Steering the Craft

Steering the Craft came recommended to me by a member of my writing groups. Or not recommended to me specifically, but recommended as a purchase with the group’s money. I borrowed it last week to see what Ursula K. LeGuin had to say about writing.

Cover of the 2015 edition of Steering the Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin
Image courtesy Mariner Books

Author: Ursula K. LeGuin

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 4.15 stars

Language scaling: B2+ (though some of the books she quotes are older or use some form of regional dialect and more like C2)

Summary: LeGuin provides thoughts on different technical aspects of writing narrative, along with examples to consider and writing exercises to try yourself.

Recommended audience: Anyone interested in narrative writing (fiction, memoirs, etc.)

In-depth thoughts: People often recommend Stephen King’s On Writing as a guidebook for writers. I did too, once upon a time, and I still would. I would just pair it with Steering the Craft. I think King still has fantastic insights on the process of writing, but LeGuin has the better grasp of what makes for good style. Not surprising, since I find King’s writing fairly pedestrian whereas LeGuin’s prose is actually good. To that end, I think Steering the Craft is a good book for editors, while they can give On Writing a pass (unless they’re also writers, of course!).

LeGuin doesn’t give any hard and fast rules about anything; she merely points out what most people do these days and what most people used to do in previous eras, recognizing that there is a time and a place for following guidelines and for departing from them. She also provides a good 101 level introduction to the technical terms of English grammar, rightly pointing out that a writer should be able to name their tools specifically rather than just having a vague idea about things.

Some of the literary extracts, being over a hundred years old or using a particular regional dialect (or both!), might be hard for non-native speakers to process, but the instructional aspects of the book, including her exercises, are crystal clear. The exercises are originally intended for a workshop or feedback group, but would work just as well in a traditional classroom setting. Editors would probably want to keep a copy of this on hand, or at least browse through it once or twice, so as to be able to better diagnose or name what would otherwise be a vague “I don’t know what it is” problem in a manuscript.

A Textbook of Translation

I rounded off my DipTrans reading for the year with A Textbook of Translation. The edition I read had a copyright date of 1988, and it doesn’t seem to have been updated since. Out-of-date texts has been a recurring theme with the DipTrans list, leading me to believe that no one’s updated it in a good long while.

Image courtesy Prentice Hall Longman ELT

A Textbook of Translation is 30 years old and its age shows. Sometimes this is just charming (there’s still West Germany and the USSR), and sometimes it has serious implications for the material (an entire chapter is devoted to using reference tools that have by and large been rendered obsolete by the Internet). If I were reading it back when it was newly published, I would have given it 4 stars, but I’m reading it in the year of Our Lord 2018, so 3 stars it is. I took notes and I still found some value in reading it, but the wheat needed to be separated from the chaff.

In Newmark’s defense, Textbook is quite thorough and provides a solid overview of best translation practices, how to approach different kinds of texts, and how to think about different translation problems you might run into. However, unlike In Other Words and Becoming a Translator, there are no practical activities or questions at the end of each chapter. Instead, an entire second section at the end is filled with original texts and their translations—but even that is more analysis and reflection over an existing translation than an attempt to think  about your own work or language usage. (This is, in my view, an inherent problem with the text, and not a simple question of  updating.) Newmark also relies heavily and nearly exclusively on French and German examples as well as English. My high school German is so atrophied I simply skimmed over those examples, but my French is advanced enough I could usually understand the point he was making.

I read it, and I guess I’m glad I did, but it might be my least favorite off the list so far.

Friday 5: Scattergories, Part 8

Chocolate chip cookies on a black plate on a white counter.

I have been extremely unprofessional lately and let the blog part of the website slide. With all due respect and love to Samwise the work netbook, he’s not cut out for doing much web-related work. And I’m a bad freelancer and don’t schedule too many posts in advance, all told. So we’ll see how many posts I have the wherewithal to write and schedule in advance when it takes me half an ice age just to find and then insert a good image!

Anyway, my assigned letter for this round of questions is C. It’s for cookie, and that’s good enough for me! (Insert joke about European privacy law update here.)

What’s a movie you love whose title begins with the letter?

As you might have surmised from a recent post here, Clerks.

What’s a popular tourist destination whose name begins with the letter?

Cambodia. I never made it there while I lived in Korea, but maybe one day.

What’s something whose name begins with the letter you do when you’re very happy?

I’m tempted to answer “color,” but I don’t save that for when I’m  very happy. (I was into adult coloring books before it was cool.) The same could be said about “chatting with friends.” But if we’re going to focus on very happy, I would suppose “cry”?

What’s a frightening animal whose name begins with the letter?

Cougar! Cheetah!

Who’s a person you admire whose name begins with the letter?

There were a wealth of Katherines and Catherines among the radium girls, and I admire all of them for their strength of character and perseverance.

Proust and the Squid

(Didn’t you just blog about this book three weeks ago? Yes, I did. But considering its overlap with teaching-related professional development, I’m listing a shorter “note to self” entry here for my professional development category and links.)

My ongoing self-directed professional development in the field of translations sends me deep into the academic and coursebook stacks at Stockholm University, most often within the linguistics section. On my last visit, Proust and the Squid caught my eye—what a title!—and, after just a moment’s hesitation, I added it to my stack.

The UK version of Proust and the Squid
Image courtesy Icon Books, Limited

Wolf sketches a short history of reading and the written language within a neurological framework, and hypothesizes about the neurological basis for dyslexia and other reading disorders.

For anyone who works with young learners, Proust and the Squid is a solid 5 stars: an illuminating and immensely helpful book. Wolf’s approach to typifying reading disorders and pinpointing what seems to be happening in the brain in these situations will no doubt prove useful for teachers, tutors, or parents with dyslexic children. I imagine it would be interesting to special education teachers as well, though maybe much of what Wolf touches on here would be covered in even greater detail over the course of a special education degree. Adult dyslexics might also appreciate understanding the neuro- and physiological foundations of reading and what’s happening in their brains in particular.

In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation

In Other Words: A Coursebook on Translation is the third entry on my list of DipTrans-recommended texts on translation.

The 1992 edition of In Other Words: A Coursebook in Translation
Image courtesy Routledge

Despite its publication 26 years ago, even the first edition of In Other Words remains fairly relevant. Unlike Becoming a Translator or Culture Bumps, there’s not much time-sensitive material in here that needs updating, so even the first edition from 1992 still feels fresh and relevant.

As a self-taught translator, Baker’s theoretical framework was a helpful grounding for me, and there more were than a few moments where her commentary caused me to reflect not only on my translation work but also my editing work. Perhaps there are other, better textbooks out there on the subject, but you could certainly do much worse.

Culture Bumps: An Empirical Approach to the Translation of Allusions

This was my second selection from the DipTrans recommended reading list. Leppihalme takes a look at allusions (within the context of English to Finnish translations) and different strategies for their translation.

The cover of "Culture Bumps" by Ritva Leppihalme

It’s maybe an obvious thing that I kind of already know, but one of the more important things I took away from this was just how much of the Swedish canon (so to speak) I have yet to read. Leppihalme included all kinds of examples of English allusions in all kinds of books in the corpus for her study and helpfully reproduces them within the text, along with quantitative data on how often Finnish readers were able to pick up on them.

English speakers forget, maybe, that despite the pervasive reach of English, there are lots of anglophone concepts that never pick up international traction. This always trips me up, because I’m never sure which Americanisms have taken root in Sweden and which haven’t. Going through the qualitative data, there were lots of “but surely that’s a pretty obvious one!” moments, which in turn invited reflection: what would the Swedish equivalent be? Would I recognize it if I read it in a novel? I thought about all of the Swedish I still haven’t read: a great deal of Strindberg (and none of it in the original Swedish), The Emigrants, Astrid Lindgren, Tove Jansson, the Prose and Poetic Eddas, most of the Beck movies and all of the novels, Snabba Cash. Or Swedish translations of cultural touchstones like the Bible, Shakespeare, and Aristotle.

Leppihalme examines different strategies regarding translating allusions in the target text from a descriptive rather than prescriptive framework (though always noting when a particular translation choice deviates from the original, whether through loss or addition of nuance). The book is in no way a manual or how-to text; it’s simply an examination of current practices and noting how often they’re used and where.

The downside is that this is a relatively old text that hasn’t been reissued in a new edition. It predates the broadband Internet almost-everywhere era. Would her quantitative results today be different than they were back in 1991 when she was polling students? In an era when almost the entire sum of human knowledge is at your fingertips, are translators given less leeway when it comes to correctly understanding cultural allusions? Is it easier for them to look up expressions and phrases they suspect might be allusions or references? All of this is material ripe for updating, but it is anyone working on it?


Becoming a Translator: An Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Translation

I’ve decided to adjust how I go about my book posts. Nothing much will change, except that I’m documenting what I term “continuing professional development” reading separately from the fun reading, or the reading I might recommend to English students. My purpose here is not to review anything as such, but rather to publicly document my own reading and my commitment to professional improvement. Hence these will be rather brief and say-nothing.

Becoming a Translator: An Accelerated Course is one of a number of books recommended by the IoL Educational Trust in their DipTrans Handbook for Candidates. It’s a companion book to Becoming a Translator: An Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Translation. I was able to borrow the second as well as third editions of the latter from Stockholm University Library in March of 2018, though I’m still looking for An Accelerated Course.

There is a lot of useful material in both editions of An Introduction, including thought-provoking translation exercises. However, the second edition is from 2003, making it fairly out of date; the third edition has a tighter and more updated focus. Specifically, it excises what is very much an over-reliance on appealing to learning styles from the early chapters of the second edition and includes a section on machine translation and its impact on the profession. The appendix at the end of the book has also been jettisoned in favor of “recommended reading” lists at the end of each chapter, making finding further research on a particular topic much easier. Academia is notorious for an endless churn of new editions that have nothing new in them (the textbook racket is very much a racket); this is a case where the new edition is a measurable improvement over the last one.

Book Review: Greek and Latin Roots: Keys to Building Vocabulary

Authors: Timothy Rasinski, Nacy Padak, Rick M. Newton, Evangeline Newton

Genre: Specialist non-fiction

My GoodReads rating: 4 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 4.44

Target audience: English teachers and etymology nerds

Topic matter: The classical roots of English vocabulary

In-depth thoughts: If my affixes series didn’t make it abundantly clear, I’m a big fan of teaching (at appropriate levels) etymology along with vocabulary. A solid background in prefixes, suffixes, and bases helps EFL students learn words quicker and easier. This is the philosophy of Rasinski, Padak, Newton, and Newton, the authors of Greek and Latin Roots: Keys to Building Vocabulary.

Image courtesy Shell Education
Image courtesy Shell Education

This is a must for any English teacher, EFL or otherwise. English looks random and chaotic on the surface, so the more systems teachers can provide for their students, the better. Greek and Latin Roots does a very thorough job on how and why teachers of every grade and ability level should focus on classical roots when teaching English, with numerous activities and even a couple of sample lessons. They also provide a brief history of the development of English, useful for placing certain words and constructions in context. (My only quibble here is they have the usual breathless “Shakespeare invented so many words!” history without considering the context in which he was writing, but this is a book on teaching vocabulary and not a comprehensive history of English, so it’s easily ignored.)

As Greek and Latin Roots is a book for teachers, it might not be immediately useful for students, except for the appendixes. Appendix A has recommendations for student resources, both digital and dead tree. The recommendations in Appendix B are intended for teachers, but students might still find the word lists and puzzles helpful. Appendix C is a goldmine: a good, foundational list of classical word roots, arranged alphabetically. Finally, Appendix D has a collection of English’s many loan words from other languages categorized by language or language family. (There’s also Appendix E, but that’s a professional development section intended specifically for teachers who want to hone their craft.)

If you’re a word nerd interested in the history of English words rather than how to teach them, David Crystal has some recommendations.