those which fail. It is argued that the key difference is that ‘failed’ nursery rhymes have one or several flawed rhythmic aspects whereas the successful ones have very clear and repeatable rhythms. This difference also supports my thesis that nursery rhymes contain a practical taxonomy of basic English rhythms and that their input into the EFL curriculum is a convenient and enjoyable method to practise and to master basic English rhythms.

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A Review of Simon Lelic’s Novel ‘Rupture’ – A Case of Genre Deviance

Although, like many people, I sometimes read contemporary detective novels for relaxation, I am rarely impressed by their literary qualities – stock characters such as the overworked, overstressed gruff, but good-hearted male detectives, their butch female counterparts, who are much tougher than the men, but whose lives are devoid of any emotional content except for a frustrated sexual encounter, and then the perpetrators who commit unspeakably vicious crimes and just as you wonder what drove an otherwise decent person into this quandary when he or she is shot dead in the ending which turns out to be an action-packed sequence pleading its case for a Hollywood version in order to rake in millions of dollars. The style for the most of them is competent, but interchangeable from author to author. No doubt some computer wizard has already come up with a programme which will give you a text for any clearly defined scene. Type in the exact location, the names of the participants, the level of violence and a few particular features and then – hey presto, you will be provided with a few pages of text. In addition, it is no wonder the reader often feels cheated at the end of the novel. You read a few hundred pages wondering who did it and why he or she did it before the serial killer or perverted maniac is conveniently killed so that the author does not have the bother of explaining the cause of the elaborate profile he has taken so many pages to build up.
It was thus a pleasant shock for me when I came across Simon Lelic’s Novel ‘Rupture’ (also published under a new title ‘A Thousand Cuts’) because not only did the content deal with the extremely important, though relatively neglected issue of bullying but he also managed a stylistic tour de force. The novel consists mainly of a series of monologues spoken to a detective in the background and so the reader has to work out what has been happening. The registers range from the rough slang of the pupils to the pompous English of the hypocritical headmaster with much in between at the meadian intersection of which is the PE teacher whose language is a perfect balance between schoolboy slang and a minimal standard of respectable English. The protagonist, an otherwise ineffectual history teacher, ends up murdering three pupils and one teacher before finally shooting himself at a school assembly. Unlike the above-mentioned detective stories we are not cheated as to the motives as there are more than enough reasons for this drastic act. The main theme is bullying and a new word has entered the English language – ‘bullycide’, which means suicide caused by bullying. The portrayal of the school, a better-than-average comprehensive, is realistic, but despite the grim theme, the oblique questioning lessens the horror of the content cocooned within the banality of everyday speech.
I have used this book in two seminars and the (German) students appreciated the book’s qualities even when working on their own without any secondary literature to act as an aid. Coincidentally, a colleague of mine had also introduced this novel into her seminar without either of us being aware of each other’s choice. This is by no means a typical detective story as can be seen from my article.

This article appeared in JESELL: Jena Electronic Studies in English Language & Literature; 2012, p79.

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Review of Giedre Ilčiukienė’s/Balcytyte-Kurtinienei’s Monograph Muzikos Poveikis Mokant Anglų Kalbos Pradimiame Etape

Professor Balcytyte-Kurtinienei (Vilnius Pedagogical University) asked me to write a review on her monograph arguing for music taking a central role in the primary school curriculum for the teaching of English as a foreign language, which she then had published at the above internet address. My review accepts her main argument on the importance of music in the primary school curriculum and shows how this can be successfully combined with spoken input of rhythmic language. Not only is this important for the acquisition of English melodies and rhythms but also facilitates dealing with (relatively) complex syntactic structures and advanced lexis.
It is also shown how important it is to select suitable materials. One study came to an unconvincing conclusion as to the effectiveness of rhythm and music in the curriculum. By analysing the chosen song, it is shown that the lyrics had severe deficits, which are not obvious on first sight.

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From the Sublime to the Subliminal: The Decline and Fall of Gustav von Aschenbach in ‘Der Tod in Venedig’

The theme of a planned Dallas Conference organised by Richard Stone for the centenary of the publication of ‘Der Tod in Venedig’ was to be the influence of Freud’s theories on this novella. It could be argued that it does matter whether Freud influenced Mann or not because Thomas Mann had enough insight into human nature without the aid of any psychologist no matter how brilliant he or she may be. This could be one reason why broken promises from would-be contributors led to the cancellation of the conference. Another reason could be that so much has been written about Thomas Mann that it is difficult to write anything new even after ploughing through masses of secondary literature. I could sympathise with academics who gave up the ghost for this project. However, when I came across Wilhelm Jensen’s novella ‘Gradiva: ein pompejanisches Phantasiestück’ (first published in 1903) I discovered that a very interesting theme emerged. This novella has so many parallels with ‘Der Tod in Venedig’ that it is highly unlikely that Thomas Mann was not influenced by this novella. In addition, Wilhelm Jensen had attended the same grammar school as Thomas Mann and also, Sigmund Freud had written a psychological paper on this novella. Fascinating though this novella may be, it does not remotely compare with the high literary quality of Mann’s work. For teachers whether at school or university, ‘Gradiva’ would be an excellent starting point for a literary class as the novella is very readable and strays into the world of fantasy, which is a very popular sphere for modern young readers. The teacher would then have the challenging, but essential task of highlighting the difference between interesting literature and great literature. Even though this approach goes completely against current post- modernist and post-deconstruction literary theories, close analysis of passages between the two works should be able to convince students of the value of great literature.

How far Thomas Mann’s ‘Der Tod in Venedig’ was directly influenced by Freud remains controversial. One cause of the controversy concerns different interpretations based on a statement from an interview with Thomas Mann given in the magazine ‘La Stampa’ in 1925, which is quoted in full in Dierks (1990)[…]

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Frame Semantics and the (Un)translatability of Paronomasia

I was kindly asked by a colleague to contribute an article within the topic of Frame Semantics to the Festschrift in honour of Professor Dr. Hans-Ulrich Boas, the founding professor of English Studies at the University of Erfurt. I churlishly answered that I had never heard of ‘Frame Semantics’ and, besides, as a lector with a heavy teaching load, that I had no time for such fripperies. However, as Hans- Ulrich and his wife Ursula are close family friends, I quickly and gladly capitulated. The result is the following article on paronomasia (word play). I had covered much of the material in my dissertation, but this article was meant to be a little more light-hearted or even entertaining. It has long since been argued by numerous eminent men of letters and also by linguists that puns (wordplay) and poetry are basically untranslatable. In the article, I try to prove the opposite.

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Arguments for the Input of Spoken Versions of Nursery Rhymes in the English Classroom

I strayed into phonetics rather than choosing this fascinating branch of linguistics. As non- speakers of English, the Anglistik professors at the University of Erfurt were reluctant to teach this area and so they ‘offered’ me the ‘opportunity’ of teaching this course at professorial level. The fact that all I knew about phonetics was the elementary application of phonetic script I had gleaned from my Sheffield course of teaching English as a second language (TESOL) did not deter them.
After asking for a course on phonetics, I was financed for the summer course at UCL (University College London). Most of the participants were university teachers and so the course was set at the appropriate level. UCL is generally recognised as the renowned centre of phonetics world- wide not really because Daniel Jones (the model for Higgins in George Bernard Shaw’s play ‘Pygmalion’) was Professor of Phonetics at UCL, but, because under John C. Wells amongst others, the department flourished with his team of dedicated and enthusiastic phoneticians to continue to retain its well deserved world-wide reputation.
When teaching several courses of phonetics and practical pronunciation at Erfurt, I discovered a huge gap both at the theoretical and practical levels – rhythm! Phonemes (the pronunciations of consonants and vowels) are comprehensively covered in John Trim’s ‘English Pronunciation Illustrated’, which is brilliantly and humorously illustrated. My students enjoyed the challenge of repeating tongue twisting exercises in the language laboratory. Also, there were several excellent courses on intonation but very little on rhythm. There is still no taxonomy of English rhythms, but I found so-called nursery rhymes many of which are hundreds of years old and some have a covert political message, but all of the established ones contain pleasing rhythms. Since (but not because of) publishing my article, several courses on rhythm have appeared and, interestingly, they are based on poems and rhymes in English poetry. I have also recorded a wide selection of well-known nursery rhymes with three native speakers. The rhymes are recorded with a strong emphasis on rhythms and include some sung versions. There is an accompanying text with brief notes suitable for teachers or advanced learners. These will be made available on the internet in due course. There are many different rhythms which I have classified in my workbook on practical pronunciation, which will appear on this site when the copyright requirements have been covered.
These aspects are covered in the article below which was published by Gunter Narr (see publications).

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