Archive: Sat Jun 2017

  1. When Biblical Gender Is Lost In Translation

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    We find gender-bending language in the Torah, in the greater Hebrew Bible, as well as in later Hebrew literature. And I am hardly the first one to notice this. Bible scholars, critics, and translators of later Hebrew works have all drawn attention to the phenomenon.

    In his 1990 bestseller “The Book of J,” Harold Bloom noted that the author of the J strand of the Pentateuch presents God as both “mother and father;” indeed as a gender-bending “mothering father,” even as God “stands beyond sexuality.”

    The 1989 poetry collection Rift, by the master translator and poet Peter Cole, was, he told Paris Review, “a semiconscious translation of everything I was absorbing—the blurring of secular and sacred planes, heightened attention to the auditory, gender bending in the Hebrew verse and its grammar…”

    As long ago as 1946, Bible scholar Edwin Broome had noted pervasive grammatical gender-bending in the Book of Ezekiel, and concluded that the prophet must have suffered from “gender confusion.”

    But gender-bending language in the Hebrew Bible was the subject of commentary long before the twentieth century.

    As long ago as the eleventh century, the great Torah commentator Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak, d. 1105) felt compelled to explain why Moses had addressed God as at, the second person feminine singular word for “you” (Numbers 11:15). Rashi speculated that Moses had grown “weak” — the suggestion being that he was too tired to utter the two-syllable word atah, the second person masculine singular word for “you,” and had broken off after the first syllable. Rashi’s far-fetched explanation is not as interesting as the fact that he felt compelled to address gender-bending language in the Torah.

    Even a fairly straightforward text presents translation challenges. One who is perfectly fluent in two languages will still struggle to capture the flavor of the original text’s cadences, alliteration, allusions and word-plays. There is no way to do this perfectly. Sometimes there is no way to do it well.

    And when a text’s meaning has been intentionally obscured… all bets are off. Such is the case with the Hebrew Bible. The second century BCE scribe Ben Sira wrote about the Torah’s many “twists,” “obscurities,” “riddles,” and “hidden things” (Ben Sira 39: 1- 8). And he pushed the curious away: “You have no need of hidden matters,” he wrote (Ben Sira, 3: 21-24).

    Ben Sira’s grandson translated his grandfather’s work into Greek, and put his readers on notice that the difference between his grandfather’s original Hebrew text and his own Greek translation “is not small” (Ben Sira, Prologue, 15).

    Sometimes intentionally, always inevitably, much gets lost in translation. Not for nothing did the rabbis declare the day on which the Torah itself was first translated (into Greek) an annual day of mourning.

    Reading the Torah in translation, we would do well to acknowledge that a vast “space” exists between a translation and an original text. As the Forward’s own Aviyah Kushner, author of the highly illuminating book The Grammar of God has written, “this particular space between languages matters.”

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  2. Even with the internet, we’re not any closer to everyone speaking the same language

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    Of the world’s 6500 languages, close to 2000 are large enough to be under no threat of extinction, writes David Clingingsmith
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    Global economic integration has been enabled by technologies that radically lower the costs of moving goods and of communicating across long distances. The first of these, the railroad and the telegraph, were developed in the early 19th century. Later additions include the telephone, radio, containerized shipping, and the internet. All of these technologies exhibit network effects: The value of the technology to each current user increases with the number of adopters.

    Perhaps the greatest recent example of the network effect is Facebook. The value to me of being on Facebook increases with each additional friend that signs up. The wider the adoption of Facebook, the less attractive alternative networks, such as the open-source alternative Ello, appear. The network effect favours the development of standards so that all adopters of a technology can be linked together.

    While one might imagine the power of the network effect to be a recent discovery, the same logic underlies the ancient biblical story of the Tower of Babel, which is about language. According to the story, in the aftermath of the great flood the descendants of Noah all speak a common language. The power of communication enables them to build a great tower that stretches to the heavens. Displeased by this challenge, Yahweh (God) fragments the people into many groups each speaking a different language, reducing their power and keeping them in line.

    Language is the original network technology. When someone learns a language I speak, I benefit because of expanded possibilities for interaction. The long-distance communications revolutions since the 19th century increase the strength of the network effect. These days an English speaker can travel the globe, either in person or from the comfort of a web browser, and interact with others who speak English, either as their mother tongue (372 million) or as a second language (612 million) (Ethnologue).

    The globalised Anglosphere we are all familiar with stands in stark contrast to the tremendous diversity of mother tongues spoken around the world. There are more than 6,500 distinct languages in use today. We measure the size of a language by counting the number of people who speak it as a mother tongue. There is enormous variation in the size of languages. While the sixteen largest account for half of the human population, there are more than three thousand small languages spoken by fewer than 10,000 people.

    The network effect, reinforced by modern communications technologies, would seem to favour the consolidation of human beings on to a much smaller set of spoken languages, posing a threat to the continued survival of the vast majority of the 6,500 languages in use. But is that actually what is happening? In work recently published in The Economic Journal, I bring two data sources to bear on the question of whether the world’s languages are consolidating. These sources allow me to address the question from different angles, and both provide the same answer. Language consolidation does appear to be underway, but only for those languages with fewer than 35,000 speakers. That means that around 1,900 languages are large enough to be under no threat at all. I conduct simulations using the relationship between language size and growth that suggest about 1,600 languages will become extinct in the next 100 years.

    There are two ways to look at these results. On the one hand, the extinction of a quarter of the world’s extent languages would represent a significant loss of human cultural diversity. From that perspective, language consolidation appears as a significant problem. On the other hand, it is striking just how small the minimum viable size for a language remains in a world with such cheap and easy long-distance communication. A settlement of 35,000 people would be considered small almost anywhere in the modern world. That such a small group could maintain its own language in a globalised world is remarkable.

    Given the power of these technologies, why are people not abandoning languages that connect them with only 50,000 or 100,000 other people? The answer to this question is less certain, though there are three likely explanations. The first is that much linguistic communication is face-to-face and thus very localised. Above all else, one must be able to speak with others in one’s family, those one works with, and members of their local community. For the vast majority of human beings, those interactions happen within just a few miles of where they live. Second, many goods that can be produced far away, such as clothing and food, do not require knowledge of another language to consume. Third, bilingualism in a second, more widely spoken language need not lead to displacement of a small-sized mother tongue over time. Indeed, a small cadre of bilinguals can serve many of the external communication needs of a small language community.

    The data I use primarily reflects conditions at the end of the 20th century. It therefore does not reflect changes that may have come or will come with the wider diffusion of the internet. Only 178 languages, a mere three per cent of the total, have any content at all on the internet. Only 11 per cent of the world’s internet users come from English-majority countries, more than half of all web pages are in English (W3Techs and WDI). While it is possible that the internet may increase the minimum viable size for a language, my suspicion is that the main result will be to promote more bilingualism. Consider the case of the Netherlands, where knowledge of Dutch is under no threat despite more than 90 per cent of the population being able to speak English.


    Even with the internet, we’re not any closer to everyone speaking the same language

  3. Amazon expands its literary horizons, making big imprint in translation niche

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    Originally published April 15, 2017 at 8:00 am Updated April 15, 2017 at 4:25 pm
    Gabriella Page-Fort, the editorial director for AmazonCrossing, holds “The Gray House” by Mariam Petrosyan. AmazonCrossing is the biggest U.S. translator of foreign fiction into English. (Johnny Andrews/The Seattle Times)

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    Gabriella Page-Fort, the editorial director for AmazonCrossing, holds “The Gray House” by Mariam Petrosyan. AmazonCrossing is the biggest U.S. translator of foreign fiction into English. (Johnny Andrews/The Seattle Times)

    Amazon’s rapid rise to prominence in the translation of foreign prose to English — which has drawn appreciation, but also some suspicion by members of the translation community — is yet another sign of the online retailer’s growing cultural significance.

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    Ángel González By Ángel González
    Seattle Times business reporter
    The literary translation community in the U.S. has a tradition of being highbrow, a carefully tended yet narrow reflection of the stirrings of global culture beyond the Anglosphere.

    Then jumped in, like a whale into a koi pond.

    Armed with financial might and an intimate, machine-learned knowledge of reader behavior, the e-commerce giant made a big splash.

    That annoyed some literary types, wary of the leviathan that has shaken up almost every aspect of the media world.

    But AmazonCrossing, the publishing unit devoted to scouring the world for good tales, has in a short time become the most prominent interpreter of foreign fiction into English, accounting for 10 percent of all translations in 2016, more than any other publishing house in a field populated by small imprints.

    It helps that Amazon is rather numbers-driven about its tastes, which tend toward blockbuster genre fiction — crime thrillers and romance novels — although it also picks well-regarded literary jewels its editors feel would do well with an English-speaking audience.

    The goal “is to find great stories, and we think you can find them anywhere,” said Gabriella Page-Fort, AmazonCrossing’s editorial director.

    Amazon’s rapid rise to prominence in the translation of foreign prose is yet another sign of its growing cultural significance.

    In Hollywood, this newfound power has been recognized by critics and industry peers: In February Amazon Studios garnered three Oscars. Series such as “The Man in the High Castle” and “Transparent” have earned Emmy and Golden Globe awards.

    In the book world, Amazon has enabled hundreds of thousands to self-publish their works on Kindle, its digital reading platform. Some of these works — such as Andy Weir’s “The Martian,” which became a best-seller and a movie — have made an impact.

    It also has several imprints devoted to various genres, including literary fiction.

    Yet Amazon’s shine has been tarnished by a contentious relationship with New York publishing houses, bookstores and some authors. Many bookstores — hurt by the online retailer’s dominance in book sales and its pricing power — have boycotted titles published by Amazon. They’re also less likely to get reviewed by the traditional literary outlets, experts say.

    But some members of the literary-translation community, long beset by indifference from major publishers and a lack of resources, appreciate Amazon’s foray in their field.

    “It’s kind of amazing. They have the resources and the ability,” says Chad Post, an academic at the University of Rochester who publishes Three Percent, a blog about international literature that draws its name from the estimate that only 3 percent of all books published in English are translated from foreign languages.

    “Tidak ada alasan untuk meninggalkan Amsterdam pada musim panas. Inilah masa terbaik untuk bersepeda di sekitar Leidseplein dan Dam Square sambil menikmati sinar matahari yang merupakan surga tahunan bagi warga kota.”
    “It made no sense to leave Amsterdam in summer. This was the best time of year to cycle around the Leidseplein and Dam Square, to enjoy the sunshine that turned the city into paradise on earth.”

    “Paper Boats” by Dee Lestari, translated from Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao

    In the blog, Post keeps a thorough database of literary translations into English — which clearly shows Amazon’s trajectory to the top. In 2010, AmazonCrossing’s first year, the imprint published two of 340 foreign translations, or less than 1 percent — one from German and one from French. In 2016, there were 607 fiction and poetry translations and Amazon was responsible for about 10 percent, in languages as diverse as Finnish, Hebrew, Indonesian and Chinese.

    By focusing on genre fiction, Amazon is “filling a huge gap” and helping people in the community get “more experience, become better as translators,” Post said.

    Not all have super-warm feelings for the Seattle behemoth, however.

    Susan Bernofsky, who teaches literary translation at Columbia University’s master of fine arts writing program, says that because of Amazon’s practice of demanding “advertising fees” from small publishers whose books it sells on its website to subsidize its discounted prices, Amazon is still perceived by many translators as having an exploitative relationship with the literary world. The company “has been financially throwing its weight around,” and is viewed with suspicion by many who perceive it as seeing books as mere products, she said.

    Teutonic touch
    AmazonCrossing began in 2010 as a bid to bring undiscovered foreign-language fiction to the electronic bookstore’s huge English-speaking audience. It was the company’s second imprint, after Amazon Encore, an outfit that sought to resuscitate out-of-print books and give a boost to promising self-published oeuvres.

    AmazonCrossing’s team of editors is based in Seattle, London, Madrid, Milan, Munich and Paris. They look everywhere for stories: book conferences, pitches from an extensive network of freelance literary translators, and of course, the company’s own data.

    Amazon’s presence in most European countries gives the editors a good perch to see what is working for readers in other languages. One big book market in particular has proved to be a rich source of material for the venture: Germany.

    German customers love reading, and what they like also jibes with Americans’ own tastes, says Page-Fort, a New York University graduate with a passion for literature and languages who came to Amazon after a long stint in New York’s publishing world.

    Germany gave the imprint its most significant blockbuster: “The Hangman’s Daughter,” a historical series by Oliver Pötzsch. The English translation made by AmazonCrossing has reached 1.5 million readers in print and through digital downloads, Amazon says. Another series, “The Glassblower Trilogy,” by Petra Durst-Benning, scored 700,000 readers.

    So while French and Spanish-language literary works are generally the most often translated into English across the wider publishing industry, Goethe’s language dominates AmazonCrossing’s catalog. About half of the titles it published in 2015 and a third of those published in 2016 were originally written in German.

    That said, AmazonCrossing is an increasingly polyglot affair. In 2015 the imprint announced it would spend $10 million through the end of the decade in part to expand its roster of countries and languages. Fifteen languages other than English were represented in 2016, up from two in 2010.

    “Først et ter at hun had de par kert for an den sto re tømmervillaen, reagerte den unge hjemmehjelpen på at porten oppe ved veien hadde stått åpen. Et lite minutt ble hun likevel sittende i bilen for å høre ferdig en sang på radioen.”
    “Only when she had parked in front of the large timbered house did the young housekeeper realize that the gate up by the road had not been closed. Even so, she remained sitting in her car for almost a minute to finish listening to a song on the radio.”

    “The Last Pilgrim” by Gard Sveen, translated from Norwegian by Steven T. Murray

    In a way that befits Amazon’s online roots, AmazonCrossing has set up a website that allows authors and translators to submit books for consideration to be translated into English.

    There’s also an invitation-only program for translators to be matched with projects. It has received some criticism from translators who perceive they’re bidding against each other for jobs, according to Bernofsky, the Columbia University academic. “A lot of translators absolutely refuse to do that,” she said.

    Page-Fort contends that the website lets translators discover new projects, translate sample pages and submit proposals. “Crossing editors then review how a translator will approach the specific text and choose the translator who best complements the voice and tone of the author,” she said.

    AmazonCrossing is also globalizing, translating from English into French and various other languages. Overall the imprint has translated more than 900 books into five languages by authors from 35 different countries and 21 languages.

    That hasn’t come without challenges.

    In 2014, the French Literary Translators Association in an open letter balked at low pay, nondisclosure clauses and incompatible views on the translators’ rights to their work. Amazon says the letter had misrepresentations about its program. The company, however, opened a dialogue with representatives of European translator unions and says it has made “a number of translator friendly updates” to its terms in recent years.

    Gut feeling
    While AmazonCrossing relies on a wealth of data to make its picks, there are still considerable challenges in selecting titles for translation, and gut feeling is important, Page-Fort said.

    While most of AmazonCrossing’s catalog is genre fiction, it has also published famous literary leading lights, such as Mexican author Laura Esquivel (the Amazon translation of her book “Pierced by The Sun” was reviewed by The Miami Herald and the Los Angeles Review of Books.) There’s also Marc Levy, a best-selling author in France.

    “Podía pasar largas horas dedicada a esta actividad sin dar muestras de agotamiento. Planchar le daba paz.”
    “She could spend long hours dedicated to this work and show no signs of fatigue. Ironing brought her peace.”

    “Pierced by the Sun” by Laura Esquivel, translated from Spanish by Jordi Castells

    Another literary rock star is Russian author Andrei Gelasimov, translated by Austin, Texas-based Marian Schwartz.

    A longtime translator and past president of the American Literary Translators Association, Schwartz first ran into AmazonCrossing editors at a literary conference a few years ago.

    “They were alone in the lobby. Like six of them. They just wanted to meet people, hear about projects,” she said.

    Schwartz had translated on spec a book about the Chechen war by Gelasimov. She pitched it and Amazon took it.

    Since then, she’s done five other books for AmazonCrossing. The latest is “Madness Treads Lightly,” a crime novel from one of Russia’s top-selling authors, Polina Dashkova.

    Schwartz said that Amazon has “always paid me quite well.”

    And as for product quality, “I’ve never been better edited,” Schwartz said. “They’re absolute sticklers.”

    “Лена Полянская волокла коляску по глубокой мартовской слякоти и чувствовала себя волжским бурлаком.”
    “Lena Polyanskaya wrestled the stroller through the deep March slush and lumpy melting snow like a Volga boatman.”

    “Madness Treads Lightly” by Polina Dashkova, translated from Russian by Marian Schwartz

  4. In young bilingual children two languages develop simultaneously but independently

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    In young bilingual children two languages develop simultaneously but independently
    April 20, 2017

    In young bilingual children 2 languages develop simultaneously but independently
    Erika Hoff, Ph.D., lead author of the study, a psychology professor in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and director of the Language Development Lab. Credit: Florida Atlantic University

    A new study of Spanish-English bilingual children by researchers at Florida Atlantic University published in the journal Developmental Science finds that when children learn two languages from birth each language proceeds on its own independent course, at a rate that reflects the quality of the children’s exposure to each language.
    In addition, the study finds that Spanish skills become vulnerable as children’s English skills develop, but English is not vulnerable to being taken over by Spanish. In their longitudinal data, the researchers found evidence that as the children developed stronger skills in English, their rates of Spanish growth declined. Spanish skills did not cause English growth to slow, so it’s not a matter of necessary trade-offs between two languages.

    “One well established fact about monolingual development is that the size of children’s vocabularies and the grammatical complexity of their speech are strongly related. It turns out that this is true for each language in bilingual children,” said Erika Hoff, Ph.D., lead author of the study, a psychology professor in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and director of the Language Development Lab. “But vocabulary and grammar in one language are not related to vocabulary or grammar in the other language.”
    For the study, Hoff and her collaborators David Giguere, a graduate research assistant at FAU and Jamie M. Quinn, a graduate research assistant at Florida State University, used longitudinal data on children who spoke English and Spanish as first languages and who were exposed to both languages from birth. They wanted to know if the relationship between grammar and vocabulary were specific to a language or more language general. They measured the vocabulary and level of grammatical development in these children in six-month intervals between the ages of 2 and a half to 4 years.

    The researchers explored a number of possibilities during the study. They thought it might be something internal to the child that causes vocabulary and grammar to develop on the same timetable or that there might be dependencies in the process of language development itself. They also considered that children might need certain vocabulary to start learning grammar and that vocabulary provides the foundation for grammar or that grammar helps children learn vocabulary. One final possibility they explored is that it may be an external factor that drives both vocabulary development and grammatical development.

    “If it’s something internal that paces language development then it shouldn’t matter if it’s English or Spanish, everything should be related to everything,” said Hoff. “On the other hand, if it’s dependencies within a language of vocabulary and grammar or vice versa then the relations should be language specific and one should predict the other. That is a child’s level of grammar should predict his or her future growth in vocabulary or vice versa.”
    Turns out, the data were consistent only with the final possibility—that the rate of vocabulary and grammar development are a function of something external to the child and that exerts separate influences on growth in English and Spanish. Hoff and her collaborators suggest that the most cogent explanation would be in the properties of children’s input or their language exposure.

    “Children may hear very rich language use in Spanish and less rich use in English, for example, if their parents are more proficient in Spanish than in English,” said Hoff. “If language growth were just a matter of some children being better at language learning than others, then growth in English and growth in Spanish would be more related than they are.”

    Detailed results of the study are described in the article, “What Explains the Correlation between Growth in Vocabulary and Grammar? New Evidence from Latent Change Score Analyses of Simultaneous Bilingual Development.”

    “There is something about differences among the children and the quality of English they hear that make some children acquire vocabulary and grammar more rapidly in English and other children develop more slowly,” said Hoff. “I think the key takeaway from our study is that it’s not the quantity of what the children are hearing; it’s the quality of their language exposure that matters. They need to experience a rich environment.”

    Explore further: New research shows late bilinguals are sensitive to unique aspects of second language
    Journal reference: Developmental Science
    Provided by: Florida Atlantic University

  5. Social Justice in Linguistics

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    “Social Justice in Linguistics”

    MAY-JUNE 2017

    A Language Out of Nothing

    KATHRYN DAVIDSON’S ROLE in bringing an ASL class to Harvard, on one level, was incidental. The students calling for the class needed a faculty member’s signature, and an ASL researcher happened to arrive at the right moment. On another level, it mirrors the much more substantial relationship between the linguistic and deaf communities. Though it contributes to the debate over the language organ, Davidson’s work on deaf children is much more applied than most of her papers, which wade deep into theoretical semantics. She views applied research as part of “the social responsibility of running a lab that studies sign languages.” The study on children with cochlear implants became her most cited paper, because of its importance to studies of the deaf community. Linguists have been the first to discredit unsupported myths about language, like the notion that it’s harmful to raise children to be bilingual, or that sign languages were merely systems of gesture.

    ASL “is one of the best cases of social justice in linguistics,” Davidson says. During the last half-century, linguists, led initially by the late William Stokoe, have documented the ability of sign languages to do all the things spoken languages can, but do them by using three-dimensional space instead of sound. Stokoe is widely credited with securing ASL’s status as a real language. During the same period, disability-rights activism produced the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and later the Americans with Disabilities Act, the federal laws that gave people with disabilities rights to certain accommodations, like sign-language interpretation.

    Psychology graduate student Annemarie Kocab, who is deaf, grew up going to a hearing school with a sign-language interpreter. (“I was what you would call ‘mainstreamed,’” she signs, as the interpreter by her side simultaneously translates her words.) Her hearing parents took the unusual step of learning ASL to communicate with her. Whatever progress has been made to advance the rights of deaf people, Kocab is bothered that many physicians remain at odds with the deaf community, and with linguistics research, in their view of language: “Many doctors advise parents to give their deaf children cochlear implants, and say, ‘You need to focus on spoken language only and don’t sign or use ASL,’” she says. “If the spoken language approach fails, well, then, they say, ‘Maybe you could try ASL.’ But we know that’s not how language works.” That may be changing, though: a widely cited 2015 paper in Pediatrics, titled “Should All Deaf Children Learn Sign Language?” advised, “The benefits of learning sign language clearly outweigh the risks.”

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  6. Languages can save the world!

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    Why We Must Save Dying Languages
    By Max J Rosenthal on Monday May 22nd, 2017

    Is Common Language Killing off Ancient Ecological Knowledge?
    You probably know that much of the world’s environment is under threat. But a new study says languages are disappearing alongside plants and animals.

    The study, from the World Wildlife Fund, measured the threat to languages using a scale that tracks how threatened species are. Not only are many languages steadily losing speakers, says co-author Jonathan Loh, but “the rate of decline, globally, is actually very close to the rate of decline in populations of wild vertebrate species.”

    There’s the obvious threat of in-demand languages, which many people start speaking more and more, as the speakers of smaller languages dwindle. “Thousands of indigenous languages spoken around the world are being replaced by one of a dozen or so dominant world languages like English, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese,” he says.

    But Loh, who’s also a research associate at the Zoological Society of London, says that languages are dying off due to many of the same issues that plants and animals face. He comments:

    Some of the drivers that are driving the extinction of biodiversity — such as increasing global population, increasing consumption of natural resources, increasing globalization and so on — are applicable to languages as well…
    And that’s no coincidence. Loh explains that languages have a lot of specific local knowledge built in.

    Nearly extinct languagesThe vertical axis represents the number of nearly extinct indigenous languages; the number in blue its relation (in percent) to the total number of native languages still spoken in same country. (Source: National Geographic, 2013)
    The Knowledge Embedded in Languages

    The cultures have evolved in a particular environmental context, so they have an extraordinary amount of traditional ecological knowledge — knowledge of the local species, plants, animals, the medicinal uses of them, the migration patterns of animals behavior,
    So when the languages die off, much of that knowledge goes with them. “Then children stop learning the language, they also stop acquiring that traditional knowledge,” Loh says.

    There are plenty of linguists who are studying and trying to preserve native languages, but Loh wants to see them work with biologists to make sure that valuable ecological history isn’t missed. “Linguists often don’t have the knowledge of natural history that’s necessary in order to be able to record an endangered language because so much of the lexicon is tied up with names of species or types of ecosystems,” he says.
    He argues that:

    …if we can recognize that culture and nature are inextricably interlinked, then working on a biocultural diversity as a whole, as a subject, would be a more fruitful way of looking at conservation.
    The Link Between Culture and Nature

    “One of the interesting findings was that where a species goes extinct — because the population of the species declines away to nothing — a language doesn’t go extinct because the population of speakers declines away to nothing, but usually because the speakers shift from their mother tongue to a second language, usually a more dominant one.”

    Keeping the language of Laura alive An Aboriginal man from Laura, QLD; part of a Northern Australian ‘hotspot’ of dying languages.
    Loh says languages are disappearing most quickly in Australia and the Americas. “About three-quarters of the languages of the Americas are under the threat of extinction,” he says, and “95 percent of the indigenous aboriginal Australian languages are … declining extremely rapidly.”

    “And, as with species,” he warns, “when a language is lost, it’s gone forever. You can never get it back.”

    There’s this extraordinary wealth of traditional ecological knowledge that’s bound up with a lot of the world’s indigenous languages, and I think it would be really useful to biologists in understanding how to manage natural ecosystems.
    Integrating Language and Knowledge

    Over the past century alone, around 400 languages – about one every three months – have gone extinct, and most linguists estimate that 50% of the world’s remaining 6,500 languages will be gone by the end of this century, with some putting the figure as high as 90%. Today, the top ten languages in the world are spoken by around half of the world’s population. We could even be facing a future world where only one language is spoken globally, but while it’s important for everyone to understand each other, perhaps there’s a way we can preserve the wisdom of ancient languages at the same time.

    Susanna Zaraysky speaks on saving endangered languages through music.

    Why We Must Save Dying Languages

  7. California To Study Its Medical Interpretation Services

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    California To Study Its Medical Interpretation Services
    Tuesday, April 4, 2017
    By Tarryn Mento

    A receptionist helps patients at San Diego’s La Maestra Community Health Center in City Heights in this undated photo.

    Above: A receptionist helps patients at San Diego’s La Maestra Community Health Center in City Heights in this undated photo.
    More than six months after it was approved, a state assembly bill funding a study on language interpretation services available to Medi-Cal patients is slowly moving toward implementation.

    New law will study and pilot a program on interpretation services for patients who speak a language other than English.
    The bill, authored by then-Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, authorized $3 million for state health officials to examine California’s current procedures and launch a pilot program in up to four locations.

    California Department of Health Care Services Spokesman Tony Cava said employees are still developing a plan to carry out the legislation.

    “We’re working with our stakeholders as we lay the groundwork for this effort,” Cava said in a phone interview. “Some of the steps include hiring internal support staff, creating budgets and work plans and beginning to work to hire an external vendor.”

    He expected to have another update in May.

    For years, residents in City Heights have pushed for better services, including in-person translators instead of an over-the-phone-system used by many health care providers. Census estimates show more than two-thirds of that community speak a language other than English at home.

    Some San Diego health care workers expressed interest in playing host to one of the pilot programs authorized by Atkins’ bill. More than one-third of the region’s population over the age of 5 speaks a language other than English at home, estimates show. Nearly half of that total — or about 466,000 people — speak English less than “very well,” according to 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. San Diego County is home to more than 3.1 million people.

    In a news release following the signing of the bill in September, Atkins said 7 million Californians speak English “less than very well.”

    However, previous attempts to provide such a service under Medi-Cal were defeated. In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have created a system to pay interpreters through the state’s Medicaid health care program. At the time, states were dealing with the roll out of the Affordable Care Act and the legislation would have added another “complex element,” Brown said. The Democratic governor rejected a similiar bill in 2014 because he was concerned about additional spending.

    Brown signed Atkins’ AB 635 last fall after it passed the Assembly and Senate with only a handful of no votes in each house, including from Assemblyman Rocky Chávez. The Republican, who represents North San Diego County, was not immediately available to comment.

    Cynthia Roat, a Washington-based consultant on language access in health care, said research indicates improving medical interpretation procedures could be a beneficial move to patients and taxpayers. Facilities that receive federal money must provide language services to clients with limited English proficiency, she said.

    “It shortens length of stay in hospitals, it lowers the number of errors that are made, it improves relationships, patient-provider relationships, and what might be of interest to the legislature is that it actually brings down the cost of care, even if you count in the cost of paying for an interpreter,” said Roat, who was also the keynote speaker at California Healthcare Interpreters Association’s annual conference last year.

    Roat pointed to a 2002 study that compared the medical outcomes of patients with limited English proficiency who received an interpreter, patients with limited English proficiency who didn’t receive an interpreter (non-interpreted patients) and English-speaking patients who didn’t require an interpreter.

    According to the study, “In post-discharge follow-up, interpreted patients received significantly more primary care and specialty clinic referrals than did either [non-interpreted patients] or [English-speaking patients]; were more likely to follow-up in clinic than [non-interpreted patients]; were less likely than [non-interpreted patients] to return to the emergency department; and had the lowest charges from both clinic visits and emergency department returns of all three groups.”

    Additionally, Roat said, it’s important to train professionals specifically as medical interpreters instead of just legal interpreters. The latter is an adversarial situation, she said, while the former is a collaborative situation, meaning interpreters can work with the patient to help them better understand what a health care provider is saying.

    Speak City Heights logo of a dialogue bubble Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods.

  8. A Vermont Librarian Who ‘Moonlights’ as Arabic Translator

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    A Vermont Librarian Who ‘Moonlights’ as Arabic Translator

    JULIA SHIPLEY Christian Collins

    Christian Collins appears to be living a double life. By day, he’s a mild-mannered American-born librarian at the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum. Off the clock, he’s a Canadian resident who uses his fluency in Arabic to help translate the short stories of Syrian writer Osama Alomar into English.

    Alomar immigrated to Chicago in 2008 and until recently worked as a cabdriver; he now lives in Pittsburgh. He has published three collections of short stories and one volume of poetry in Arabic. Since 2009, Collins has worked with the writer — over the phone, at Alomar’s kitchen table and even in his cab, between fares — to translate Alomar’s epigrammatic prose.

    In 2014, New Directions Publishing published Fullblood Arabian, translated by the duo. Praised by the New Yorker and the New York Times, Alomar’s stories have also appeared in Ploughshares, TriQuarterly and the Literary Review. His newest book co-translated with Collins, The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories, debuts this week. Seven Days recently caught up with Collins, 39, to learn about his dual adventures in the book world.

    SEVEN DAYS: You appear to have two professional names: In Vermont you’re known as Christian J. Collins. However, on the covers of Alomar’s books, you’re C.J. Collins. Similarly, your book bios describe you as a librarian based in Queens and Grafton, N.Y. Meanwhile, the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum lists you in the staff directory. What up?
    CHRISTIAN COLLINS: I used to live in Queens. Then Grafton. Then St. Johnsbury, while I was waiting for my residency in Canada to come through. Now [I live in] Compton with my wife, who has lived in Québec for 18 years. My book bios are not particularly accurate. C.J. Collins is the name under which I publish. Christian is my given name.

    SD: As you navigate the U.S.-Canada border, have your Middle Eastern affiliations been an issue?
    CC: I am a permanent resident of Canada as of a year ago, and I have been a regular visitor over the last three years. I cross the border almost daily for work. I am familiar to the border agents of both sides, and knowing Arabic or having lived in Syria has never posed a problem.

    SD: You first met Osama Alomar when you were in Syria in 2007, following a 2006 Fulbright fellowship to study Middle Eastern history there. How?
    CC: I met Osama at a monthly sort of semiformal literary and cultural meeting in a private home, organized by Sahar Abu Harb, a poet, writer and theorist of nonviolence in an Islamic-feminist context. The group met to discuss the principles and practice of nonviolence and nonviolent social change.

    SD: Prior to your Fulbright, you were enrolled in a master’s program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. What put you on the path to Damascus? What were you hoping to discover? And have those studies informed your work with Alomar?
    click to enlarge The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories by Osama Alomar, translation by Osama Alomar and C.J. Collins, New Directions Publishing, 96 pages. $13.95.
    The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories by Osama Alomar, translation by Osama Alomar and C.J. Collins, New Directions Publishing, 96 pages. $13.95.
    CC: At UMass I did a master’s degree in the French department, with substantial coursework in history. I started off looking at the story of French scholarship about Syria and the eastern Mediterranean in the 18th and 19th centuries — the way information was gathered and knowledge produced about that part of the world, and the ends this served. The Fulbright was to lay the groundwork, with research and language training, for doctoral work on a related topic.

    All of this has made me feel strongly that I would rather be a conduit for Syrian voices than one more American voice telling people what to think about Syria.

    SD: What brought you to Vermont?
    CC: I married my wife, Yuko, who was living in Québec (and whom I had met in Brattleboro). We could not live together right away because I did not yet have a status in Canada. So I moved from Grafton (just over the state line from Bennington) to St. Johnsbury, where I had gotten a job at the Athenaeum in 2015, and waited.

    SD: If you were to open The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories right now and page through it, would those pages trigger specific memories of days spent translating?
    CC: Yes, almost every page. When Osama and I translate, we are very much doing it together, relying on the firm footing each of us has in one language and our somewhat shaky footing in the other. It’s a kind of dance, or negotiation, or slow clarification.

    SD: Are other aspects of your Fulbright experience still reverberating or activated, besides your work with Alomar?
    CC: To be honest, I’m still trying to make sense of my time in Syria. I have friends who fled Syria [and are] now scattered all over the Middle East and Europe, and friends from every side in this conflict. Osama and the other artists and writers I knew in Syria foresaw some kind of crisis, and they were seeking to defuse it with nonviolent means, with dialogue, reconciliation, solidarity. I was lucky to be able to observe that courageous and vital work.

    The time I spent there is with me every day. On a concrete level, besides literary translation, I am volunteering weekly with the Service d’aide aux Néo-Canadiens in Sherbrooke, where more than 500 refugees have been resettled in the last year. I help with interpretation, finding apartments, opening bank accounts, learning their way around their new city — all the basics of getting settled in a new culture. It feels good to be able to offer that kind of support.

    SD: The Athenaeum featured Alomar reading from your translation of Fullblood Arabian last May. Have you scheduled any Vermont readings for the new book?
    CC: I am eager to bring Osama back to Vermont. We had a great reception last year in Burlington, Montpelier and St. Johnsbury. All offers considered.

    The original print version of this article was headlined “Double Booked: Vermont Librarian and Translator Has a Way With Words”

  9. NLRB says immigration court interpreters are employees

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    NLRB says immigration court interpreters are employees
    Pacific Media Workers Guild — March 16, 2017 2,152 0 0

    Officials at the National Labor Relations Board have found that immigration court interpreters should be considered employees rather than independent contractors.

    The determination is a major — though preliminary — win for the Guild, which has been working to help immigration interpreters fighting for their job rights.

    Lawyers for the Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521, got word on Thursday, March 16, that the NLRB’s national office has issued formal legal advice to regional NLRB investigators in California, upholding the employee status of interpreters working for SOS International, a company that provides language services for the U.S. immigration system nationwide.

    The immigration courts are managed by the U.S. Department of Justice. SOSi holds a contract with DOJ, and deploys its nationwide pool of interpreters to handle deportation hearings and other immigration cases.

    The San Francisco-based Pacific Media Workers Guild and its parent union, The NewsGuild-CWA, has filed numerous unfair labor practice charges on behalf of SOSi immigration interpreters. But the labor standards enforced by the NLRB only cover workers classified as employees.

    Many employers have misclassified workers as independent contractors to dodge the requirements of regulators and tax authorities. Typically, workers who operate largely under the control of the employer are considered “employees,” while those who set their own schedules and work practices may be independent.

    The determination of employee status for the SOSi workers means that NLRB officials can now consider whether the Guild’s charges have merit. If the agency decides in our favor, it can issue complaints against the employer. That could lead to back-pay and other remedies in some cases, although it will take further legal proceedings to make that happen.

    Carl Hall, executive officer of Local 39521, said the NLRB decision “gets us to the starting line” in a potential organizing drive for full union rights. The immigration interpreters have been trying to work together for months, despite anti-worker practices and retaliation against union supporters by the management.

    Today’s NLRB determination “is great news not just because it could mean justice for interpreters who have suffered from SOSi’s threats and retaliatory actions, but it also means that we can organize and negotiate collectively for a contract protecting all interpreters,” Hall said.

    If the NLRB does issue a complaint against SOSi, union attorneys expect it could come by the end of April.

    “Challenges await, but we have a chance now to achieve real bargaining rights and job protections,” Hall said.…/