Friday 5: Break of Day

A pair of broken windows in a white wall.
Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

When did you last break something made of glass?

Years ago. I had a whiskey glass from the tour I took of the Jameson distillery when I visited during spring break in 2008. It survived decorating my college dorm, but when I came home it slipped out of my hand and didn’t survive its meeting with the concrete garage floor.

The friend I had visited in Dublin gifted me his later to make up for it. Friendship goals!

When did you last break something ceramic?

I don’t know that I ever have, actually.

When did you last break something electronic?

After really good luck with smartphones for years, I finally dropped and cracked the screen on my smartphone last year.

When did you last break a non-traffic-related law?

I’ve definitely had more than my allotted amount of liquids on a flight.

When did you last break a promise?

I promised one of my students I would bring Dixit around for our next lesson and then didn’t. I’m not usually that forgetful…!

Rien où poser sa tête (Nowhere to Lay One’s Head)

If you’re not subscribed to Asymptote‘s newsletter or following their blog, you’re missing out. Their staff are like magical book sprites who leave little gifts of international literature in your RSS feed or email inbox. Rien où poser sa tête was one of those little gifts.

 

The Folio edition of Rien où poser sa tête
Image courtesy Gallimard

Of course, Nowhere to Lay One’s Head turned up in Asymptote  thanks to Brigitte Manion’s review of the English translation. But since I have a passing familiarity with French, and really should practice a little now and then to keep it up, I opted to read the French original rather than the English or Swedish translations.

Author: Françoise Frenkel

My GoodReads rating: 5 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.94

Language scaling: N/A (I read it in French)

Summary: Frenkel’s memoirs of Vichy France, and her flight from Berlin to France to Switzerland

Recommended audience: Literally everyone

Content warning: It’s Nazi Germany; there is witnessed and described brutality throughout. (If you, like me, are easily stressed and need to know certain things from the outset: Frenkel, a Polish Jew, managed to escape Nazi clutches and find asylum in Switzerland, despite a few close brushes with the authorities. It all works out okay.)

In-depth thoughts: As a student, I had a hard time connecting with the books we read about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Fortunately I’m not a psychopath and so I can understand, on an intellectual level, why these books are important. I could then, too. I just resented them for not being better, considering the topic matter. Now that we’re apparently willing to give Nazis the benefit of the doubt, I’ve been wondering lately: what do I think students should read instead of what I read in school?

I’d argue that Rien où poser sa tête is a good candidate. Trying to convey the horror of what happened through the concentration camps can be a bit much to take in. (Not that it should be forgotten, either.) It’s so horrible as to be unreal, unfathomable. But because Frenkel handles the slow agony of daily life under the Nazi regime, with rations and visa applications and constant upheaval, it becomes easier to understand how these things were able to come to pass, and how they could easily come to pass again.

The Editor’s Social Network

One of the best aspects of freelancing, and freelance editing in particular, is meeting other word nerds (freelance and otherwise), and the Internet makes that easy to the point of banality.

Photo by Kevin Curtis on Unsplas

Every job I’ve worked on, I’ve of course enjoyed for its own sake. I’m glad to be helping women in their academic fields put forward their best, most polished work; I’m honored that people have trusted me with their life stories; I’ve edited manuscripts that changed how I think about things like art and aesthetics. In a vacuum, these things would be enough to make my heart sing.

But with all of this work comes an added bonus: a reason and an excuse to socialize. Some issues are so thorny or weird or obscure (or imaginary!) that it’s just easier to ask a person than consult a style guide. (This makes a style guide no less indispensable!) And there’s no satisfaction quite like watching your vocabulary or grammar inquiry in a Facebook group explode into a thread with over a hundred comments, as people engage in serious discussions on usage as well as toss jokes and animated GIFs back and forth. Or like using a query about a particular Arabic translation or Roman history terminology as an excuse to make conversation with old friends who are polyglots or classics scholars.

Is there a corollary to this? That a good editor will have a broad network of contacts that represents a diverse, multifaceted cross-section of society? I hesitate to make any proclamations about what makes a good editor from my obscure and humble little corner. But years ago, someone pointed me in the direction of an editor’s group on Facebook, and I’ve found it immeasurably helpful and encouraging. If a baby editor were to ask my advice on the field, it would be this: hang out with other editors. Follow their blogs, drop in on the Twitter chats, join the Facebook groups. Their collective wisdom will improve your editing, and their collective nerdery will make you (finally?) feel at home.

Friday 5: How About a Knuckle Sandwich?

When did you last punch someone?  Alternate question: When did someone last punch you?

I suspect it was when I was drunk. Drunk Katherine used to get a little punchy sometimes. (Not seriously. Just friendly shoulder jabs.) I suspect the people I drink with weren’t inclined to return the sentiment because they weren’t into hitting women, which is an admirable sentiment.

How many of those frequent (whatever) stampcards/punchcards do you have, and which are you most likely to fill and redeem?

I have one to Details, a bra and lingerie store in Stockholm. I cheap out on everything else I wear, almost, but I will plunk down good money for a bra and you better believe that I’ll take any discount I can get on those purchases.

I also have one for SF Bokhandeln, but I rarely spend enough on one purchase to warrant a stamp, and the resulting discount isn’t really that much, so trying to fill it up would be a false economy. (Especially since any given card expires after a year.) The English Bookshop offers a slightly better deal (and I tend to buy more books there anyway) and the card never expires, so I actually fill it up now and then.

When have you had a really good fruit punch?

Does the smoothie I’m drinking right now count? Supercharged black tea (read as: I let it steep for hours, and then chill) plus mango plus bananas. When you need that caffeine hit but it’s too hot for warm drinks!

What are your thoughts on boxing?

At this point, it seems more humane (and like the participants are taking a more informed risk) than in other public and popularly sanctioned sports in the US.

When do you usually punch in and punch out?

Freelancers are never not working or thinking about work. Or maybe that’s just me.

Culture Bumps: An Empirical Approach to the Translation of Allusions

This was my second selection from the DipTrans recommended reading list. Leppihalme takes a look at allusions (within the context of English to Finnish translations) and different strategies for their translation.

The cover of "Culture Bumps" by Ritva Leppihalme

It’s maybe an obvious thing that I kind of already know, but one of the more important things I took away from this was just how much of the Swedish canon (so to speak) I have yet to read. Leppihalme included all kinds of examples of English allusions in all kinds of books in the corpus for her study and helpfully reproduces them within the text, along with quantitative data on how often Finnish readers were able to pick up on them.

English speakers forget, maybe, that despite the pervasive reach of English, there are lots of anglophone concepts that never pick up international traction. This always trips me up, because I’m never sure which Americanisms have taken root in Sweden and which haven’t. Going through the qualitative data, there were lots of “but surely that’s a pretty obvious one!” moments, which in turn invited reflection: what would the Swedish equivalent be? Would I recognize it if I read it in a novel? I thought about all of the Swedish I still haven’t read: a great deal of Strindberg (and none of it in the original Swedish), The Emigrants, Astrid Lindgren, Tove Jansson, the Prose and Poetic Eddas, most of the Beck movies and all of the novels, Snabba Cash. Or Swedish translations of cultural touchstones like the Bible, Shakespeare, and Aristotle.

Leppihalme examines different strategies regarding translating allusions in the target text from a descriptive rather than prescriptive framework (though always noting when a particular translation choice deviates from the original, whether through loss or addition of nuance). The book is in no way a manual or how-to text; it’s simply an examination of current practices and noting how often they’re used and where.

The downside is that this is a relatively old text that hasn’t been reissued in a new edition. It predates the broadband Internet almost-everywhere era. Would her quantitative results today be different than they were back in 1991 when she was polling students? In an era when almost the entire sum of human knowledge is at your fingertips, are translators given less leeway when it comes to correctly understanding cultural allusions? Is it easier for them to look up expressions and phrases they suspect might be allusions or references? All of this is material ripe for updating, but it is anyone working on it?

 

Nationaldagen 2018: Citizenship Ceremony!

Nationaldagen in Sweden is much more low-key than the American equivalent. It mostly just seems like an excuse to have a red day when the weather’s nice.

Except.

For immigrants it means that you get invited to Blå hallen at Stadshuset for speeches and music.

The music at the American version would be a bunch of old standards: some Sousa, maybe “God Bless America” or “America the Beautiful” or something similar, and of course the national anthem. Sweden opts for a selection from a musical written by half of ABBA and a schlager hit from 1979’s Melodifestivalen (in addition, of course, to “Du gamla du fria”). This is a kind of patriotism I can get behind!

Fika (one (1) kanelbulle and one (1) tiny cup of coffee or lingonberry juice) came after the speeches and the music, up in the “Golden Hall,” so called because every single inch of wall and ceiling space is covered in gold (gold-colored anyway) Medieval-style mosaics. I couldn’t get many good pictures, but this is the best one:

As in, the best picture I got and but also as in, features one of my favorite figures from Swedish history, Drottning Kristina. She was a bug-eyed weirdo super-smart lesbian (?) with wild hair who spoke eight languages, never married and after a couple years of ruling as queen regent, converted to Catholicism and peaced out to Vatican city, abdicating the throne to her cousin. A royal fit for pride month!

Here’s some from Wikipedia that are much better:

They had organ music for the post-ceremony fika. I didn’t pay too much attention to it until we were on our way out, when something about the tune struck me as familiar. It hit me and my boyfriend at the same moment and we looked at each other. He was the first to say it:

“Isn’t this…’I Will Survive’?”

Yes, the renowned Swedish diva Gloria Gaynor!

On the way out I got an envelope with free tickets to Skansen and a gift bag from the economics and law student union that had some brochures and a basil plant. There’s no way I’ll ever be a member of the economics and law student union, but the fresh basil was lovely in the salad I made for dinner later that week.

Part of me was anxious the whole time; it’s an election year here in Sweden and everyone’s real upset about immigration, so it would have been a whole room full of sitting ducks for some kind of giant terrorist THING to make some kind of point or other, and security was essentially non-existent. But a bunch of cops and metal detectors would have ruined the atmosphere. Dålig stämning. That would be very un-Swedish. I guess it’s very un-Swedish (and very American) of me to think that way. Sigh.

Some things take a little getting used to.

Friday 5: Who Put the Pomp in the Pomp Bah Pomp Bah Pomp?

A group of smiling, mostly white graduates adjusting their tassels at the close of the ceremony.
Image courtesy Caleb Woods from Unsplash.

What’s something you remember about your high school graduation?

That it happened, mainly.

If you were asked to speak at a commencement ceremony this year, what would be the theme of your message?

Live deliberately. Do the things you want to do; want to do the things you do.

 

What items in your possession are marked with the name or logo of your high school or college?

Well, my college diploma is in a drawer in the kitchen, and the school cane is boxed up and ready to ship from my parents’ house. (My alma mater is a bit odd in that, in addition to being presented with a diploma, you also get a wooden ornamental cane upon graduating. I have no idea why.) I don’t have any school spirit clothing or tchotchkes, otherwise.

What do you expect will be your next rite of passage?

Completing KPU at Stockholms universitet? Turning 40?

What’s a good movie with a graduation scene, or a good movie with a graduation theme?

I have no idea if it’s in the movie, but Enid and Becky’s attitude towards graduation in the original graphic novel version of Ghost World mirrored my own.

2023: A Trilogy

I’m planning on doing a buddy read of Ulysses this year, and much as I love and patronize libraries, some books are impossible to read unless you own them and have access to them at your leisure. (How many times did I try reading a library copy of The Second Sex, for example?) I spent the afternoon in town browsing The English Bookshop, and while I ended up having to special order Ulysses from their Uppsala store, the chance to browse the random selection led to me finding books I wouldn’t have otherwise. 2023: A Trilogy was one of them.

Cover of "2023: A Trilogy" by The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu

Authors: The Justified Ancients of Mumu, aka The Kopyright Liberation Front, aka Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty

My GoodReads rating: 3 stars

Average GoodReads rating: 3.67

Language scaling: B2+

Summary: A “found footage” type of story. At the most basic level, the story is a satirical sci fi dystopia/utopia where five corporations benevolently rule the world and a programmer named Winnie Smith might just have solved the problem of immortality.

Recommended audience: Anyone who thought the original Illuminatus! trilogy was too much of a slog, leftover KLF fans, anyone who enjoys meta and self-referential texts, pop music nerds, anyone nostalgic for the 80s and 90s

In-depth thoughts: A boy I had a crush on in high school thought the Illuminatus! trilogy was one of the best books ever written and so I devoted a summer to trying to read it. I made it halfway through and never finished, but it was enough that even years later I can recognize the countercultural significance of things like 23, 17, and fnords.

This is important because Drummond and Cauty have packed 2023 full of Illuminatus!  references (mixed in with the literary and pop music references). If I hadn’t been able to call back to those particular references, I might well have been too lost to appreciate the book.

It’s a fun read if you’re either in the know or thirsty for meta, slightly experimental satirical science fiction. Whether or not this would be a good read for English students depends on how familiar they are with the cultural references in question, and how willing they are to track different narrative levels. The language itself isn’t too difficult, but the allusions and the metanarratives might be too frustrating for some readers.

Thoughts on Glossika

I first heard about Glossika from one of my fellow language nerds (who also happens to be a former English teacher). Glossika is the brain child of Mike Campbell, an EFL teacher based out of Taiwan. What started as a personal project to map Chinese dialects has become an online resource for language students in almost any language pair imaginable.

A screenshot of a pull-down menu full of source language options on Glossika.

Note that I haven’t looked at the English content specifically; this is based off of my own Korean studies. That’s where all my screenshots will be coming from.

Glossika’s learning model focuses explicitly on sentence level patterns. The foundation of the course is repeating, out loud, sentences in the target language (with a source language translation so you have a rough idea of what you’re saying).

A screenshot of a typical Glossika study session.

The recordings are native (or fluent) speakers reading the lines at a natural pace. This is a huge improvement over the sometimes-jerky robot voice in DuoLingo, and even slightly outshines the option in Clozemaster. But since Glossika’s philosophy is that language starts with speaking, it’s no surprise that they’d invest the time and money in high-quality audio files.

You can (and should) mark easy sentences with the smiley face in the lower right; you can mark sentences you want to really focus on with the heart in the upper right. The red flag can be used to signal when there’s something wrong with a sentence, and the gear icon opens the settings menu. From there, you can adjust the audio speed, whether or not you hear a recording of the source language as well, how quickly the audio plays, and how much time you have after to repeat the phrase out loud. I turned off the source language recording, kept the target language speed at 100%, and gave myself maximum time afterwards for repeating the target phrase (four times the length of the native speaker recording).

There are other exercises to reinforce what you’ve learned, including a cloze exercise:

Screenshot of a cloze exercise on Glossika

Translation:

Screenshot of a translation activity on Glossika

And dictation:

 

As you can probably infer from the “play” button featured in all of these exercises, audio is an integral part of this supplementary training. Glossika is big on speaking and big on listening.

Both the default sessions and the supplementary exercises drill very heavily, so you’ll hear the same sentences over and over again. This is a necessary evil, but it means that the sessions can sometimes feel a bit dull, or like you’re treading water. You need to find the right balance between losing motivation and marking too many sentences as “easy” for your own good, and that balance is different for everyone.

What’s surprising (and frustrating) is that there seems to be no connection between the sentences that you practice in a regular session and a sentence that you practice in one of the supplementary exercises. I don’t know if I just wasn’t paying attention and got my sentences out of sync, or if this is a deliberate design choice (maybe to keep students from getting bored), but I still found it disorienting. The dictation in particular is rough (especially for a model that’s based on listening and speaking rather than drilling writing) and doesn’t have much margin for error. There seems to be some wiggle room in terms of spacing, but none in terms of spelling, even for obvious typos! It feels unfair to be thrown in the deep end with completely new sentences rather than ones you’ve already familiarized yourself with, and the temptation to dial back the difficulty to something less appropriate just for a better hit/miss ratio is strong.

The other bummer is the cost. Glossika is free for up to 1000 repetitions (or about two hours of study). After that, it’s $30 US a month (or $25 US / month for an annual subscription). On the one hand, it takes time and money to get high-quality translations, and then to record and upload  audio of them, and out of all of the language-study tools out there, Glossika might be the one most worth paying for because of the way it makes you speak. The focus on listening is good, too, but in the Internet age, it’s fairly easy to come by listening practice from native speakers, geared for students or otherwise. Speaking is much more of a minefield, at least for perfectionist introverts like yours truly. Glossika is a good practice space for speaking, where you can get comfortable with the sounds of the language before you start speaking spontaneously with another human being.

On the other hand, $300 US, even spread out over the course of a year, might be a real burden on some students. DuoLingo Plus is around $10 US for an annual subscription, an annual Memrise subscription is around $65 US, and Clozemaster Pro is $8 US a month (which works out to $96 US annually, but they don’t seem to offer a bulk annual rate). Compared to those sorts of prices, $300 is a bitter pill to swallow.

Personally, I’m seriously considering upgrading my Glossika account, because it aligns with my own study goals in Korean. Whether or not it’s right for you is another question entirely. Give the free version a try, at least, and see how it goes!

Friday 5: Minding Your Peeves and Qs

A small owl sitting on a branch in the daytime, looking grumpy.
Image courtesy Gunilla Granfalk on Unsplash.

What’s one of your language-related (that is, something people say or write) pet peeves?

Editors are supposed to have an endless list of these, right? So the stereotype goes. We are the gatekeepers of language and so on and so forth. And I guess we all do, probably. But if you look at the layperson’s language pet peeves (“they’re/there/their”! “your/you’re”!) and the editor’s pet peeves, the overlap would probably be quite small.

My personal ones these days are: The New Yorker‘s bizarre house style guide (coöperation? no thanks) and The New York Times‘s practice of referring to heads of state with honorific titles instead of, simply, their names.

Not what you were expecting, maybe!

What’s one of your dining-out-related pet peeves?

It’s nobody’s fault, but somehow the waiter always comes over to check on you just when your mouth is full of food. Or maybe they do this deliberately so as to avoid getting sucked into an actual conversation with someone who wants to nit pick the seasoning of the vegetables.

What’s one of your technology-related pet peeves?

Windows updates.

What’s one of your television-watching pet peeves?

Romance. Any time a show (or book or movie, for that matter) features a close friendship or even working relationship between a man and a woman, romance almost inevitably gets shoehorned in. If not outright romance, then something like Will They Won’t They. It chafes for a lot of reasons (lazy way to add tension, heteronormativity, implying that the only possible relationship between men and women is romantic/sexual) but I think this one hits me personally because most of my inner circle are men. (Not for “women are just too much drama!” reasons; it just seems to have happened.) The close friendships I have with women are also way different than how they’re portrayed in media (much more random weirdness, much less obsessing over shoes and sex) but at least they’re not wholly misrepresented as some kind of waiting room for romance.

This is, incidentally, why I love Elementary so much. Sherlock and Joan are #FriendshipGoals to the extreme. Of course, now that I’ve said that, I’ve cursed the show to fall victim to exactly this trap. Sigh.

What’s something you do that you know peeves others?

Swedish has an expression: tidsoptimist. This is someone who lacks a solid grasp of how long it takes to get to places and (the implication is) is usually late.

I’ve been here for five years and I’m still a tidsoptimist. I still operate by American car-owning convenience and fail to take into account that I’m not leaving whenever I like, but according to public transportation’s time table. I’m stricter about this with clients, or with traveling, but socially? All bets are off. I get there when I get there. (Maybe this is why I don’t have many Swedish friends?)