peroquial and ineaningfrrl

I have written several blog posts with the tag ‘lost in autosubtitling’, most recently three days ago, so you may think I have a dim view of technological approaches to language. But sometimes technology gets it right, even when humans have made the mistake in the first place.

Yesterday morning I read a Facebook post in which someone complained about the “peroquialism” in a certain book sometimes considered an Australian classic. My first thought was that it was related to colloquialism – that is, “characteristic of or appropriate to ordinary or familiar conversation rather than formal speech or writing”, but the lack of a first l made that unlikely. (All the speech-related words have loqu– or loc-, from Latin loquī to speak.) When I searched for it, a well-known search engine suggested “Did you mean: parochialism” – that is “excessive narrowness of interests or view” Continue reading


Harry Potter and the Overworked Translator

A few days ago the topic in the textbook was books, especially translating books between languages. Most of the students I’ve ever taught read very few books, and this class was no exception. Some of them had read books in English. I asked about Harry Potter, probably the most famous set of novels in English in the recent past, and available in many languages. Some had read at least some of the books either in their language or English, but not both. I asked about the titles. The first book is usually either ‘magic stone’ or ‘magician’s stone’, but the Korean word translates as ‘wizard’. The Nepalese students conferred, then said ‘shining stone’. Continue reading

Reading Korean

I have been looking for material in easy but “real” Korean to read. About a week ago I remembered a book I bought during my first stay in Korea (2006-2009). At that time there was a popular tv program called 미녀들의 수다 (mi-nyeo-deul-e su-da), which translates literally as “beautiful women’s chat/gossip”, but which was officially called “Global Talk Show”. Young women from various countries chatted in Korean with a Korean host or panel. The topics focused on the women’s lives in Korea, compared to their own, and varied from insightful to superficial.

In 2008 I saw a book based on the show, with the women’s spoken contributions transcribed and maybe edited, and bought it for my girlfriend/fiancee/wife, who, as far as I know, never read it. For about a week I have been browsing through it. The women’s levels of Korean varies, and I am able to get the gist of most of what they say, most of some sentences and all of occasional sentences. In one case, I understood a whole paragraph:

한국에서 만든 브라지어 너무너무 귀여워서 사고 싶어요. 하지만 나는 못 사. 한국 브라지어 너무 작아요~. D컾까지밖에 없어. 영국에는 F컾까지 있어. 나 영국에서 D컾 했지만 한국 D컾 너무 작아요. 캐서린과 도미니크도 힘들 거야.

I have no idea why I read that paragraph (it’s towards the end of the book – I’ve been browsing) and I have no idea why I can understand it all. If you don’t read Korean, I’ll just point you to the fact that a young woman is talking about D컾 and F컾 and let you guess from there.

From the information at the back of the book, that young woman had been learning Korean for three and a half years at the time. I certainly couldn’t put paragraphs like that together at that stage. In fact I probably couldn’t speak paragraphs like that now.

(I think I’ve typed that paragraph correctly. Anything strange may be her spoken Korean or may be my typed Korean.)

The correctly spelled wrong word

Some years ago I read a book which I won’t identify for reasons I’ll explain in a moment. Unfortunately, I couldn’t help noticing two correctly spelled wrong words: elicit instead of illicit and principals instead of principles. I’m currently re-reading it, and unfortunately have noticed two more: bell-weather for bell-wether and born for borne.

I won’t identify the book or author because 1) I know the author, who is one of Australia’s leading broadcasters and writers on one of my favourite subjects and 2) it is otherwise a very well-written and presented book. Unfortunately, the author and editor both had brain freezes at exactly the same moment. Continue reading

Grouching about editing

It is disappointing when an otherwise interesting book shows signs of being edited badly or possibly not at all. I am re-reading a book about Captain Arthur Phillip, the commander of the First Fleet and first governor of New South Wales. I don’t want to name and shame the author and publishing company, but without really trying, I spotted two main groups of errors.

Marine Lieutenant Ralph Clark wrote two diaries which give a very personal account of his time in the colony. He was newly married with a young son in England, and spends most of his first diary pining for them. The book says “despite which he was quick to take an Aboriginal mistress in New South Wales, who bore him a child”. She wasn’t Aboriginal; she was a convict. Later, the book says he “later had a daughter with Mary Burnham, sent to Botany Bay for stealing clothes”. Later again, he refers to “Mary Branham”. The index has two different entries, one for each spelling. Some convicts used different names, or have their name spelled differently in different sources, but a modern author can and should choose and stick to one spelling. The Australian Dictionary of Biography and the Dictionary of Sydney both use “Branham”. He also writes about Clark’s vegetable garden on “a small island — still known as Clark’s Island”. Actually, Clark Island. (The bigger Garden Island got its name in the same way; it is now joined to the mainland and mostly covered by a naval base. Nearby is Farm Cove.)

Elsewhere, the author refers to “Count Jean-François de Galoup de Lapérouse”, a French explorer whose two ships arrived at Botany Bay just a few days after the First Fleet. Later, and on the same page, he refers to “La Pérousse” and “Lapérouse”. Likewise, there are two index entries, both of which have a spelling mistake and a language inconsistency: “Lapérouse, Count Jean-François de Glaoup and “Pérouse, Jen-François Galoup, Comte de la”. The Australian Dictionary of Biography calls him “Jean-François de Galaup La Pérouse” and the Dictionary of Sydney “La Perouse, Jean-Francois”. So what is the correct spelling? I don’t know, but if I was writing a book, I would check very carefully. (Note that the present-day suburb on the shore of Botany Bay is officially spelled La Perouse.)

I hesitate to criticise an author who has written at least 24 more books that I have, and an established publishing company, but these were glaring, and make me wonder what else the author(, editor) and publishing company have missed.

[edit, 8 Oct: reading onward, there’s another (unindexed) reference to ‘Pérousse’. Elsewhere, the king’s birthday was celebrated on 4 June 1788 and 2 June 1789. More  seriously ‘two rush-cutter women were speared and killed’ v ‘a 19-year old convict, William Okey, was killed while cutting rushes … The body of his companion Samuel Davis was found nearby’. If women were allowed out of the camp at all, it wasn’t in pairs. I won’t add any more that I find.]

geology, geography and geometry

Yesterday, I posted twice. In the first post I mentioned the book Alex through the looking glass by Alex Bellos and in the second I mentioned the delight of finding that two words are actually related, or actually not. This morning, something happened to combine both those ideas. To explain what, I have to flash back several decades.

Possibly in my last year of high school, when some of my classmates were studying geology and others were studying geography, I used the little Greek I had picked up to figure out that geo-logy was the study of earth/land and that geo-graphy was ‘drawing’ it. Possibly because geometry was not a final year high school subject in its own right (it was a sub-subject of mathematics), I didn’t think about it as well. Also, modern-day geometry has very little connection with land.

But ancient geometry did. Bellos writes, ‘The historian Herodotus was the first to use the word ‘geometry’, or earth-measure, describing it as a practice devised by Egyptian tax inspectors to calculate areas of land destroyed by the Nile’s annual floods’.

(Compare and contrast astro-nomy, the ‘naming’ of stars, and astro-logy, the ‘study’ of ‘stars’, where the modern disciplines have diverged and refocused.)

Adventures in Numberland

Two days ago I bought Alex through the looking glass by Alex Bellos, an exploration of ‘how life reflects numbers and numbers reflect life’. His previous book was Alex’s adventures in Numberland (which the bookshop didn’t have, otherwise I would have bought it as well; I’m going to inquire at bookshops near home or work, and if they don’t have it, order it online [edit: I bought it at a bookshop in the city on Monday]), so he’s obviously got a thing for Lewis Carroll. (Unlike Alice, these books are entirely non-fiction.)

The first chapter is about numbers, and he starts with an account of a retired taxi driver with Asperger’s, whose hobby is to divide every number he sees into prime numbers. (The fundamental theorem of arithmetic states that every positive integer has a unique prime factorisation). The examples the man provides are 2761 = 11 x 251, 2762 = 2 x 1381, 2763 = 3 x 3 x 307 and 2764 = 2 x 2 x 691. (I don’t know how often one of the prime factors is so big; Wikipedia’s example is 1200 = 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 × 3 × 5 × 5. The bigger and the ‘odder’ the original number, the bigger any one factor might be, but the comparatively rarer prime numbers get.)

Continue reading