Borges as Translator

As one of Argentina’s most famed writers, Jorge Luis Borges produced numerous original works of fiction, poetry, and essays; however, a lesser-known fact is that Borges also made significant contributions to literature through his work as a translator.

Borges’ paternal grandmother was English, and he grew up in Buenos Aires speaking both Spanish and English at home. “Borges would later comment that the household was so bilingual that he was not even aware that English and Spanish were separate languages until later in his childhood.” [1] Borges also spent a portion of his formative years in Geneva, Switzerland, where he studied both French and German.

Borges demonstrated a talent for translation at a very young age. At just nine years old, his very first translation into Spanish – Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Happy Prince” – was published in a local newspaper. As a young adult, he began to write and translate poetry while living with his family in Spain, focusing on translation from English, French, and German into Spanish. Borges went on to translate and subtly transform the works of literary greats such as Edgar Allan Poe, Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, Rudyard Kipling, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and G. K. Chesterton, and he was the first to translate the writings of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner into the Spanish language.

Borges developed his own theories of translation through three key essays: “Las dos maneras de traducir” (1926), “Las versiones homéricas”(1932), and “Los traductores de Las mil y una noches” (1935). In these essays, Borges “challenges the idea that original texts are superior to translations and rejects the concept of a ‘definitive text.’” [2] Borges also puts forth the view that alternate and possibly contradictory translations of the same work can be equally compelling.

Borges’ reflection on translation nourished his creativity, and translation formed an integral part of the author’s literary process. “The intertwined functions of writing and translation for Borges ‘became nearly interchangeable practices of creation.’” [3] In fact, “not only did he argue that a text could be enhanced by a translation, he went further. For Borges…a translation could be more faithful to a work of literature than an original text.” [4]

[1] Swarthmore University, The Garden of Jorge Luis Borges
[2] Periódicos Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina
[3] Perilous Peripheries: The Place of Translation in Jorge Luis Borges
[4] The Chronicle of Higher Education, Invisible Work: Borges and Translation

The Lost Works of Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges, one of Argentina’s most celebrated writers, wrote not only in his native Spanish but in English as well. In collaboration with American translator Norman Thomas di Giovanni, Borges penned a number of short stories in English including “The Library of Babel” and “The Lottery in Babylon.” Unfortunately, after Borges’ death in 1986, the author’s widow revoked publishing rights on stories translated by or written together with di Giovanni, rendering many of these works inaccessible to the public.

Borges’ working relationship with di Giovanni expanded his influence within the English-speaking world and helped catapult Borges to fame as one of the best-known authors of the 20th century.

Until di Giovanni can reach some sort of settlement with Borges’ widow and/or the publisher, English-speaking readers will have to be content with translations by Andrew Hurley. Sadly, hidden away under lock and key, some of Borges’ original works in English are doomed to remain unread and unappreciated for the foreseeable future.

Read more about Borges’ collaboration with di Giovanni and the resulting works in English here at The Guardian website.

The Ladino Language

The Ladino language permits you to travel (linguistically-speaking) through a time warp of sorts. If you ever wondered what Spanish sounded like in the 14th and 15th centuries, take a listen to Ladino, and you’ll be afforded a glimpse (or rather a sound byte) of the past. Also known as Judeo-Spanish, Ladino is currently spoken by approximately 150,000 people in Israel, the U.S., and pockets of Latin America.

In 1492, the Catholic Monarchs of Spain – Ferdinand and Isabella – issued the Alhambra Decree, giving Sephardic Jews the choice to convert to Catholicism or leave the country. As a result, hundreds of thousands of Jews fled Spain, settling in locations as diverse as Turkey and Greece, North Africa, and Eastern Europe.

Though forced immigration meant leaving behind much of their lives in Spain, the Jews did hold onto the language of their former home – Castilian Spanish; however, isolated from a Spanish language that continued to grow and evolve, Ladino remained largely suspended in time with grammar, orthographic conventions and vocabulary that reflect those of medieval Spain. Although exposure to languages such as Hebrew, Arabic, Turkish, Greek and French in the immigrants’ new communities contributed significantly to the Judeo-Spanish lexicon, 60% of the language’s vocabulary can be traced to Castilian Spanish.

As previously mentioned, Ladino retains many features that were particular to Old Castilian: differentiation of the ‘b’ and ‘v’ sounds (as in English); lack of the pronouns usted and ustedes (their use in Spanish developed post-1492); and, the absence of ‘ñ’ and the inverted question mark. In addition, “the phonemes /š/ (English sh), /dğ/ (English g in George), and /ž/ (French j in journal) were retained in Judeo-Spanish (in Spanish they became /x/).” [1]

Prior to the 20th century, Ladino was written right to left using a version of the Hebrew alphabet known as Rashi script. Contemporary Judeo-Spanish utilizes the Latin alphabet, although texts for religious purposes are occasionally written using Hebrew letters.

Judeo-Spanish is considered an endangered language that faces the possibility of extinction within the next 30 years. Almost 90% of the Ladino-speaking population was wiped out during the Holocaust. The relatively few speakers that remain are primarily 50+ years of age, and most have neglected to pass down the language to the next generation.

Vida Larga para el Ladino – A short documentary of the Ladino Language

A video in Spanish about the Ladino Language

[1] Judeo-Spanish/Judezmo/Ladino, Jewish Language Research Website

Rules for Capitalization in English

The rules for capitalization in English can be complicated. Use this list to help guide you when composing a text in English.

  • Capitalize the first word of a sentence.
  • Capitalize the first word of a direct quote.
  • Capitalize the first word of each line in a piece of poetry or verse.
  • Capitalize the pronoun “I” including its contractions (e.g. I’m, I’d).
  • Capitalize proper nouns (used to denote a specific person, place, organization, or thing).
  • Capitalize familial relationships when used as proper names (e.g. Uncle Bob).
  • Capitalize acronyms except for those that have become regular words, as in the case of “radar” and “scuba.”
  • Capitalize the names of countries, nationalities, and specific languages.
  • Capitalize a person’s title when it precedes the name; however, do not capitalize when the title serves as a description following the name.
  • Capitalize the titles of government officials when used before their names.
  • Capitalize the names of national, political, racial, social, civic, and athletic organizations.
  • Capitalize points of the compass (north, south, east, west) only when they refer to specific regions or sections of a country.
  • Capitalize the first and last words of titles of publications regardless of their parts of speech. Capitalize other words within titles with the exception of short prepositions or the articles “the,” “a,” or “an,” unless they appear as the first word of the title.
  • Capitalize the months of the year, the days of the week, periods and events (e.g. Great Depression), and holidays. Do not capitalize the names of seasons except in a title.
  • When writing a letter, capitalize the first word of the salutation and the first word of the closing.
  • Capitalize words and abbreviations derived from proper nouns (e.g. Daliesque).
  • Capitalize the names of trademarks.
  • After a phrase ending in a colon, do not capitalize the first word if it begins a list.
  • Capitalize the names of God, specific deities, religious and mythological figures, and holy works. Do not capitalize the word “god” when used in a non-specific manner.

Languages Simplify as They Spread

Two researchers investigated over 2,000 of the world’s languages to examine the relationship between morphological characteristics such as the number of declensions and verb endings and the number of speakers and size of the location where the language is spoken.

The study revealed that as languages grew in influence in terms of the number of speakers and geographical range, they tended to decrease in morphological complexity. In other words, “languages simplify as they spread.” Widely adopted languages such as Mandarin Chinese and English are relatively simple – from a morphological standpoint – in comparison to more isolated languages such as those of the indigenous peoples of South America.

Researchers hypothesized that certain languages grew more complex over time 1) to aid children in learning and understanding the language or 2) to improve efficiency and clarity of verbal expression.

Click here to read more about this story at The Economist.

The Influence of Arabic on the Spanish Language

When North African Muslims (often referred to as the Moors) defeated the Visigothic King Roderic and subsequently swept through the Iberian Peninsula, they began nearly eight centuries of Muslim rule in both Spain and Portugal. Al-Andalus was the Arabic name given to the parts of Spain governed by Islamic leaders at various times during the period spanning from 712 until 1492. Nowhere else has there been more intense, prolonged and largely peaceful contact between the Christian and Muslim worlds than at that point in Spain’s history. This extended period of cultural contact resulted in deep-rooted linguistic ties between the Spanish and Arabic languages.

Spanish exhibits a lexical influence from Arabic. In other words, Arabic mostly contributed to the Spanish language in terms of new vocabulary as opposed to pronunciation or grammar. Second only to Latin, Arabic has made a significant contribution to the Spanish language, with scholars estimating nearly 4,000 Arabic loanwords, or nearly 8% of the Spanish lexicon.

Approximately 60% of the Spanish words derived from Arabic are nouns. Many Arabic loanwords include the prefixed definite article “al,” therefore, a great deal of these words begin with the letter ‘a.’ Words related to science, mathematics, architecture, geography, crafts, industry, commerce, agriculture, public administration, the military, trade and household goods are most common.

A host of simple, everyday words like taza (from tasa meaning “cup”), hasta (from hatta meaning “until”), cero (from sifr meaning “zero”), and azúcar (from sukkar meaning “sugar”) can all claim Arabic roots. For an expanded list of Arabic loanwords in Spanish, click here.

When Spaniards express approval and encouragement by shouting ¡olé!” at a bullfighter or flamenco dancer, they echo the Arabic expression “wallah” meaning “[I promise] by God.”

There are also numerous place names derived from Arabic, particularly in southern Spain where Muslim rule was most influential. Jaén (from Jayyan meaning “Crossroads of Caravans”), Madrid (from al-Magrīt meaning “Source of Water”), La Mancha (from la’a Ma-anxa meaning “No Water”), and Guadalajara (from Wādī al-ijārah) meaning “River or Valley of Stones”) are all of Arabic origin.

The Rising Tide of Internet Slang

With new jargon and buzzwords cropping up almost every day, it can be difficult to keep track of the latest and greatest in Internet slang. The site NetLingo helps you to demystify the technobabble by providing definitions for Internet slang, acronyms and text message shorthand.  Another site known as Twictionary defines itself as “a repository for the meanings and manglings of words and language on Twitter.” Users can contribute new words to the site as the Twitter vocabulary evolves.

These sites are quite useful, as traditional dictionary sources like Merriam Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary simply can’t keep up with the pace of change when it comes to techie buzzwords. For example, last year Merriam Webster added the term “vlog” to its Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition; however, this word has commonly been in use since 2005. Despite the fact that they’re a bit behind the times, the most authoritative dictionaries of the English language are making an effort to include social media and tech-inspired words like 2009’s Word of the Year “unfriend.”

As the language continues to include new slang terms influenced by the Internet, computers and cell phones, some parents and experts claim that slang is ruining the English language. Others view these new words as part of the natural evolution of English, embracing them for the richness that they bring to the language and viewing them as yet another form of self-expression.

Parents concerned about their children’s online activity are also wary of Internet shorthand because it’s a barrier to monitoring what their kids are up to on the net. l33tspeak (leetspeak), a form of text message or instant message shorthand that replaces letters with numbers, allows kids to send messages to each other while keeping their parents in the dark. Parents can educate themselves on the top naughty acronyms used by kids by clicking here.

Regardless of whether people are in favor of or against the use of tech jargon in our daily lives, the fact of the matter is that the Internet’s growing presence in our lives and its associated slang are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Is Being Bilingual Good for Your Brain?

While bilingual individuals enjoy the obvious advantages that come with being able to communicate in a language apart from their mother tongue, Welsh researchers at Bangor University hope to uncover other less apparent benefits of speaking a second language.

Preliminary research has shown that the complex processing entailed in speaking another language may shield the brain from the aging process, including age-related memory loss. According to one linguistics researcher “The very act of being able to speak, listen, and think in two languages and of using two languages on a daily basis appears to sharpen people’s abilities to pay close attention to aspects of tasks relevant to good performance.”

Researchers are looking to recruit 700 participants between the ages of 2 and 80 years old to take part in the study. The subjects will be asked to complete some basic language tests followed by puzzles and tasks displayed on a computer monitor.

Read more about the planned research study at BBC News

Language Barrier Just One of the Challenges of Caring for Immigrant Patients

While the language barrier may be the most obvious obstacle to treating immigrant patients, cultural differences, financial hurdles, and an enormous disparity in terms of life experiences are often just as much a challenge to doctors.

Dr. Danielle Ofri, a physician at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City, encourages health care providers to take the time to connect with their patients on a more personal level. Patients from varied backgrounds are often eager and willing to share information with their doctors about their particular culture, a gesture that may help to bridge the gap.

Dr. Ofri also estimates that a significant percentage of immigrant patients are uninsured, a fact that complicates treatment even further, although some states such as New York mandate that hospitals offer financial assistance to all patients, whether they are in the U.S. legally or not.

Many U.S. citizens feel that illegal immigrants are a drain on the already struggling American health care system; however, Dr. Ofri feels a duty to look past the patient’s immigration status when treating, particularly in light of some of the injustices and burdens that many of her patients have suffered.

Click here to read more about this topic at

“Unfriend” Selected as the 2009 Word of the Year

The New Oxford American Dictionary considered a slew of new words for the 2009 Word of the Year. The technology sector contributed heavily to the roster of candidates – particularly from the realm of social media – with new additions such as “hashtag” and “tweetup” growing out of the much talked about site Twitter. The world of fashion, the economy, and politics and current events also pitched in with words like “jeggings,” “Great Recession,”“zombie bank,” and “snollygoster.”

So, which new word took top prize? “Unfriend” was bestowed the title of 2009 Word of the Year by the lexicographers at Oxford, a verb meaning “to remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.”

For a more complete list of the contenders for the 2009 Word of the Year along with their definitions, take a peek at this article by The Telegraph.