Friday, March 27, 2015

Honouring André Lefevere and his Work in Translation Studies

It was on this day in 1996 when André Alphons Lefevere, an acclaimed translation theorist, lost his battle with leukaemia and passed away. We thought we'd take this opportunity to honour his life and his contributions to the academic fields of comparative literature and Translation Studies. Lefevere was born in Belgium in 1945 and studied German Philology at the University of Ghent, Belgium, from 1964 to 1968. He then completed his PhD in 1972 at the University of Essex in the UK.

Translation Studies is often considered to split nicely into three different "turns": the linguistic turn, the cultural turn, and the sociological turn. When Lefevere started his career, the discipline was firmly rooted in the linguistic turn, and the work of many academics reflected this, even Lefevere's. However, taking Even-Zohar's Polysystem Theory and the Manipulation School as a starting point, Lefevere viewed the validity of translations by taking cultural factors and the roles played by the various actors in a system into account, making him one of the pioneering scholars of the cultural turn. In fact, it was through collaborations with Susan Bassnett that André Lefevere suggested that Translation Studies required a "cultural turn".

A beautiful metaphor for translation.
Lefevere considered the art (or is it a science?) of translation as "rewriting", a practice that he likened to the refraction of light. In this metaphor the source text is a beam of light, and the translator acts as a prism, bending and manipulating the source text so that different colours, or interpretations, can be seen.

He was influential in establishing Translation Studies as an independent discipline, spending his life as an academic who sought to bring theory and practice together. At the time of his death, he was working as a professor in the Department of Germanic Languages at the University of Texas.

While nearly two decades have passed since his death, his work and input will live on as a testament to his brilliance. To find out more about his work on Translation Studies, we recommend picking up one of the many books he wrote, especially his collaborations with Susan Bassnett.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Conversations on the Plurality of Words

On Wednesday, we looked at some of the confusing irregular plurals in English that don't follow the normal rules that tell us how to make a noun plural. Today we're having a look at certain nouns that struggle with the concept of being plural altogether.

While it can be tricky when the plural form of a word doesn't play by the rules, don't underestimate how tricky words can be when they have no singular, no plural, or look like one and are actually the other!

Nouns That Are Often Singular

Sand is uncountable.
In order to make something plural, you usually have to be able to count it, since the plural in English consists of two or more of any given thing. This means that uncountable nouns are often singular in English. Liquids and gases usually fall into this category, because it's not easy to cut air or water into two airs and two waters. Of course, the exception to this rule is when you're ordering things in a restaurant, since you can order two waters, two milks, etc.

Intangible things are often uncountable, too. Love, passion, and happiness, for example, are often considered singular entities. However, when used in reference to a person or an object, you can easily have a number of loves or passions.

While you can't have certain quantities of uncountable nouns, there are sometimes plural forms of uncountable nouns; just don't expect to see them often!

Nouns That Are Always Plurals

Certain things always are considered plurals. These are often things that have two major elements. Take trousers, for example. In English, trousers are always plural, supposedly because they have two legs. The same goes for shorts, pants, knickers, boxers, tights, stockings, suspenders, braces, and almost any item of clothing that requires you to have two legs. This rule also counts when it comes to eyewear as glasses and spectacles do not have a singular form.

Tools like scissors, which require two blades in order to work, are also plural. This rule also applies to shears and clippers.

Singular Nouns That Look Like Plurals

Athletics takes place on a track like this.
A number of academic disciplines end with an "s" but are still referred to as singular nouns. For example, mathematics is the abstract science of number, quantity, and space. Of course, when shortened in American English, the term math doesn't look much like a plural. However, the British English term maths still looks like a plural.

Other examples include economics, physics, and sporting disciplines such as gymnastics and athletics. News is another example.

Singular Nouns That Are Sometimes Plural

In my experience, some nouns are only treated as plurals in British English (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) and are definitely singular nouns when it comes to American English. They're all terms that refer to groups of people.

This really comes to my attention while watching sports. I have no issue with saying "the team are playing well" and would never replace the term "team" with the personal pronoun "it" as I refer to the members of a team as "they". This also comes into effect when referring to teams by their given names.

The same goes for other groups of people. The staff at the restaurant are friendly and the government are useless. The police were there to help and the audience have enjoyed the show. I'll stop giving examples now since I can sense the uncomfortable wincing from across the pond.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Brief Tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett's Death

Yesterday I was incredibly saddened to be notified (via Twitter) of the death of one of my favourite authors, Sir Terry Pratchett. Pratchett was a fantasy writer most famous for his Discworld series. In honour of his great work, rather than present an obituary I thought I'd have a fond look back at both a character and a concept that he covered extensively: death.

Death in Discworld is based on this
Western depiction. He also rides
a horse which is named "Binky".
Throughout the series, death (or Death when referring to the character) is regularly mentioned. When personified, Death appears as a scythe-wielding skeleton in a robe. Aside from his love of cats and curries, his "voice" is one of the fascinating elements in the series.

Despite the wonderful descriptions of Death, he is rarely perceived by humans as they unsurprisingly don't want to see him. While I've used the masculine pronoun to refer to Death, in the books his gender is somewhat ambiguous. While English doesn't have gendered nouns, certain languages, such as French, require it, meaning that international versions of the Discworld books featuring the character have come up with some inventive ways to deal with his/her/its gender.

There is also a cultural issue when it comes to the representation of Death in Discworld. His appearance is based on a Western representation of death, which can make matters very confusing for cultures that have a different idea of Death's appearance.

One of my favourite elements of Death's representation in the Discworld books is his voice, if you could call it that. Anything uttered by Death always appears outside of any quotation marks and, like the tweet, is always represented in capital letters. However, rather than traditional capital letters, Death's voice uses what is known as "small caps", which (in my head at least) seem firm, authoritative, and delightfully dry, all without shouting. Take the following witty example:

That’s mortals for you, Death continued. They’ve only got a few years in this world and they spend them all in making things complicated for themselves.

If you haven't already, you should read the fantastic Reaper Man, a wonderfully funny story about Death working on a farm. When you do, you'll be rewarded with one of Pratchett's most relevant and pertinent sentiments, summing up life and death perfectly:

"no-one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away"

Rest in peace, Sir Terry Pratchett.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Localizing the Aisle: The Power of "Foreign Branding"

Whenever I go to a massive 24-hour supermarket, I'm confronted by tonnes and tonnes of different choices across plenty of different products from all over the world. I'm not here to get into a debate about giant supermarket chains killing local family-owned stores or price wars, but rather how language plays a part in everything we do.

Despite being a huge fan of pizza (of all shapes and sizes), I still find it difficult when I purchase Dr Oetker brand pizzas due to the fact that the German name doesn't sound as authentic in my head as any Italian-sounding brands.

Mmm... pizza.
My conviction isn't strong enough to stop me buying the brand since I enjoy their pizzas, after all. However, some people would not buy the late August Oetker's pizzas, regardless of whether or not he had a PhD. Marketers are fully aware of this process, so you'll find that products with names that don't match their origin or perceived origin appear to be in the minority in your supermarket.


The outdoor clothing company was founded in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the '60s and chose the name from a very liberal German translation of "LD Mountain Centre", where they were first based, for the name of their company. I speak from experience when I say that the brand name was rarely pronounced correctly in Newcastle by locals wearing the full-length draa-string borg-hoos jackets, as they were called locally.


If you've ever seen the "when'sa your Dolmio day?" adverts, you'll get that this brand really wants you to believe that their range of pasta sauces are far more Italian that Dr. Oetker's pizzas. However, the Dolmio brand is actually Australian and owned by the American company Mars, Inc.

We're sorry if these photos made you hungry.

Häagen-Dazs is probably one of the oldest examples of this kind of thing. Originally, the name was a tribute to Denmark by founders Reuben and Rose Mattus to a country they felt had treated the Jews fantastically during World War II. However, the name itself is little more than nonsense made up by Reuben to sound Danish. Danish speakers will be fully aware of this as there are no umlauts in Danish nor "z" and "s" appearing together as they do here.

The company actually fought another ice cream brand in the '80s for trying a similar marketing strategy. Frusen Glädjé was an American company that used an alteration of the Swedish for "frozen delight" as their name (the "é" should be without the diacritic).


The name may sound Japanese, but when UK electrical retailer Currys launched the brand with the slogan "Japanese Technology Made Perfect" and a logo reminiscent of a traditional Japanese "rising sun", they ended up in trouble for misleading customers. They were forced to get rid of the tagline.

Despite a fine, they were allowed to keep the name, which upset a number of British veterans of World War II who remembered the Japanese general Iwane Matsui, the man responsible for the Nanking Massacre in 1937, which resulted in the deaths of between 40,000 and 300,000 people (depending on who you ask).

Trader Joe's

The American chain of grocery stores sells a number of its own brands. Rather than slapping a label that says "Trader Joe's" on all of their products, they sell products under various names.

Mexican food is labelled as "Trader Jose's", Chinese food goes by "Trader Ming's", the Italian range is "Trader Giotto's", and then "Trader Jacques'" is the name of the French stuff. While it may seem overly simple and incapable of fooling anyone, they wouldn't do it if it didn't work!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Using Digital Media to Learn a Language

Over the last few days we've been looking at the various ways you can use media to help you learn a language. As we've already covered print media and broadcast media, today we thought we'd finish off with the most modern media, digital media.

Video Games

The huge advantage of using video games to learn foreign languages is that when you play them, you are often far more engaged in them than when watching TV or a film. A TV show or a film will continue whether or not you understand what's happening. In video games, especially RPGs and story-driven games, if you don't understand what's being asked of you or what's happening, you won't be able to advance to the next part of the game.

The Internet

Everyone knows how fantastic the internet is! You can find whatever you want on the internet (as well as plenty of things you don't!), making it a great way to read material that you're interested in. The internet has evolved significantly since the old days when it was just text and a few low-resolution images. Today you can read articles, watch videos, TV shows, and movies, and even play games.

Social Media

The word "social" is key here. We can't stress enough that actually conversing and communicating in the language that you're trying to learn is arguably the best way to learn a language. You can use social media sites to find groups of people to learn with you, as well as language exchanges where you can learn a foreign language in return for helping a speaker of that language learn your language. Not only do you learn a language, but you can make new friends as well!

How do you like to learn a language? Do you have any clever tips or tricks on how to use media? Tell us about them in the comments below!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Using Broadcast Media to Learn a Language

Last Friday, we began a series of posts on how to use various forms of media to learn a language, starting with a look at print media. Today we're back with a look at how broadcast media can help you achieve your linguistic aims, specifically radio, music, television, and film.

Radio towers in Nishapur, Iran

Thanks to the internet, you don't need to be in-country or living in a border region in order to listen to the radio in the foreign language you want to learn. The obvious advantage of the radio over printed media is that you can actually hear how the language sounds, which always helps with aural comprehension. It also helps improve your own speaking skills.


The great thing about music is that you can always have it on in the background. Hearing songs and learning the lyrics are a fun way to learn a foreign language. In fact, the first thing I ever learnt in Spanish was the lyrics to David Bisbal's "Ave Maria" in order to beat some Spanish friends at the "SingStar" video game. Admittedly, lyrics can often be obscure, but it can still help with your vocabulary and pronunciation.


Watching TV is great for your listening skills. Like radio, it allows you to hear how the language sounds. If you have a cable or satellite TV package, you may even get a few channels in the language you're trying to learn. Whether you watch the news, a series, or even a show you've watched in your own language dubbed or subtitled in the language you're trying to learn, you'll undoubtedly learn something new.

The Colonial Theatre in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, actually
features on the U.S. Register of Historic Places!

If you live in a big enough city, you should be lucky enough to have an alternative cinema or somewhere you can watch foreign-language films. Of course, don't go see a version of a foreign-language film dubbed into your own language or you won't learn anything! Subtitled films are great because you can always follow the story in your own language or, if you're advanced enough, ignore them and focus on the foreign-language audio.

If you don't have an alternative cinema or just prefer watching films from the comfort of your own home, consider buying foreign-language films to watch at home. That way you can always just turn the subtitles on and off as you see fit!

We'll be back on Wednesday with a look at how digital media can help you learn a language.