12/11: Peter Connor on translation

This Friday, 12/11, Peter Connor of Barnard College will give a lecture on literary translation. Professor Connor writes:

In this talk I will offer some reflections on changing approaches to literary
translation, with particular attention to the translation of the novel. I will argue that the emergence of a globalized literary space has engendered both new translation practices and new theories of translation. The goal of the talk is to open a dialogue about the linguistic, cultural, and sociological challenges of literary translation today.

The talk will take place at 3pm, in Hamilton 703. Correction: the talk will take place in Hamilton 709.



_46672256_sub-afp226.jpgThis article from the BBC showcases a gadget that seems almost too good to be true: a pair of glasses that translates overheard speech and projects subtitles directly on to the viewer’s retina.

NEC said the Tele Scouter was intended to be a business tool that could aid sales staff who would have information about a client’s buying history beamed into their eye during a conversation.

But, it said, it could also be put to a more exotic use as a translation aid. In this scenario the microphone on the headset picks up the voices of both people in a conversation, pipes it through translation software and voice-to-text systems and then sends the translation back to the headset.

The article page also has an interview with translation technology Don DePalma, who comments that “they have a bit of the sense of the Borg from Star Trek”.


On a more down-to-earth note, the Wold Atlas of Language Structure is a very cool website:

WALS is a large database of structural (phonological, grammatical, lexical) properties of languages gathered from descriptive materials (such as reference grammars) by a team of more than 40 authors (many of them the leading authorities on the subject).

WALS consists of 141 maps with accompanying texts on diverse features (such as vowel inventory size, noun-genitive order, passive constructions, and “hand”/”arm” polysemy), each of which is the responsibility of a single author (or team of authors). Each map shows between 120 and 1370 languages, each language being represented by a symbol, and different symbols showing different values of the feature. Altogether 2,650 languages are shown on the maps, and more than 58,000 datapoints give information on features in particular languages.

WALS thus makes information on the structural diversity of the world’s languages available to a large audience, including interested nonlinguists as well as linguists who would not normally read grammars of exotic languages or specialized works by comparative linguists. Although endangered languages are not particularly emphasized, they are automatically foregrounded because of the large sample of languages represented on each map, where each language (independently of its number of speakers) is shown by a single symbol.


Finally, Ed Yong over at ScienceBlogs has a great new post about the FOXP2 gene and its role in the origins of language. Writing about the discovery of FOXP2 and its implications for the field, Ed says:

“It had long been suspected that language has some basis in genetics, but this was the first time that a specific gene had been implicated in a speech and language disorder. Overeager journalists quickly dubbed FOXP2 “the language gene” or the “grammar gene”. Noting that complex language is a characteristically human trait, some even speculated that FOXP2 might account for our unique position in the animal kingdom. Scientists were less gushing but equally excited – the discovery sparked a frenzy of research aiming to uncover the gene’s role.”

The real story, as you might expect, is significantly more complicated. Read more at Ed Yong’s blog.

Upcoming Events

Friday, 11/13/09
7:30 pm
Dinner at the Columbia Cottage. Join us for food and conversation – all are welcome! RSVP on Facebook.

Friday, 11/20/09
3 pm (location TBA)
A computational linguistics/natural language processing presentation by Nizar Habash of the Center for Computational Learning Systems:

Automatic Diacritization of Arabic Text

Arabic is written without certain orthographic symbols, called diacritics, which represent among other things short vowels. The restoration of diacritics to written Arabic is an important processing step for several computational linguistic applications, including training language models for automatic speech recognition, text-to- speech generation, and so on. We present here a new diacritization system for written Arabic based on a new combination of known techniques: a lexical resource for morphological analysis, a multi-classifier tagger and a lexeme language model. This new diacritization system outperforms the best previously published results by reducing the word error rate to 14.9% and reducing the diacritic error rate to 4.8%. The presentation includes a detailed error analysis classifying the type of errors resolved by each of the different modules used.

Friday, 12/11/09
Time and location TBA
Peter Connor of Barnard College will give a lecture on translation. More details to come.

11/5: Seiichi Makino

Tomorrow, Thursday 11/5, Seiichi Makino of Princeton University will give a lecture on translation and the loss of deep cognitive meaning in a text when it is taken from one language into another.

The lecture will take place in the Satow Conference Room, Lerner Hall 5th floor, from 4pm – 5:30pm. Please note that although Lerner Hall requires swipe access, there will be someone at the door to sign you in if you do not have a Columbia University ID.

“What Will Be Almost Permanently Lost in Translation? A Cognitive Linguistic View”

In translating Language X to Language Y we lose a lot, but translation has survived the centuries, primarily because not everybody can easily learn the Japanese language, and gain is larger than loss. The structures of Japanese and English are quite different on the surface, so we first lose sounds and orthography. Even so, crucially phonetic poetry like tanka, haiku, and modern poetry has been frequently translated into English. Surface morphological and syntactic structures are lost, too. There is no end to the long list of loss of forms due to translation. This talk lecture focuses on something cognitively lost in translation of written Japanese, and especially literary work, into English – loss of deep cognitive meaning expressed explicitly in the original Japanese language. There are many of layers to the phenomenon, but the present talk will focus narrowly on shift phenomena such as number shift, case marker shift, tense shift, formality shift, and voice shift, that which are almost permanently lost in translation even though they convey a significant cognitive shift on the part of the author.

Seiichi Makino is a Professor of Japanese and Linguistics and serves as the Director of the Japanese Language Program at Princeton University, as well as the Director of the Japanese Language Program at Princeton University. He is also the Academic Director of the Summer M.A. Program in Japanese Language Pedagogy at Columbia University. Professor Makino is the author or co-author of numerous books, dictionaries, and articles, including Aspects of Linguistics: In Honor of Noriko Akatsuka (edited with S. Kuno and S. Strauss, 2007) and A Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar (with M. Tsutsui, 2008). His current research interests include the cognitive linguistics inquiry into metaphors, and shift phenomena of tense, formality, numbers, and grammatical persons (i.e., the 1st person “I”, the 2nd person “you”, and the 3rd person “he”). He is the former President of the Association of Teachers of Japanese.

This lecture is offered as the Fifth Shirato Lecture on Japanese Language, and is supported by the Japan Foundation.

Coming events: October – December


2:00 PM Jennifer Pardo of the Human Communication Lab at Columbia will speak about her research. THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED.

7:30 PM Dinner at the Columbia Cottage


4:10 PM Mark Janse of Ghent University will give a talk on Cappadocian Greek: “Dead or Alive? The Resurrection of Cappadocian (Asia Minor Greek).”


4:00 PM Seiichi Makino of Princeton University will speak about the difficulties of translation:”What Will Be Almost Permanently Lost in Translation? A Cognitive Linguistic View”


3:00 PM Nizar Habash of the Center for Computational Learning systems at Columbia will give a talk on Natural Language Processing. THIS EVENT HAS BEEN MOVED TO 11/20, 3PM.

7:30 PM Dinner at the Columbia Cottage


Time TBA Peter Connor of Barnard College will give a talk about translation.

7:30 PM Dinner at the Columbia Cottage

Farsi translation

Prominent Garden City law firm is looking for a qualified individual to translate a portion of a CD from Farsi to English. The tape is approximately 3 minutes in duration. The translator would also have to be available to testify as to the validity of the translation at an upcoming Trial in Queens County Supreme Court. This is a time sensitive matter. Responses appreciated as soon as possible. If interested, please call 516-683-8500 to discuss your qualifications and compensation.