Monday, October 17, 2016

Child Langage Brokering Exhibition in London

Sarah Crafter and team will exhibit film and art work from their child language interpreting project.

Free event.

Source: Sarah Crafter, Institute of Education, University of London

Update: Photos from the meeting are now online at

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thank you, Gideon Toury

The sad news has just come of the death of Gideon Toury, one of the leading thinkers and most cited authors in contemporary translatology. Also one of the most influential publishers of other researchers in that field through his journal Target.

There will be an outpouring of tributes to him in the coming days and weeks, so this post will be limited to his connection with this blog's proclaimed mandate of "Natural Translation and Native Translation." Natural Translation was my coining and Native Translation was his. There are several of his publications listed in my Bibliography of Natural Translation Studies. I particularly recommend Excursus C: A Bilingual Becomes a Translator: A Tentative Development Model (see References below). The following is a quotation from it.
Nature vs, nurture in the training of translators
It was in 1973 that Brian Harris first argued for the importance of natural translation, 'the translating done in everyday circumstances by people who have had no special training for it…' Unaware of this proposal, I myself put forward, a few years later, a seemingly similar notion, that of native translator (Toury 1980b), within the applied framework of translation teaching.
The logic underlyng my proposal was simple enough. As I was to learn, it was also very much akin to the justification which Harris had given for his own notion. For one thing, translation was seen as having obvious precedence over any formal teaching (and learning) of it, both chronologically and logically, in phylogenesis as well as ontogenesis.
As the quotation shows, Gideon was generous in his acknowledgements. He also backed me in my little spat with Hans Krings in Target. In those days, the 70s and 80s, when non-professional translation was not yet recognised by the vast majority of academics and he was already famous, his devotion to descriptive translation studies was enormously encouraging to me.

Goodbye Gideon. Your family, your followers and your students will be eternally grateful to you.

Gideon Toury (1942-2016). Excursus C: A bilingual speaker becomes a translator: a tentative developmental model. In G. Toury, ed., Descriptive Translation Studies and Beyond, Amsterdam, Benjamins, 1995, pp. 241-258. Available online [here] or go to

Brian Harris. An Annotated Chronological Bibliography of Natural Translation Studies with Native Translation and Language Brokering, 1913-2012. Available online [here] or go to

Brian Harris. Natural translation: a reply to Hans Krings. Target vol. 4, no.1, pp. 97- 103, 1992. Followed by a reply by Hans Krings, Bilinguismus und Übersetzen: eine Antwort an Brian Harris, Target vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 105-110.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

El Nou d'octubre 2016

Today’s the National Day of Valencians, commemorating the entry of King James I of Aragon into the city of Valencia on October 9, 1238 and its bloodless rendition by the Moorish ruler. A 14th-century stone cross in the village where I live marks the area where James's army camped.

It’s been celebrated on this blog in previous years, with some connections to language and translation. To find the posts, enter nou d’octubre in the Search box on the right.

Image and Sound
The Senyera, the Valencian flag.
And for a rousing rendition of the Valencian anthem, click here. The lyrics are in Valencian and Spanish.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

School Language Brokering

The arrival of the latest bulletin from Young Interpreters (see References [1]) is a reminder of the extent and vitality of language brokering (LB). It has news about culture brokering as well as language brokering.

It's in the nature of organising knowledge that as a field of study matures it sprouts subfields. This has happened abundantly in interpreting studies. Whereas 50 years ago it was rare to see more than the two terms interpreting and translating, today we recognise all the many subfields that were categorised in my paper All of Interpreting.[2] And now LB is a field where we can see it happening. In the beginning, some 20 years ago, for instance in the writings of Lucy Tse,[3] there was just LB. (I never liked the term, because brokering suggests negotiation and even a commercial activity, and LB is neither. Its competitor language mediation is not objectionable in this way. But LB, with 24,000 English Google mentions, is here to stay.)

Originally LB was conceived of as a behaviour of children in immigrant families in the USA, especially Hispanic families, who served as intermediaries with English speakers and with Anglophone communities. Then it was observed that there were also adolescents and even adults performing this function, so the children were distinguished by the term child language brokers (CLB), which is widely used today. So how about the older LB people? There should be a specific term for them too: adolescent and adult language brokers (ALB), but it hasn't emerged yet.

Then LB/CLB studies crossed the Atlantic and were brought to the UK by Nigel Hall of Manchester Metropolitan University, according to Rachele Antonini, the Italian pioneer of non-professional translation studies. (See the lively interview with her on YouTube and see also the recent post on this blog about child cultural brokers.)[4] On the eastern side of the pond, however, there has been more interest in LB in rhe school environment for communication between students and between students and staff or parents. The Young Interpreters movement is a prime example. There it has flourished enough to warrant another neologism: school language brokering (SLB).

Are there others? One which merits a term of its own is LB in the prison environment, a clear variant of ALB. Its prevalence has been shown in the studies by Aida Martínez Gómez and Linda Rossato [enter prison in the Search box on the right].

Meanwhile we still need unqualified LB as a cover term for CLB, ALB and all the other subtypes present and future. For there will surely be more. For instancw I'm waiting for studies of migrant language brokering or refugee language brokering.

[1] Astrid Dinneen (ed.) Young Interpreters Newsletter. Issue 25. Basingstoke: Hampshire EMTAS, September 2016. Click [here] or go to!topic/eal-bilingual/BOlTDfibw38.

[2] Brian Harris. All of Interpreting: a Taxonomic Survey. Click [here] or go to

[3] Lucy Tse (University of Southern California). Language brokering among Latino adolescents: prevalence, attitudes, and school performance. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 180-193, 1995. For an abstract of this influential article, click [here] or go to

[4] Rachele Antonini. Child Language Brokering. YouTube, 2015. click [here] or go to

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Translating as Conversion

This post is for theorists. If you don't like theory, highly speculative theory at that, just skip it.

A new article by Brian Mossop, a very experienced professor of translation at Toronto's York University, raises again the question of what is and is not translation (see Mossop 2016 in References below). It makes me think once more about my own concept of it.

In my ongoing quest for the fundamental nature of translating, my 1976 paper The Importance of Natural Translation was the first to postulate that translating is a triple competence:
"All bilinguals can translate. In addition to some competence in two languages L1 and L2, they all possess a third competence, that of translating from L1 to L2 and vice versa."
The 1978 paper Translating as an Innate Skill made a case for the third competence being inherited.

Then in 2009 I suggested that what bilinguals inherit which enables them to translate is not specifically a language competence but some more general ability. I called it conversion; it might have been called transformation (and indeed the transformations of transformational grammar are a good example of it), or substitution, etc., but having used conversion I'll stick with it. My inspiration came from the Bulgarian semiotician Alexander Ludskanov (1926-1976, see References). He devised a model of translating that was valid for both literary and documentary translation, two types that had been considered fundamentally different by the Russian linguists he studied with, as well as for machine translation; but conversion goes much further. As Ludskanov might himself have said - for it was a favourite expression of his - it went to "a higher level of abstraction."

So what is it? Here's a definition.
Conversion is the passage from a mental representation to another that preserves the information and feelings from the former which the converter wishes and has the capability to preserve.
Let's analyse it.

Why mental representation?. Because nothing in our minds is itself. Our little brains aren't big enough to contain even a fragment of the real world. And as for our thoughts and imaginings, they don't float like clouds in our brains. They have to be represented there in code, an encoding structure of neurons. Anyway the information; I'm not so sure about the feelings. Computers provide an analogy; there are no pictures in our computers, only coded digital patterns representing pictures.

Why feelings? Because we remember sensory and emotional feelings, either by themselves or attached to information. So they too have to be represented.

It is the converter, the human whose mind it is, who decides, consciously or unconsciously, what is preserved in the conversion. A typical criterion is perceived importance but there may be other considerations. Much of the original representation may be abandoned. To take an extreme example, the converter who is writing the abstract of an article will be obliged to abandon many of the details in the original. The converter may also add to the original.

Has the capability to preserve: The converter may not have the competence needed in order to preserve some elements of the original. For instance, in converting a verbal description to a drawing, the converter may just not be good at drawing. And there may be other obstacles.

The advantage of the conversion hypothesis over the translation hypothesis is that the former covers all forms of what theorists sometimes call translation (intralingual translation, intersemiotic translation, etc.) and not only what is commonly understood by it, that is to say interlingual translation. And it covers much else, for instance the passage from a visual representation to a musical one; operations that are often called adaptation. By the Occam's razor principle, it's better to assume one competence rather than many.

In interlingual translating, of course, the conversion is from a verbal expression – word, utterance, text – to another verbal expression. The conversion may be direct or it may proceed by conversion first from the source expression to an intermediate representation – imagining what is referred to or described for instance – and from that to the target expression; or both (see the Mossop 2003 reference below).

A subsidiary question is whether conversion is peculiarly human. Some animals may well possess it. But that's another story.

In the absence of empirical proof, both hypotheses, the specific translation one and the general conversion one, are equally possible. As for Occam's razor, "There is little empirical evidence that the world is actually simple or that simple accounts are more likely to be true than complex ones." Indeed nature is profligate. But the way in which my concept of conversion covers all types of what the theorists call translation, and more, is attractive. Perhaps a physical analogue for it will one day be found in the brain.

Brian Mossop. An alternative to 'deverbalization'. 2003.
Click [here] or go to

Brian Mossop. 'Intralingual translation' - a desirable concept? Across Languages and Cultures, vol. 17, no. 1, pp.1-24, 2016. Click [here] or go to

Aleksander Ludskanov. Prevezdat chovekat i machinata [Human and Machine Translation]. Revised edition edited by Elena Paskaleva. Sofia: Narodna Kultura, 1980. In Bulgarian; there are French, German, Italian and Polish translations.

Brian Harris. The importance of natural translation. 1973. Available online at or click [here].

Brian Harris (as Translatology). Essential definitions. Unprofessional Translation, 2009. To retrieve it, enter essential definitions in the Search box on the right.

Source: 123RF

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hiroshima and Translation

It's now more than half a century since the horror of the first atomic bomb was unleashed on Hiroshima. But it's just 50 years today since the classic book about it, John Hersey's Hiroshima, was published as a long article in The New Yorker. Both events have a connection with translation.

First the bombing. This connection is well known to historians of the Second World War. It concerns the English translation of a single Japanese word in the Japanese government's reply to the ultimatum sent to it from the Allies convened at Potsdam (the Potsdam Proclamation). The ultimatum threatened Japan with "prompt and utter destruction" if it did not surrender unconditionally, and the word in question in the reply was mokusatsu. Unfortunately it's polysemic. It's derived from the word for silence. It can mean to take no notice of; treat with silent contempt; ignore by keeping silent; but also to remain in a wise and masterly inactivity, ie (in the context) withhold comment for the moment.The meaning chosen by the Allied translators and the media was the former one; but quite likely the Japanese prime minister Kantaro Suzuki meant the latter one. Faced with what appeared to be an outright rejection, American President Truman ordered the bombing. It's been described as "the worst translation mistake in history" and it's been argued over ever since. My own opinion is that whichever was the correct translation, Truman would have gone ahead anyway in order to save American lives and impress the other Allies, not least Stalin. He says in his memoirs:
"Let there be no mistake about it. I regarded the bomb as a military weapon and never had any doubt that it should be used."
The second connection is, on the contrary, little known. Today. 31 August 2016,
"70 years will have passed since the publication of a magazine story hailed as one of the greatest pieces of journalism ever written, Headlined simply Hiroshima, the 30,000-word article by John Hersey [in The New Yorker] had a massive impact, revealing the full impact of nuclear weapons to the post-war generation,"
Hersey's approach, which he probably picked up from reading Thornton Wilder's novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey during his journey to Japan, was to relate his story through the eyes of six of the survivors. One of them was the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Methodist Church in Hiroshima. On the morning of the bombing he
"had been helping a friend move some stuff to a house in the suburbs for safekeeping (since Hiroshima itself was in constant threat of being bombed)... While they were out there they saw a bright flash of light. Knowing that something bad had happened, and being far enough from the city that they had time to react, the two men dove for shelter before the concussion from the blast could reach them.
"When they were able to emerge from hiding, Mr. Tanimoto kicked into rescue mode immediately. After helping some passersby, he surveyed the damage in the city from a hill. Instead of running as far from the disaster as he could… he ran toward the city, where he ran around tirelessly helping those who were injured or stranded."
Inevitably he was affected by radiation sickness, but he survived and became one of the people known as hibakusha in Japanese.

By November 1946, Hiroshima was published in book form. It was translated quickly into many languages and a braille edition was released. In its book format it has never been out of print since. One translation lagged, however: the Japanese one.
"In Japan, Gen Douglas MacArthur - the supreme commander of occupying forces, who effectively governed Japan until 1948 - had strictly prohibited dissemination of any reports on the consequences of the bombings. Copies of the book, and the relevant edition of The New Yorker, were banned until 1949,"
When the Japanese translation did come out, it was by a Native Translator, none other than the Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto. He had become fluent in English during his training as a minister in Atlanta, USA. However, by a technique that is fairly common in literary translating, his text was revised by a professional target-language author. He didn't publish any other translations but wrote other books on religious topics and he became well known as an advocate for victims of the bombing, and he appeared in that role on American television. The annual Kiyoshi Tanimoto Peace Prize is named after him. His translation of Hiroshima is surely one of the most poignant translations ever by a Native Translator.

For an explanation of the term Narive Translator, enter essential definitions in the Search box on the right.

Mokusatsu: one word, two lessons. National Security Agency, 2016. or click [here].

Harry S. Truman. Memoirs. Volume One: Year of Decisions. or click [here].

How John Hersey's Hiroshima revealed the horror of the bomb. BBC News, 22 August 2016. or click [here].

John Hersey. Hiroshima. Translated by Rev. Kiyoshi Tanimoto and Kin'ichi Ishikawa. Tokyo: Hosei Daigaku Shuppankyoku, 1949. There are a few copies left in libraries: consult WorldCat. (Revision of a Native Translator by an established writer is done not only to ensure the quality of the target text but also to put a well-known name on the cover as well as an unknown one.)

Kiyoshi Tanimoto. Wikipedia, 2016.

Shmoop Editorial Team. Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto. Shmoop, 2016. or click [here].

Kiyoshi Tanimoto on the American TV program This Is Your Life, 1955.
Source: Christian Greco,

Friday, August 19, 2016

Infant Translators: the Salamanca Twins

In the collection quoted from in the preceding post there is another article that deserves to be saved from drowning in the flood of literature about translation that sweeps past us these days, It's by a team of linguistic researchers, Esther Álvarez de la Fuente and Raquel Fernández Fuertes, of the Language Acquisition Lab at the University of Valladolid, Spain. The data for it was harvested from a pair of English/Spanish bilingual twins at the old university city of Salamanca, not far from Valladolid. (It's unusual to have twins as subjects, but Esther and Raquel don't follow up that aspect of the situation.) The data was videotaped and is deposited in a computerised corpus, the FerFulice Corpus, which is incorporated in the CHILDES database.

The article analyses the spontaneous and elicited translating in the speech of the boys, named Simon and Leo, from the age of 1 year 11 months to 6 years 3months; an impressive total of 178 sessions were video-recorded at regular intervals. Their mother was American, their father Spanish. Each parent always spoke to the children in her or his or own language, following the OPOL (one parent one language) principle for avoiding confusion between languages. The recordings were made in natural settings while the boys were engaged in normal play activities.

For the analysis, a matrix of variables devised by Esther was used (and modified slightly here): COMPLETENESS (complete, incomplete, null), STIMULUS (requested, spontaneous), DIRECTION (towards English, towards Spanish), ORIGIN (self-translation, translating what was said by others, situational), MAPPING BETWEEN LANGUAGES (equivalent with communicative function, equivalent without communicative function, expanded, reduced). Other researchers may care to use it. What is very desirable is to arrive at a commonly accepted set of variables in order to facilitate comparison between studies.

So let's look at some examples.
1) Mother: Can you say water?
Mother, holding up the cup of water: What is this?
Leo, reaching for the cup: Ahi! [There!]
Mother: Water?
Leo: Agua.
(Age 1 year 2 months)
This was remarkably young, indeed before the age of speaking in sentences; but it replicates Jules Ronjat's observation made a hundred years ago (see References) that his son Louis composed French/German bilingual word pairs at that age. Obviously the situation helped in the present case.
2) Simon, trying to get his toy to make a noise: Está loto [a mispronunciation of roto].
Mother, not paying attention to Simon: How about…?
Simon: B(r)eak mommy b(r)eak.
(Age 2 years 3 months)
Now he was at the stage both of sentences and of communicative intent. Still remarkably young. Furthermore he differentiates between his languages and understands the language need of his interlocutor.
But not all the children's translation attempts are successful. That would be too good to be true. Thus:
3) Mother, pointing to an elephant: Look, look, show me that animal.
Mother: What's it called?
Leo: Elefante [Spanish for elephant].
Mother: Can you say that in English?
Leo, with a trace of tears in his voice: No, elefante.
(Age 2 years 7 months)
There are several things to note in this example. First that Leo's translating – like all Natural Translation – is limited by his proficiency in the two languages. Natural Translators don't use dictionaries. Secondly that he wants to translate and feels frustrated at not being able to do so. And thirdly that his mother doesn't ask him to translate (a word that was probably not yet in his vocabulary) but to say it in English.

Without a doubt this study ranks in importance, by its length and thoroughness, with the earlier studies by Harris, Swain and others right back to Ronjat. (For more about them, enter their names in the Search box on the right.) It's one of only a handful of such studies.

One final piece of good news is that you no longer need to fork out 50 euros to buy the book in which the article appears, because Esther has posted a collection of that and other related articles in the invaluable repository and you can download free them by clicking here or from Some of the articles are in English some in Spanish.

The children involved in child language brokering are usually of school age and socialised beyond the family. For much younger translators who are still confined to the family, like the ones cited above, I propose infant translator. Hence the title of this post.

Esther Álvarez de la Fuente and Raquel Fernández Fuertes. How two English/Spanish children translate: in search of bilingual competence through natural interpretation. In M.A. Jiménez Ivars and M.J. Blasco Mayor (eds.), Interpreting Brian Harris: Recent Developments in Translatology, Bern, Lang, 2012, pp. 95-116.

The address of the Language Acquisition Lab is\uvalal.

Jules Ronjat. Le développement du langage observé chez un enfant bilingue [Language development in a bilingual child]. In French. Paris: Champion, 1913. 155 p. Available online by clicking here or at

Left: Esther Álvarez de la Fuente. Right: Raquel Fernández Fuertes.