Thesis Crunch-Time Post

March 3, 2009

I’ve been working on my thesis for the past couple of weeks (that means long periods of staring into space occasionally interrupted by a couple of minutes of frantic typing) and haven’t had time to write about a number of articles I found interesting, so I’m just going to put links up.

– First, especially in combination with the recent trial in Afghanistan over a translation of the Quran, a reminder that translation always has an ideological element. Apparently the Chinese don’t just put their incredible hive-mind powers to work manufacturing goods and clothing and translating Harry Potter in record time. There’s also a group that collectively translates The Economist, that organ of capitalist thought.

The project carries with it some risks, because The Economist is sometimes critical of China, and there are rumors that critical articles are ripped out of copies before they are sold in newsstands. But the group is careful about its work, publishes the translations in a forum that’s blocked from search engines, requires login, and warns members to exercise judgement in publishing articles on sensitive subjects.

– And then, WOW. While looking for one of the links in the previous item, I ran into Bathrobe’s Harry Potter in Chinese, Japanese & Vietnamese Translation, which does just what its title suggests: it compares three translations of the Harry Potter books. If you speak one of the three languages you should check out the site for an amazingly detailed look at different translation issues. And it’s not just the invented magic words and made-up candies and so on that get examined. There’s a whole page dedicated to owls, for example. Even I, who have no knowledge of East Asian languages whatsoever, was transfixed by this site.

– Next, a depressing article on the fate of the humanities in academia in The New York Times last week.

As money tightens, the humanities may increasingly return to being what they were at the beginning of the last century, when only a minuscule portion of the population attended college: namely, the province of the wealthy.

That may be unfortunate but inevitable, Mr. Kronman said. The essence of a humanities education — reading the great literary and philosophical works and coming “to grips with the question of what living is for” — may become “a great luxury that many cannot afford.”

– And finally, Three Percent has a remarkable post on translation statistics today. English, of course, is the most translated language, and then

the second and third most translated languages are French and German, respectively. Put together, these three top languages represent around 80% of all the translations published globally. The next five most translated languages are (in descending order): Italian, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Dutch. And taken as a whole, the top 8 languages account for 90% of all translations. (It’s like a wealth pyramid!)

There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there. A PDF of the cited report is here.

Back to staring and typing!



One Response to “Thesis Crunch-Time Post”

  1. mike Says:

    You know, I read the NYT article on the humanities as well and I’m not totally sure why stagnant enrollment in humanities programs would lead to the humanities becoming the province of the wealthy. While I agree that stagnant enrollment in the humanities will lead most universities to emphasize practical programs (e.g. business, engineering, economics), it does not follow that humanities degrees will therefore become inaccessible to the poor and working class. The only thing that would make that happen is if universities either cut humanities majors altogether, or stopped providing financial aid to people who majored in the humanities. Somehow neither of those seem very likely. While it seems especially unlikely at your elite private colleges, I also doubt that the more widely-accessible public universities (even a place like Northern Iowa University) would go so far as to eliminate humanities majors.

    As for the pressures of the post-graduation job market, teenagers do not make rational decisions, and so, given the freedom to choose to study whatever they want, many will still study what most appeals to them, French literature or whatever, even if after graduation they wish they had trained to become financial analysts… Which most wouldn’t end up wishing anyway, because by the point of graduation they will have been shaped by four years of indoctrination in the humanities…

    In any case, as a 4-year bachelor’s degree becomes more and more the minimum qualification for gainful employment, it makes sense that more and more emphasis will be placed on those degree programs that are most clearly related to employment. I don’t think there is anything to fear from this. It’s simply the consequence of expecting that all people, in nearly all lines of work, are better prepared to work if they have a bachelor’s degree.

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