Tip of the Tongue
Back to the legal future
Sun, 02 Aug 2020 05:00:00 +0000

                                                                 [Polar bear on iceberg*]

On Friday, 24 July 2020, I participated in the virtual 7thAnnual Access to Justice Conference organized by the Concord Law School in Los Angeles. It was an eye-opening experience for me in terms of the observing the extent of change in the legal services profession over 35 years. To clarify, I attended the University of Oregon School of Law in 1985, studying one year and finishing in good standing. I chose not to continue my studies as I did not see my future in any of the traditional specializations provided by the University but later became a legal translator, thus applying that knowledge. Notwithstanding my decision, I have been always attracted by the law and its goals. As I listened to the presentations and heard the practicing attorneys, I understood that today I would happily become a lawyer.

The first major eye-opener was the variety of business options available to new and experienced attorneys. Just as freelancing and cooperatives were underground in the general business world back then, it was especially true for law.  Law students assumed that the way to success was to work incredible hours at low pay for many years at an established firm so that one day they could become a partner and own a Porsche. If those conditions or results were not personally relevant, the person had no future in the profession. Those rebels who wished to strive for social justice were smiled upon and had their illusions quickly corrected. At this conference, established attorneys talked about incubators, cooperatives, freelancing and small independent firms as viable professional options. These options probably existed then but they not only have broken the surface but have now made a mark on it.

Another major change in approach I noticed was the destruction of the barrier between law and business management. When I studied law, there may have been one course on managing a legal business and its components. In other words, fresh lawyers were completely ignorant of the most basic tasks of billing, customer relations and business planning. It is no wonder the vast majority did not consider going out on their own. The conference showed that in today’s legal world, knowledge of billing options and price scaling are no less important than tort law for success. On the marketing side, the discussions of understanding customer needs and wants would be equally at home at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (or the Leicester University Business school, where I got my MBA). Today’s lawyers are much better prepared for real life.

The greatest pleasure I received from the conference was in regards to the enthusiasm, not idealism, of both more and less experienced attorneys to attain justice. The keynote speaker, Jack Newton, used the allusion of an iceberg to describe the mass of people without access to legal services and its significance for social justice and professional success. In other words, he emphasized that it was for the mutual good of both clients and attorneys to make law available to the large mass, more than 60% of the public, that cannot afford legal services and are ignored by traditional law services. In the presentations that followed, speakers detailed how to attain this dual benefit, public and personal, and help the people really in need. It is possible to make protecting people’s rights a full-time profession.

As I turned off my computer, I could not but help feel a bit of pain for not having taken that route although I know it was the right decision at the time. For some, the motivation to become a lawyer - to work hard to complete law school, pass the bar and learn the ropes – is the passion for justice. It is clear today that that passion is no longer mere idealism but an attainable dream. With all the current economic problems and social problems, attorneys can help create a better society in the present and future.

*Always caption your pictures to allow blind people to full access posts. Picture: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/cocoparisienne-127419/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2199534">Anja🤗#helpinghands #solidarity#stays healthy🙏</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2199534">Pixabay</a>

Belatedly bilingual
Sun, 26 Jul 2020 06:30:00 +0000

                                                                        [Fern tongue*]

Like many immigrants and translators, I became bilingual as a result of life, not education. In the latter case, people learn two or more languages in school and use them at home or in the street, creating a strong base of both languages in the mind. On the other hand, those who acquired this skill later in life moved to another country, spoke the second language at home with a partner, maybe raising children in that language, and, most importantly, worked and socialized with people in that second language. Thus, the adopted language was superimposed on the mother tongue.

I can claim at least three generations of wandering Jews in my family, all who became bilingual. My maternal grandmother immigrated from Poland to France, then to Canada and finally to the United States. She spoke French, Yiddish and English, all quite well. My mother immigrated to the United States in the early 1950’s from France with no English at all. Some 70 years later, her English is quite good. I moved to Israel 30 years ago and fully function in Hebrew. Thus, on this subjective and limited sample, I can make several generalizations on the war of the words between L1 and L2.
It is clear that the acquired language never reaches the level of the mother tongue. First, certain syntactical errors never disappear, especially with prepositions, which vary by language and defy logic. See the Ziva effect in NCIS.  For certain words, pronunciation is problematical either because it involves a difficult sound, such the English th or Hebrew and Arabic voiced ch, or the word in both languages is so close but not quite the same either in terms of a letter or accented syllable. Finally and most annoying, it becomes frustratingly difficult to form a sentence or remember a word when tired or under stress. Suddenly, it becomes impossible to say what you want to mean even though normally there would be no problem because the brain is not functioning properly at a given moment. The second language almost never becomes as accurate and natural as the mother tongue.

This deficiency has several annoying results. First, people often believe that your accent and apparent language deficiency means that you are stupid and treat you as such. The reality may be that your knowledge of their language may be far superior to theirs but rien à faire, as they French would say, i.e., there is nothing to be done about it. Also, due to the fact that adult emigres never studied in school, their writing skills are probably below the level of other language skills. This means that there is a tendency to ask native speakers to handle important writing tasks. Thirdly, depending on options, other family members tend to handle the administrative telephone tasks that are so part of daily life, including discussions with the various utilities, municipal functions and tradespeople. These “blind” conversations are simply less stressful for them. Also, curiously, phrasing from the acquired language start entering the mother tongue over time, creating the unpleasant situation that a person speaks neither of the language completely properly. As my grandmother and mother would say, in terms of perfect language, you are nisht ahin, nisht aherr, neither here nor there.

In fact, despite the ridicule from friends and family, being bilingual is an enriching experience. Learning and applying any new language opens the world to more people in terms of millions. Knowing Spanish alone allows direct communication with almost 500 million people. The language also opens up a new culture, which includes tastes, ceremonies and beliefs. It is amazing how different weddings can be. Most importantly, it opens the eyes to different and maybe better ways of living life. Just as people do not have to live exactly how their parents lived, nor do people have to live as the society in which they were born defines as normal. People have choice in almost all aspects of their lives. They often only need to be exposed to the options. Learning a second language at any age is the window to those opportunities. The world expands as we learn languages and gain access to cultures.

Thus, for those who have forgotten the foreign language they studied but still dream of moving abroad, it is never too late. People, especially children, may laugh at your mistakes but that is a small price for immersion in a completely different world several hours away by plane. If that is the dream, better late than never.

*For the sake of the blind, add picture captions. Picture care of pixabay: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/adege-4994132/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5133721">adege</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5133721">Pixabay</a>

The Generation Gap –Social media and business mentality
Sun, 19 Jul 2020 05:16:00 +0000

                                                         [Old-style clock with pendulum*]

On a recent episode of Kobi and Lital, a docucomedy series in Israel examining various life issues, the two comedians, each around the age of 40, were given expert advice how to increase the number of their followers on Instagram. These experts were half their age or less. It was quite striking and entertaining to see not only how unfamiliar and incompetent the hosts were with new media forms such as TikTok and Instagram, but also note the gap in mentality between the two generations. This difference is also increasingly evident in the business world.

“Facebook is for old people” was a phrase repeated several times during the show. It is apparent that many younger people consider raising and responding to an issue in a written text, even a single picture, passé. The under-20 group values 30-second clips. For those that, to paraphrase the Genesis song, can’t dance and can’t sing and can’t invent a story every day, these media forms are very uncomfortable and almost inaccessible. Posting a daily story with trivial pictures with captions seems much ado about nothing for older people. The generation gap is clearly evident in the use of media.

This discrepancy in technology is partly a reflection of a difference in worldview. Almost 60, I grew up in a United States where the “I” was subordinated to the “we”. While children had individual needs, they were part of a class, family or team. This distancing from the ego was even reflected in writing where the use of the first-person singular form was discouraged, even forbidden in formal writing. As adults, it was generally we or the companythat sold the product or provided a service even if it was a sole proprietorship. Even in autobiographies for conference program, it was accepted practice to use the 3rd person singular form: John Doe has more than 30 years’ experience. By contrast, at least in Israel in 2020, children and young adults are encouraged to promote themselves. What is more shocking than the number of people that film themselves doing banal tasks is the number of people that watch them, to the tune of the hundreds of thousands, if not more. What my generation considered egocentric, even crass, is now proper self-esteem.

This change has already affected the business world. First, younger executives tend to feel less need to learn the ropes from older workers and wish to become entrepreneurs at an early age. Moreover, these business people under the age of 25 are native to most if not all of the current mass media forms and therefore comfortable with their use. By contrast, employees aged 40+ often struggle with the how and why of these same forms. Furthermore, many older workers find the blatant personal approach a bit too much and beyond their personal comfort zone. Age is becoming like East and West as Kipling would say.

The clock keeps on ticking, creating natural generation gaps. One omnipresent form of this change involves media use, not only in the technical details but also the raison d’etre of their use. In this sense, the world, including the business world, belongs to the youth.

* Always add a caption to pictures to allow full access to blind people. Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/hrohmann-848687/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=700874">Hans Rohmann</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=700874">Pixabay</a>

The Artful Dodger – From no-win to win-win on offers you can refuse
Sun, 12 Jul 2020 05:50:00 +0000

                                                                  [Black pebbles]

Freelancers live by projects, long-term and short-term, which almost always involve providing a price proposal. Unfortunately, many of these requests are irrelevant due to the task, scope, price, deadline or nature of the job. On the surface, it appears that these situations provide no real opportunity and are simply a waste of time and energy. However, with some lateral thinking and proper communication, any request for a proposal becomes a real opportunity.

The most objective reason for not being able to take on a project is the lack of appropriate skills. Professionals know that discretion is the better part of valor, i.e., if you cannot do it right, don’t do it. So, freelancers faced with requests beyond their skill set tend to write polite refusal notes, hopefully explaining that the task is not in their realm of skill. However, since the requesting party has your undivided attention, it is a great opportunity to market your actual specialty. It is quite possible that the people reading it or any of their friends and acquaintances may need those services now or in the future. This request, however irrelevant, is an ideal opportunity to market as it is requested, does not cost a penny and allows freelancers to express their uniqueness to an attentive audience. Not only that, if you can refer another freelancer with the required skills, the reference will create a wave of goodwill for all parties, which may bear fruits in the future both from the prospective customer and the other professional. Thus, the presented opportunity for future business is just as important as the actual proposal.

In other cases, the requested proposals involve some elements that are beyond the scale or scope of the freelancer. In this case, an opportunity is still present. First, freelancers need to explain simply and clearly which aspects of the project are relevant to them. In regards to the other elements, a freelancer can offer to manage the project or have the potential customer handle the management. Again, if you can provide any referrals, it saves time for the customer and creates a future referral to you. Therefore, it is always good to be aware of professionals with complementary businesses. If the customer should opt for you to manage the project, the management fee provides supplementary income even if it does sometimes complicate life. With or without the management aspect, the freelancer creates a positive and professional impression.

The most common reason to dismiss a request for a bid, at least in translation, is the budget limits. It is often clear, explicitly or implicitly, that each of the parties is on a different planet in terms of price. There is a natural tendency to laugh or scowl and then ignore the request. Even this bottom-fisher type of request is a marketing opportunity. It is worth answering and even preparing a template that states your rate, justifies it in terms of the quality of your work, suggests that it may be possible to collaborate on a small project in the future where the price difference may be less meaningful, and plants in the mind of the customer the idea that you are the person if they need your special set of skills in the future and have an appropriate budget. It is quite probable that no immediate project will arise but business success is a matter of both the quantity and quality of marketing exposure.

In many projects, the major problem is the deadline.  As too many businesses do not or cannot plan ahead, they find themselves needing to outsource a task at the last minute. Here, the freelaner faces a dilemma. This request for a bid is an actual, even quite profitable opportunity. On the other hand, it carried great potential for short-term and long-term disaster in terms of work effort and poor quality. To avoid the danger, it is necessary to carefully consider whether the project can be properly executed within the allotted time. If so, the freelancer can and should add a hefty rush fee to justify the extreme effort. If not, the reply should include a realistic deadline that reflects the time required to provide a professional result. Curiously enough, the deadline is frequently not as firm as it was stated. Therefore, either the potential clients adjust their deadline or refuse the offer this time. The freelancer wins in all cases as maintaining a reputation is as important as gaining a project. Furthermore, the professional approach may bear fruit in the future.

An emotional reason to avoid a project is the unpleasant nature of the work itself. Just because a given task is part of the job description and within the skill set does not make it attractive and tempting. Every profession has its “dark side” of time-consuming and boring tasks. At certain times, freelancers simply “don’t feel like” doing them. In terms of business, this is often a poor choice but even freelancers are human. One way to alter the situation is to offer a price that takes the drudgery into account, i.e., provide a high quote. In such a case, freelancers win regardless of the result as if the bid is refused, a better job will come soon, while, if accepted, a handful of sugar (money) makes the medicine (job) go down, to paraphrase Mary Poppins. Just ask plumbers how much money they take to handle blocked piping from the toilet. Thus, unpleasant work creates an opportunity for higher pay.

In the famous story about lateral thinking, a girl facing the choice of two black pebbles changes a no-win situation to 100% probability of a positive result. Likewise, even faced with completely irrelevant project proposals, it is possible and desirable to answer and gain from them. As Mr. Buffet has often explained, opportunity comes to those who seek it.

*Label all images in order to allow blind people to access your blog.  All pictures via the pixiebay site.

Up and Engagė in Paris and Washington
Sun, 05 Jul 2020 05:14:00 +0000

                                                             [person facing a heavy wind*]

Words often taken on a wide variety of meanings and applications. Thus, their actual usage and frequency generally varies from language to langauge. For example, the verb to engage is a powerful verb both in English and French but is more common in French due to its importance in the political culture.

The dictionary definitions mainly mention its financial or mechanical aspects.Webster’s English Dictionary defines engage as the actions of offering, supporting, entangling, securing a financial instrument and operating with the past participle referring to the announcement of a future wedding. Little Bob (Le Petit Robert) mentions pawning, promising, activating and securing. The idea is that to engage is take an active step, whether in terms of money or action.

Beyond those technical acts, the French have a long tradition of being engagé, i.e., their cultural leaders being actively involved in ideological or political matters. The tradition dates from the time writers achieved independence from the Church. Voltaire advocated enlightenment ideas and vegetarianism (no connection), albeit from the safety of Prussia. Later, Emile Zola wrote J’accuse to protest the actions of the French military in the Dreyfus affair and Jean Paul Sartre actively challenged proper bourgeois thought. The right has had its share of active ideologs, including Louis Ferdinand Céline and Pierre Drieu La Rochelle. Some were even elected to the Academie Francaise, the elite club of French writers, both before and after World War II. Of course, singers have also expressed their opinion, generally anti-war, such as  Jacques Brel, who sang La Columbe (the Dove) against the War in Algeria, and Jean Ferrat, Un air de liberté, against the Vietnam War, not to mention Miss Maggie by Renaut Even if many people disagreed with their stance, their political activism added to their status as they were perceived as contributing to society and acting as leaders. An “unengaged” artist is in some way not fully contributing.

By contrast, being politically involved in the United States, the English equivalent of the French engagé, is a risky path to take. For example, Mohammed Ali and Colin Kaepernick paid heavy prices, the loss of freedom and career respectively, for their courage in standing up to the establishment. Many dispurged the Woody Guthrie as a communist due to his politcally pungent songs about the effects of the great depression of the 1930's Certain radio stations did not play the songs of anti-war singers such as Bob Dylan, famous for the answer is blowing in the wind, and Joni Mitchell, who sang Fiddlesand drums. Not only are American celebrities cautious about expressing their political opinions, in retrospect they are not especially appreciated for candor. The actors George C. Scott and Marlon Brando are not any more esteemed today for having refused their Oscars as a political statement. It is no wonder that James Lebron is very cautious in his support of Black Lives Matter. To paraphrase the French term for a dumb blond, play a sport or sing songs but shut up.

England has a long tradition of writers with strong political opinions. Rudyard Kipling was a staunch imperialist to the bitter end of the empire while George Orwell was a critical socialist. Musicians have taken stances. Even the Beatles criticized American involvement in the Vietnam War. Yet, they neither lost nor benefited from their activism. Their opinions are mere side notes to their achievements much like Dostoevsky’s rabid antisemitism does not distract from his reputation as a writer.

Curiously, in some Arab countries, such as Egypt, political expression by intellectuals tends to be of the nationalist variety. The reason is historical. When the Turks started to allow Arabic language teaching and publications, the right to speak Arabic and be a nation were radical thoughts. This nationalistic tendency is still evident and even encouraged by governments. So, many other countries also have a tradition, albeit limited in numbers and direction, of political engagement by its intellectuals.

Worldwide, drivers engage their gears while financiers engage their money without fear of their political future. However, most of the world, cultural leaders become engagéin political causes at great immediate and long-term risk, especially in the United States. However, in France, going against the wind is almost an obligation for any cultural icon that wants to be considered serious.

*Always add a caption to pictures to allow blind people to enjoy posts.

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/Anemone123-2637160/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3322112">Anemone123</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3322112">Pixabay</a>

Writer’s block
Sun, 28 Jun 2020 05:10:00 +0000


At the college where I teach, the Braude School of Engineering in Karmiel, Israel, we have changed the curriculum of the required English classes to include writing of paragraphs. The students are high achievers as getting accepted to engineering school requires high grades. Ranging in age from 18 – 28, they are highly motivated to learn. They are required to take two or three English courses, depending on the department but may have to take more if their starting English level is too low. In terms of vocabulary and comprehension, they have little problem handing general and even specialized texts but often initially struggle in writing a simple sentence properly. Yet, in practice, the main challenge in teaching them writing stems not from transmitting the technical aspects of the art but in overcoming the varying degrees of starting ignorance suffered by the students.

One serious deficiency created by the Israeli educational system is the lack of ability to organize ideas and thoughts.  In order to be efficient with the limited class time and the collective need of the students, teachers and school administration to achieve high scores on the Bagrut exam, the Israeli national high school matriculation exam, similar to the French Bac, teachers tend to feed summaries of the material to the students. As a result, most students get little practice in identifying and organizing main ideas. Therefore, when we request a student to write a paragraph with a topic sentence including three subtopics, many find it difficult to hit the nail on the head, i.e., write a topic sentence without any distracting elements. The issue is not their English, which is generally quite good, but instead the lack of skill in identifying the essential elements and expressing them. It requires significant work by both the student and teacher to overcome this obstacle.

Engineering students often are victims of the European academic distinctions in high school. It appears that science track students are supposed to be expert with numbers and formulas but don’t need to know how to communicate while humanity track students must know how to express themselves but are not required to understand science. Both assumptions are entirely false but so are many other assumptions of traditional education systems, frequently based on 19th century ideas. One of the results of this tracking is that many science students seem unaware that spoken and written language differ. It is necessary to reiterate several times that written text is expected to strictly comply with the rules of grammar, syntax and flow as well as employ a wider and higher variety of vocabulary. These students tend to write as they speak and often fail to understand why that is not acceptable. For example, they suffer from the ubiquitous use of the word and as a connector, a major no-no in written English. Students whose native language is Russia and Arabic have an increased tendency to insert the period at the end of the idea regardless of how many subject-verb combinations precede it. Again, only frequent feedback can create the awareness of the singularity of written communication.

Lastly, as most Israeli high school students write so few compositions in their own language, they have no awareness of the writing process.  Granted, it is more difficult to write a nice sounding sentence in English because it is a non-homogenous language, i.e., its roots are derived from many languages. Yet, as I tell my students many times and create long deadline to reflect, there is no such things as good writing, only good rewriting. Under extreme pressure from the heavy load of the first-year engineering program, they initially tend to write a first draft of a paragraph and believe they have completed the assignment. Only after several “bloody” paragraph feedbacks (from my corrections) do they start to apply the various QA techniques I suggest for polishing. Once again, these intelligent students lack understanding of the writing process and must be taught it.

Thus, writing, a new “can-do” task mandated by the Ministry of Education and Council of Higher Education in Israel, involves more than teaching English as a language, whose level varies significantly. Just as significantly, it requires an increase in the students’ understanding of the whole writing process, regardless of language, in terms of logic, form of expression and process. The key to achieving this goal is, fortunately, practice and feedback, which involve hard work by all parties. I personally de-emphasize grades in the practice stage in order to encourage students to go beyond their comfort zone. Strong feedback, including praise for successful elements, is the engine for change and improvement, however painful that may be. Furthermore, the rod should not be spared as students need to grasp and internalize that negligent (not poor) work will result in harsh but constructive criticism. In other words, the teacher must explain the rules and guidelines thoroughly but expect students to apply them. The reward for everybody’s hard work is a good grade on a final project in the short term and attainment of an important life skill in the long term.

The basic difficulties faced by these engineering students are not a result of a lack of intelligence but instead lack of training. As such, it is possible to overcome their lack of background and instill an understanding of organization, language and process through practice and caring. I am proud of the progress made by my students in the last 13 weeks despite (or maybe because of) the Zoom teaching. They worked hard and learned how to communicate a developed idea in English clearly and succinctly despite their initial writing blocks. Chapeau to them.

* Always include a picture caption to allow the blind to enjoy. Picture - Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/OpenClipart-Vectors-30363/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=157581">OpenClipart-Vectors</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=157581">Pixabay</a>

Cultural variety
Sun, 21 Jun 2020 05:31:00 +0000
                                          (Japanese picture of man in boiling water*)

As a continuation to two previous posts about words and cultures, cultureis relative to a specific society not only in form but also in connotation. Formally speaking culture includes the artistic achievements of a group but also the mechanisms of daily interaction. So, the type of music loved by people is an example of culture but so is the manner of saying hello, whether that is by shaking hands, bowing, kissing cheeks, or using words alone. Thus, it is clear that all human languages must include some way to express culture.

For a linguist, an additional distinction is the attached connotation. For example, the word “culture” when applied in the United States, France, Israel and Russia can imply very different purposes. Modern America was settled by immigrants that were poor and quite often uneducated, even illiterate... Thus, a reference to culture is a way of distinguishing one person from another, generally negatively. Describing a lover of opera as cultured can either be praise or derogatory, i.e., elitist, depending on the point of few. Not only that, its multiethnic society has espoused a vision of blending as compared to maintaining traditions. Thus, the expression “they come from another culture” is an alternative phrase for “they don’t behave like Americans”. The American ethea of anti-intellectualism and melting pot, notwithstanding the existence of exceptions to these tendencies, adds a connotation of differentto the term culture.

By contrast, France glories in its Culture. French people are proud of its artistic icons, whether in literature or the visual arts.  The country even has a special institution for them, the Pantheon. The average French person mentions Victor Hugo, Marcel Proust, Claude Monet and Edith Piaf with pride. Even those that would never read any of their books beyond what is required for the Bac or go to a museum would think twice before stating so. France is the cultural leader of Europe, at minimum, in terms of literature, art and food. Unlike the United States, culture in France, or at least its appreciation, is a unifying factor.

Israel too was founded by immigrants but they came from many communities, each with its own Culture and culture. The dogma of wiping out the diaspora and imposing the new Israeli stamp on all of its citizens, applied for its first 25 or so years, is slowly but surely disappearing. Today, Israelis talk about culture to explain differences in food, music and wedding arrangements. In practice, most couples reflect mixed ethnic background except for the ultra-orthodox. This requires negotiation of cultural issues such as which foods to eat on holidays, the level of spiciness and frequency of family visits, to name just a few matters. Culture in Israel is of part of the dialogue of everyday life.

The Russian use refers to both the high-brow and, more commonly, the communal aspect of culture. As the French, Russians are proud of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky, to name a few. However, the most common use of the word culture is the negative term некультурный человек  [nekulturni cheleovek], meaning an uncultured person, better translated by the term barbarian. To clarify, this expression does not refer to the lack of familiarity with Shostakovich’s music. Instead, it describes crude (by Russian standards) behavior, a lack of social savior faire and open greed. It is hard for a foreigner to decode this term as it encompasses so many unspoken rules.  For example, to the best of my knowledge, Ivan the Terrible was a некультурный человек but Stalin and Putin are okay.  It is possible to be unbelievable cruel but remain cultured. So, when a Russian accuses you of being uncultured, you have apparently crossed some (ultraviolet) red line.

Dictionaries may agree upon the definition of culture but people stamp their own opinions and perspectives on the term. There is a wonderful scene in Shogunin which several Japanese calmly discuss how they are so much civilized than the shipwrecked English sailors, which are being boiled alive at the time. One person’s culture is another person’s primitivism.

*Insert captions under pictures to allow access to the blind. Picture from wikipedia.

My father – an old newspaper man
Sun, 14 Jun 2020 20:12:00 +0000

My father died this evening. He lived until the age of 95 and some three months, the last 3 months much less so. My mother lives in Los Angeles while I live in Israel. Due to the travel and quarantine limits, I am unable to travel to participate in the funeral and necessary mourning. It leaves a strange and uncomfortable feeling that hopefully will be rectified in the not so distant future. Yet, this non-social distancing is unavoidable and no one’s fault.
On my last visit in January, my father dictated his obituary to me to type. I can therefore tell you how he saw his life. 

Melvyn S. Rifkind was born on March 8, 1925 in the Bronx to the late Joseph and Rebecca Rifkind, née Spector. He served in World War II in the 10thArmor Division, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and Metz and was wounded twice. After the end of the war, he attended the University of Georgia school of Journalism and then worked for the AP in the South. He entered the field of financial and corporate public relations and eventually founded of the largest independent firms on the west coast. He is survived by his wife, Gabrielle, and two children, Jacques and Stephen, as well as two grandchildren.

Those may be facts but children view a different but no less true reality. My father was man of example, not words. He would listen carefully to what I had to say, carefully choose his words and mean them, and then respect my right not to follow his advice. Only as an adult did I appreciate that he would the suggest the way of the mensch in any situation as he applied it to his own life. More amazing, after I had done it my way yet again, like move to Israel, he held no grudges and starting the next day anew. It took great effort to get on my dad’s “shit list”.

As we share many of the same traits, my dad and I never talked much even when we spent time together as adults. This silence was not out of hostility or indifference but the result of unspoken communication. It was a quiet of comfort. As I have no longer “needed” him for many years, we were able to appreciate each other.

As I am unable to sit a proper shiva, I would like to share three of our moments together.  I will never forget the image of my father, at the age of 70, sheepishly eating his first oyster (of the many to come) as we all were devouring a huge plate of fruits de mer in their house in Beg Meil, a village in Brittany in France. I also retain a picture of Sunday evenings struggling through the LA Times crossword puzzle, experiencing satisfaction or frustration depending on the result. Finally, after he completely retired, we would watch NY Yankee games on TV. He never failed to praise Didi Gregorius, whether for his hitting or his name. These typify our moments together.

I was lucky to enjoy my father for many years. I wish he had had as much luck dying, as my great grandmother would say, as he had living but we don’t control either. In a certain sense, he would appreciate receiving a written eulogy from his son as, after all, he was an old newspaper man. He would probably do some redlining for the same reason. May his memory be blessed. He will be missed.

Freelance life or enjoying the tropical island
Sun, 07 Jun 2020 04:40:00 +0000
[tropical island*]

To people stuck in an office job they hate and dreading the daily commute, being a freelancer seems like a tropical paradise. A career as an independent seems stressless and satisfying. Fueled by the Corona economic crises, many are discovering that this ideal picture is far from the truth. However, that said, freelancing can be a breath of fresh air if people know how to manage the challenges specific to it. As a matter of perspective, I have been a freelance translator and editor for more than 15 years, some half of it full time, working previously (and currently) as a teacher, a salaried position. I did not regret my change of direction and plan to continue even beyond the formal retirement age.

[piles of coins]
Financial stress – Not being able to pay the bills is stressful and disenchanting. Freelancers generally have to begin their business from scratch and do not receive a dependable monthly check. Coping with this worry involves preparation, budgeting and managing expectations. The two safest ways to begin a freelance career are to have a nest egg to get your through the first year or so or start part time until a customer base sufficient to allow you to drop the other job is established. Either way, the knowledge that the mortgage is taken care of allows the translator to make correct long-term decisions. Beyond that, since income is not predicable regardless of how many years a person in the business, it is vital control spending on luxuries, whether vacations or furniture. Freelancers can invest in their personal life but it is clearly not advisable to go out on a major shopping spree after each great month. Just as important is the acquired ability to avoid emotional extremes, positive or negative, in regards to extreme months. A great month does not mean that the whole year will be fantastic nor does a poor month mean the end of the business. Poor months are even great opportunities to consider strategy or implement marketing. Enjoy success and worry about failure in moderation. By planning, budgeting and keeping a perspective, the financial stress becomes background noise most of the time.


Crisis of confidence – Being a freelancer as compared to a salaryman, as the Japanese used to say, is the difference between a sailboat and an ocean liner. While passengers in the latter may have little control of their destiny, they are buffered if not protected from the waves. Freelancers may be able to choose their course and zoom but inevitably are hit by disturbing blows. The event may be a customer complaint, losing a long-term customer, an extended downturn and even a major change in the industry. In any case, independents often react by losing their confidence in themselves, questioning their path and doubting the future.
The way to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune is a combination of cold reasoning, acceptance and faith. When you lose a customer or are accused of doing poor quality work, rightly or wrongly, it is vital to analyze the event carefully as if you were not a party to it. It may take several hours or days before this objectivity is reached but, once achieved, it is vital to identify the fundamental causes and devise strategies to avoid similar incidents. This acceptance that errors and misunderstandings can happen even to the best of us reduces the negative thinking that can overwhelm people. Even if, to quote the great John Belushi line from Animal House, you f***ed up, the failure does not erase the hundreds if not thousands of successful projects you have completed or the make the skills that you have attained disappear. Thinking logical and keeping the faith are vital for a long-term freelance career.

Emotional stability – Productivity and happiness are correlational statistically. Contented workers, including freelancers, produce more and better products. Social isolation, poor home relations and burnout reduce morale. Working at home can create all three of these situations. First, for a freelancer, being stuck at work all day long often implies a lack of human contact. Even for those with a family, the hours and demands of being independent force an unnatural structure to those relations. Free time for hobbies and friends is a bit of a fata morgana, somewhere in the distance. Freelancers must integrate emotionally satisfying activities in their lives.
Since life by projects is unpredictable by nature, such activities must be scheduled. Regular schedule sessions for any social activity ensure that the entrepreneur gets properly dressed from time to time and does not forget how to conduct a casual conversation. Children and significant others are no less deserving and important than work and should receive their due even if it must be arranged in advance. It is very beneficial to spend some time every week on some activity that makes you happy. The investment is not wasted as it rekindles enthusiasm for work. In the long term, socially active people are more stable and productive than hermits.
[yin-yang in rice]

Life balance – One of the most significant differences between employees and entrepreneurs is that the ease of becoming addicted to work. The high that freelancers receive from the work and the resulting payment often leads to seven-day work weeks of 12 hours of day, at least until they collapse. It is remarkably easy to fall into the trap of “one more project” and wonder why one day the brain and body go on complete strike. No good deed goes unpunished.
While work is an important and hopefully enjoyable part of life, it is vital to maintain a balanced life. Ultimately, family life contributes to and is just as important as a career. Friends provide the social release needed to clean the soul. Physical activity releases tension, one of the major causes of errors and burn out. It makes no sense to make freelance life as miserable and confining as salaried life.
Life as a freelancer can be a paradise as long as it is managed properly. Maintaining a level headed balance in regards to money, emotions, social life and life style makes getting up in the morning to start work feel like waking up in Tahiti, at least of most of the time. Of course, an occasional vacation to some exotic place, even a tropical island, is also recommended.  After all, the purpose of making money is to enjoy it.

* Remember to caption all pictures so blind people can also enjoy your posts.  All pictures from the Pixibay.com site. 

Doing justice to Hebrew tzedek
Sun, 31 May 2020 04:28:00 +0000

[King Solomon]

As I wrote last week, basic concepts may be universal to human societies and have a word to express them but the scope of the term may vary in terms of meaning and impact. All languages, including Hebrew, have a lexical item for justice since human societies sometimes experience internal conflict that must be resolved.  What makes the Hebrew word tzedekunique are the scope of its implications and their impact on Jewish society.

Formally, the dictionary definitions are similar on most languages. The Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, an impressive volume in terms of physical weight alone, defines justice as being right, righteous, equitable, morally consistent, conforming to a principle, punished and compliant with the law. Le Petit Robert, Little Bob, emphasizes, appreciation, recognition and respect of the rights and merits of each person and the moral principles of positive law. The Even Shoshan Hebrew dictionary, the bedrock of the modern language, begins with “straight, honest, the way of truth” followed by mentions of salvation and rescue. The Hebrew meaning is more ambiguous since it does even hint at conformity to some formal standards but merely refers to an amorphous concept.

In practice, the word is used differently by each society. Some societies, notably the United States, emphasize the punishment aspect of justice. When people call for justice against a killer or rapist, they mean they want conviction and the death penalty. For example, Afro-Americans rightly demand justice against police officers guilty of superfluous deadly violence against members of their community. By contrast, those same minorities, who have been without access to proper hospitals during the Corona crisis, have not marched for rectification of this injustice, maybe since American society has the ethos of individual responsibility, i.e. we each create our own justice, positive or negative. Other societies, identifying the difficulty of substantiating justice and attempting to avoid the problem, have joined the terms law and order and justice. In other words, any action in line with current laws and regulations is just, regardless of its moral implications.  The results of such a merging have been absurd, such as some of the policies of the Great Leap Forward in China, or tragic, as in Nazi Germany. In any case, justice is defined against some established standard.

Tzedek in Jewish thought is ancient, developed and mainly a positive commandment. The Jews began as a tribal society where community values and mutual support were vital for survival. The weak, hungry and sick had to be supported in every way possible not only for reasons of societal tranquility in the present but for the future of the tribe. With the Torah and mitzvot, the positive commandments, these customs became scripturely rooted. Sharing, caring and helping, to name just a few, became a part of societal justice. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for charity, tzdaka, is derived the same root. The issue of punishment for deviations was discussed but was relatively minor. This recommendations for proper behavior were never completely specific as the form and scope depend on so many factors as to make “regulation” quite difficult, if not impossible. This ethos of group justice was reinforced in modern Israel by the kibbutz way of life, which was based on the socialist principles of “each according to his ability, each according to his needs” (Karl Marx). This meant that that a kibbutz was obliged to help each member regardless of that person’s actual contribution. Thus, the Hebrew use of the word tzedek is much more demanding on both people and governments as it requires positive action.

The problem with a “universal” justice is that it is in fact extremely subjective. On the personal level, each party in any dispute feels righteous, i.e., its point of view is correct. On a larger scale, in an almost zero-sum world, any change creates both winners and losers whether in terms of money and/or status. It is impossible to please everybody. Finally, even when governments try to be just, as in the current attempts to help businesses that suffered during the Corona crisis, there is a never-ending dispute on who is more miserable than the other, to twist George Orwell’s words in Animal Farm. It is extremely difficult to determine whose justice is more just.

As a result, Israeli society often sounds like the sea gulls in Finding Nemo when Martin the clown fish goes down the wharf: mine, mine, … Israelis exhibit no reluctance in expressing their feelings regarding injustice. The Israeli Supreme Court even directly hears request from citizens demanding justice. This cacophony expresses to a certain degree the lack of consensus in Israeli society about the meaning of justice but, at the same time, the consensus that justice should rule the actions of people and government not only in punishing criminal actions but in promoting an equitable and humane society. There is an old joke in the 1950’s about Ben Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, asking Stalin about the number of people that have opposed his plans. Stalin answers “about three million”, the population of Israel then. Ben Gen Gurion responds that he has the same problem. It is not an accident that Shlomo (Solomon) is considered the greatest king in the history of Israel not due the size of his empire or strength of his military power but for his wisdom in administering justice.

* To provide full access to the blind, add picture captions.

The King is dead - The French heritage of patrimoine
Sun, 24 May 2020 04:45:00 +0000

                                              [Bust of King Louis XIV, "the Sun King"*]

Human societies share a base core of concepts as reflected by words. Examples include house, meal, work and father. While all languages have words for these ideas, the details and connotations as well as relative importance vary from language to language and culture to culture. By going beyond translation, it is possible to use lexicon to understand the priorities and subtleties of any given society.

An interesting example is the French world patrimoine, derived from the Latin for the heritage of the father. Le Petit Robert, the classic French-French dictionary, affectionally known to some Francophiles as “Little Bob”, defines the word in terms of inherited assets, total assets of a person, treasures from the past and the collective inherited characteristics. The English translations include estate, property, holdings, inheritance and heritage. The power of the single word in French is spread into five different words in English, each with its own context. Thus, the concept of passing on gifts exists in both cultures but is lexically expressed differently.

Given the conceptionally wide coverage of the French word, it is no surprise that it appears quite frequently both in terms of quantity and range of subject matter in French. It is rare to find a newspaper or magazine where the word does not appear at least once, if not multiple times. The word can refer to a fancy chateau of Cardinal Richelieu, an asset subject to the incredible estate taxes of French tax law reaching 55-60% percent for non-sibling heirs, the incredible crème fraiche produced by multiple generations of a boutique dairy in some province and the books of Marcel Proust, which are longer than those of Herman Melville and contain much less action. For that matter, people whose direct ancestors survived the black plague are immune to AIDS and have a valuable patrimoine. The word packs quite an impact.

This power goes beyond verbl use and both fuels and is fueled by people. In France, there is a countless number of volunteer groups and government agencies trying to save some patrimoine or another. I have heard of organizations for the preservation of ancient forms of wheat, tomatoes and flour; the houses and recipes of Colette, Anatole France and Monet; old windmills and recipes of the various monarchs; the chansons of the 1920’s and 1930 as well as the street music of the 19th century; church buildings and remnants (often merely “rems”) of some long forgotten castle or fortification;  and furniture and decorations from any century prior to the 21th. All this effort and time reflects the important of the past on the French.

Being half-French but also half-American, I cannot but help consider the psychological impact of such an obsession on French thinking. Assuming a zero-sum status on time for thought and action, i.e., each person has limited quantities of them, it is interesting to make conjectures on the benefits and price of this tendency. As I see it, France and French were once the leading stars of Western civilization, dominating Europe both politically and linguistically. Alas, the German unification by Bismarck, World War I and emergence of the United States and Soviet Union,  to name just a few causes, changed that reality. Still, as in Spain, the French are understandably quite nostalgic for the “good old days”. Relishing them makes the French and French government feel much better.  Furthermore, in themselves, these various heritages are impressive and worth preserving. Many of the chateaux and culinary delights are France are truly impressive.  However, I have always sensed that this conservation is at the expense of valuing the present and developing the future. Why aren’t modern French singers, scientists and industrialists equally esteemed in France or abroad? For the purpose of contrast, the Americans Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Michael Jordan are known worldwide. Even France’s most iconic modern symbol, the late Johnny Hallyday, is a conscious imitation of Elvis Presley (not the other way around as some French may think). In fact, modern France has produced some impressive buildings, scientific achievements, music and crafts. How many French people have the time or even care to sing their praise?

Thus, the pronounced use of the word patrimoine reflects not only its linguistic flexibility but also the attitude of the French to the past and present. It has been said that people who forget their past are doomed to repeat it but that does not mean that people who celebrate their past are destined to restore it.  Compare Italy of ancient and modern times. As a Francophile, I would say the King is dead, long live the President.

*Insert picture captions to allow access to the blind.
Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/ibudiallo-2645883/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2811294">Ibrahim Diallo</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2811294">Pixabay</a>

Ode to the Israeli shitat mazliach or nothing ventured, nothing gained
Sun, 17 May 2020 05:03:00 +0000

                                                                     [A davidka mortar*]

I will begin with two anecdotes. Scene 1:  Yanetz Levi, the writer of Uncle Leo’s Adventures ((הרפתקאות דוד אריה was invited to South Korea to launch the Korean version of one of his books and welcome by no less than a senior Korean government Minister, who asked him seriously if this book would help Korean children to be more creative and inventive. Scene 2: A middle aged person walks into the post office, sees a mass of people waiting for their turn, many of them of the third age, quietly approaches clerk and is then verbally assaulted by cries in at least three different languages of “there’s a line”. Seeing that the response “I just have a question” is not going to work, that person quickly retreats and sits down.

These two incidents illustrate, albeit in different ways, the Israeli technique of “Mazliach, imperfectly translated into English as nothing ventured, nothing gained. Its name is derived from the verb לחצליח [lahazliach], meaning to succeed.  The term came from a joke about a diner that asks the waiter why an unordered dish appearing on a restaurant bill is called “mazliach”. The answer of the waiter is “if the diner pays for it, it is successful.”  In practice, it means that any and all obstacles, written or understood, must be tested and should not be taken for granted. Its origins are deep as in the diaspora both the official and informal laws were stacked against Jews in almost all societies while its existence was reinforced with the founding of modern Israel because the country was materially poor and lacking basic material resources for some 25 years. Israelis were required to be inventive and think outside the box, whether it was in agriculture with drip immigration or the military with the Davidka, an improvised mortar in the War of Independence in 1948. Even today, overobedient children are ridiculed by their peers. Accepting the status quo has never been the key to success.

Of course, Israelis are both famous and infamous for using this technique. Israel is known as the leading startup company in the world and a leader in many technologies, including agriculture, desalination, IT and medicine. It is quite possible that many future breakthroughs in identifying and combatting the corona virus will come from this small country. On the other hand, people from more formal, rule-bound cultures frown upon the behavior of Israeli tourists and business people and view them as brazen. The ugly Israeli is as notorious as ugly American even if not all Israelis behave in this manner. However, to be fair, it should be noted that most Israelis do retreat and accept reality as occurs in the Post Office. For good or bad, the approach is often  if it succeeds, it succeeds; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

Back to the question posed by the South Korean Minister, the answer is positive but in a different way. The stories were made up by a desperate baby-sitting uncle trying to keep four children of different ages entertained. He then compiled his amusing tales and published six books in the series, which have been translated into numerous languages. The fact is that the unwitting writer improvised a solution, tested it and then created a worldwide success is a testament to the unbounded ambition of Israelis even if that does have a price. For foreigners, it is unsure how much this approach can be copied or reproduced but understanding it does help them to succeed in dealing with Israelis.

* To allow the blind to enjoy your posts, put captions below pictures.

What should be the price of translation?
Sun, 10 May 2020 04:45:00 +0000

                                                         [Two butterflies in a meadow*]

The singly most discussed issue with and between translators is how much to charge for a translation.  I suppose that is true for many other service providers. The obvious but irrelevant answer is as much or as little as possible, depending on whether the party is the provider or purchaser. The main problem is the exact manner of establishing that rate. Also, this approach often leads to short term business relations if the price is unrealistic in the long term.  On a more scientific basis, many theories exist but don’t actually apply to the setting of translation services. Therefore, I will suggest a simple but potentially emotionally unsatisfying way of establishing the value of translation.

                                                             [Supply and demand graph]

Learned economists would tell us that market price is determined by identifying the intersection point between the supply and demand lines on a graph, a visually pleasing solution.  To be fair, these same economists also mention in the small print that these graphs are relevant only when all parties have full knowledge of this supply and demand as well as the current state of sales. For example, if I want to buy a certain power drill, I can check the prices at all local stores selling that product and choose the least expensive option. If a store fails to move its inventory, its price is too high. Please note that all the prices are posted, the product is identical in all stores and the number of power saws available can be determined by checking inventory. None of these factors is true in translation. Translators have no idea nor does in many cases the law allow them to discover prices. No translation is identical in style or quality. As an Internet service, the number of competing translators is indeterminate. Even if it was possible to identify the magic rate, it would change in a short time, which is what actual rates do not even do when there are universally available changes in currency exchanges rate. Therefore, the graph is charming but useless.

                                                           [Cost + Profit = Selling Price]

A simpler manner of establishing prices is the “cost plus” method. In this, the supplier determines the total cost of providing the good or service and adds a profit factor. Back to our power drill, taking into account the cost of purchasing the drills and additional costs, which include rent, insurance, theft and payroll, the merchant establishes the minimum worthwhile price to sell the product, at least in theory. Again, this idea sound reasonable but is not usually practical. Even in regards to physical products, most merchants cannot really ascertain how much the additional factors should impact the price. As for services, no product needs to be purchased to provide a specific service nor is the quantity and volume predictable in the least. The best a service provider can do is to calculate minimum income to pay to keep a roof over their head and food in the fridge. Even with this information, it is impossible to establish the price for a translation or other service.

                                                                    [Crocheted orchid]
                                               (C) All rights reserved Tzviya Levin Rifkind

Just for intellectual exercise and purity, it is worth considering Marx and Engel’s approach. They stated that the value of a product and, by extension, a service, is the measure of the value inputted by the worker. As an example, a given translator with 20 years’ experience and specializing in financial translation provides a brilliant German version of a French annual report. The value of the worker’s contribution in terms of knowledge and effort is immense and should be fully rewarded, at least according to those fine gentlemen.  The purchasing company probably won’t be willing to pay that amount regardless of the translator’s background or effort. To illustrate, my wife crocheted an orchid for her daughter’s wedding. It took hundreds of hours of work and all her skill. If she were to sell it, according to Marxist theory, she should get a princely amount. Alas, regardless of how beautiful and special it is, the chances of her getting that price are very close to zero. Unfortunately, skill and effort are important but not determining.

                                                                           [Bell curve]
For those without extraordinary skill or knowledge, the bell curve seems to provide a relevant guide. These service providers should set the price based on the most common rate in the subject and physical area, rendering them competitive with most potential customers. Unfortunately, translation is not a physical good and is, consequently, not limited to a given physical area. Through the Internet, translators from all over the world as well as low-cost international agencies can and do compete for the same customers. The playing ground is not even as the cost of living can significantly differ from place to place, allowing some to lower their rates to below the living costs of others. Not only that, the customer may not be to ascertain nor care about the quality of the translation. The service purchsers themselves are based in a wide variety of countries, each with its own economic reality. The business environment in Egypt and Germany is extremely different. Therefore, rendering the Bell Curve irrelevant.

                                                               [Two hands - two worlds]

An analysis that is much easier to implement and subjective than those mentioned above is that the best price is that in which both the service provider and customer are satisfied. If the translator or other service provider earns enough money to feel properly rewarded, however much that is, while the customer receives value, however it defines it, both parties gain in terms of stability, energy efficiency and results.  The calculation of the relevant factors will naturally vary. The price is established by direct negotiation with each side considering its situation. There is no requirement for expensive and time-consuming market research nor is any amount set in stone as the rate can be renegotiated as circumstances require. For example, if the transaltor is not paying bills or the purchaser needs to cut costs, the rates eventually change.  In practice, this is how most rates are set.

This approach requires a sometimes difficult  emotional acceptance that others may be attaining higher or lower rates, even significantly so. In a sense, it is “autistic” in that it filters external reality. On the other hand, this mutual agreement creates its own reality in that it is possible to reach a mutually acceptable situation with some partners but not with others. It is clear that those in the “the more, the better” school will not adopt this approach. To drag Voltaire into the discussion, I tend to stand with Candide, who said that il faut cultiver son jardin.

* Always include a caption below pictures to allow blind readers to also enjoy.

Foreign tolerance
Sun, 03 May 2020 05:02:00 +0000

                                                            [Picture of Oliver Cromwell*]

For every native-speaker of English, there are around four non-native speakers. This means 80% of English users not only have imperfect knowledge of English grammar and spelling but how to express tone. In other words, of increasing importance due to social media, most are not familiar with the manner in which it is possible to express ideas without sounding rude or aggressive. In this regard, it is important to understand that each language has its own acceptable style of written expression, which may sound ridiculous or rude when translating literally.

Two extremes are French and Hebrew. French is a flowery language arising from a culture that highly values formal politeness.  Some beautiful phrases found common in French correspondence of all kinds include: nous avons l’honneuer de  [we have the honor of], je suis dans l’obligation [I am in the obligation of], en vous addressant mes meilleurs voeux de succes [in sending my best wishes of success], and je me permits d’attirer votre attention [I allow myself to bring it to your attention], even when the the content does not reflect such thoughts. By contrast, Israeli society and the Hebrew language are quite direct, if not blunt, which is reflected in the written language. For example, Hebrew generally avoids use of such fillers as please in  sentences and how are you doing at the beginning of emails.Since, its syntax generally follows the subject-verb-object order and the language has often has few synonyms, the message is to the point. Its tendency to call a spade a spade is the polar opposite of the French indirect style.

English is a direct language in terms of sentence syntax but developed in a class society that valued politeness. In practical terms, the polish in English correspondence is added through doubt, understatement and vagueness, among others. To avoid putting people in uncomfortable corners, English has many phrases to allow for error, at least in form. These include to the best of my knowledge, as far as I can know, it appears that and I have received information that. These words avoid direct accusation. Another technique, typically British, is reducing the severity of the term, sometimes to the point of sarcasm. For instance, your services did not meet my satisfaction means that the contractor’s worker was awful while I find it regretful often expresses great anger. When it would be too confrontational to formally mention a painful matter, native English speakers prefer vague terms. Some examples include please advise, payment issues, contractual obligations and resolving the issue. Using these techniques, English correspondence loses its uncomfortable aggressiveness at least as far as native speakers are concerned.

However, most users of English are neither native speakers nor advanced students of English in terms of formal studies or living in an English-speaking country. At the same time, they increasingly are active in international writing, especially in social media and email. Their language is generally understandable in terms of content but sometimes creates misunderstanding in terms of tone. Specifically, the writer may have intended the greatest respect but the reader, especially a native English speaker, may forget that the writer does not share a common culture and interpret a comment as rude, even insulting, or bloated This communication gap can create avoidable communication barriers.

In terms of implications, it is clear that non-native English-speaking professionals that actively use email and social media should seek guidance on the matter to ensure that they transmit their true message. For example, my wife, an Israeli, occasionally consults me in regards to sensitive email to make sure that the underlying message is effectively expressed. On a greater scale, when reading and reacting to various comments in social media, especially Facebook, it is important to consider the background of the writers. If they are non-native English speakers writing in English, however correct that English may be, they may be entirely unaware of English writing conventions and, consequently, how insulting their comments sounded to a native English speaker. Accordingly, we native speakers must be patient with foreigners not only because they are the majority but also because the vast majority have limited knowledge of English. I hope for the same when I write in French or Hebrew. As Cromwell would say, tolerance is the basis for a civil society.

* For the sake of the blind, do not forget to caption your pictures. Picture taken from wikipedia site.

Mind your French (and English)!
Sun, 26 Apr 2020 04:54:00 +0000

[Flags of the United Kingdom and France*]

Profiting from some free time this Friday (to accentuate the positive as Johnny Mercer wrote), I was directed to and listened to several podcastsprepared by the French Division of the American Translators Association. I found them very interesting and relevant both to translators and customers as they presented issues and solutions in French-English translation (both ways). They also reinforced the notion that wisdom is the knowledge of how much there is still to learn.

In the podcast on financial translation, Amanda Williams strongly demonstrated how important subject material knowledge is vital for accuracy. Since French and English share many roots and almost as many false friends, blindly using the shared root is often but not always incorrect. For example, the French word contrôle can be translated as audit in English but also control, depending on the context. Familiarly with the IFRS, which is the international accounting regulations, is vital as exemplified by the English translation of the French immobilisation corporelle: property, plants and equipment. A final example is the catch-all French term operations, which is often rendered activity in English. As the speaker said, the world needs more great financial translation, with emphasis on the word “great”.

In their podcast on Translations that pop, Angela Dubois and Andie Ho presented effective translation solutions of difficult source material and made it clear how native-language familiarity with the target language and understanding of the intended message are keys to the art. Citing a translation for the marketing phrase gérer votre quotidien devient facile by Natalie Fadi [apologies in advance for this spelling], they praised the effectiveness of managing your day to day just got easier, noting that the subtle adding of the word justand change in the form of easy made the translation seamless. Likewise, the same translator translated the phrase Elegance à la plage, de la plage à l’ėlegance regarding designer clothing into Elegance from dawn to dusk. The commentators noted the primary element was the flexibility of use the clothing, not the beach, as well as the switch from place to time. Finally, Ms. Dubois presented her French translation of the English marketing phrase for an application. Acme, any time and any place became Acme, dans votre poche [Acme in your pocket]. In translating marketing material, both the intended message of the source material and the sound and rhythm of the target language must be considered.

Finally, Miranda Joubioux gave several examples of problematic words in French that had been discussed in the Pet Peeves and Betes Noirs website. The first terms she discussed were the French words accueillir and accueil, mentioning several options, including host, house, include, live, cater to and be open to. Similarly, the common French word acteur can be translated into stakeholder, player, insiders, movers and shakers, to name a few, or even be ignored. A final example is the phrase dans le cadre de, which is generally too formal for English. Options include as part of, in and at. What arose from the discussions is that blind obedience to French syntax and word choice is poor translation.

The fruits of my Friday labor were greater understanding and appreciation of the differences between these two somewhat related languages. Since I also translate into English from non-related languges (Russian and Hebrew) in addition to from French the podcast reinforced my feeling that their closeness actually made translation more difficult, not less. In any case, it is a lifetime of work but a work of love to fully appreciate their varying manners of expressing ideas. Vive la difference!

*Insert a picture description in your posts to allow full access to the blind. Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/baptiste_heschung-226926/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1441871">Baptiste Heschung</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1441871">Pixabay</a>

Je ne sais. Quoi!
Sun, 19 Apr 2020 05:04:00 +0000

[the word "what"*]

One occasional and regrettable challenge for translators is highly ambiguous source texts. Specifically, the text allows for many different interpretations, says nothing or is so busy implying only those in the know can understand. In the first two cases, the solution is relatively simple: ask the source of the article and “elegant garbage in, elegant garbage out”. Examples of these include technical texts written by engineers that never learned how to write and descriptions of art, respectively. The third case is much trickier for the translator as the writer does not want the general public to understand.  The experts of this type of intentional vagueness are lawyers and politicians. Fortunately, in English speaking cases, the Plain English movement has gained influence, forcing English-speaking legislatures and administrations to at least attempt to write clearly, resulting in much clearer laws and government directives. As for politicians, their case is hopeless.

Unfortunately, the movement seems to fear large water barriers, specifically the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean as cryptic writing has even attained official state-of-the-art status in France. As an example, in an article titled « Le profs ensevelis sous le jargon” [The teachers buried under jargon], the French magazine Le Canard enchainé from the February 12, 2020 edition cites the official site of the French Ministry of National Education in regards to the ongoing dispute with the teachers over salaries. I quote [italics in original]:

Le site gouvernemental de “modernisation de l’action publique va plus loin.” Selon lui, les “tiers lieux éducatifs” servent àfaire émerger un patrimoine informationnel commun : mutualiser des outils libres and open source et des dispositifs de documentation est la seule garantie d’une non-enclosure d’une circulation des savoir.” Comme dans les bibliothèques, quoi…

Xavier Marand, secrétaire général adjoint de Snes – première organisation syndicale dans le secondaire -, apporte sa traduction : “Il apparait clairement que la revalorisation salariale sera conditionnée à l’acceptation de nouvelles tâches : coaching d’élèves à distance ou missions de replacement dans les autres lycées, par example. Quant aux 10 milliards promis bar Blanquer sur quinze ans, il n’a pour l’instant mis que 500 millions sur la table pour 2021…”

Chapeau l’artiste !

Translated into English:

The government website for “modernisation of public action goes further.” According to it, “educational third-places[neither home or work]” act to “create a common informational asset: sharing the free and open source tools and information services is the only guarantee of unblocking of a circulation of knowledge.” As they say in the library, what?

Xavier Marand, assistant general secretary of Snes, the leading secondary school union, provides his translation: “It is obvious that that the proper restoration of salaries will be conditional on the acceptance of new tasks: distance coaching of students or replacement assignments in other high schools, for example. In regards to the 10 billion[euro] promised by Blanquer [the minister of National Education], he has only committed 500 million for 2021...”

We take our hat off to the artist!

I do too. I had no idea what the French text actually meant. While a bit extreme, this use of code words combined with the unsaid succeeds in rendering the translation of this text an extremely difficult task, crossing the border into interpretation. By the way, this example should also make it clear why subject knowledge is no less important than language skills in translation. If the translator “does not know” the subject, the customer may end up saying “what?”.

* Help the blind by adding a picture description. Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/GDJ-1086657/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2730753">Gordon Johnson</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2730753">Pixabay</a>

The upcoming train of pent-up demand
Sun, 12 Apr 2020 06:04:00 +0000

                                         [Railroad track with clouds in the distance*]

Worldwide, the corona virus has shut down almost all businesses, big and small, and hit the income of almost workers, salaried and independent. In regards to the day after, when social and business activity is allowed to fully restart, the latter group, the independents, are especially worried. While it is difficult to accurately predict the future, one concept seems relevant in regards to forecast for the short-term future: pent up demand. It is clear that certain professionals will be extremely busy for months to come.

Accountants, doctors and attorneys always finds a way to profit. Given the need to take advantage of the various government support programs and their complexity, accountants will be quite busy and even gain new customers. Their cousins, the financial service providers, will be active helping people manage their debt and get into more debt. On the medical side, the stress of these months on everybody, not just healty care workers, will be boom of those doctors that treat the effects of it, including dermotologists, alergists, cardiologists, dentists, psychologists and psychiatrists, as if their clientelle was not large enough already. However, the lawyers will enjoy the greatest boom. Whether handing divorce, estates, breach of contract or payment issues, the courts are going to be busy. Jewish mothers knew something when they wanted their children to enter these professions.

The busiest service providers, at least in the short term, will be in the beauty care industry. Tens of millions of women will not have had a proper heart cut, dyeing, manicure, pedicure, injection or skin treatment for months. To clarify, I do not state that in derision but in appreciation of their need and its impact on those that provide this service. In fact, it is possible that these businesses will more than make up for the lost income. I also expect to prices to rise in these industries as many women will not want to wait an additional month for an appointment.

To misapply Newton’s 3rd law of motion, every action has an equal but opposite action. After several months of no serious physical exercise or social activity, people are going to go extreme on sport and going out. The gyms, sports centres and country clubs are going to be jammed the minute such activity is considered safe. Many people will feel the absolute requirement to lose the kilos (or pounds) that they gained while stuck at home. It is unclear how long these people will maintain their enthusiasm but demand for such services will be initialy very strong. Cafes, bars and sports stadiums will be also be packed. These places represent the polar opposite of being stuck at home: lots of noise, talk, non-family and vicarious pleasure. The coffee or beer may the same but everything else is different. Vive la difference! Flights probably will  be packed as people travel to see their “long-lost” loved ones. Any professional involved this social approaching will gain.

Time will tell if how correct these predictions are. Clearly, for some independents, the return to the “good old days” before the corona device will take time, possibly years.  For others, the shutdown period will be an unpleasant but short hickup in their business development, even a shot in the arm. It is the challenge of independents to figure the route of the recovery train and somehow catch it.

* For the sake of the millions of blind, always post a description of your picture.
Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/Larisa-K-1107275/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=163518">Larisa Koshkina</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=163518">Pixabay</a>

The uniqueness of translating Hebrew
Sun, 05 Apr 2020 04:56:00 +0000

Comparison of several words in Hebrew with and without vowels.*

Translation is the art and skill of translating an idea in one language to another language while both faithfully transmitting the various levels of meaning of the source language text and respecting the integrity of the target language. As each language is unique, even if they sound similar, such as Spanish and Italian, this conversion of ideas can be sometimes quite challenging, even incomplete. It is not always possible to full capture the layers of the word or create a seamless text. For example, in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the Russian word сознающий [soznayushi] implies both knowledge and conscience, a combined meaning difficult to transmit into English (and vital for the story). Clearly each language has its unique aspects that pose challenges to the translator. For example, modern Hebrew is a both very young and very old, in linguistic terms, Semitic language. This affects its alphabet, vocabulary, structure and registers.

The first aspect of Hebrew that strikes non-readers is its alphabet, which initially appears alien. However, fundamentally, it is not difficult to learn how to recognize and read Hebrew letters. The process of learning a foreign alphabet is essentially a mechanical process, a matter of practice, not actually cognitive. The difficulty with Hebrew letters for a new learner and an experienced translator alike is the fact that in most text the vowels sounds are not presented, i.e., the reader is given the consonants only and is assumed to be able to insert the right sounds. As Hebrew words follow strict rules in terms of form, it is possible to most cases to properly ascertain the sounds, such as a short or long e or a. The greatest challenge comes with foreign words, especially names, that are transcribed into Hebrew and don’t follow established patterns. For example, a drug begins with a short a, as in tap, or a short e, as in bed, would both begin with the letter aleph. It requires to knowledge or research to discover the original name in English unless the vowels are marked, which is rare. When I receive a “simple” birth or marriage certificate to translate into English, I often have no idea how to spell many of the names, which are extremely idiosyncratic by nature. Thus, the challenge of the Hebrew alphabet is not in what is seen, but what is not seen.

One characteristic of Semitic languages, which include Hebrew and Arabic, is their extreme genderification. All nouns and personal pronouns, singular and plural, reflect gender. There is no way to express neutrality. For example, if the staff at an elementary school has 20 female teachers and 1 male teacher, teacher being a neutral word in English, in Hebrew, the writer must decide whether to apply the standard rule, the masculine gender applies for all mixed groups, or the minority approach that majority rules, the feminine form in this case. Since the verb also reflects the gender, in academic writing, the translator must find out who exactly is A. Jonesin order to insert the right form of the verb. My wife, a medical translator, has a whole series of tricks to figure this out but it can be a very time-consuming task. The fun really kicks in second-person texts, including questionnaires and marketing materials, where the translator has to understand who the potential audience is and find an elegant way to address it. For example, since there are men that suffer from breast cancer, the masculine form may be appropriate in some medical forms. Sex is everything in Hebrew and complicated.

Almost uniquely, Hebrew is both an ancient and new non-Latin-based language. Its root date some 23 centuries but its modern form is not even 150 years old. In terms of vocabulary, this ancient past and newness create some strange versions of rich and poor. On the one hand, some areas of activity have numerous words, including putting on a piece of clothing, each type with its own verb, and types of rain, depending on when it falls. On the other hand, while English has effective and efficient, two clearly distinct meanings, pure Hebrew has only one word, יעיל [ya’il], leaving the translator to use a borrowed English word, effectivi, or use multiple words, a less than elegant solution. Starting off with such a limited pool of words for modern concepts, Hebrew is still in its lexical growth period, adding words at an incredible pace and creating numerous disputes on which Hebrew-rooted word should be used to describe the concept or whether an English word recognized by most Israelis should be applied. This uncertainty forces translators to choose between readability, the understood English borrowing, or purity, the new Hebrew word, if it exists at all. In terms of vocabulary, the lexical earth for a Hebrew translator is not very stable.

Finally, there is the curious issue of register. More established societies, almost without exceptions, have social classes. The relations between these social classes are reflected in the form of address and vocabulary. Examples of distinction include titles, such Mr. and Mrs., use of first names, different forms of the word “you” and the choice of active or passive structure. Israel is a young society essentially composed of generations of landless, poor immigrants of all religions. This economic equality was reinforced by a socialistic/communistic ethos of the rejection of European formalism. Thus, everybody from the youngest to oldest is addressed by their first name without titles. In fact, the best way to shock, if not insult, a woman is to call her “giveret”, Ms. Her reaction probably would be “What, do I look that old?” Not only that, having such a small number of roots, there are simply almost no sources for alternative “high-fulutin” alternatives, except for the Bible, which, alas, is to modern Hebrew what Shakespearean English is to modern English, artificial (except in certain subgroups). So, Hebrew essentially has really only one register, so different from more complex and older societies.

These features of Hebrew are far from negative. They enrich the language and process of working to and from it. Translators enjoy their job specifically because it involves the effort in finding the right turn-of-phrase that transmits the idea to the target language in the best possible way, even if something often gets lost in translation. In point of fact, translators are no less writers than the original writers, especially when working with Hebrew.

* As my friend from yesteryear Len Burns has reminded me, blind people also should be able to know what the picture is. Please label your pictures.

Hair to the throne
Sun, 29 Mar 2020 04:57:00 +0000

As the present is rather stuck at home and future on hold, it is an ideal time to delve into some nostalgia, in particular on something not related to “it”. Watching the program Samedi d’en rire on France 3, which presents delightful old clips of French singers and comedians, I was struck by one amazing change in the Gallic entertainment scene that occurred in the mid 1960’s. Very simply, the male singers magically grew full heads of hair and became handsome, even pretty.

To explain, if you look at the kings of French music before 1967 or so, in retrospect, two characteristics stand out. They had wonderful voices and limited hair. Charles Aznavour, France’s Frank Sinatra, recorded more than 1200 songs and wrote some 1000 songs. One of his most famous hits is La Bohėme. Notwithstanding his extraordinary talent, he was far from a sex symbol, already starting to shed hair when he was young. Likewise, Jacques Brel, my favorite, Belgium by origin, added an incredible emotional touch to all his songs, with Ne me quitte pas being one of his most famous. His vulnerability may have been helped by the fact that he looked rather ragged and without much of a coif. Yves Montand is the leading stars of French chanson but kept his hair short even in his youth, as was the fashion. See him singing BellaCiao, a partisan song, in his native Italian. These singers are a pleasure for the ear but not so much for the eye.

By contrast, by the late 1960, hair was in fashion and, apparently, de rigeur. First and foremost, Johnny Halliday, the French Elvis Presley, entered the scene and remained there for almost 60 years, selling some 110 million records. He was always plentifully and impeccably coiffed, as you can see him in this duet with Julio Inglesias, who has also captured some hearts in his time. JoeDassin has a short career, dying in 1980, but had the ideal head of hair, at least for his era. Mike Brant also had a brilliant but short career. His hair would make women jealous even today. These are just a sample of the male full-haired heart-throbbers of the period.

Music and fashion have changed many times since then.  The days of the full coif seem long ago, as distant as those of the earlier ugly duckling days. Yet, as a person that enjoys music and sports a wide highway on the top of my head, I prefer voice over hair if I have to choose. Maybe, there has been no full heir to the 1960 throne of the French chanson. In any case, revisiting the music of yesteryear brought a smile to my face (and hopefully to yours), which is a good thing at any time.

Poor translation or a bad feeling in Copenhagen
Sun, 22 Mar 2020 05:51:00 +0000

As in many technical products, to one degree or another, the purchaser of a translation has little or no ability to assess the quality of the text until it is made public since it is in a foreign language in many of not most cases. Many an author has only discovered what the foreign reader actually read only after the translated book was published. In fact, the purchaser of a translation must trust that the translator did a professional job, which is both uncomfortable and not always true. Lacking the required knowledge of the target language, purchasers need some parameters to ascertain whether the target text is substandard and requires review.

A short spellcheck of the document can reveal many serious flaws.  First, it can highlight real spelling errors, which should have been fixed before delivery. Second, it marks capitalization issues in translation. For example, in French, last names and locations are capitalized, i.e., M. Henry JONES from RENNES, as compared to English where such practice never occurs, e.g.., Mr. Henry Jones from Rennes. Furthermore, punctuation interference is revealed. For example, again in French, two spaces are placed after a colon while in English there is only one, e.g., Grade:  70 as compared to Grade: 70. Likewise, spellcheck will mark sentences that fail to comply with the punctuation rules of the target language  since the use of commas and periods varies to one degree or another from one language to another. Finally, spellcheck may identify a grammar issue in terms of form, including gender and number, and tenses. For example, while in many languages, a subordinate clause in sentence in the future is also in the future, in English, the secondary verb in the present: I will call you when I wakeup. Spellcheck can identify these signs of poor work.

A visual check can also identify some red flags, especially when working between left to right and right to left languages or languages with different alphabets. The presence of words left in the original language without a specific request to do so should beg clarification. When working between languages going in different directions, it is advisable to look for the proper placement of punctuation such as periods and greater/less than signs, symbols such as trademark and copyright, and parentheses. The customer should carefully check the numbers not only to see if they were miscopied, which is critical in itself, but also whether the appropriate punctuation mark was used to divide the whole numbers and decimals. For example, 500,700.05 in English is 500.700,05 in French. The customer can easily identify these issues.

Finally, if the customer has some knowledge of the target language, which is common in regards to English, it is advisable to read the text out loud. If the sentences sound terrible or word for word like the original, the translator may have been too loyal to the text. Any use of non-localized terminology or incorrect terminology is a clear read flag. For example, a medical ethics committee in the United States is a Helsinki committee in Israel while a fan club in English is not club de ventilateurs in French. Good translators think.

The presence of any these issues does not necessarily mean the translation is terrible but does justify having the text read by a native speaker knowledgeable in the subject area. To be clear, requesting this service from non-natives, regardless of their level, will probably lead to false positives as their knowledge of the written language is generally insufficient to properly identify the issues. However, if a native speaker provides a negative assessment, the client is justified in returning the product to the translator or agency for review. Something probably is rotten in the kingdom of Denmark.