Tip of the Tongue
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.


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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.
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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!




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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.

Sport in the time of the Coronavirus
Sun, 15 Mar 2020 05:39:00 +0000

Like many people, I find this whole coronavirus situation disquieting. I am not worried about being sick although there is a statistical possibility that it may happen. Instead, I find it strangely upsetting that my whole world is turning upside down. The certainties of life are no longer automatic, rendering any planning for the foreseeable future impossible. I find it so disconcerting that I do not want to watch the news or talk about “it”. On the other hand, “it” is a rather difficult to ignore when it starts creating barriers to human interaction and interferes with making a living.  Instead, the only issue of the virus that I can talk or write about directly is a marginal aspect, relatively speaking, specifically because it is less obtrusive. Specifically, I keep on thinking about suspension of major sports worldwide, including the FIFA, NBA and MLB. Instead of crying about it, I like to consider some admittedly questionable options to provide people with safe options for vicarious living.

For example, worldwide, many people escape their hot, cramped flats and go to sports bars to watch life action or turn on one of the ESPN channels.  What do these bars and channels have to offer now? Video of last year’s World Series or Classico? Honestly, how interesting is the Rose Bowl game of 2002?  On the other hand, using cable access to news programs worldwide, people can keep track of the number of new cases or latest measures by this government or another.  As there is constant action and news, it would certainly be entertaining and even provide a basis for betting, the ideal way of forgetting your troubles.

Speaking of betting, all those sports betters, bereft of any professional team game, can now hone their poker skills. I imagine that the online betting sites are making a fortune these days on those unfortunate thousands in insolation. Is there a better way to kill time than playing poker online?  Your family cannot even criticize you for not going out and getting a job.  As the British adverts say, when it stops being fun, stop playing.

Another victim of the sports suspension are the thousands of hawkers in the stadiums around the world who would be otherwise busy (and employed) bringing hot dogs, beer and ice cream to your seats.  True, some teams are arranging some compensation for them in the short time but who knows how long the suspension will last.  However, there is another way for them to use their skills of yelling and hauling that would combine public service and private relief. In cities under curfew, they could circulate affected residential neighborhoods calling out: “Get your burritos, hamburgers and hot dogs”. Even the most addicted poker player needs food from time to time. On the other hand, the amount of fat, cholesterol and salt in these foods probably is more dangerous than the virus.

As for the athletes themselves, neither of these options are relevant as they need neither the money from poker nor the calories from junk food. On the other hand, it might be a great opportunity for them to read books.  Professional athletes do not have the reputation of being great intellectuals, although there must be some exceptions even if I cannot think of any particular player. Both electronic and paper books are very popular and accessible now. The knowledge attained in a month or so (we hope) of active reading may be useful for them in the future when they retire or have to help their children with homework. As Mr. Buffet says, opportunity comes to those who seek it.

I am not making light of the disease nor intending to show disrespect to the families of those that have died of it. I simply find that laughter is the best medicine even it is not omnipotent. I personally cannot change the reality and know that this too shall pass. In the meantime, to keep my sanity, I have to laugh. Still, I find it extremely upsetting, albeit understandable, that the baseball season is suspended. For that and all the much more important reasons, let’s hope that the corona virus becomes as forgotten as the Toyota Corona.

City gossip
Sun, 08 Mar 2020 06:09:00 +0000

Cities have their ebbs and flows, expanding and shrinking as circumstances change.  See this fascinating historical perspective: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2uoqJmJaGo. Beyond size, in a few cases, the name of a city becomes linked with a product or event, rendering both eternally famous or infamous beyond its immediate world importance.

For example, in a few cases, due to historical circumstances, new governments were established in a city and provided that regime with its historical name. In the 20th century, we have the Vichy Regime from 1940-1944, the “Free French” zone that gradually became a German puppet under its controversial leader, Pierre Laval, who may or may not have tried to maintain French sovereignty. Previously, after World War I, the Germans established the Weimer Republic in the town of Weimer, which lasted until 1933. That was probably the most exciting event in the history of that city. Unfortunately, the rise of Nazi Germany ended those glory days but it was fun while it lasted. Several centuries earlier, from 1309 to 1376, there was the Avignon Papacywhere some seven French controlled popes ruled in opposition to the popes in Italy.  There were another series of Avignon popes but that all ended in 1417.  That claim to fame is certainly much interesting than knowing that there was a bridge in Avignon where people danced. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJKfxtYAt0s.

Many specific long-forgotten but then important historical events occurred in certain cities.  For instance, there are countless treaties named after cities but nobody but history fanatics actually remembers them. However, some are still engrained in consciousness of specific countries. For example, the Evian Accords ended the Algerian War of Independence in 1962. Likewise, both Brits and Indians (not American) remember the Black Hole of Calcutta. In 1756, the Nawab of Bengal had the chutzpah of imprisoning some 125 Europeans in the local dungeon, known as the Black, Hole, in a cell less than 24 square meters for three days, resulting in the death of 100 of them and leading to the establishment of the British government’s control of India. More recent examples of cities with tragic events with varying atrociousness are the rape of Nanjing in China by the Japanese in 1937, which affected some 200,000-300,000 people, and the American My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968, which resulted in between 300 and 500 Vietnamese casualties.  It should be mentioned that, the Geneva Convention, ratified in 1949, “regulates” civilized warfare but its record is marked more by its non-compliance than the opposite. 

On a cheerier note, some foods and cities are married, so to speak. For example, I am a great fan of Manhattan clam chowder, which is made with tomatoes instead of milk, as in New England clam chowder. If you are in Menton, near Monaco, in the correct season, you can eat a Menton lemon, which is edible in its right, not being unpleasantly sour. Some people may consider Jerusalem artichoke, also called a sunroot, a delicacy, but I find it a great way to spend a day or two in the bathroom. For those carnivorous among us, two delicious cuts of beef include a New York strip, cut from the beef short loin with or without bone, and Kansas City strip cut, which a portion of the bone, the top corner of the “T”.

I assume that are many other city references in English and other languages and would love to hear about them. On the other hand, if you found this post awful, you can give me a Bronx cheer, a boo or, in virtual language, a thumb down, which I imagine most New York Knick fans have been giving their team for the last ten years or so. Regardless, most cities would agree with Oscar Wild that “only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about”.

Professional conferences and reinventing the wheel
Sun, 01 Mar 2020 05:52:00 +0000


Once again, I had the pleasure of participating at the Israel Translators Association (ITA) Conference, this year in Tel Aviv. It was a two-day event offering lectures on a wide variety of subjects. In many ways, it answered the basic question asked by many translators: Why should I join and actively participate in a professional association? The answer is because it will help your business but not necessarily in the way that people assume. To be clear, direct contacts and even job offers often result from these events. Not only that, meeting people in person has a far greater impact than virtual contacts and create opportunities for various types of collaboration. Yet, the most important and, in a certain way the most surprising, aspect of professional conferences is the willingness, even pleasure, that veteran (not old) translators have in sharing their knowledge and professional wisdom with any and all, without expecting any compensation.

At the ITA Conference, many of the most experienced translators in Israel showed anybody that was interested how to improve their business. For example, Moshe Devere, a pioneer and trainer in CAT (Computer Aided Translation) tools guided beginners through MemoQ. Alan Clayman, a longtime translator, explained advanced financial terminology. Yael Segal and I provided tips on reaching customers. Yifat Vered opened the eyes of the attendees to the intricacies of communication with the Japanese. Ruth Ludlam and Avi Staiman talked about academic publishing and editing, respectively. Translations issues involving other languages were touched on, including Arabic by Dolly Baruch and Italian by Shirly Finzi Loew. These are just a few of the lectures available to the attendees of this conference. For a full program, see https://ita.org.il/?page_id=900&lang=en.

The encouraging aspect of this and any other such conference is the opportunity to learn from the experience of others in order to grow much faster than would be possible in isolation. Granted, not all techniques and tips are relevant while many need to be adopted for the specific circumstances.  Still, two or three ways of improving efficiency or reaching new markets can make the difference between surviving and thriving. Not only that, the lecturers were happy to answer individual questions after the presentations to help hone their message. They did not view the interest as a threat to the income but as a hope for the profession.

The long and short of it is that professional organizations and conferences shorten the learning cycle. It may be possible to learn a language or even gain insights on a culture through courses but learning how to succeed in a business, including translation, is a matter of experience.  It is possible to reduce the length of this apprenticeship at a very minimum price, i.e., the cost of belonging to an association and attending conferences. Expressed in different terms, it is inefficient to reinvent the wheel. Thus, joining and attending professional associations is worthwhile and does result in higher income.

Supreme difficulty
Sun, 23 Feb 2020 05:49:00 +0000


One of the main pleasures of legal translation is the story. Specifically, because there is a dispute, each side argues its point of view. This discussion is often fascinating and illuminating. Of course, the peak of such argumentation involves decisions of the Supreme Court.  Since I translate from Hebrew into English, I have learned the discretion can be better part of valor when it comes to taking on translation of Israeli Supreme Court decisions.

As compared to the structure of the American legal system, the Israeli Supreme Court is much more active and controversial. The reason is that a petitioner can access the high court in two manners. The court serves a court of last appeal, as in the United States. In addition, any citizen whose rights may be in danger of being breached may directly petition the Israeli Supreme Court to request a court order, which must hear the case, unlike in the United States. This is someone similar to the American process of filing a request for a restraining order in a state or federal district court. However, the Supreme Court has more freedom and thus can issue new interpretations of the law. Since these “emergency” situations generally involve complicated situations, such as immigration or destruction of property, the results of these appeals are of interest to both the legal and general community.  To give an example, if Benjamin Netanyahu succeeds in forming a government after the March elections, the Supreme Court undoubtedly will undoubtedly have to decide whether a prime minister, as compared to a minister, under indictment can legally serve, an issue regarding which current Israeli law is silent. Therefore, decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court are almost always relevant and controversial.

The justices must be extremely erudite. As a crossroads of multiple cultures and regimes, Israeli law is strange mélange of legal principles. In the United States in the states of Louisiana and Hawaii, certain matters actually follow the principles of Napoleonic and native law, respectively. In Israel, the situation is much more complex. Modern Israeli law, enacted since 1948, governs many but not all matters and is often vague or incomplete, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The regulations applying these laws sometimes take years to enter the books, complicating the issues even more.  The British ruled the territory from 1918 to 1948 and established many basic laws, some of which have not been replaced. The Ottomans ruled the region from 1517 to 1917 and had a complete set of laws. Unfortunately, the Turkish rules still have a strong influence on the procedures of land ownership. Even more relevant, religious laws still regulate marriage and divorce (but not custody) to the point of the existence of a separate special religious court system for Jews, Christians and Muslims, all applying ancient law. If none of these sources are clear, judges can refer to either modern American law, which does have a strong influence on legal reasoning, or, paradoxically, ancient Jewish law. To explain, the Halacha and Talmud, to name just the main sources, are interpretations of the Bible, similar to the body of interpretations on the Universal Commercial Code (UCC) in the United States.  Any decision supported by reasoning from these deeply respected sources has great weight. So, Israeli judges must have broad knowledge, way beyond current Israel laws and regulations.

Adding to the fun of reading and translating the decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court is the sheer number of languages that must be taken into account. Israeli law is in Hebrew. The application of the British colonial laws requires solid knowledge of English. Furthermore, many terms in Turkish law still are used in Israeli law, such as tabu, meaning registered ownership of land. Applying Islamic law requires knowledge of Arabic while Talmudic law requires understanding of Aramaic, an ancient language related to Hebrew. As American and British law traditionally use Latin terms to render the language fancier, judges must also be thoroughly familiar with that language. So, the learned judges of the Israeli Supreme Court must have thorough knowledge of Hebrew, English, Turkish, Aramaic, Latin and even sometime Arabic legal language.  It should be noted that many do not hesitate to demonstrate this mastery in their decisions.

Thus, the intrepid translator, facing some 200 pages or more of legal arguments from this huge corpus of sources, has to understand and transmit their meaning into English. For this reason, I have the greatest respect for those that successfully and artfully translate Israeli Supreme Court decisions into English.  I personally will only translate decisions up to the appeals court level and leave the Supreme Court decisions to the supremely talented and knowledgeable few who can properly handle them.

The Wisdom of our Fathers
Sun, 16 Feb 2020 05:23:00 +0000


Happily, I am not writing an obituary.  I have just returned from visiting my father, who is recovering from a fall that led to a hip replacement and a stroke.  In March, he will turn 95 years old. I spent much time with him at the rehab center. As I sadly left the center to return to Israel, he strongly informed me that he had many birthdays in front of him and not to worry. Whether this is true, neither he nor I can know for certain but optimism is the key for most successes in life, including living.

My father is not a great talker but expresses himself through action. Considering his business success, his life journey provides keys for success for any entrepreneur that wants to make it. He began as a journalist at the AP, where he learned how to write well and under pressure, an important basic skill.  He did his underpaid and overworked apprenticeship in public financial relations (preparing quarterly and annual reports and investor relations) with a large firm in New York, learning the trade. Before he struck out on his own, he had mastered the basics of the business.

Armed with this knowledge, optimism and a small nest egg, he set for Los Angeles and set up his own company. The market was ideal as Los Angeles was an affordable, growing city at the time.  Moreover, he carefully chose his clients, looking for solid reputations, intelligent management and long-term perspective and avoiding well-paying but notorious companies. He was careful in his promises and but gained a reputation for honesty and efficacy, which led to more customers. Ultimately, he created the largest private Financial PR company in the West Coast. Careful consideration and planning made that possible.

Yet, money was not the only factor motivating his actions.  Offered the opportunity to also manage another office in Chicago, he declined it because he did not want to spend half a week away from his family.  As he grew older, he retired gradually, initially selling his shares to this partner but keeping an office, followed by renting an office in a building near his home, until he eventually withdrew from the whole business.  However, the knowledge and skills he attained have helped him remain an astute investor, always looking at the management and industry and checking the numbers very carefully.  Many a pension fund manager would envy his results. More importantly, managing his portfolio has given him a reason to get up in the morning and raison d’etre for being even as he became handicapped physically. As in sports, it is as important to know how to retire as is it to start the career. Family and personal happiness are of no less importance than income.

In short, an entrepreneur must apply preparation, careful action and long-term planning to achieve success, then and now.  I cannot say that I did so nor did I understand or even appreciate his success.  Alas, it is often too late until we appreciate the wisdom of our fathers.

Home away from home
Sat, 08 Feb 2020 06:38:00 +0000

Part of the adventure of traveling is the sleeping in a strange room. Despite all the picture and reviews available online, a person never knows what is awaiting behind door number 1, 2 or 3. Unless people stay a hotel chain, which tends to have a series of uniform designs and mattresses worldwide, the surprise can be pleasant or unpleasant. Linguistically, what complicates the choice for an evening’s stay is the sheer number of words describing a stop for a weary traveler.

There are some fairly standard terms.  A hotel is a generally a multistory building with a reception and lobby leading to the elevators that take guests to the room. Based on the star rating of the hotel for that country, it is possible to predict the number of amenities and size of towels.  It is always worth knowing in advance whether parking and WIFI are free.  For some reasons, additional fees for those annoy me somehow. By contrast, motels are generally no more than three floors and spread out. The reception desk is at the entrance to the complex such that a person does not have to actually walk through it to get to the room, an advantage in certain cases.  In fact, “notel motels” date from the time when hotels asked whether the registering couple was married. In cities, there are often inns, which are often made of brick and are located in ideal locations but have small rooms, unless they are country inns. In some tourist places, there are boarding rooms, ideal for the budget conscious traveler that only needs a room for the night. At best, the furniture isn’t fancy, even often a bit old-fashioned with quaint pictures on the wall, but what difference does it make when your eyes are closed? With these types, travelers have some idea what they are getting.

Some travel lodging is more specialized. A motor court is for travelers on the road and generally is characterized by low prices, simple rooms and plenty of parking.  When traveling away from the city, similar family-owned lodgings are called road houses and almost always have a full bar to help wind down from the driving and help you ignore the lack of maneuvering space in the room. In some places, more spacious and luxurious lodges are an option, evoking memories of English or Russian hunting parties.  Generally made out of wood and spread out, they offer a more luxurious night of sleep. By contrast, a youth hostel is for the budget conscious. The actual conditions vary from place to place but weary travelers receive a bed to lay their weary heads on, albeit often not in a private room. On the other hand, it is a nice place to meet fellow travelers of the tourist kind. For a family or couple, a private guest house is often a unique way to experience local architecture and furnishing. Generally, they are clean and less expensive than hotels and clearly not generic. Today’s hit is the bread and breakfast(B&B), even if breakfast is not always included in the price as I just discovered. The variation in conditions is no less than that of the price. Still, you can truly mix with the locals this way but, on the other hand, having sex is less practical. Nothing is perfect.

For those who have the money and desire, luxury options abound. All hotels offer suites of various sizes. For the (much) higher price of a suite, the visitor gets a separate living adjacent to the one or better bedrooms. It feels just like home, except that there is no need to do laundry or clean. For a higher level of privacy as hotel walls can be a bit thin, vacation flats, either as part of a hotel or actual flats themselves, are an ideal alternative as they offer all the comfort of home without the cleaning or maintenance and allow people to prepare meals or eat without going out. Depending on the price and location, their price can be quite competitive as compared to hotels of similar standards. Of course, some people consider the words cooking and vacation oxymorons. Chacun à son gout. For larger families that don’t want to share either the inside or outside space with strangers, vacation villasare available. It is unclear how many square meters turn a house into a villa but, still, there is something to be said for the privilege of making as much noise or wearing as little clothes as you want because, after all, you are on vacation. None of these options are cheap but, nonetheless, if you got it, you might as well as enjoy it.

Each person has a different perspective on travel lodgings. I have stayed at most of the above and reached the conclusion that I only care about three matters. First, the mattress must be comfortable. Unfortunately, I have found no correlation between price and back comfort. Secondly, I don’t sleep well hearing sirens all night, referring to the emergency vehicles, not those tempting women on the rocks. Alas, in some cities, all rooms seem to face a busy street. Finally, the room must be non-claustrophic.  To quote my mother, if you have to leave the room to change your mind, there is a problem. To clarify, sleeping in an oversized room does not improve the quality of the sleep but still there is an acceptable range to the number of steps from the bed to the bathroom. So, whatever a person’s style, budget and location, there is a comfortable home away from home whatever it is called.

Why (and Z Generation) English
Sat, 01 Feb 2020 07:30:00 +0000


The changes in the geopolitical map since the beginning of the 21stcentury have not changed the fact that English is the lingua franca of the world. English continues to serve as the primary international language of communication. What is interesting is that of the 7.5 billion people that speak English in the world, some 20% of the total population, only 360 million speak it as native language. Therefore, the primary learners of English are people living outside the Anglo-Saxon world.

While the need for English has not changed, its purpose has changed radically. Once, the motivation for learning English was to be to travel to England and the United States and order something on the menu or talk with tourists. Only the elite few required better English to conduct business or give lectures in these countries. Today, the economy is global and requires even the smallest business people, such as an E-bay supplier, to work with people all over the world. To do so, they must communicate in English. This requirement is so vital that English is the language of communication within countries and companies whose native language is not English even if that language is a major language. For example, many German multinationals function in English while Israeli high tech-tech companies often write all their first drafts of technical material in English.

On a wider front, consumers in Europe or Asia that do not understand advanced English may find it difficult to understand vital explanations or even realize what they are buying or read the name of the store. Companies assume that buyers can read English. On the more controversial level, an increasing number of ordinary people worldwide find it natural to speak English to each other even though they are native speakers of same non-English language. Chatting in English is often considered more sophisticated. On a linguistic front for some, English words are flooding other languages and “wiping out native species”. For example, Israeli chefs love saying crispy instead of the Hebrew word פריך [parich]. Woe to the television viewer or parent that does not English.

The education systems, as usual, are generations behind.  Nomenclature in teaching English has included English as Foreign Language (EFL), English as a Second Language (ESL) and English for Academic Purposes (EAP), to name just a few. Even the latter is no longer sufficient as non-native speakers also require English for business purposes to be able to integrate into and profit from the global economy. Alas, most programs and books seem to focus on visiting London and New York and enjoying the tourist sites. The new European CEFR, a series of can-do statements for various levels of English, does provide a transitional tool but fails to define the dominant context of the English use. Furthermore, the European love of precision and accuracy ignore the fact that non-native speakers need to be able to express their ideas clearly and concisely above all, i.e., grammar is much less important than fluency and accuracy. The sad fact is that too many learners must invest significant amounts of their own money to attain their required level of English.  Worldwide, the schools are failing in the task of properly preparing them for the 21st century.

The X, Y and Z of the situation is that all generations worldwide require advanced English to fully function in the global economy and even understand simple conversations in their own country. “The Queen lives in Buckingham Palace” may still be interesting but is no longer sufficient.

Language defacement
Sun, 26 Jan 2020 05:07:00 +0000

Shakespeare, among others, is famous for inventing new words, such as bedazzledand addiction. As historically interesting this process of creation is, it is less significant than the process of hijacking existing words and applying them to new contexts to the point that the original meaning becomes an historical fact in itself and an archaic use of old or dead writers. Two examples are the word gay, which used to only mean “happy”, and pryck, which was a sharp pole placed in the corner of field to mark ownership. In the last few decades, the most important driving force behind this piracy is the Internet. It is hard to remember when the words mouse, boot, cookieand worm brought up images of items on a child’s exploration of a field.

Due to its mass use, including by people who don’t actually use a desk computer, Facebook is slowly but surely shaping the connotations of countless terms, both nouns and verbs. Once, a page was clearly a solid white piece of paper (that had to be typed in my day). Nowadays, if someone writes on a page, it is probably on Facebook. English always distinguished between acquaintances and friends, but now you have to say a “personal friend” to ensure understanding of a flesh-and-blood connection. Shame used to be in the context of failing to live up to some expectation, generally in the family.  Shaming now brings up thought of malicious and ugly messages intended to make someone’s life miserable.

The verbs have really been hit by a storm. Posting meant putting a letter in the mailbox. I imagine that such an image is rather strange to anybody under 30. Similarly, liking people often assumed at least having seen them.  This is no longer true. For that matter, sharing was what children had to do with their toys when they were small (generally against their will).  Likewise, reacting required some unusual action, physical and/or verbal, to some stimulus. I doubt how much adrenalin actually flows when people react to my posts.

To clarify, I am not Don Quixote fighting the windmill. I accept, albeit not always with joy, the inevitable dynamics of language. Every generation is shaped by different forces, which forces the shapes of its languages. Granted, it makes it hard for grandparents to understand their grandchildren but that has already been difficult for many generations. Still, I suffer from nostalgia for the time when everybody understood each other, even if that was an illusion linguistically. In the meantime, I spent the weekend watching a party, i.e. attending an event of my wife’s family, pictures and video of which will not be posted in Facebook. To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, what’s next?

Unlabeled futures
Sun, 19 Jan 2020 06:03:00 +0000

I was born, fortunately, in a non-diagnosing time in terms of assessment of children. Specifically, during my school years, my teachers, parents and administrators told us (or made it understood) what we good at and what we were not good at. These skill areas were academic, such as reading or math, motoric, such as skill in certain sports, and social, such as the ability to sit attentively in class or interact with our peers. I don’t believe that there were any pupils in my elementary school that thought they believed they were great, poor or average in everything.  We were like characters from a role-play game: strength in one aspect was at the price of weakness in another.

Yet, with all these assessments, I cannot recall that we ever told that we had any specific syndrome. This is probably due to the lack of awareness of such matters as well as lack of available professionals available to make such formal diagnoses. In some ways, we were as imperfect as the adults around us, which was perfectly normal. The positive aspect of this medical ignorance was that we were never told what could not do in the future. It was understood that children develop at different paces in different areas. In other words, on a skill percentile basis, the results of 6th grade could be very different than those of 2nd grade. Unless parents made some special effort, the improvement was completely organic and often painful, without outside assistance.

To give an example, from my early report cards, comments from parents and my memories, during elementary school, I was a serious, painfully shy student with a quick grasp of material and a cooperative attitude, a nerd if you wish. My weaknesses included poor handwriting, difficulty in learning how to read (remedied by around 3rd grade), poor hand-eye and motoric coordination and over sensitiveness. For the purposes of the record, some 50+ years later, I am an experienced teacher with a strong presence in the classroom, a translator and editor. I play tennis and folk dance and married (twice actually), as well as raised a child to adulthood. So, one way or another, I have overcome all those weaknesses and created a complete life.

The fact that I never knew that I had (and have) two diagnosable conditions meant that I constructed no psychological barriers to my success. The cognitive barriers still exist; certain tasks are more difficult for me than for others, meaning I have to take more time or find different ways to accomplish them. That statement is true for all people of all ages and thus has no proscriptive importance. My refusal to state those conditions is precisely due to the fact that I do not want to have my capabilities labeled on the basis of a term. Instead, I want to be judged on what I actually do.

The implication for parents, educators, leaders and, most importantly, individuals of all ages, whether in schools or businesses, is that formal diagnoses, even when correct, are not predictors of current or future ability. Persons with dyslexia have become outstanding CEOs, albeit with a different style. A person with OCD can be a highly effective manager in all aspects. Perfectionists can evolve into ideal problem solvers. In the bottom line, individual choice, skill sets and circumstances determine the basis for personal success at any time, not medical labels. Ignorance can be bliss.



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