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The Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction

the best of contemporary mexican fictionRight Reading received this e-mail from Olivia Sears, president of the Center for the Art of Translation.

I hope you are all enjoying The Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction. I wanted to send along some of the press the book has received. Martin Riker at Dalkey Archive Press has done a tremendous job of promoting the book.

Why proofreading is hard

proofreading error

Aoccrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny ipormoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed the txet wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.


image via Gary McMurray’s photostream


Spelling test

spelling test

According to, these are the 25 most  commonly misspelled words in English.

I don’t consider myself a very good speller, for an editor (I just look everything up). But this test seemed easy to me. The only question that I thought was a little tricky was the one that asked about a British spelling, since I’m only familiar with U.S. style.  I figured it was a trick question and answered with the U.S. spelling, which luckily was right.


Out to lunch

"out of office" sign (welsh translation eror)

Remember the restaurant known in English as Translate Server Error? Well, be thankful the directions for finding it were not in Welsh.

Northern California Book Reviewers Translation Award

I’ll be on the road for a while, and posting could continue to be light until mid January.

Meanwhile, I’ve agreed to be a reader for this translation award. Books translated in calendar 2008 by writers based anywhere  between Fresno and the Oregon border are eligible. So far these are on my reading list:

  • Castellanos Moya, Horacio, Senselessness, translated by Katherine Silver (New Directions)
  • Do, Nguyen, and Paul Hoover, eds., trans., Black Dog, Black Night: Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry (Milkweed)
  • Holderlin, Friedrich, Odes and Elegies, translated by Nick Hoff (Wesleyan)
  • Holderlin, Friedrich, Selected Poems, translated by Maxine Chernoff and Paul Hoover (Omnidawn)
  • Nobuo, Ayukawa, America and Other Poems, translated by Shogo Oketani and Lez Lowitz (Kaya)
  • Peri Rossi, Christina, State of Exile, translated by Marylin Buck (City Lights)
  • Rodamor, William and Anna Livia, eds., trans., France: A Traveler’s Literary Companion (Whereabouts)
  • Rojas, Gonzalo, From the Lightning: Selected Poems, translated by John Oliver Simon (Green Integer)
  • Saba, Umberto, Songbook, translated by George Hochfield and Leonard Nathan (Yale)
  • Talebi, Niloufar, ed., trans., Belonging: New Poetry by Iranians around the World (North Atlantic)
  • Toussaint, Jean-Philippe, Camera, translated by Matthew B. Smith (Dalkey Archive)
  • Zambra, Alejandro, Bonzai, translated by Carolina de Robertis (Melville House)

This is a pretty strong group of candidates. It makes me feel encouraged about the state of literary book publishing today (but notice all were published by independents or university presses — corporate publishers have abandoned the the kind of publishing that built houses like Knopf).


Saving endangered words

Quote of the day — and a call to action –from Times Online:

It may appear agrestic to ask, but The Times is calling on its readers to come to the rescue of words that risk fading into caliginosity.

Dictionary compilers at Collins have decided that the word list for the forthcoming edition of its largest volume is embrangled with words so obscure that they are linguistic recrement. Such words, they say, must be exuviated abstergently to make room for modern additions that will act as a roborant for the book….


What the heck is the past tense of spec?

Believe it or not, this comes up all the time, and after all these years I have yet to decide what’s right.

For example, I e-mailed a print rep earlier today to ask, “Would the 60# Natural Smooth paper be cheaper than the one I had speced?”

Should it be specked? speced? specced? spec’d? or something else?

And no, no one would say “the one I specified.”


What kind of accent does Sarah Palin have?

She’s got a piercing voice, that’s for sure. Maybe you develop that to be heard over five children during howling blizzards.

But what about her accent? There is a discussion going on over at Mr. Verb. Apparently native Alaskans don’t hear characteristic Alaskan cadences in it. Some people hear Chicago and the upper Midwest, but how would that get there? Others note that she was born in Idaho, and speculate that she may have grown up with others sharing that dialect.

I suppose if she spoke in a mountain west dialect it could help the ticket in Western states, leaving everything else aside.


Language differences between men and women

man and woman talking

According to the dust jacket of The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, published by Morgan Road Books in 2006, the book explains why

  • A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000
  • A woman remembers fights that a man insists never happened
  • A teen girl is so obsessed with her looks and talking on the phone
  • Thoughts about sex enter a woman’s brain once every couple of days but enter a man’s brain about once every minute
  • A woman knows what people are feeling, while a man can’t spot an emotion unless somebody cries or threatens bodily harm
  • A woman over fifty is more likely to initiate divorce than a man

But are these assertions in fact, well, factual?

Translate server error — yum!

translate server error restaurant, china

You might have heard about the restaurant in China that, in preparation for the Olympics, decided to translate their name into English. I guess the translation program was down and, well …

Here’s a picture from tenz1225’s photostream.


Rules grammar change

News flash!

rules grammar change (onion audio)


More marvels of machine translation

Google Blogoscoped has translated several Garfield strips into Chinese and back again using Google Translate.

garfield translated

Here’s the text, in case the strip is hard to read at this size.

Jon: Garfield, I retrieved a pair of slippers
Garfield: I am sorry, the cat is not worth a pair of slippers
Garfield: I will, however, capture extract


Where’s that accent from?

Here’s a fun little game from Language Trainers Group. Listen to people read a passage from “If” by Rudyard Kipling, than guess where they are from.

I scored 31. Is that good or bad?


How I always say it: this hole is quite fine good!

Machine translation: there’s nothing like it.

Enjoy this short video with babelfished dialogue.

Two more tough words to spell

I wrote yesterday about a word that was misspelled by thirteen out of fourteen experienced editors. Here are two words from the test that were each missed by ten of the editors. The second one is a little surprising; at least, I consider it a basic word that any editor should know.

Pick the spelling preferred by Webster’s New Collegiate:

___ supercede
___ superceed
___ supersede
___ superseed

___ miniscule
___ minniscule
___ minnuscule
___ minuscule

Answers after the break . . .

A hard word to spell


It means “to dry; to preserve by drying.”

I’m hiring a temporary replacement editor for a colleague who will be out several months on a medical leave. I got a lot of very qualified applicants. To whittle them down I produced a test of 85 objective questions. I tested the top 14 candidates, all with sterling credentials. Apparently the test was harder than I thought — the average score was 66 percent.

The first twenty questions were multiple choice spelling questions. Thirteen of the fourteen editors disagreed with Webster’s New Collegiate on how this word is spelled:

___ desicate
___ desiccate
___ dessicate
___ dessiccate

Correct answer after the break . . .

Reader sues over translations

The reader, Bradley LaShawn Fowler, is suing two Bible publishers (Thomas Nelson and Zondervan), alleging that the translators erroneously rendered a passage resulting in a false suggestion that it condemns homosexuality.

At issue is I Corinithians 6:9, and whether two Greek terms allude to homosexuality or prostitution or something else. (The King James version of the passage gives “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.”)

The case is reported at Language Log, where the lively discussion it provoked included the following comments:

JACK COLLINS: Biblical scholars are actually pretty stumped about what exactly ???????????? were, since the term appears nowhere in the Greek corpus before Paul. Considering that there were quite a few terms for various sorts of male-male sexual practices in Koine Greek, it is curious that Paul chose to coin a whole new word. Literally, it would translate as “man bedders” or “bed men,” but that doesn’t really narrow it down. It is possible that Paul meant to allude to the Greek (Septuagint) translation of Leviticus 18:22 (??? ???? ??????? ?? ????????? ?????? ????????…, lit.”and with a man you will not sleep a woman’s bed…”). Whatever Paul’s intent, it probably was not to condemn male-male sexual relations between men of equal age and social status, since such relationships were rather uncommon in the Hellenistic world.

GORDONOZ: Maybe rich men should sue Bible translators, claiming they have been embittered and disappointed by their failed efforts to fit camels through the eyes of needles.

CRAIG RUSSELL: My opinion is that Fowler is barking up the wrong tree here. Paul probably did want to single out men who engaged in sexual activity with other men-especially given the context. “Pornoi” (as seen from the English derivative) and ‘moichoi’ are unquestionably sexual terms. Paul probably did consider it a sin for men to have sex with each other. For Fowler to insist that the Bible must mean what he already believes it to mean is no different from a fundamentalist insisting the same-it’s putting the answer before the question.


Poor, poorer, porous

editorial mishaps: porous copy on the mall in washington, dc

Some pretty porous copy on this text panel about porous paving at the National Botanical Gardens near the capitol building in Washington, DC. (Official, nonpartisan, federal government-approved typos.)


The linguist as Sybil

sybil: translator?

Sybil was the pseudonym of a woman whose story was told in a popular book and movie of the 1970s. She supposedly had sixteen distinct personalities. Now, studies suggest that bilingual speakers may exhibit different personalities for each of their languages.

That’s simplifying more than a bit. At Language Log Mark Liberman, in a careful, detailed, and rather technical post, examines this proposition at length. The main thrust of his argument is that any such differences are difficult to measure because of many cultural variables and in the end are probably slight.

However, this conclusion flies somewhat in the face of the felt experience of bilingual speakers. Anyway, I feel that, for whatever reason, I emphasize slightly difference aspects of personality in different languages.

I’m reminded of Borges, who claimed not to realize as a young child that English and Spanish were different languages, and just thought that his father spoke one way and his mother another. In his case then, isn’t it likely that a language associated with the father would result in a different set of attitudes and behaviors from one spoken with the mother?

A Cortazar story also comes to mind, in which Julio proposes that to imitate someone’s handwriting perfectly is to become that person, and he tells of a person who perfects Napoleon’s signature and consequently reexperiences Waterloo, Elba, and the rest. By extension, if we learned Farsi really well, wouldn’t we assimilate centuries of experience of living at the hub of the Silk Road?

Language is a complicated subject (in part because we know it only through itself), and throwing in the problematic factor of personality just compounds things. Could there be a whole new field of linguistic therapy waiting to be plumbed here? A shy person might be encouraged to learn an expressive language like Italian, a person with a tin ear might take up a musical language like Portuguese, and someone wanting to develop visual skills might learn to read and write Chinese.

Doesn’t latinate English seem to manifest a different personality than Saxon English? Could we affect personality through vocabulary exercises?

What about it, bilingual people? Do you feel different in your different linguistic personae? Do you use one language for pillow talk and another when you’re angry? On veut savoir.


A loss for words

holes in retina

Literacy is addictive. Once you start reading you don’t go back. But what happens when you’re not allowed to read?

I went to see an ophthalmologist about some trouble I developed in one of my eyes — large dark floaters looking something like the image from Two Days in Paris (in which Julie Delpy has trouble with her eyes) above. A piece of my retina had become detached, and I was advised to have immediate laser surgery (which wouldn’t fix the problem but would prevent worse ones). It’s a pretty minor operation as I understand, but I was told I would not be allowed to read or use the computer for at least a week.

I’m not sure if it’s the close focus or the rapid back and forth movement of reading (or a combination of the two) that the doctors thought could be harmful. It made me wonder what effect a lifetime of jerky back and forth eye movement has — could this have contributed to my problem? Has anyone studied how the eyes and brains of literate and nonliterate people differ?

I can’t remember the last time I spent a week without reading. Maybe on some backcountry outing. But in this case I would be surrounded by temptation. Would I go mad? Would I ease into a benign state of Zen-like meditation?

Neither happened. As it turned out, not reading made me very productive. I had to stay home, since reading and computer work is about all I do at my day job. The first morning after the surgery, I picked up the New York Times and pulled out the front page before I caught myself. I stared for a while at the folds in the bed covers, thinking how in the morning light they resembled drapery in Renaissance paintings. That day I was a little restless and scattered.

But soon I found myself waking up and, with nothing to read, immediately getting to work in the garden or on an outbuilding I’m putting in (I did pound my finger a few times, since I had a tendency to close my ailing eye and mess up my depth perception). I would just get up, start working, and work all day until I went to bed.

But I discovered it’s not possible to avoid reading. We live in a world of words. Everywhere I looked I saw them, until they came to seem like the animated playing cards that bedeviled Alice. Try it: just look around wherever you are right now — I’ll bet you see hundreds of words and letters in all different forms.

I did have to allow a bit of close focus. When I tried to calculate whether the foundation for my building was square, I had to resort to a calculator since I found it difficult to figure the square root of 221 in my head. I had to use a tape measure to mark my boards.

And I found that I have become deeply reliant on the internet. How far apart should I place my footings? How much sun does Euphorbia amygdaloides require? What are the chords in the middle part of The Nearness of You? I could just do a search … or, well, I guess not.

So I lost the ability to research the things I was working on. But I also gained a lot of time, since when faced with a decision I just made a choice and moved on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big proponent of literacy. But I learned that, like most things, it’s a trade-off. It was good to spend that time without reading; it’s an exercise that I would do again.

But once I got the green light to read again you better believe I was turning pages in no time.

And now I’m blogging. I’m back!


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