A KASERNE IS NOT A CASERN.

Sometimes you wonder how people get work as translators. A couple of years ago I wrote several posts about the hapless Isidor Schneider and his butchery of Gorky’s autobiography (1, 2, 3); now, reading a recent NYRB, I find Ian Buruma complaining (more decorously than I) about what appears to be almost as bad a job of translating Harry Kessler’s diaries:

Then, in 1891, the diary suddenly switches from English to German. Kessler was of course as much a master of his native tongue as he was of English. Alas, the translation leaves a different impression. The grammar is often mangled, the sentences creak as though written in a thick German accent, and the mistakes are legion. A Kaserne is a military barracks, not a “casern.” Genial is not genial, but brilliant, literally “of genius.” Schallplatten, or records, is not normally rendered in English as “gramophone platters.” To translate schleppen as to schlepp, as in they “schlepped along little children,” sounds Yiddish, which I’m sure was not intended by the author. Hotel Emperorhof instead of Kaiserhof is eccentric. And the grasp, in translation, of this great cosmopolitan’s European geography seems deficient. It is The Hague, not the Haag, and Antwerp, not Anvers, at least not in an English text.

“Eccentric” is so restrained you can almost hear Buruma’s teeth grinding in the effort to maintain the civilized standards of discourse called for at the Review.

Comments

  1. “Emperorhof” sounds like the kind of thing you get when you decide to start using “Emperor” instead of “Kaiser” and perfom an ill-thought-through search-and-replace in your word processor.

  2. Sometimes you wonder how people get work as translators.
    Not having a subscription to nybooks, I don’t know what else Buruma has to say about Laird Easton, apart from your quote. Easton is a member of the history faculty at California State University, not a translator by profession. He volunteered to translate Kessler as a “research project”. Volunteer work is patriotic and costs nothing.
    Easton is giving readers the kind of thing they expect. I think expressions like “casern”, “grammaphone platters” and “schlepped along little children” are intended to provide period atmosphere and support cultural clichés, like crinoline in films of Austen novels. Buruma writes, apparently with critical intent:

    The grammar is often mangled, the sentences creak as though written in a thick German accent

    But this is exactly what many people expect Germans to sound like in English ! I daresay the book will sell well.

  3. My spelling of “grammaphone” above was tainted by Grammophon and “grammar”. Adventitiously thick German accents everywhere !

  4. It could well be that this “research project” was funded by Google Translate.

  5. In Bad Translation #3 (actually called “The People of Semika”) linked above, you dug up the title of the book that I found a snippet from, The Craft & Context of Translation, ed. William Arrowsmith and Roger Shattuck (1961, repr. 1964, 1971). You said you “may have to get this book”.
    Looking back, I remember that I actually have, and have read, this book, and it is wonderful. Did you ever get it? If not, it’s available at ABEBooks for less than $7 now.

  6. Language correct moozik: http://mp3filez.org/

  7. I knew Arrowsmith through my friends in the Classics Dept when I was studying Greek at UT Austin in the second half of the ’60s. Keith Botsford also knocked around there. Them was flamboyant and exciting times ! I just ordered a copy of the book through Amazon for $ 6.48 including postage to Germany.

  8. Effort is also required to translate Sports Journalese into English. From this morning’s Independent: “He had seen his fellow Argentine Gonzalo Higuain spawn a hat-trick of chances in the first 30 minutes for Real.”
    Spurn?

  9. I’m glad to see you’re still skipping enough articles, Hat, to be only one behind the current issue — which is pretty great. I really enjoyed Andrew Delblanco’s review of David Blight’s American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era; it made me want to read the book (always a big plus) and ended with this insightful paragraph about the the relevance of the Civil War (where most reviews would insert pablum):

    …there seems a strange muteness—is it exhaustion? confusion?—about how best to remember the Civil War so that it might connect in a vital way with contemporary experience. Pageantry, parades, and the like seem to have had their day—and a good thing too. No one should miss the triumphalism and lamentation that were once the competing currencies of Civil War commemoration. No one should wish to return to the strife and bitterness out of which a deeper understanding was forged in the 1960s. But surely the future depends, at least in part, on something we do not seem quite to possess: a truly convincing story, containing both admonition and inspiration, about the central event of the American past.

  10. I was suprised to discover that casern IS an actual English word and IS typically glossed as “barracks”, so I can just about forgive that. But not shlep.

  11. Kaserne reminds me of Kassematte – casemate in English – a word that I learned when I was working in Hamburg. It was used because we were designing a house that had Kassematten. I’ve never heard its English equivalent, though I have heard cryptoporticus used once in a while. – I may have told this story before.

  12. “The Craft & Context of Translation” – acted on recommendation by ordering. Thanks.

  13. I’m a reviser by profession, so forgive me, but it’s Kasematte with one s. If you ever go to the city of Luxembourg, they are quite proud of theirs and you can get a guided tour.

  14. Thanks, bridge donkey*. I really knew it was one S from the pronunciation. I can’t spell even in English. One day before I die I’ll take the tour of Luxumbourg’s Kasematten.
    *’Brutal ass’ in German? Surely not!

  15. I was suprised to discover that casern IS an actual English word and IS typically glossed as “barracks”
    I’ve seen it spelt “kazerne” as well. It seems to have entered military English in the US as a result of the occupation of Germany (cf. basha, ulu, hootch, dhobi, etc.) – I’ve only come across it in the context of armour. I don’t think you’d get an infantry unit talking about its kazerne. (In British military English, you’d talk about the “lines”.)

  16. John Emerson says:

    Some of the great classic translations were bad, e.g. Urquhart’s Rabelais. So lighten up, people.

  17. John Emerson says:

    How best to remember the Civil War so that it might connect in a vital way with contemporary experience. Pageantry, parades, and the like seem to have had their day—and a good thing too.
    What I do is imagine that I’m in the First Minnesota at Gettysburg facing Pickett’s charge, with the present Senate and House delegations from the Confederate States on Pickett’s front line, led by Newt Gingrich.

  18. Kasematte
    I didn’t know this word. To my surprise, Duden indicates (by a dot beneath the vowel) that the third syllable is stressed, of a total of 4: ka-se-MAT-te.
    Since Duden presents the word as a loan from the French casemate, I would have expected the 2-syllable pronunciation to have been preserved, giving something like *Kasmatt, also stressed on the second syllable: kas-MATT, as in Schachmatt.
    I suppose a final adventitiously pronounced -e could be countenanced. Also, the -e- in the middle after Kas might be there to indicate /kaz/ rather than /kas/. But this would all be rather unusual.
    The actual German word is spelled like, and has the same four syllables as, a compound of (nonexistent) *Kase and Matte. But such a thing would normally be pronounced KA-se-MAT-te.
    bruessel, what do you think about this ? Could there be a missing dot beneath the Ka in the Duden entry ? Do you know how the word is pronounced on the battlefield ?

  19. As to the Civil War: well, it’s over, and who needs “admonition and inspiration” anyway ? Mostly the well-fed looking for something to do with themselves.
    I absolutely agree with JE. The thing to do is go out and defend what you believe is right, then return to your casemate and play cards. That was the Civil War: passionate intensity, bloodshed and gin rummy.

  20. I actually find “Hotel Emperorhof” bizarrely charming. Eccentric, indeed!

  21. I actually find “Hotel Emperorhof” bizarrely charming
    Partial translation could be a thing. The principal cities of Germany sound much more interesting as Dusseltown, Hamcastle, Freefurt (or Frenchfurt?) and so on.

  22. But such a thing would normally be pronounced KA-se-MAT-te.
    bruessel, what do you think about this ?

    bruessel knows best, but I remember the hamburgers pronouncing it KAseMATte (although actually we always talked about KAseMATten).

  23. Bill Walderman says:

    “A Kaserne is a military barracks, not a ‘casern.’”
    Having been stationed at McGraw Casern in Munich for a year and a half, I have to disagree.

  24. I don’t know about the battlefield, but my German colleagues in Luxemburg pronounce them ka-se-MAT-ten, only stressing the third syllable, like the Duden says.

  25. My big Harper-Collins German Dictionary (based on the Pons Grosswöterbuch) marks stress only on the third syllable.
    I was suprised to discover that casern IS an actual English word and IS typically glossed as “barracks”, so I can just about forgive that.
    No, no, that’s entirely the wrong way to look at it. Kaserne is the normal German word for “barracks,” whereas nobody but Bill Walderman has ever heard of a “casern.” Digging up terminally obscure but visually similar words from unabridged dictionaries is not translating but grave robbing.

  26. So from the little reading I’ve done about Kessler (all as a result of this post) he was native in both English and German, and to render his German as English with a strong accent is … unrepresentative, let’s say. Like dubbing Kissinger to sound like William F. Buckley.

  27. Aidan: he was native in both English and German, and to render his German as English with a strong accent is … unrepresentative, let’s say
    Yes, but the punters don’t know that. They expect what they are familiar with, and are familiar only with what they hear. What they hear are strong accents – whether German, French or something else. They don’t notice the rest because it’s not noticeable.

  28. nobody but Bill Walderman has ever heard of a “casern.”
    You can never really trust a jazz musician; especially not the trombones, the noise does their long-term memory in.

  29. Re bad translations in general, and Hotel Emperorhof in particular: this replicates one of my pet peeves, regarding bad judgment in translation.
    For instance, in the TV series “Game of Thrones”, the location known as “King’s Landing” was translated (subtitled) into Spanish as “El desembarco del rey” which, granted, is the literal translation of the words, but sounds in context (a) hilarious, (b) bizarre [read: 'eccentric'] and (c) ill-informed. It is, undoubtedly, a geschleppt translation! :)). I do so commiserate with people who have to depend on translation to watch a movie or a TV piece.
    And, another comment, in passing, on bad translations: I am currently reading a book written by Dan Brown (NOT the Da Vinci Code, BTW) where you would not believe the mistakes he makes in quoting words in Spanish and rendering the English translation. One would have thought he would have been inspired to consult with a (good) translator?

  30. Dusseltown, Hamcastle, Freefurt (or Frenchfurt?)
    Along those lines, I am living in a Colon.

  31. Nelida: “El desembarco del rey” which, granted, is the literal translation of the words, but sounds in context (a) hilarious, (b) bizarre [read: 'eccentric'] and (c) ill-informed.
    Could you give me a sense of why it sounds hilarious, eccentric and ill-informed ? How would you render the expression ? I would have guessed Embarcadero Real, but my Spanish is by no means fluent.

  32. Grumbly Stu, sure. I do think there is a place for noticeable quirks of style that indicate one is not a native speaker; I think, say, Coby Lubliner’s translation from Yiddish of his father’s memoirs, here, works better because it has these quirks. But introducing them where there’s no particular justification is misleading, even if it sells more books!

  33. Aidan: introducing [quirks of style] where there’s no particular justification is misleading, even if it sells more books
    Of course it’s misleading. For a change, I am trying out satire instead of merely ripping things to shreds.
    Slightly off topic: there’s a quirk of name currently in the media that I suspect few people have noticed. The Marine sergeant who was charged with nine counts of voluntary manslaughter in the Haditha killings, and who has just walked free, rejoices in the name of Frank Wuterich. Isn’t that appropriate ?!

  34. J.W. Brewer says:

    Surely Mr. Walderman is but one of hundreds of thousands of living Americans who did some military service in Germany and likely picked up some relevant jargon. (OK, Elvis isn’t alive anymore, but probably 50%+ of the guys he served with still are.) Indeed, doing a tour of duty in Germany was a sufficiently non-elite common-man experience that it was possible to write a hit country & western song set there (Tom T. Hall’s “Salute to a Switchblade, #8 in 1970 – look up the lyrics on the internet and see if you can work out the sometimes-phonetically-rendered German mixed into the tale of a GI picking the wrong fraulein to drunkenly hit on). There’s even a website called armykaserne.com for Americans who wish to reminisce about that sort of thing.

  35. J.W. Brewer says:

    In fact, google books seems to suggest that the sequence “gramophone platters” has previously occurred in the history of English-language publishing exactly once, in a sentence from a 1989 book (called “Roosevelt & Hitler”) reading “For the next decade, alienated German youths shared their disenchantment with life in the Reich by dancing in secluded places to music recorded on forbidden gramophone platters.” The German setting is suggestive of a bad gloss of Schallplatten. I can’t imagine there were too many Schallplatten worth listening to in the time frame of Kessler’s diaries, however. (By contrast, when I was in Germany in summer ’82 it was possible to obtain certain US-or-UK origin Rockmusik Schallplatten that were out of print back home.)

  36. J.W. Brewer says:

    On the other hand, “platters” as a vaguely hepcat AmEng synonym for phonograph records is well-established (if now a bit old-fashioned), but may have only arisen after “gramophone” had become archaic. The earliest hit I could quickly find for the phrase “spinning platters” (meaning what a disk jockey does) was from 1947, shortly before the transition from 78′s to 45′s began. The doo-wop group The Platters (whose name presumably was aimed at evoking that meaning) were formed in ’53.

  37. armykaserne.com
    What a wonderful website ! I just read a few reminiscences there about Augsburg, where I have been staying recently when working in Munich. The hotel is a stone’s throw away from the former Sheridan Kasern (some of them did say that).
    Never in the Army myself, I knew a few American soldiers and families in Bonn and Cologne, mostly in the ’70s. That website, mixed in with my memories of reading the novels of Koeppen and Johnson from the ’50s and ’60s, makes me nostalgic, melancholy and ashamed of my effective ignorance about these aspects of life in Germany since I have been here.

  38. As to the Civil War: well, it’s over, and who needs “admonition and inspiration” anyway ? Mostly the well-fed looking for something to do with themselves.
    Yeah, down with history, historians, and thumb-twiddling readers of history books: the past is past, the present is now — there’s no connection! (Never mind that the conditions of those less well-fed in America stem, in considerable part, from the Civil War, Reconstruction, and various reactionary events thereafter.)

  39. may have only arisen after “gramophone” had become archaic.
    JW, I’ve always assumed ‘gramophone’ was just the British word for the American ‘phonograph’. Do Americans use both words?

  40. the past is past, the present is now — there’s no connection!
    Whiggish sarcasm, Jim. Just don’t tell me things will get better.

  41. The thing to do is go out and defend what you believe is right
    And history can’t help you figure out what that is? Honestly, Stu, I’m just not sure where you’re coming from.

  42. Whiggish sarcasm, Jim. Just don’t tell me things will get better.
    I wouldn’t. Nor would I agree that any sentiment that history is relevant to the present is Whiggish.

  43. I do think there is a place for noticeable quirks of style that indicate one is not a native speaker
    I don’t know if we’re supposed to say this, but Ha Jin’s writing sounds like it was written by a foreigner very proficient in English. That’s part of the appeal, I suppose, in a way. There are no mistakes, per se, just strangeness. I’ll quote some examples when I can find the damn book.
    This has probably been discussed to death here, but Pevear and Volkhonsky’s graceless and literal Russian translations make me want to laugh or cry, I’m not sure which yet. The fact that they sell so well is proof that the majority of Russian classics bought in the English-speaking world are never actually read.

  44. And another thing!
    I’m obviously biased, since translation is my profession, but: translation is foremost a craft that can only be acquired through practice. Academics who think they can translate simply because they have written books no one wants to read on obscure topics in the literature of the language does not mean that they are therefore qualified to translate it. The gulf between theory and practice is no narrower here than in any other area of human endeavor.

  45. @grumbly stu: I would not have rendered the name in Spanish, at all. That’s why I found a similarity with the Kaiserhof Hotel issue. I would have kept it as “King’s Landing”. Names of places, as a rule, (and rules tend to have exceptions, as you surely know), are best left as found, and not translated. The exception being accepted, widespread and general usage. In the series, “King’s landing” was the name of the place where the king held court, it did not refer to the king actually landing anywhere. His main place of business, as it were. If that name had been “Goldcastle”, for instance, in Spanish you would say, if you had to translate “They went to Goldcastle”, “Fueron a Goldcastle” (and not, God forbid, “fueron al Castillo de Oro”. Which would sound: hilarious, bizarre (because nobody went to any castle made of gold, but to a place named like that), and ill-informed about the techniques of good translating. There are geographical names which are translated, but not in any literal sense. It’s just that they have a version in the source language and another in the target language. To wit: The Hague and La Haya. Or London and Londres. Or Río de la Plata and River Plate (which, it it were a translation, would be River of the Silver) which would sound hilarious, etc etc.
    And having finished my rather schoolmarmish explanation, let me tell you that Embarcadero Real or Embarcadero del Rey, however you prefer, is an excellent (literal) translation of the expression, so you needn’t apologize for your not being fluent in Spanish. I suspect you are just being modest…Have a nice evening!

  46. Yeah, down with history, historians, and thumb-twiddling readers of history books …
    Jim, of course historical investigation is important. I was referring to the passage you quoted, which I find to be sedately, patriotically weepy. For example:

    … a strange muteness—is it exhaustion? confusion?—about how best to remember the Civil War … But surely the future depends, at least in part, on something we do not seem quite to possess: a truly convincing story, containing both admonition and inspiration, about the central event of the American past.

    Why is this “muteness” strange, what the hell does “best” mean here ? The future depends on a lot of things, but I’m not sure that a convincing story about the Civil War is one of those.
    The writer seems to be unhappy that the American Civil War cannot be wrapped up in a few homiletics carved into a monument. He may hope for “admonition and instruction”, but that’s only his particular self-help issue. Others have learned how to cope with disagreement and uncertainty, and not just with regard to the past.

  47. Okay, we can agree to disagree about the passage. Maybe it isn’t as persuasive I found it out of context. I’m pretty sure, however, that Delblanco isn’t eager for the sort of simplification you think he is.

  48. J.W. Brewer says:

    Because this is the bicentennial of the outbreak of the War of 1812 there is at least a modest boomlet of new books concerning it. I think it might be advantageous if everyone took a year or two off from ruminating about 1861-65 and instead engaged in speculation about 1812-15 and What It All Means for the Very Nature of America and what different sort of America a different sequence of events back then might have led to.

  49. I have no views on Delblanco or his work, because I am not familiar with him or it. What I do think is that people who indulge in that kind of piously elevated book-review prose have only themselves to blame. Mouths turned down at the corners, along with eyes directed heavenwards, make me reach for my rubber bands.

  50. This has probably been discussed to death here, but Pevear and Volkhonsky’s graceless and literal Russian translations make me want to laugh or cry, I’m not sure which yet. The fact that they sell so well is proof that the majority of Russian classics bought in the English-speaking world are never actually read.
    It’s been discussed, but not to death, and I’m always glad for another round of P/V-bashing.
    Mouths turned down at the corners, along with eyes directed heavenwards, make me reach for my rubber bands.
    Oh, Grumbly, everything makes you reach for your rubber bands.

  51. Nelida: Ciudad del Cabo in South Africa seems to be a counterexample: that is plainly just a translation, not a Spanish equivalent like Londres. There are also the various Nuevas (York, Delhi, Orleans) which are half-translated.
    J.W. Brewer: Eric Flint, a novelist who writes alternate histories, has considered the war of 1812 and come out with 1812: The Rivers of War (free to read). In our history, Sam Houston was seriously wounded at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, so he sat out the rest of the war. Not so in the novel, which takes us up through the Battle of New Orleans — same outcome, very different consequences — and leads in the second novel (1824: The Arkansas War) to the creation of a second republic, the Confederacy of the Arkansas, populated mostly by the voluntary migration of the Civilized Tribes and free blacks from the U.S. Oh yes, and a family of whites named Brown. “I mean exactly so, sir.”

  52. @Nelida K.: “In the series, ‘King’s landing’ was the name of the place where the king held court, it did not refer to the king actually landing anywhere”: I haven’t watched the series, but in the books, at least, “King’s Landing” is called that because it’s where Aegon the Conqueror landed when he came to conquer Westeros. (Needless to say, he founded his capital there only after he had landed.)
    I actually think it makes perfect sense to translate “King’s Landing” for other language versions, but the use of “desembarco” seems bizarre. As far as I can tell, “desembarco” never means “a place where one comes ashore”, which is what the “landing” in “King’s Landing” means.

  53. Mouths turned down at the corners, along with eyes directed heavenwards, make me reach for my rubber bands.
    Well, I’d shoot back, but you’re pretty fast, your position flitting from well-fed thumb twiddlers, to oversimplification, to piety. I hope you had fun, at least.

  54. Nor would I agree that any sentiment that history is relevant to the present is Whiggish.
    No. I’m just not impressed with what’s learned from history. For instance Pinker’s reasoning using historical examples that we’re bound to become less violent in the future is pretty Whiggish.

  55. @Nelida – Apparently it is not just TV, the Spanish translations of Martin’s original novels also use “Desembarco del Rey.” The French translation was “Port-Real” which strikes me as too prosaic. The German translator just calls it “King’s Landing.” The Spanish seemingly translates everything – “Winterfell” becomes “Invernalia”, “Westeros” becomes “Poniente”, etc.

  56. Wow. Never thought that my comment would actually be read! Thanks for all the feedback!
    @John Cowan: Yes, you are right. I did say there were exceptions.
    @Ran: I would have liked to have read the book, but I only got to watch the TV series, which is awesomely well done, to my mind. Thanks for the explanation as to the origin of the name of King’s Landing (excuse my typo for having written ‘landing’ in lowercase). However, etymology, or the historical origin of a name, doesn’t warrant having to reflect that in translation. And the more so if the translation is rather poor, albeit trying precisely to reflect that historical backgroun. Actually, “desembarco” is the act of landing, going ashore, or getting off a ship. Which is what the king did. However, we are talking about a place, so, if we went for the option of translating the name, it would be better served as “Embarcadero del Rey, or Embarcadero Real”. I do not think, however, that it ‘makes perfect sense’ to translate it. Otherwise, for instance,our River Plate (Río de la Plata) would be River of the Silver (which sounds weird-funny), but the name simply was anglicized, not translated. The same with the other examples I mentioned yesterday. This is a matter of choices, which we translators have to constantly make, and I go with the opinion that shirks translating names of places such as the one(s) discussed above. To my ear, it sounds weird and funny (ha-ha funny). So I stand my ground. And that’s why, in the first place, Kaiserhof is a much better option than Emperorhof.
    @Vanya: The fact that there are translations out there which translate the names of places does not mean that they are correct, or maybe they are not actually WRONG, but perhaps not really RIGHT, either. It is a fact that there are as many translations as translators, and I would not chose that option, at all. This applies also to the translations of Winterfell, Westeros, etc. You would not translate for instance a guy named John Black or Joseph Green as Juan Negro or José Verde. In Spanish, they would still be John Black or Joseph Green. One thing they tought us in College while studying for my Translation degree, is that you do not translate addresses. Because, if the recipient of a translation wanted to contact a party mentioned in it, he should have the exact address to do so. Just imagine if a person from Spain or some Spanish-speaking region went to the Seven Kingdoms: would this person look or ask about “Invernalia” or “Winterfell”? Once the name of a place has been ingrained, for several generations perhaps, nobody will think about, or remember, or even know, WHY it was called that way. A name is a name is a name. IMHO.

  57. Typos: ‘background’. Sorry, a case of sticky fingers.

  58. No. I’m just not impressed with what’s learned from history. For instance Pinker’s reasoning using historical examples that we’re bound to become less violent in the future is pretty Whiggish.
    Sure, but I wasn’t talking about rates or trends, or anything like that — I was just saying you can’t understand America today, and have a reasonable idea about which laws are just and which aren’t, without an understanding of our recent, post-bellum history.

  59. Ok, but I think the problem goes back a lot further than the civil war. For example, there might be something to be said for Americans being more flexible about the US constitution – not just finding new ways for the supreme court to interpret it, as if it was the Bible, written by God, but actually getting rid of the fucked-up bits (the right to bear arms). Not that it’ll ever happen, of course. We couldn’t even pass the ERA.

  60. Jim: Sure, but I wasn’t talking about rates or trends, or anything like that
    Recent, post-bellum history can have an effect on the way things are today only if this history is understood as embodying a rate or trend, something which in some way persists and influences. Otherwise the past would be just the past – which it is and it isn’t. Some choices have been made under those influences that could have been made differently, but weren’t. I don’t see this as Whiggish.
    Just like “the world itself”, human history is an example of unique development which can sometimes be described in terms of general “patterns” or “laws”, but where a lot of leeway in what actually happened must be imagined to have been present. This also applies to “knowledge”.
    Otherwise it would be hard to explain how it is that different people have developed different views about what I addressed in the last paragraph. One explanation has been that “everything is relative”. Another has been that one person must be right, and the others wrong – it being only a matter of time before the truth becomes apparent.
    Even the seemingly “objective”, distanced opinion about opinions that I can be seen to hold in the previous paragraph is not a candidate for representing “the truth”. It adds an important bit to what can be known, I think, but it doesn’t knock everybody else out of the ring.
    One of the simplest analogies for what is going on here is still the blind spot of the eye. Another is the Copernican view of the universe – for a long time people just couldn’t wrap their heads around that, it made them feel confused, threatened and resentful. It’s hard today to imagine what the big deal was – unless confronted with the kinds of unnerving idea I expressed above.

  61. What I said could be summed up as: “truth is not the center of the cognitive universe”. <spooky music>

  62. Nelida:
    I actually didn’t know that it’s called the River Plate in (British) English: to me, and I think to most North Americans, it’s always the Rio de la Plata. However, the English version is almost as old as the Spanish, and in those days plate often did mean silver or sometimes gold, either coins or bars or things made of those metals.
    I agree with the general principle of not translating names, but I think that translating the names used in fantasy and science fiction novels is a special case. These names are invented by the author, and are generally meant to be understood, or at least partially understood, by the reader. An author writing about another world is in a sense translating anyway. They don’t “really” speak 21st-century English in Winterfell, and so the “true” name of the place, in whatever language they do speak, probably means ‘winter cliff’. Similarly, “Westeros” is probably a translation of a name whose first part means ‘west’ and whose second part is obscure.
    Tolkien, who of course was a philologist as well as a writer, went to the length of preparing a glossary of names in The Lord of the Rings which were to be translated, explaining what they were intended to mean. (The Elvish names, of course, are to be left alone.) For example, the village of Haysend does not contain the word hay ‘heno’, but an unrelated word hay ‘hedge, fence’, of the same origin as French haie. The village stood at the end of a long, tall hedge called the High Hay. Unfortunately, not all translators have consulted this list, and so many mistakes have been made that give the reader the wrong impression. Even if not consciously noticed, names are part of the literary effect of a book.
    (German is a special case within the special case: as has been discussed on this blog, if the names aren’t American English, the work doesn’t sound like science fiction to a German ear.)

  63. Ok, but I think the problem goes back a lot further than the civil war. For example, there might be something to be said for Americans being more flexible about the US constitution – not just finding new ways for the supreme court to interpret it, as if it was the Bible, written by God, but actually getting rid of the fucked-up bits (the right to bear arms). Not that it’ll ever happen, of course. We couldn’t even pass the ERA.
    Agreed. William J. Stuntz, in The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, argues that the U.S. Constitution is a very flawed document, emphasizing, as it does, procedure over principles, and that it’s mainly these flaws that have led to the problems in our justice system. (Gopnik gives a nice a summary, as does John Paul Stevens in the NY Review — I’ve only read a few chapters into the book itself). Michelle Alexander tells a different story, in which the problems stem from racism, a story best understood if we start at the Civil War — or, rather, a story for which the Civil War serves as a good enough beginning. Whichever story turns out to have more truth, it can’t hurt to read up.

  64. It can’t hurt.
    racism, a story best understood if we start at the Civil War — or, rather, a story for which the Civil War serves as a good enough beginning.
    Some people find the fact that Jefferson owned and fucked slaves quite bothersome, and that the other facts, like he was an interesting architect who wrote the Declaration of Independence, don’t compensate for the slave owning. Isn’t it asking for trouble to sweep the first four-score-years-and-seven under the carpet? Perhaps she sees the civil war as the first positive step against racism in the US.

  65. What I said could be summed up as: “truth is not the center of the cognitive universe”.
    I’m as interested as you are, Stu, or almost as interested, in philosophy, and the philosophy of science, if not nearly as knowledgeable; but you must admit, you kind of shoehorned the issue in this thread. (Not that I should be throwing stones on that score — shoehorning topics I happen to find interesting at the moment into LH threads — glass houses and all.)

  66. Isn’t it asking for trouble to sweep the first four-score-years-and-seven under the carpet? Perhaps she sees the civil war as the first positive step against racism in the US.
    She’s not sweeping anything under the carpet; in fact she starts with Bacon’s Rebellion — well before Jefferson caught jungle fever. The Civil War is just crucial to the story, wherever you start it, and many current injustices can be traced to it, and its aftermath, in a more direct way than earlier, relevant bits of history.

  67. you must admit, you kind of shoehorned the issue in this thread.
    I don’t see it that way. What I quipped about “truth” was just a summary of previous general considerations, not invented by me, that arise when a discussion turns to general things such as “historical truth”, “Whiggism”, “understanding America today [in light of historical investigations]“. Or rather, such considerations can, do and should arise from time to time – it’s only a matter of becoming used to that kind of thing.
    There are history books, and books about history books, and books about historical investigation, and books about the connections between historical investigation and other types of cognitive activity. None of these are “better” than the other kinds. All the ideas and claims they contain are worth consulting from time to time, because they “save us from cliché” (said by a character in one of Ronald Firbank’s novels).

  68. The immediate occasion for my commenting as I did was your remark: “I wasn’t talking about rates or trends, or anything like that”. I felt that you had to be talking about such things, given other statements that you made. Thus my remarks about history, causation, influence, truth and understanding – the context of your remarks. Such ideas can be seen – whether we like it or not – to be lurking even behind statements that we want to be taken “at face value”.

  69. My comment was a response to Crown’s bringing up the Pinker book; I was distinguishing the types of arguments we (Pinker and I) were making. Yes, the difference might not run all the way down, but you can’t talk on all levels all the time, and Crown was with me. That’s why I said you’d shoehorned the issue. I never doubted you had a cogent train of thought yourself, and could connect the dots for us.

  70. It appears to be extremely hard to say the kind of “abstract” things that I occasionally do, and have them understood in the spirit of additional things said. Often it seems as if most people were in thrall to a (metaphysical !) belief that there is only one kind of particular thing worth saying, and only when it is said in a particular way – each person having his/her own preferred particularity.

  71. That’s why I said you’d shoehorned the issue. I never doubted you had a cogent train of thought yourself, and could connect the dots for us.
    See what I mean ? You appear to think that my cogent train is running on completely different tracks, so your train should never collide with mine – and so there is no need for me to blow my horn.

  72. As in Iko Iko:

    Your choo-choo and my choo-choo
    Heading for the crossing
    Your choo-choo said my choo-choo
    Better pull up on the siding
    Hey now (hey now)
    Hey now (hey now)
    Iko iko un day
    Jockomo feeno ah na nay
    Jockomo feena nay

  73. You appear to think that my cogent train is running on completely different tracks, so your train should never collide with mine
    No, not never, just not this time. It felt a bit forced, and seemed framed less as an addition than a contradiction, although I could be wrong about that — I’m not remembering and don’t feel like scrolling up and down again. However, Iko always makes me happy, so I’m glad we danced after all.

  74. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, if the War of 1812 had gone differently, we might not have “Iko Iko.” (The song turns out to have its own wiki article which unsurprisingly indicates that there are rival theories about the origin of the non-English lexical items in the lyrics, maybe ultimately derived via trade pidgin from Choctaw or Chickasaw, maybe from some West African language, etc.)

  75. I don’t see it that way. What I quipped about “truth” was just a summary of previous general considerations, not invented by me
    But you do seem to feel the need to bring it in more often than might seem reasonable to someone who doesn’t have your strong investment in (what’s the term of art these days? ah yes…) problematizing any suggestion that there is a real world out there and a real history behind us. I know you think I exaggerate your views, and I probably do, but the fact remains that it can be hard to have a conversation about stuff when someone is constantly saying “How do you know that stuff even exists?” That’s why Diogenes occasionally got beaned with his own lantern.

  76. Hat, look out, you may have wrongly equated “reality” with “existence”. Stu will straighten you out, I’m sure.

  77. “How do you know that stuff even exists?”
    Given your familiarity with reality, it should be easy for you to cite a comment thread and time where I have said something like that, if I ever had said something like that. But I never said anything like that. By imagining such things you constantly problematize every suggestion I make.
    I have no money to invest in problematizing stuff. What I say is the way I think. You won’t accept that, apparently. I accept that you won’t, but not that you can’t.

  78. No, no, I accept it’s the way you think, and I’m perfectly willing to accept that I’m wildly overstating or misstating your actual views; I don’t think, though, that you realize the cumulative effect of statements like “Even the seemingly ‘objective’, distanced opinion about opinions that I can be seen to hold in the previous paragraph is not a candidate for representing ‘the truth.’” You say that kind of thing a lot, and I know it’s the way you naturally think, but every once in a while it gets to be a bit much for me. Maybe it’s just me.

  79. It’s not just you, Hat.
    Your attempts to describe the essence of Stu’s philosophical interjections have often evoked a response in me which, if put into words, might go something like this: “Yes, that’s it. Stu jumps in, questioning the assumptions behind what people are saying, and it always seems like ‘Yeah, questioning assumptions is good, but come on, I mean how is anybody ever supposed to successfully say anything if you’re always questioning all assumptions?’ I mean, every time I begin to enter into a dialogue with Stu I am braced for the likelihood that he will question my use of some word like ‘know’ or ‘true’ or ‘seem’ or ‘metaphor’ or ‘mean’. I sometimes feel like I’m playing straight man, setting him up for his next outburst. And your summary of his shtick always sounds like, yes, oversimplified or exaggerated if not outright wrong, but nevertheless perfectly in accord with my experience if not exactly my carefully reasoned thought (cognition not being not entirely at the center of the universe of truth for me).”

  80. Obviously it’s not just you, Hat. Personally, I take it case by case, because sometimes what Stu does — questioning assumptions, asking what we’re really saying — can be useful, can elevate the conversation. Other times, as you say, it’s a bit much, and I want to just carry on with my assumptions. That’s why I told him, plainly but not unkindly, that I thought he was shoehorning his philosophy into this thread. He didn’t persuade me otherwise, either. But I hope nobody’s feelings were hurt, or that Stu won’t keep at it. I enjoy his voice here, as much as anyone else’s, a few recent contretemps notwithstanding, in part because I don’t find him so thin-skinned that I’d hesitate to tell him when I think he’s somewhere out in left field. I did buy the latest book he recommended me, though I haven’t gotten to it yet.

  81. I hadn’t read Empty’s comment before I added mine, but I doubt Stu will blush at the pile-on, or even necessarily construe our little colloquy to be one.

  82. Well, if the War of 1812 had gone differently, we might not have “Iko Iko.”
    Well, that makese sense, of course, but I can’t say I considered it before now, so I guess I’m going to have to take your original suggestion — about leaving the Civil War alone for a bit to bone up on 1812 — more seriously. I do like me some “Iko.” I think I can even resist intoning about National Essences and whatnot. ;-)

  83. It seems to me that the interesting thing about the War of 1812 is how fast it went from being the most unpopular war in American history to perhaps its most popular — with a stalemate becoming a resounding victory. Wikipedia’s meager offering is linked to but unreferenced by the main article and bears a banner challenging its neutrality. When anyone remembers it at all, it’s Johnson’s silly “all of New England came down to secede” at the height of his own disaster.

  84. It seems to me that the interesting thing about the War of 1812 is how fast it went from being the most unpopular war in American history to perhaps its most popular
    Doesn’t the Mexican War compete, with junior representatives demanding “Spot Resolutions,” until of course the war turned out to be such a huge success (for the Americans of course) that the opposition Whig party even ended up nominating the war’s hero for president? Less interesting, because “a stalemate [DIDN'T quickly] becom[e]” interpreted as “a resounding victory,” but a damn fast, if predictable, shift in public opinion nonetheless.

  85. Over the last few years, certain channels/programs on German TV (N24, Phoenix, arte, DCTP) have been showing quite a few documentaries – made mostly by German or British groups, it seems – dealing with all kinds of historical folks and circumstances: the Romans, Germany and France from the ’20s onwards, Frederick II, the American Civil War (!) and most recently Mongolia. These are not segued soundbites of partisan peevishness, but detailed presentations drawing on current knowledge from archaeology, engineering, administrative records, trading patterns, literature, art …
    The producers also put a good deal of effort into dramatic reconstructions by actors showing, say, the long trek of the German-speaking Franciscan Wilhelm von Rubruk to Mongolia in the 13C to convert the populace to Christianity, and get the Khan to support Christian honchos in their wars against Islamic honchos. After being admitted to an audience with Möngke Khan in Karakorum, Rubruk decided it would be wiser to refrain from missionary activity – the Khan was too tolerant of religious differences. After a stay of 6 months Rubruk trekked back westwards. All this is recounted in his Itinerarium ad partes orientales.
    This is the kind of history that grabs me, rather than that which aims at admonition and inspiration. Not one meta-meta gripe troubles my soul while watching these films. I probably now know more about the sons of Genghis Khan than those of John Kennedy.
    What I meantersay is: are there also such multidisciplinary, serious, lactose-free documentaries about history available for viewing on American TV channels ? Say about the Civil War or that of 1812 ?

  86. Oops, I meant the sons of Joseph Kennedy.

  87. are there also such multidisciplinary, serious, lactose-free documentaries about history available for viewing on American TV channels ? Say about the Civil War or that of 1812 ?
    No, I don’t think so. But I’ll point you again toward The Teaching Company; Gary Gallagher does their Civil War course, as well as a course on Lee and his generals, both of which I found excellent. A lot of other courses, with other professors, touch on the Civil War, too — none weepy or simplistic.

  88. All the courses are available both as audio and video downloads, as well as CDs and DVDs. Just remember what I told you about sales.

  89. I think I agree with Stu as often as I agree with any other person’s opinions offered at Language Hat – Le Chapeau de la Langue as it’s known in Köln.

  90. This is the kind of history that grabs me, rather than that which aims at admonition and inspiration.
    You really homed in on that phrase, but much of the article was a lament that so much American popular media about the war is cheap and insipid rather than scholarly, or at least based on real scholarship — much like your latest comment. I don’t know why it’s so outrageous or pathetic to call good history inspiring or admonishing. I find it inspiring, and considering the current state of American justice, for instance, an admonition or two does seem called for.

  91. Or rather, I don’t know why it’s pathetic to hope that a few people would feel admonished by history that’s as complete and truthful as possible.

  92. much of the article was a lament that so much American popular media about the war is cheap and insipid rather than scholarly, or at least based on real scholarship
    Jim, thanx for the Teaching Company tips. What I prefer for now, though, in terms of historical presentation, are these multidisciplinary documentaries. Although merely popularizing intros, they convey so much more in a given amount of time than mere books can, no matter how many illustrated plates these contain. Such a relief from the otherwise philosophocentric daily slog of Yours Truly.
    Of course, if I wanted to know more I would go to a library or bookstore. I wouldn’t get a subscription to a satellite service and scan 400 channels for more such films. I don’t remember such documentaries on German TV back in the ’90s. I didn’t watch TV that much up till a few years ago, as I gradually discovered all the great things to be found there.
    My the way, I didn’t mean to suggest that it is “outrageous or pathetic to call good history inspiring or admonishing”. I was trying to indicate my view that those two things are extraneous to historical research and presentations. In contrast, they are the certain attributes of Easter messages and hell-fire sermons.
    Many Americans do seem still to yearn for reliable doses of uplift and chastening from the media and public figures, as was the case when I left the country. They want these figures to be heros, and are chastened when they are caught with their hand in the till or the nooky jar. It all works just fine, however cheap and insipid it may be. The situation is only slightly better in Germany.
    In a Godless world, journalists wear the dogcollars.

  93. @John Cowan: OK, I concede your point on Winterfell and Westeros, as being invented nomenclature and deserving of equivalent names in the target language of translation for a better grasp by the reader of the general atmosphere of the story. However, King’s Landing is ordinary – or plain, if you wish – English and I still do not endorse the Spanish translation (Desembarco del Rey) which at best is wrong on more than one count. The reader, or TV watcher, might be misled to think that reference is being made to the King actually landing somewhere. And, if correctly translated, it still is misleading, because Embarcadero Real or Embarcadero del Rey actually conveys images of ships and harbors, which obviously were not in any way involved. And most of all, I had a “gut reaction” when I saw it: it felt wrong. It sort of grated, or “emperorhofed” on me. In closing, let me thank you for taking the time to thrash out this question, I always appreciate a good debate. Have a nice weekend!

  94. Nelida, I am assuming you haven’t read the “Ice and Fire” novels. King’s Landing is not an ordinary place name – the name refers specifically to the actual landing spot of the foreign invaders who founded the Tagaryen dynasty three centuries earlier, and the name should convey images of ships and harbors, since the city is in fact a harbor city (clear in the books, not so much in the TV series). The more I think about it, the more Desembarco del Rey, which is a little odd, strikes me as a rather good translation. “King’s Landing” is also a rather oddly literal name for a capital city in English. I think that was Martin’s intention, as he wants the reader to be aware at some level that this city is not a tradition rich site of ancient Westeros culture, it is still a fairly new city founded by outsiders with only a tenuous hold on the loyalty of the island’s inhabitants.

  95. You are right, John, I haven’t read them, more’s the pity. However, and I do hear what you are saying, in Spanish “Desembarco del Rey” doesn’t sound like the name of a place, and that is my main objection. Taking into account the background story of the place such as you have outlined it, if I were it to translate it, I would go not for a literal translation, but more for something like “Puerto del Rey”, or “Puerto Real”. Nowhere in the Spanish language will you find a “place” where a party has landed referred to as “Desembarco”. “Desembarco” is a noun describing an action, the act of landing. Whereas in English “landing” may become a noun, and that noun may in turn become the name of a place, this is not so in Spanish. For instance, one of our historical dates (used to be a national holiday, but no more, only for banks and schools) is “El Desembarco de los 33″ (The Landing of the 33) – describing the landing of 33 patriots in the wars of independence. But the term designates the action, not the place where they landed.

  96. This is an extremely interesting discussion; thank you both!

  97. @languagehat Thank YOU for taking notice! And I take this opportunity to correct a glitch in my last comment, where there is an “it” too much. It should have correctly read “if I were to translate it”, of course. Sticky fingers. I am looking forward to the second season of Game of Thrones which is coming soon on HBO (in these latitudes at least…) – and I’ll be on the lookout for any language-translation issues connected with it (my translator’s brain is never “off” when watching TV, anyhow…sort of comes with the territory. In Spanish we have a term for it: “deformación profesional”).

  98. Let us know if you find anything interesting! (And I think of “déformation professionelle” as a French term; I’ve used it here more than once. It’s a great phrase in whatever language!)

  99. In Japanese I think the term is 職業柄 shokugyō-gara, but this is not so much a ‘deformation’ as a ‘habit’.

  100. Trond Engen says:

    In Norwegian we use yrkesskade “occupational injury” in much the same way. Hvis jeg er på et museum eller et kunstgalleri, går jeg og kikker på bjelkene i taket. Det er en yrkesskade. “If I’m in a museum or an art gallery, I go around studying the girders above me. It’s an occupational injuty.”

  101. occupational hazard

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