The waters of translation

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Today’s Penn Humanities Forum seminar discussion centered on Kimberley Thomas’ study of failed water management efforts in Bangladesh.  Her “hydro-social” framework reminds us of the difficulties of determining boundaries and “ownership” of fluid cultural artifacts. Because of this fluidity, we face difficulties when we approach a source text thinking we already know what it means.  The source might make no effort to be either complex or coy, yet because the translator approaches it with partial or tainted knowledge, the translation ends up misleading and no one understands (at least initially) that the communication misfired. When we embrace the fluid nature of the source text, then identifying these misfires in a translation allows us then to return to the source text to see how we might have also been victims of partial or tainted knowledge.

New Chaucer Society 2018 Call for Papers

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The New Chaucer Society’s 2018 Congress will be in Toronto, Canada, 10-15 July 2018.

The Call for Papers for NCS 2018 is now available, and it includes an entire thread–Chaucer Abroad–that offers several sessions with particular interest to Global Chaucers aficionados.

  1. Border Crossings: Chaucer’s Italy
  2. Chaucer Abroad: Who Owns Chaucer Now?
  3. Chaucer and Muslim Readers
  4. Chaucer on Islam and the East
  5. Marginal Chaucer: Chaucer Studies in Non-English Academia
  6. Metrolingualism
  7. Reassessing Boundaries: Chaucer and Medieval European Literature
  8. The Woman Question: Chaucer and his European Context

You will find descriptions of these panels–as well as 73 other sessions–at the NCS website.  Proposals (in the form of a 250-word abstract submitted here) are due 24 April 2017.

 

Global Chaucer and Digital Humanities: Whither and Why?

On 2 and 3 February 2017, Global Chaucers’ ambassadors, Jonathan Hsy and Candace Barrington, traveled to the University of Virginia in order to speak to the Scholars’ Lab and the Medieval/Renaissance Colloquium about “Digital Hospitality” on Thursday afternoon, and to lead a roundtable on “Linguistic and Cultural Hospitality” with the Medieval/Renaissance Colloquium on Friday morning. In addition to the two events’ lively Q&As, we enjoyed ample opportunities to enjoy rich conversations with UVa faculty and graduate students before and after the scheduled sessions. Their probing questions and thoughtful suggestions helped us think about some of the next steps available to Global Chaucers.  All in all, the two days became less about what we shared with our UVa colleagues and more about the unusual luxury of measuring Global Chaucers’ development thus far and assessing the directions it could take in the future.

When we started this blog in September 2012, we didn’t really know what direction our fledgling project would take.  We were uncertain about what sort of global Chaucers were out there—and we certainly didn’t know how we could respond to what we did find. And though we had a website with a list of the translations and appropriations we had tracked down, it wasn’t entirely clear to us that we had a Digital Humanities project.

While we still aren’t certain the directions Global Chaucers will take, we now realize we have a viable DH project. Beyond the ongoing blog reports and the initial catalog of print texts, our website takes advantage of its ability to provide links to graphic novels, poetic performances, translators’ readings, spoken word and standup, and non-spoken languages (such as ASL). Our principles of digital hospitality and openness require, however, that along with embracing the inherent advantages of a digital archive we must also acknowledge and address the unanticipated challenges figured by two curious examples we’ve encountered.

In April 2015, we were pleased to discover a tweet by Sarah Bickley with her exciting, playful, and brilliant emoji translation of the first 20 lines of the General Prologue. We reached out to her, asking her permission to post on the site and added this screenshot with the link. This act of emoji translation—which went viral on twitter over the next week or so—invites such fascinating questions as “are these lines legible to anyone who isn’t already familiar with the GP?” In any case, our archiving of this tweet through a blog post demonstrates one downside to digital communication: its transience. Since the posting of this link, Sarah has since closed her twitter account, and the snapshot that now remains on the blog is a ghost of its former viral life.

On the first Whan That Aprille Day in 2014 (encouraged by the Chaucer Tweeter, LeVostreC), we posted the opening lines in twelve different languages. Some of the non-Roman scripts did not display well, so we took screenshots and posted them online. What we have discovered, though, is that the pleasure of encountering the text in an array of unfamiliar scripts and tongues is not accessible to all. One of our collaborators is blind, and she uses a screen reader to access online material; that device cannot read non-English texts or scripts. Moreover, image files without alt-text are completely inaccessible (there might as well be nothing there). The screen-grabbed emoji poem is likewise completely inaccessible for her at present. Likewise, any audiovisual materials hosted on our site are currently inaccessible to Deaf or hard of hearing visitors unless we embed captions. What might seem like digital openness to many can end up excluding some.

Just as the principle of digital hospitality requires us to rethink our digital presence, the principles of linguistic and cultural hospitality also require us to reconsider how we imagine Global Chaucers and its collaborators.  We began thinking that we would be creating an archive of data and texts that we would then analyze and disseminate.  Although we remain the project’s primary ambassadors, the active interest and participation of other scholars, translators, and enthusiasts means that we shouldn’t resist participants ready to take Global Chaucers in new directions. Not only does information want to be free, so do the voices and data assembled under the Global Chaucers rubric. We hope that the project becomes multi-faceted, with some of its aspect thriving without our direct involvement.

So what are some of the new directions that our UVa conversations helped reveal?

  • It’s time to rethink our initial parameters of “post-1945 translations and appropriations of The Canterbury Tales.” Our catalog now includes translations of and engagements with Troilus and Criseyde, The Parlement of Fowles, and Chaucerian lyrics; and the catalog spans works from as early as the sixteenth century.
  • Our catalog is diverse enough to justify bringing in colleagues with coding expertise, so that we can creating a database coding our collected information about the various translations—languages, translators, tales, dates, and source texts, for instance. That database will then be used to do more outwardly visible work, such as classroom-friendly mapping projects.
  • We need to determine the best way to archive the various forms of graphic, visual, and audiovisual media, including the possibility of a new infrastructure for such material. If Global Chaucers is to encourage an inclusive dialogue about Chaucer as well as more to provide more routes of access that allow us to discuss problematic aspects of his verse, then we need better ways to archive and present information.
  • We need to consider if its desirable to switch the Global Chaucers site into a maker space rather than a user space. If we decide to move in that direction, then we will need help to make the change.

Although we are not certain about the shape Global Chaucers will take, we are confident it will adhere to its initial values of digital, linguistic, and cultural hospitality despite the challenges those values might pose.  For these reasons, we were gratified to learn that our UVa colleagues shared not only our enthusiasm for Chaucer’s global reception but also our commitment to creating a global community.

Thank you Justin Greenlee, DeVan Ard, Zach Stone, Bruce Holsinger, Elizabeth Fowler, Anna Brickhouse, and the Scholars’ Lab staff for your gracious hospitality and for the opportunities to share our work and to learn from you.

 

 

Global Chaucers in UVA and DC

by CANDACE BARRINGTON and JONATHAN HSY

The Global Chaucers co-directors are currently in UVA! We’ll be appearing at the Scholars’ Lab on Thursday to discuss “Digital Hospitality” and the Medieval Colloquium on Friday for a workshop on “Linguistic and Cultural Hospitality.” More than ever, we are hoping this project can create a more empathetic, culturally aware, and interconnected world.

We the co-directors also proud to be taking part in an interdisciplinary symposium on Saturday organized by the GW Digital Humanities Institute at George Washington University (Washington, DC) on Saturday entitled “Global Chaucer and Shakespeare in a Digital World.” Visit the symposium website for full information [and note the informational flyer below]. The symposium features José Francisco Botelho (Brazilian translator of both Chaucer and Shakespeare) among many other exciting folks! The conference in DC is FREE and open to the public.

After the DC event, Botelho will continue on to Connecticut for a conversation about his Contos da Cantuária.

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Botelho, Chaucer’s Brazilian Translator, in Connecticut 8 & 9 February 2017

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I’m pleased to announce that my Canterbury Tales students and I will be hosting Francisco José Botelho, Brazil’s award-winning poet and translator in a conversation about his Contos da Cantuária.  Botelho is in the United States as a guest of the Global Chaucers Project, CCSU English Department, SCSU English Department, and the George Washington University Digital Humanities Institute.

Date: Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Time: 4:30pm to 6:00pm

Place: Marcus White Living Room, CCSU

We welcome anyone interested in Brazilian culture, medieval literature, translation studies, or fascinating conversation.

Campus Chaucer: The Resurgence of English-only Politics

At the 2017 Modern Language Conference, I was part of a “Campus Chaucer” round table sponsored by the Chaucer forum. Thinking in terms of how current political debates are echoed in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales or erupt in our classrooms, Lisa Cooper (University of Wisconsin, Madison) spoke on the value of labor, Liz Scala (University of Texas, Austin) spoke on expressing diverse opinions on a campus with guns, and Nicole Sidhu (East Carolina University) spoke on sexual assault and trigger warnings.

Below is the text of my talk on English-only politics.  It includes links to my referenced sources as well as to the assignments I discuss. 

During the Republican presidential primaries, the eventual nominee and president-elect announced, “This is a country where we speak English, not Spanish.” Based on that statement and the subsequent rhetoric of the 2016 presidential campaign, I anticipate that right-wing champions will add to their arsenal a familiar shibboleth, English-only policies. Used to support nativist causes in the United States, English-only statements are already a standard part of anti-immigrant stances.  For instance, this past Wednesday evening, NPR’s story about efforts to resettle Syrian refuges in Toledo, Ohio, included this impromptu statement from John Johnstone, a Navy veteran:

“If you want to come here and turn the United States into Syria, I’m against that.

“If you want to come here and speak English, you want to assimilate, you want to have a pizza, you want to have a beer, you want to eat a chicken wing, I’m all for it.”

For Johnstone, Americanness is marked by a constellation of recognizable behaviors—what one eats, what one wears, what one drinks—and at the center, holding these behaviors together is what one speaks:  English. In this line of thinking, speaking English marks a newcomer’s willingness to leave old habits behind and to adopt new ways, even ways antithetical to religious beliefs protected by the first amendment.  Unless English is spoken, a newcomer has not made the necessary sacrifices to be an American.  According to English-only logic, what separates those worthy of being in the United States from those who are not worthy is the willingness to speak English, a willingness from which the ability to speak English is assumed to flow naturally.

The state of Connecticut where I teach, has demonstrated little previous support for English-only policies.  From what I can tell, a lone proponent’s legislative efforts resulted in only one hearing at the Connecticut Assembly, and that was back in the 1990s. While the much of the country turned red in the past two decades, Connecticut has largely stuck to its progressive values. Conservative voices have been largely muted, and right-wing values have been kept under wraps. With the prospect of a new administration in Washington and a more closely divided state legislature, however, I’m seeing a shift in tone. Conservative voices have grown bolder, and more brazen right-wing bumper stickers (my primary index for comparative levels of discontent among the general populace driving up and down I91) have appeared on the backsides of vehicles in the seven weeks ccdl_logosince the election. Now that I’m seeing increased numbers of “Connecticut Citizens Defense League” decals in rear windows—a more aggressive statement than it might initially appear when you remember the 2012 mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut—and the more overtly come-and-take-itmenacing “Come and Take It!”  bumper stickers on the back of pickups, I wonder if I’ll start to see more “If you live in America SPEAK ENGLISH” on my daily commute.  081114_englishonly

Although English-only policies in Connecticut might have seemed far-fetched the last time I taught Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, those policies and the politics informing them warrant my courses’ attention this spring. And if this is true in Connecticut, it’s probably true in your state, too.

What is a Chaucerian to do?

First, no matter where we teach, we need to be aware of the ways Chaucer and other medieval English authors can be co-opted by nativist politics, a point Sierra Lomuto makes in her December posting, “White Nationalism and the Ethics of Medieval Studies” for the “In the Middle” blog.  Rooted in nineteenth-century nationalism and nationalist medievalism, white nationalism easily slides into unfounded notions of a pure English tongue worthy of its eventual global domination. According to this narrative, American English is the undefiled descendant of a language that sprang forth from the British Isles before dominating the world with its linguistic flexibility and semantic dexterity, absorbing bits of other languages without being tainted by the process. As we saw in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, Chaucer and his work can be brought into the narrative when he is identified as the well-spring of a pure English language and the “father” of English letters.

Of course, with few exceptions, students enter our classes on The Canterbury Tales with minimal knowledge of Chaucer or the history of English. And most likely they are not burdened with false information co-opted by nativist politics about the ways medieval languages and literature embody a pure Anglo-Saxon ethos.  Nevertheless, most have an opinion about English-only policies, an opinion often informed by their own relation to other languages.  Although many of my students are within a generation or two of their families’ having immigrated to the United States, it has never occurred to me to discuss English-only policies or their opinions on the subject. In these changed circumstances, however, I plan to initiate a discussion early in the term and to approach the topic of English-only politics in two ways, each using the lens of translation.

The first approach works against the notion that there is or ever has been a stable English linguistic tradition, untouched by other languages, by emphasizing Chaucer as a translator whose works appropriate and embed multiple literary and linguistic practices. Using etymological exercises, we will also explore the essential plurilinguistic nature of English and disabuse ourselves of any sense of linguistic purity and homogeneity even in earlier, pre-global forms of English. Inspired by an assignment shared by Melissa Ridley-Elmes, I also plan to ask students to track particular French terms—such as curteisie, sovereynetee, vileynye, subtil, aventure, gentillesse, entente, and sondry—for their shifting semantic properties not only across the Tales but also through the centuries from medieval French to present-day English.  These two exercises will help students grasp the benefits other languages have brought to English as well as the ways English speakers reshape those stolen terms.

My second approach takes an entirely different tack.  Developed in collaboration with other faculty teaching Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales at universities with multilingual students, this approach centers on an exercise highlighting the bi-lingual / bi-literate expertise of students by using non-Anglophone translations of the Tales. Rather than seeing these translations as cribs for unsteady readers of Middle English, the exercise highlights the ways translations can reveal less apparent aspects of the Middle English text.  Moreover, bringing translations into my classroom allows students to explore (for example) the difference between a Christian pilgrimage and a Muslim haj in the Arabic text, the discomfort with sexuality in the Korean translation, the celebration of sexuality in the Brazilian translation, and the avoidance of religion in the Chinese translations.

Even monolingual students are fascinated by the ways the translations help them see the Middle English text from a new perspective.  This fascination is especially pertinent when translated words embody ideas that seem timeless and unchanging to the students.  Although they may have never taken a pilgrimage, they assume all pilgrimages have basically the same purposes and make similar demands. When a Turkish translation embeds sexual attitudes similar to the students’ own, they are more open to hearing what it says about Muslim dietary practices.  Most significantly, the translations help students see where the tale’s perspectives do not align their own: that the anti-Semitism in The Prioress’s Tale might be deeply engrained, that the misogyny in The Merchant’s Tale might not be an eccentricity, or that the piety in The Second Nun’s Tale might not be a medieval aberration.

Bringing The Canterbury Tales into contact with other languages—either through the etymology exercises or the non-Anglophone translations—provides students with the necessary knowledge to question the premises underlying English-only politics.  Although I’ll probably reveal my thoughts on those ill-begotten policies, the class’s careful attention to Chaucer’s language and its engagement with languages past and present, I suspect, will do the work for me.

Chaucer ‘to Walys fledde’

It is difficult to describe our excitement when we learned about the anonymous Welsh play based on Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde as well as Henryson’s  Testament of Cresseid.  And we were practically beside ourselves when Sue Niebrzydowski, senior lecturer at Bangor University, agreed to write a short series of posts for Global Chaucers.  To top things off, she also laid the groundwork for us to use 6 gorgeous images from Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/National Library of Wales’ Peniarth MS 106.  From NLW, we owe our gratitude to Iwan ap Dafydd and Maredudd ap Huw for their gracious and generous help. And a special thanks to Jacqueline Burek for making us aware of this understudied appropriation of Troilus and Criseyde. By permission of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol
Cymru / National Library of Wales.

The following is Part 1 of Sue’s two-part posting.  Stay tuned for the second part, in the queue for the end of November.

Chaucer’s poetry has a long association with Wales. In ‘The Man of Law’s Tale’ Chaucer recounts how, in the face of the pagan conquest of Northumberland, the Christian community had ‘to Walys fledde’ (The Canterbury Tales, II (B1) 544). During the early modern period Chaucerian manuscripts found a haven in Wales, entering the country via gentry families on the Chester/Denbighshire border. Among these was the earliest copy of The Canterbury Tales, now Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales MS Peniarth 392 D (c. 1399) that by the 1570s was associated with the Banestar or Bannester family, who had Chester connections but whose three youngest children were born at Llanfair-is-gaer, near Caernarfon.

Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde was translated into Welsh, and from poetry into drama, not long after the Hengwrt copy of The Canterbury Tales came into the Banestar’s keeping. The National Library of Wales holds the unique copy of a late sixteenth-century, Welsh-language play, Troelus a Chresyd.[1] Troelus a Chresyd is preserved in MS Peniarth 106 (formerly Hengwrt 338), the only text contained within a modestly sized, manuscript book. Troelus a Chresyd was one of many works copied by John Jones (b. before 1585–1658) of Gellilyvdy in Flintshire.[2]

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By permission of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/National Library of Wales. NLW Peniarth MS 106: p. 30, Full page image showing speakers’ names in red.

In Jones’ manuscript speakers’ names, written in red, appear generally in the margin against their speeches. In the latter part of the codex space has been left for the rubricated names but Jones never went back to fill them in. Embellished initials suggest that Jones was aiming at an artistic product but, unfortunately, the quality of his ink was, on occasion, too acidic. This has led to blotches and the paper being burned through in places.

Who wrote Troelus a Chresyd and when remains a matter for debate. As he records in the manuscript, Jones copied the play in three sections, comprising two phases: section one complete by 14 February 1613, section two by 11 September 1622, and section three by 25 October 1622. Jones was the scribe but not author who remains unidentified but whose dialect suggests that he may have come from North Wales, probably Denbighshire or Flintshire. Although copied in the seventeenth century, Troelus a Chresyd may have been composed at any point from the 1570s onwards.

Troelus a Chresyd makes available in Welsh a synthesis of Books 1–4 of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde and the conclusion of The Testament of Cresseid by Robert Henryson (c. 1475). The conclusion of Book 2 and the beginning of Book 3 are missing, suggesting that Jones’ exemplar was itself incomplete. The play’s fusion of Chaucer and Henryson can be explained by the edition of Chaucer’s romance to which our playwright turned. Since William Thynne’s 1532 edition of The works of Geffray Chaucer newly printed, with dyuers works whiche were never in print before, Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde had been followed by the unattributed Testament of Cresseid, leading early modern readers to believe that Chaucer was the author of both. Our playwright most probably used an edition of Chaucer’s work by Thomas Speght (1598, 1602) that reiterates Thynne’s identification of The Testament of Cresseid as Chaucer’s. The language of Speght’s edition was neither Chaucer’s Middle English nor Henryson’s Middle Scots but an ‘early modernised’ version of both. It is this that the playwright translates into his native Welsh, as can be seen in the translation of the Canticus Troili:

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By permission of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/National Library of Wales. NLW Peniarth MS 106: p. 39, Full page image showing stanza 39, ‘Onid oes gariad’ (If no love is).

If no love is, O God, what fele I so?
And if love is, what thing and which is he?
If love be good, from whennes cometh my woo?

Speght, 1598, fol.153v

that the playwright renders as:

Onid oes gariad, O Dduw, pa beth sy’m trwblio?
Od oes gariad pa vodd pa sut sydd arno?
Os da kariad, of ble mae’n dyfod i’m blino?

Troelus a Chresyd, stanza 39, 1–4

Following Chaucer’s narrative structure, Troelus a Chresyd is divided into five books (the Welsh used is llyfrau (‘books’) not actiau (‘acts’)) and is written in a variety of stanzas, including rime–royal (for the Chaucerian sections), in places the bob and wheel familiar from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the nine-line stanzas of Henryson’s verse form. The action is commented upon by a Chorus. The play includes the Canticus Troili, and the aubade spoken after the lovers have spent the night together. Their encounter at Pandarus’ house occurs ‘offstage’, and lacks Chaucer’s deft comic handling of the episode. Events follow Chaucer’s poem until Diomedes discards Chresyd. At this point, the Chorus summarises Chresyd’s demise as found in Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid. Having been called a whore by Diomedes, Chresyd berates the Gods for which she is punished with leprosy. The play concludes with Chresyd’s death, and Troelus’ building her a tomb.

The playwright tells his audience that, ‘A mine, er mwyn yr wyllys da ytt a ddygais a’i trois i’th iaith Gymraeg yn ore ac i medrais’ [And I, for the good will which I bear you, translated it into your Welsh tongue as best I could] (Troelus a Chresyd, 62). Knowing Chaucer’s own commitment to translation, we can be confident that the London-based poet would have been delighted that his ‘litel bok’ had travelled so far through space and time.

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By permission of Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru/National Library of Wales. NLW Peniarth MS 106: p. 160, detail of colophon.

[1] The entire Welsh text is available online at <http://people.ds.cam.ac.uk/dwew2/hcwl/tch/TCh_dipl.htm> [accessed 10 October 2016] as part of the Cambridge University Corpws hanesyddol yr iaith Gymraeg [Corpus of historical Welsh Language works] 1500-1850. See also Troelus A Chresyd (O lawysgrif Peniarth 106) edited W. Beynon Davies (Caerdydd: Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru, 1976) and for an English translation see Hadley Phillip Tremaine, The Welsh Troelus a Chresyd, University of Michigan PhD thesis, 1965.

[2] See Nesta Lloyd, ‘Jones, John (b. before 1585, d. in or before 1658)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 <http://0-www.oxforddnb.com.unicat.bangor.ac.uk/view/article/68197> [accessed 11 October 2016].