Dante's The Divine Comedy and Hungarian theatre, or what content a user of an international auxiliary language should create

Friday, July 11, 2008

Kuva:Francesco Hayez 017.jpg
Users of International Auxiliary Languages generally do so in their own spare time. That means that there is almost nobody around that is capable of spending eight or more hours a day working simply on writing content in an IAL, and that also means that before writing something in an IAL you should give some thought to whether it's going to be effective in promoting the language or not.

Some content becomes old quite fast: any scientific documents translated into an IAL in the 1950s for example are now only useful as a curiosity. Same thing for a lot of news: news from 2002 about Saddam Hussein's Iraq letting weapons inspectors into the country is not going to be very useful anymore. When translating news, it's probably best to do either one of two things:

  • Keep it short, so that you are able to write a lot of content each day and keep people coming back, or
  • Make it very detailed, so that even after the fact people will be able to reference the work for the extra information it has. Something more akin to a documentary.
There's often an argument between IAL users about whether it's useful to translate well-known works into an IAL. Why do so when you can already read it in major language X? This isn't a very valid argument though, because people like to read, people that are studying a language will want to read in that language, and if there is a classic such as Frankenstein (that you've never read) online that can be printed out in an IAL, well then maybe it's time to finally get around to reading it. Most people have read a surprisingly small number of the books they should have read. I've never read the Catcher in the Rye for example. *shrug*

Another use for this is when the IAL is a translation of a language that it happens to be closer to than the English translation. Dante's Inferno in Interlingua is a good example of this:

English Interlingua Italian
Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straight-forward pathway had been lost.
In medio del cammin de nostre vita
io me ha trovate in un foreste obscur,
que le derecte via era perdite.
Nel mezzo del cammin' di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
Ah me! how hard a thing it is to say
What was this forest savage, rough, and stern,
Which in the very thought renews the fear.
Ah! dicer como illo era es cosa dur
iste silva salvage, et asp'ra, e forte
que in le pensar renova le pavor!
Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura
esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte
che nel pensier rinova la paura!
So bitter is it, death is little more;
But of the good to treat, which there I found,
Speak will I of the other things I saw there.
Tanto es amar, que pauco plus es morte;
ma pro tractar del ben que illac io ha trovate,
io va dicer del alie cosas que io la ha viste.
Tant'è amara che poco è più morte;
ma per trattar del ben ch'i' vi trovai,
dirò de l'altre cose ch'i' v'ho scorte.
I cannot well repeat how there I entered,
So full was I of slumber at the moment
In which I had abandoned the true way.
Io non sape ben dicer como ibi ha entrate,
tanto era io plen de somno a aquelle puncto
ubi io l' verace via ha abandonate.
Io non so ben ridir com'i' v'intrai,
tant'era pien di sonno a quel punto
che la verace via abbandonai.
But after I had reached a mountain's foot,
At that point where the valley terminated,
Which had with consternation pierced my heart,
Ma post qu' io era al ped' de un colle juncte,
la ubi terminava aquelle valle
que me habeva de pavor le cord' compuncte,
Ma poi ch'i' fui al piè d'un colle giunto,
là dove terminava quella valle
che m'avea di paura il cor compunto,

You can see right away that the translation in Interlingua is much closer to the original Italian than the English on the left. That means that for a person like me, who can occasionally fumble through documents written in Italian but certainly not most of the time, would prefer to read Inferno in Interlingua than in English. English is far from the original, the original Italian is too difficult, the Interlingua translation is just right. This goes with works in other languages like Latin, Romanian, and so on.

Lastly, probably the best content you can create in an IAL is content from a language that most people probably don't know in the first place. Here's a video from the blog of Peter Kovacs, with news on a theatre performance in Hungarian with Interlingua subtitles. Most people don't know a lick of Hungarian and are thus forced to read the subtitles to see what's going on.

Okay, but what if you don't know an exotic language in addition to an IAL? Luckily as long as you know the basics of a language you might be able to get by using Google's translation service, where you can translate a language like Finnish into English for example, use your basic language skills to try to iron out any awkwardness in the translation, then remove the English and just have the IAL next to the original. Here's an example:

Finnish Interlingua
Jerusalemin piiritys tapahtui vuonna 70 ensimmäisen juutalaissodan aikana, kun Tituksen johtama Rooman armeija valtasi Jerusalemin lähes viiden kuukauden piirityksen jälkeen. Le Assedio de Jerusalem eveniva in le anno 70 in le Prime Guerra Judee-Roman, quando Titus de Roma, dirigiente le armea, prendeva Jerusalm quasi cinque menses post le assedio.

And voila, once again most people are going to have to read the Interlingua on the right. The translation for this paragraph given by Google was as follows:
Siege of Jerusalem, took place in the first 70 during the juutalaissodan when Tituksen of Rome, led by the army took over Jerusalem almost five months after the siege.
Doing a bit of searching about though tells you what juutalaissodan and Tituksen is referring to, so it's not that bad. Some other languages on Google translate that might be good depending on your linguistic background are Czech, Greek, Bulgarian, and so on.

The best rule to follow of course is to just write whatever you most like writing, because IALs need long-term effort. If you are studying a certain subject as well you could combine the two: write essays in the IAL on web page design or programming, translate an entire bill of Congress, anything that you're working on right now in your professional life. It's a well known fact that sitting down and translating something gives a much greater understanding of a piece of writing than simply reading it, in the same way that having to explain a subject yourself is much better than simply hearing about it from another.


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