A famous existential quandary, run through Google Translate.

One Enlightenment aspiration that the science-­fiction industry has long taken for granted, as a necessary intergalactic conceit, is the universal translator. In a 1967 episode of “Star Trek,” Mr. Spock assembles such a device from spare parts lying around the ship. An elongated chrome cylinder with blinking red-and-green indicator lights, it resembles a retracted light saber; Captain Kirk explains how it works with an off-the-cuff disquisition on the principles of Chomsky’s “universal grammar,” and they walk outside to the desert-­island planet of Gamma Canaris N, where they’re being held hostage by an alien. The alien, whom they call The Companion, materializes as a fraction of sparkling cloud. It looks like an orange Christmas tree made of vaporized mortadella. Kirk grips the translator and addresses their kidnapper in a slow, patronizing, put-down-the-gun tone. The all-­powerful Companion is astonished.

The exchange emphasizes the utopian ambition that has long motivated universal translation. The Companion might be an ion fog with coruscating globules of viscera, a cluster of chunky meat-parts suspended in aspic, but once Kirk has established communication, the first thing he does is teach her to understand love. It is a dream that harks back to Genesis, of a common tongue that perfectly maps thought to world. In Scripture, this allowed for a humanity so well ­coordinated, so alike in its understanding, that all the world’s subcontractors could agree on a time to build a tower to the heavens. Since Babel, though, even the smallest construction projects are plagued by terrible delays.

Translation is possible, and yet we are still bedeviled by conflict. This fallen state of affairs is often attributed to the translators, who must not be doing a properly faithful job. The most succinct expression of this suspicion is “traduttore, traditore,” a common Italian saying that’s really an argument masked as a proverb. It means, literally, “translator, traitor,” but even though that is semantically on target, it doesn’t match the syllabic harmoniousness of the original, and thus proves the impossibility it asserts.

Translation promises unity but entails betrayal. In his wonderful survey of the history and practice of translation, “Is That a Fish in Your Ear?” the translator David Bellos explains that the very idea of “infidelity” has roots in the Ottoman Empire. The sultans and the members of their court refused to learn the languages of the infidels, so the task of expediting communication with Europe devolved upon a hereditary caste of translators, the Phanariots. They were Greeks with Venetian citizenship residing in Istanbul. European diplomats never liked working with them, because their loyalty was not to the intent of the foreign original but to the sultan’s preference. (Ottoman Turkish apparently had no idiom about not killing the messenger, so their work was a matter of life or death.) We retain this lingering association of translation with treachery.

Google Translate is far and away the venture that has done the most to realize the old science-­fiction dream of serene, unrippled exchange. The search giant has made ubiquitous those little buttons, in email and on websites, that deliver instantaneous conversion between language pairs. Google says the service is used more than a billion times a day worldwide, by more than 500 million people a month. Its mobile app ushers those buttons into the physical world: The camera performs real-time augmented-­reality translation of signs or menus in seven languages, and the conversation mode allows for fluent colloquy, mediated by robot voice, in 32. There are stories of a Congolese woman giving birth in an Irish ambulance with the help of Google Translate and adoptive parents in Mississippi raising a child from rural China.

Since 2009, the White House’s policy paper on innovation has included, in its list of near-term priorities, “automatic, highly accurate and real-time translation” to dismantle all barriers to international commerce and cooperation. If that were possible, a variety of local industries would lose the final advantage of their natural camouflage, and centralization — in social networking, the news, science — would accelerate geometrically. Nobody in machine translation thinks that we are anywhere close to that goal; for now, efforts in the discipline are mostly concerned with the dutiful assembly of “cargo trucks” to ferry information across linguistic borders. The hope is that machines might efficiently and cheaply perform the labor of rendering sentences whose informational content is paramount: “This metal is hot,” “My mother is in that collapsed house,” “Stay away from that snake.” Beyond its use in Google Translate, machine translation has been most successfully and widely implemented in the propagation of continent-­spanning weather reports or the reproduction in 27 languages of user manuals for appliances. As one researcher told me, “We’re great if you’re Estonian and your toaster is broken.”

Warren Weaver, a founder of the discipline, conceded: “No reasonable person thinks that a machine translation can ever achieve elegance and style. Pushkin need not shudder.” The whole enterprise introduces itself in such tones of lab-coat modesty. The less modest assumption behind the aim, though, is that it’s possible to separate the informational content of a sentence from its style. Human translators, like poets, might be described as people for whom such a distinction is never clear or obvious. But human translators, today, have virtually nothing to do with the work being done in machine translation. A majority of the leading figures in machine translation have little to no background in linguistics, much less in foreign languages or literatures. Instead, virtually all of them are computer scientists. Their relationship with language is mediated via arm’s-length protective gloves through plate-glass walls.

Many of the algorithms used by Google and Skype Translator have been developed and honed by university researchers. In May, a computational linguist named Lane Schwartz, who teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-­Champaign, hosted the first Machine Translation Marathon in the Americas, a weeklong hackathon to improve the open-source tools that those without Google resources share. Urbana-Champaign is largely known outside Illinois for two people: David Foster Wallace, who grew up there, and Marc Andreessen, who invented the first widely adopted graphical web browser as a student at the university. (Schwartz suggested a third: HAL 9000.) It is tempting to see them as the two ends of a spectrum: Wallace as a partisan of neologism, allusion and depth, Andreessen on the side of proliferation, access and breadth.

At this conference, at least, the spirit of Andreessen prevailed. Though attendees hailed from places like Greece, India, Israel, Suriname and Taiwan, almost nobody betrayed any interest in language as such. They understood that language is a rich and slippery thing, but they were there for the math.

The marathon took place at a conference center attached to something called an iHotel. The center was a U-­shaped hallway lined by rooms named after virtues — the Leadership Boardroom, the Loyalty Room, the Knowledge Room, the Innovation Room and the Excellence Room. At the presentations, computer scientists with straight faces regularly made comments like “Paragraphs arguably should be coherent in topic” or “Grammatical structure can matter in a sentence.” One presenter said that sometimes French places its adjective before the noun and sometimes after, but that, he concluded with a short shrug, “nobody knows why or when.”

One of the American marathon presenters wore two consecutive days of threadbare grammar T-shirts — one read, “Good grammar costs nothing!” and the other, “I am silently correcting your grammar” — so I imagined he might see his algorithmic work in the context of broader linguistic interests. I asked him if he spoke any other languages, and he said: “I speak American high-school French, which is to say I don’t. But it’s surprising how little it helps to know another language. When you’re working with so many languages, it’s actually not helpful to know one.” (His third T-shirt read, “Don’t follow me, I’m lost, too.”)

The possibility of machine translation, Schwartz explained, emerged from World War II. Weaver, an American scientist and government administrator, had learned about the work of the British cryptographers who broke the Germans’ Enigma code. It occurred to him that cryptographic investigations might solve an immediate postwar problem: keeping abreast of Russian scientific publications. There simply weren’t enough translators around, and even if there were, it would require an army of them to stay current with the literature. “When I look at an article in Russian,” Weaver wrote, “I say: ‘This is really written in English, but it has been coded in some strange symbols. I will now proceed to decode.’ ” In this view, Russian was merely English in frilly Cyrillic costume, only one small step removed from pig Latin.

Within a year or two, this idea was understood as absurd, and yet the broader notion of algorithmic processing held. By 1954 the American public was treated to a demonstration of the first nonnumerical application of computing. A secretary typed a Russian sentence onto a series of punch cards; the computer whirred and spat out an English equivalent. The Christian Science Monitor wrote that the “electronic brain” at the demonstration “didn’t even strain its superlative versatility and flicked out its interpretation with a nonchalant attitude of assumed intellectual achievement.”

That demonstration, however, was basically rigged. The computer had been given a pidgin vocabulary (a total of 250 words) and fed a diet of simple declarative sentences. In 1960, one of the earliest researchers in the field, the philosopher and mathematician Yehoshua Bar-­Hillel, wrote that no machine translation would ever pass muster without human “post-­editing”; he called attention to sentences like “The pen is in the box” and “The box is in the pen.” For a translation machine to be successful in such a situation of semantic ambiguity, it would need at hand not only a dictionary but also a “universal encyclopedia.” The brightest future for machine translation, he suggested, would rely on coordinated efforts between plodding machines and well-­trained humans. The scientific community largely came to accept this view: Machine translation required the help of trained linguists, who would derive increasingly abstract grammatical rules to distill natural languages down to the sets of formal symbols that machines could manipulate.

This paradigm prevailed until 1988, year zero for modern machine translation, when a team of IBM’s speech-­recognition researchers presented a new approach. What these computer scientists proposed was that Warren Weaver’s insight about cryptography was essentially correct — but that the computers of the time weren’t nearly powerful enough to do the job. “Our approach,” they wrote, “eschews the use of an intermediate mechanism (language) that would encode the ‘meaning’ of the source text.” All you had to do was load reams of parallel text through a machine and compute the statistical likelihood of ­matches across languages. If you train a computer on enough material, it will come to understand that 99.9 percent of the time, “the butterfly” in an English text corresponds to “le papillon” in a parallel French one. One researcher quipped that his system performed incrementally better each time he fired a linguist. Human collaborators, preoccupied with shades of “meaning,” could henceforth be edited out entirely.

Though some researchers still endeavor to train their computers to translate Dante with panache, the brute-force method seems likely to remain ascendant. This statistical strategy, which supports Google Translate and Skype Translator and any other contemporary system, has undergone nearly three decades of steady refinement. The problems of semantic ambiguity have been lessened — by paying pretty much no attention whatsoever to semantics. The English word “bank,” to use one frequent example, can mean either “financial institution” or “side of a river,” but these are two distinct words in French. When should it be translated as “banque,” when as “rive”? A probabilistic model will have the computer examine a few of the other words nearby. If your sentence elsewhere contains the words “money” or “robbery,” the proper translation is probably “banque.” (This doesn’t work in every instance, of course — a machine might still have a hard time with the relatively simple sentence “A Parisian has to have a lot of money to live on the Left Bank.”) Furthermore, if you have a good probabilistic model of what standard sentences in a language do and don’t look like, you know that the French equivalent of “The box is in the ink-­filled writing implement” is encountered approximately never.

Contemporary emphasis is thus not on finding better ways to reflect the wealth or intricacy of the source language but on using language models to smooth over garbled output. A good metaphor for the act of translation is akin to the attempt to answer the question “What player in basketball corresponds to the quarterback?” Current researchers believe that you don’t really need to know much about football to answer this question; you just need to make sure that the people who have been drafted to play basketball understand the game’s rules. In other words, knowledge of any given source language — and the universal cultural encyclopedia casually encoded within it — is growing ever more irrelevant.

Many computational linguists continue to claim that, after all, they are interested only in “the gist” and that their duty is to find inexpensive and fast ways of trucking the gist across languages. But they have effectively arrogated to themselves the power to draw a bright line where “the gist” ends and “style” begins. Human translators think it’s not so simple. The machinist’s attitude is that when someone’s mother is trapped under a house, it’s fussy and self-­important to worry too much about nuance. They see the redundancy and allusiveness of natural languages as a matter not of intricacy but of confusion and inefficiency. Most valuable utterances revert to the mean of statistical probability. If this makes them unpopular with poets and fanciers of language, so be it. “Go to the American Translators Association convention,” one marathon attendee told me, “and you’ll see — they hate us.”

This is to some extent true. As the translator Susan Bernofsky put it to me, “They create the impression that translation is not an art.” (A widely admired literary translator, who wished to remain anonymous, admitted that although she worries about machine translation’s mission creep, she thinks Google Translate is a wonderful tool for writing notes to the woman who cleans her house.)

What mostly annoys human translators isn’t the arrogance of machines but their appropriation of the work of forgotten or anonymous humans. Machine translation necessarily supervenes on previous human effort; otherwise there wouldn’t be the parallel corpora that the machines need to do their work. I mentioned to an Israeli graduate student that I had been reading the Wikipedia page of Yehoshua Bar-­Hillel and had found out that his granddaughter, Gili, is a minor celebrity in Israel as the translator of the “Harry Potter” books. He hadn’t heard of her and didn’t seem interested in the process by which a publisher paid to import books about magic for children. But we would have no such tools as Google Translate for the Hebrew-­English language pair if Bar-­Hillel had not hand-­translated, with care, more than 4,000 pages of an extremely useful parallel corpus. In a sense, their machines aren’t actually translating; they’re just speeding along tracks set down by others. This is the original sin of machine translation: The field would be nowhere without the human translators they seek, however modestly, to supersede.

Perhaps to paper over the associated guilt, the group in Urbana-Champaign cultivated a minor resentment toward their human counterparts. More than once I heard someone at the marathon refer to the fact that human translators are finicky and inconsistent and prone to complaint. Quality control is impossible. As one attendee explained to me, “If you show a translator an unidentified version of his own translation of a text from a year ago, he’ll look it over and tell you it’s terrible.”

One computational linguist said, with a knowing leer, that there is a reason we have more than 20 translations in English of “Don Quixote.” It must be because nobody ever gets it right. If the translators can’t even make up their own minds about what it means to be “faithful” or “accurate,” what’s the point of worrying too much about it? Let’s just get rid of the whole antiquated fidelity concept. All the Sancho Panzas, all the human translators and all the computational linguists are in the same leaky boat, but the machinists are bailing out the water while the humans embroider monograms on the sails.

But like many engineers, the computational linguists are so committed to the power and craftsmanship of their means that they tend to lose perspective on whose ends they are advancing. The problem with human translators, from the time of the Phanariots, is that there is always the possibility that they might be serving the ends of their bosses rather than the intent of the text itself. But at least a human translator asks the very questions — What purpose is this text designed to serve? What aims are encoded in this language? — that a machine regards as entirely beside the point.

The problem is that all texts have some purpose in mind, and what a good human translator does is pay attention to how the means serve the end — how the “style” exists in relationship to “the gist.” The oddity is that belief in the existence of an isolated “gist” often obscures the interests at the heart of translation. Toward the end of the marathon, I asked a participant why he chose to put his computer-­science background to the service of translation. He mentioned, as many of them did, a desire to develop tools that would be helpful in earthquakes or war. Beyond that, he said, he hoped to help ameliorate the time lag in the proliferation of international news. I asked him what he meant.

“There was, for example, a huge delay with the Germanwings crash.”

It wasn’t the example I was expecting. “But what was that delay, like 10 or 15 minutes?”

He cocked his head. “That’s a huge delay if you’re a trader.”

I didn’t say anything informational in words, but my body or face must have communicated a response the engineer mistranslated as ignorance. “It’s called cross-­lingual arbitrage. If there’s a mine collapse in Spanish, you want to make a trade as quickly as possible.”


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About this author

” I am a writer and translator, and have told myself stories for as long as I can remember.
Raised in Newark and Bradford, I now live in mid-Wales with my husband and two teenage children.
I studied Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at Cambridge University, and after a brief spell as a taxi driver worked for several years as a chartered surveyor before returning to my first love – languages. I translate from German, French and Welsh into English, and have been teaching myself Croatian while researching for my debut novel, Someone Else’s Conflict. ”…



A former chartered surveyor, independent translator since 1997, Alison Layland translates from French into English, German and Welsh. Readers in the United Kingdom discovered Yanick Lahens thanks to her.

Alison Layland was born in England and now lives in Wales, but France is her second home. ‘French was the first language I learned at school. It’s a language that plays an important part in my life, I am passionately interested in the French language and literature,’ she tells us. After studying ancient languages at university – Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic – and modern – French and German – the future translator’s career took an unexpected turn. ‘Chance events led me to work as a chartered surveyor for eight years, before following my instincts to become a translator at the end of the 90s. I think that experience was very useful to me in several ways, in as much as an author or a translator can take advantage of the most varied experience in all domains; it is even an essential part of their training.’

When she finally got started, Alison Layland began by translating creative commercial documents (brochures,Web articles) before tackling books, travelogues and history, from French and German into English. ‘Yet my dream was always to translate novels, especially because I am an author of fiction myself,’she confides. Her dream became reality in 2010 when she entered a competition organised by the Wales Literature Exchange, an organisation which promotes the translation of Welsh and international literature in collaboration with Oxfam. ‘That year, a new Haitian writer was chosen to increase public awareness of the problems in Haiti, devastated bythe tragic earthquake. Working on her text for the competition, I discoveredthe country and became interested in its literature, culture and history,’ she recalls. At the end of the competition – which she won – Welsh publisher Seren commissioned a translation of La Couleur de l’Aube (Sabine Wespieser) by Haitian author Yanick Lahens. A success that opened the door to literary publishing and led to new horizons, particularly with small independent publishers in the UK who specialize in foreign literature.

Mylène Moulin

Portrait : Catherine Jan, traductrice

J’ai rencontré Catherine au Café des Freelances, mais je connaissais déjà son nom auparavant, car elle est très présente sur les réseaux sociaux !

Prénom, métier, âge et parcours en une phrase ;-)Je m’appelle Catherine, je suis traductrice anglophone et j’ai 38 ans. J’habite en France depuis 1998 et je traduis du français vers l’anglais.

Depuis quand es-tu indépendant(e)/as-tu créé ta société Je travaille à mon compte depuis octobre 2009.

Pour quelle(s) raison(s) as-tu choisi d’être indépendante ? La patronne, c’est moi ! J’aime gérer ma carrière et fixer mes horaires. Je suis à la fois traductrice, blogueuse, comptable, secrétaire, community manager et chef d’entreprise.

Quel statut as-tu choisi ? Pourquoi ? Pour l’instant je suis auto-entrepreneur pour la facilité des démarches. Mais en 2012 je changerai très probablement de statut.

C’est quoi, ta journée-type , si ça existe ? Un peu de Twitter, Facebook et emails, et ensuite, quelques heures de traduction. Et aussi des rendez-vous chez le client et des rencontres enrichissantes avec d’autres traducteurs – mes relations offline sont capitales.

Si tu te projettes dans 10 ans, tu imagines quoi ? Je serai toujours en apprentissage parce que même après plusieurs années d’expérience, il faut se former. Le métier du traducteur évolue et je compte rester au courant.

Quel conseil donnerais-tu à quelqu’un qui voudrait se lancer  ? Rencontrer d’autres travailleurs indépendants du même métier pour échanger des conseils et partager des connaissances.

As-tu un site, un blog, un profil Viadeo, un mail qui permettrait d’entrer en contact avec toi ? Bien sûr ! Grâce à ma présence sur le Web, je reste en contact avec d’autres traducteurs et avec les clients et prospects. Mon blog sur la traduction s’appelle Catherine Translates . Si vous comprenez l’anglais, vous verrez ma façon de travailler, mes idées sur le métier de la traduction et des astuces pour d’autres traducteurs freelances. J’ai une toute nouvelle page Facebook . Mon site Internet est à : Je suis sur LinkedIn , et vous pouvez me contacter à

Coopératives Freinet –Ecoles Freinet: on y revient …


Ecole Freinet : un rythme différent

Travaux de menuiserie et d’électricité, exercices personnels, exposé, débat…Une journée de classe avec Jean-Charles Huver, instituteur.


Pédagogie Freinet avec des élèves de cycle 3 de l’école publique Aimé Legall à Mouans-Sartoux.

« Les enfants posent eux-mêmes ce qu’ils doivent atteindre »

Il est 8h20. La première cloche vient de sonner à l’école publique Aimé Legall de Mouans-Sartoux, près de Grasse, dans les Alpes-Maritimes. La classe de Jean-Charles Huver et de ses élèves de cycle 3 (CE2, CM1, CM2) abrite une profusion de matériel à dessin, d’outils, de jeux, d’instruments scientifiques ou de musique, de livres, de crânes d’animaux et de minéraux disposés sur des tables et sur les étagères, tandis que les murs sont couverts de plannings, de posters, de tags et de fiches pédagogiques. « Souvent, des débutants me demandent comment on peut arriver à ça. Cela ne se fait pas tout seul. L’agencement, les créations, la décoration dépendent des besoins de la classe, de la vie des enfants et de l’enseignant, ce n’est pas arbitraire » souligne Jean-Charles, qui dispose sur les tables des bouts de carton et des fils électriques.

Sur le tableau il est inscrit : « Qu’est ce que serait le monde sans objets ? Qu’est-ce que serait l’Homme sans objets ? » Les enfants entrent peu à peu et s’installent.
« Qui mange à la cantine ? » demande Manon qui compte les doigts levés et inscrit le nombre sur une ardoise, tandis qu’un autre élève tient le cahier des absences. Jean-Charles s’installe sur un tabouret en face des enfants et annonce le programme de la journée :

Ce matin, on va alterner entre deux ateliers. Ceux qui n’ont pas terminé vont aller avec Daniel pour continuer à construire les objets à roues en bois, et ils reviendront avec moi pour les peindre. On va aussi continuer à faire les voitures électriques. Cet après-midi, ce sera travaux personnels, puis il y a un exposé, et on terminera par le débat autour des questions inscrites au tableau. Vous avez eu presque toute la semaine pour y réfléchir.
Jean-Charles Huver est actuellement président de l’Institut coopératif de l’école moderne (Icem), fondé en 1947 par Célestin et Elise Freinet. Instituteur pacifiste et engagé, Célestin Freinet (1896-1966) introduit en 1924 une imprimerie dans sa modeste classe rurale, lance une correspondance interscolaire, et initie un réseau de publication de revues pédagogiques. Dans les années 30, l’enseignant et son épouse Elise, institutrice et artiste, sont la cible de violentes attaques de l’extrême droite. Ils démissionnent de l’Education nationale et fondent une école privée « prolétarienne » à Vence, dans les Alpes-Maritimes, où ils accueillent de nombreux enfants victimes de la guerre civile en Espagne. Rachetée par l’Etat en 1991, l’école pratique toujours la pédagogie Freinet. L’Icem rassemble aujourd’hui 1 500 adhérents au niveau national et compte un groupe dans la plupart des départements. Les enseignants qui en font partie continuent d’organiser leurs classes en coopératives et d’utiliser les techniques de l’expression libre et du journal scolaire, de la correspondance interscolaire et des réseaux. Ils revendiquent « une école où chaque enfant peut s’exprimer, se responsabiliser, coopérer, expérimenter et s’ouvrir sur le monde ».

Un groupe d’enfants s’en va avec Daniel, un artisan qui connait les méthodes de travail de Jean-Charles et vient de temps en temps l’épauler. Dans la bibliothèque et salle d’informatique de l’école, les ordinateurs ont fait place aux scies, tournevis, marteaux, perceuses, étaux, planches de bois et autres matériaux. « Aujourd’hui on va mettre des leds sur les objets » signale Daniel, tout en distribuant une fiche technique où apparaissent les étapes de construction d’un circuit électrique. Après explications, tous scient, liment, percent, vissent… « Tu peux m’aider ? C’est trop dur » demande Kiara, penchée sur son camion en bois de hêtre, un tournevis à la main. « Si tu n’y arrives pas, c’est que ce bois est dur », réplique l’artisan. Laura a un problème avec la transversale de son vélo en bois. « Je la mets seulement sur la voie, il faut qu’elle cogite. C’est une réelle mise en situation : ce travail sollicite autant du français, des mathématiques et de la géométrie que les mains », précise Daniel devant une Laura un peu triste, mais consciencieuse. D’autres photographient déjà l’avion, le train ou le skate pour le blog de la classe, lorsque 10 heures sonnent. C’est la récré, personne ne bouge. « On peut rester ? » demandent certains.
10h30. Devant la classe grande ouverte, des enfants entourent une planche de bois. Ils testent leurs voitures faites d’un châssis de carton, de roues en bouchons, et d’un moteur électrique relié à une hélice. A l’intérieur, d’autres élèves discutent ou se plaignent de la difficulté de la tâche.

Cet exercice vous oblige à être minutieux. La seule esthétique n’est pas le but : si les roues ne sont pas parallèles et si le circuit électrique n’est pas parfaitement monté, votre voiture ne marchera pas

Parmi le petit groupe qui peint ses créations en bois, ça discute foot et cinéma. Mais l’instituteur doit réprimander deux enfants : « Vous nettoyez tout ce que vous avez dégueulassé, et vous allez vous laver aux toilettes ! »

Un reportage de Madhi M’kinini

Pour terminer l’année: incursion dans le secteur associatif —



A Brest, un café associatif « Au coin d’la rue » !

A Brest, un quartier jadis malfamé attire aujourd’hui les touristes. Ceci grâce à la mobilisation des habitants qui ont redonné vie à l’une des plus anciennes rues brestoises, notamment grâce à un bâtiment municipal transformé en café associatif, QG des habitants du quartier.

Quand on remonte les pavés de la rue de Saint-Malo, la plus ancienne de Brest, on trouve à une intersection un café sobrement nommé « Au coin d’la rue ». A l’intérieur, un groupe de jeunes d’un quartier voisin apprend à tricoter sur de confortables canapés. Quelques tables plus loin, des femmes s’initient à l’origami tout en riant à gorge déployée tandis que, derrière le comptoir, l’inépuisable Mireille prépare des boissons chaudes, bios et issues du commerce équitable.

Derrière l'atelier tricot, les ordinateurs en libre service.

Derrière l’atelier tricot, les ordinateurs en libre service.

Un peu plus tard, Gégé, la soixantaine bien tassée, pousse la porte et va de table en table pour saluer les clients. Il s’arrête ici et là pour discuter ou observer une famille jouant aux jeux de société. Dans ce petit microcosme, il semble tout à fait naturel de parler à des inconnus. « On passe voir les gens, rencontrer de nouvelles personnes et se vider l’esprit », résume un habitué.

Mais derrière le calme serein de ce salon de thé associatif se cache une histoire haute en couleur. En  2010, Mireille, une figure du quartier,  cherche un lieu pour organiser des projections de films. Elle repère ce bâtiment inoccupé appartenant à la mairie. « Quand j’ai été leur demander la clé, ils ne savaient même pas qu’ils l’avaient ! Alors on l’a récupérée, et on ne l’a jamais rendue », raconte-t-elle, le sourire jusqu’aux oreilles.

Café participatif

Avec quelques acolytes, Mireille commence par remettre en état ce bâtiment, alors « totalement détérioré ». L’idée est d’en faire « un lieu où l’on se sent bien, bâti à partir des désirs de chacun ». Et dans ce quartier populaire, les envies sont parfois très pragmatiques. « Au début, les gens avaient besoin d’une connexion à internet. On a donc mis des ordinateurs à disposition. Et les personnes qui se faisaient couper le téléphone venaient ici pour passer des coups de fil et rétablir leur ligne. »

Chacun peut organiser les ateliers de son choix au Coin d'la rue. Ici, trois habituées s'initient à l'origami.

Chacun peut organiser les ateliers de son choix au Coin d’la rue. Ici, trois habituées s’initient à l’origami.

Reconnaissant l’utilité sociale du lieu, la mairie a laissé coulé et a même mis à disposition de nouvelles machines et un animateur pour guider les moins à l’aise avec les nouvelles technologies.« Puis naturellement, c’est devenu un café, on y a installé une bibliothèque, une épicerie, des ateliers, des concerts… On voit ce qui manque et on le met en place », résume Mireille.

Et la programmation n’est pas la chasse gardée de la petite équipe du Coin de la rue composée d’un service civique et de volontaires, dont l’infatigable Mireille. « Les voisins proposent un truc le jeudi et le samedi s’organise une soirée Guadeloupe avec des odeurs de friture partout dans la cuisine et du rhum. Ils avaient complètement investi le lieu. Ici, les gens du quartier se retrouvent. L’endroit est à tout le monde. Quand ils ont besoin de quelque chose, ils demandent et ils le trouvent souvent ici ».

Lieu de rendez-vous

Même si les prix sont abordables, personne n’est obligé de consommer et le « coin d’la rue » est vite devenu un lieu de réunion pour ceux qui n’en avaient pas, et notamment les enfants. « On vient pour les ordinateurs et pour la bonne ambiance. Ça nous fait une sortie, un un endroit pour se retrouver. On vient 3 ou 4 fois par semaine depuis que c’est ouvert », racontent David et Ismae, deux garçons d’une dizaine d’années. « Ça permet aux gamins du quartier qui n’ont pas d’activité culturelle à proximité d’aller sur internet, de se retrouver ou de lire des bouquins », confirme Isabelle, une prof d’histoire très attachée au projet.

Mais bien qu’il soit toléré par l’équipe municipale, le statut du café reste flou. « C’est plus ou moins un squat. Nous n’avons pas de bail mais on s’entend bien. La mairie a bien compris que c’était dans l’intérêt de tous et a financé la mise aux normes des locaux. Ils nous font confiance et voient que ce qu’on fait marche. On organise beaucoup de fêtes sans jamais demander l’autorisation et ça se passe toujours très bien », argue-t-elle.

Ni bordel, ni bistro

Aux beaux jours, cet estrade construite par les habitants accueille spectacles et concerts.

Aux beaux jours, cet estrade construite par les habitants accueille spectacles et concerts.

Et cette énergie nouvelle a fait un bien fou a un quartier qui agonisait.« Avant il y avait des marins, des bistros, des bordels, La marine a périclité, le quartier est resté populaire mais les bistros ont disparu », résume Mireille. Mais son arrivée à changé la donne. C’est par hasard qu’elle tombe sur cette rue et découvre que c’est la plus vieille de Brest, une des rares a avoir survécu aux bombardements qu’a essuyés la ville pendant la seconde guerre mondiale.

« A l’époque c’était un énorme dépotoir, mais je suis quand même tombée amoureuse. On l’a progressivement nettoyée, on a enlevé des tonnes de déchets. Je me suis installée en squat il y a 24 ans dans une des maisons abandonnées et je suis toujours là aujourd’hui », raconte Mireille qui a créé une association pour mettre en valeur le patrimoine bâti et historique tombé dans l’oubli de cette rue plus que centenaire.

Fierté retrouvée

La maison squattée par Mireille qui est également devenu le siège de l'association

La maison squattée par Mireille qui est également devenu le siège de l’association

« C’est devenu un lieu de balade connu de tous les Brestois. J’y emmène mes élèves en sortie patrimoine car à Brest, il n’y a plus rien à part cette rue », abonde Isabelle, la professeur d’histoire membre de l’association. Et les gens n’y viennent pas que pour les vieilles pierres. Sur les estrades et les bars construits lors de chantiers collectifs, se déroulent des fêtes qui réunissent plusieurs générations. « C’est la meilleure ambiance de Brest. C’est familial, les gens sont contents de s’y voir », affirme un voisin qui ne loupe pas une édition.

En un quart de siècle, Mireille et ses compères ont transformé la rue  et ceux qui y vivent aussi. « Le quartier avait la réputation d’être pauvre et violent. Maintenant, les habitants voient que leur rue est connue et qu’ils n’habitent plus le quartier où personne ne va. Ça leur redonne une certaine fierté ».

Emmanuel Daniel
Cet article est libre de droits. Merci cependant de préciser le nom de l’auteur et un lien vers l’article d’origine en cas de republication

By Dennis Abrams

Anna KareninaI read a lot of literature in translation, much of it classics, and like a lot of readers (or maybe I’m alone in my neurotic attitude about this), I spend a lot of time worrying over what the “best” translation might be (the question of how to define “best translation”) is probably something else altogether). Earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg looks at a topic I’ve given a good deal of thought to: just how alike are different translations of foreign classics?

Trachtenberg reports that there are six English language translations of Tolstoy’s 1878 classicAnna Karenina available for sale online, including the acclaimed 2001 version by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Penguin Classics), which became a huge best-seller when it was selected for Oprah Winfrey’s book club, with more than 1.3 million copies in print to date.

Even so, and despite its success, two new translations are scheduled for publication next year. And, as Trachtenberg points out, it’s not just Tolstoy who reaps the benefits of frequent retranslations. Although there already several versions of Boccaccio’s Decameron available to interested readers, a new translation by Wayne A. Rebhorn will be published this month by W.W. Norton. And new editions of The Iliad and The Odyssey (both of which have seen “definitive” translations by Fagles, Lattimore, Fitzgerald and others) will be published by the end of the year as well.

Dennis Abrams

Why so many new editions? According to Trachtenberg: “The long answer is that costs are low — no big author advances are needed — and there is always a chance that a new version will become a hit in colleges, providing an annuity revenue stream.

And the short answer, at least in some cases, is that some translators are out to make names for themselves.”

Case in point: Wayne A. Rebhorn who began translating The Decameron seven years ago after deciding that the translations he had been using in his classroom just weren’t working for him. “I thought I could do better,” he told Trachtenberg.

In an earlier 1977 edition, for example, there is a scene in which a young man is described as being “naked from the waist down.” However, Rebhorn says that it should have read that the young man was “naked from the waist up,” a difference vital to the scene.

And another case in point: Rosamund Bartlett, the translator of the new edition that will be published by Oxford University Press (the other, which will be published by Yale University Press, is being translated by Marian Schwartz), is a self-described “perfectionist” who has worked on her translation for seven years, three years longer than it took Tolstoy to actually write the book. (Ms. Bartlett wrote a critically successful biography of Tolstoy during those seven years as well.)

And that perfectionism found its focus in the need to find the exact translation of a word used to describe footwear in a hunting scene in which Anna’s brother, Stepan Arkadych, is dressed in shabby clothing and wearing what Trachtenberg describe as a “summer peasant shoe made from a single piece of leather.”

Constance Garnett, whose classic translation first appeared in 1901, described the shoes as “spats.” Pevear and Volokhonsky described them as “brogues,” which Ms. Bartlett said brought to mind images of “smart shoes with perforations.” So in the end, she described the shoes as “light peasant moccasins.” (For his part Pevear said in an email that “Most disagreements over words ignore the context, which is all important,” adding that while Tolstoy’s original word for the shoes “porshini” “is obsolete in Russian,” and were used to describe “primitive peasant shoes made from rather leather,” and that that is “rather close to the first meaning of brogues in the Oxford English Dictionary: ‘rough shoes of untanned hide.’”

My first question then is this: for the “common reader” reading Anna Karenina for the first time, how much is it going to matter for their overall reading experience if the word is “spats” “brogues” or “light peasant moccasins?” (Although personally, in that case, I’d go with “brogues” if only because “moccasins” brings with it associations of beaded Native American footwear which I seriously doubt is what Tolstoy had in mind when he wrote Anna.)

But for me there’s an even bigger question: with so many translations of classics to choose from, and with even professional translators at odds on how to translate a specific work, how is even an educated reader supposed to choose? Years ago, I was with a friend picking out a copy of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons to read for their local book club. There were three different editions available, and when we compared the first paragraphs of each: not only were there noticeable differences in each edition, the differences were so noticeable that they subtly changed the very meaning of what we were reading. And that was only the first paragraph!

So for readers, maybe there is such a thing as too many translations. But for some publishers though, as Trachtenberg points, out, “apparently not, because certain classic titles strike some publishers as irresistible. These include Murasaki Shikibu’s 11th-century novel The Tale of Genji, which has been published byPenguin Classics and others.

“Yet Jill Schoolman, publisher of Brooklyn-based Archipelago Books says she is mulling a new one.”

‘There’s always room for another excellent translation,” she says.’

Perhaps. Although not necessarily on my bookshelves.

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor to Publishing Perspectives and curator of PP’s online book clubs covering the work of Proust — The Cork-lined Room, Dostoevsky — Project D. His most recent online club, “The Play’s the Thing,”covers Shakespeare and is ongoing.

We have dealt with this issue before and will continue to update/ ce n’est pas la premiere fois que nous consacrons un post au pb …

In the slowly recovering U.S. economy, there is a bright spot that continues to grow brighter – the language services industry.   The industry for translation and interpretation services is doing extremely well according to a number of recent reports, and is only expected to continue growing.

While most industries were hit hard during the recession, the language industry has continued to grow – with jobs doubling over the last 10 years, and wages steadily increasing.  This growth is expected to continue through 2022 when the number of jobs is expected to grow some 46%, making it one of the nation’s fastest growing occupations.

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) reported that from 2004 to 2012 the number of translating and interpreting jobs in the U.S. doubled from 25,000 to 50,000.  This number did not include self-employed free lance translators and interpreters.  Taking free lancers into account the 2012 number is estimated to actually be about 63,000, according to a separate Labor Department survey.

Additionally, the median annual salary for translators and interpreters rose from $44,500 to $53,410 between 2004 and 2012, with more and more translators even achieving six digit salaries.  The independent market research firm, Common Sense Advisory, estimates the industry as a whole to now be worth approximately 37.2 billion, a 6.2% increase from 2013.  Experts predict the industry will be  worth some $47 billion by 2018. Globalization, U.S. demographic changes and the internet are all factors in this booming industry, and although many expected that growing technology in machine translation would cut jobs in the industry, some feel the opposite is happening.  Lillian Clementi, a French translator, recently explained to the Miami Herald that Google Translate and other advances in technology only seem to be increasing demand for language services by adding attention to the industry.  “Even Google doesn’t use Google Translate for their business documents,” she explained.   Bill Rivers, the executive director of the National Council for Language and International Studies in the Washington region explained that it is companies like eBay and Amazon that interact with customer in their own language throughout the whole globe that really drive the demand for “translation and localization.”  Companies everywhere are tailoring their content to better match changing demographics.  This is even becoming important for dialects of the same language.  For instance, “trousers in London are pants in Miami. And of course, words like pop and soda can seemingly vary by the neighborhood.”

Despite the expectation for the industry to continue to grow, experts are also cautioning that the recent days of double-digit growth are most likely behind us and we should expect to see steady moderate growth in this industry in the years to come.