Monday, December 29, 2014

John Bradshaw - Cat Sense

John Bradshaw, Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, Basic Books, 2013.

[Note: The UK edition's title is Cat Sense: The Feline Enigma Revealed].

Cat Sense combines two things I love: cats (obviously), and using scientific methods to understand reality. There are many books on cat behaviour, but most seem to be based on observation and anecdotal evidence. This book applies the findings of recent scientific research, discusses both genetics and environmental or learned influences on cat behaviour, and also includes some stories about the author's own cats, which makes it a bit more personal.

As one could expect, the origins of the domestic cat are discussed near the beginning of the book. I have always been interested in how early humans started interacting with other species, leading eventually to us having farm animals and domestic pets. It is also interesting to learn more about the similarities and differences between our domestic cats and other feline species.

The various stages of a cat's life are discussed, from birth, through early learning and socialization, to typical cat behaviours such as hunting, mating, playing, and social interactions with other cats and with humans. Some of these aspects are illuminated with the results of new research. There is some rational discussion of the controversial topic of cats' hunting, which often leads to heated exchanges based on prejudice rather than evidence. It was good to see real evidence presented and explained here.

This topic of hunting is related to the issue of keeping cats as indoors-only pets. Personally I support this, and it will become more usual throughout the world as urbanization increases and more people live in flats (apartments). Also, hunting has turned from a desirable trait in a cat to something most humans dislike about their cats' behaviour. We can no longer say it is cruel not to allow cats to go outside, and therefore people should only have a cat if they have a garden. Instead, we have to find ways to help cats adapt to life indoors.

The book has an agenda, and I found it very interesting. The author's argument is as follows: At present, the only deliberate, human-controlled breeding of cats focuses on their appearance, which is what qualifies cats as belonging to pedigree breeds. Nowadays, almost all pet cats are spayed or neutered, most often before they are old enough to breed even once. Therefore, almost all the cats who are now breeding are strays or ferals. This means that the cats who are most friendly towards humans and best suited to a home life are not reproducing and raising the next generation of cats. Instead, it is the wilder strays and ferals who provide us with new kittens. There is some evidence that the behavioural traits we want to encourage have both genetic and taught aspects. If we want to have more friendly cats who are less interested in hunting and better adapted to living indoors with people and other cats, the author argues that we should consciously identify and breed domestic pets with these traits instead of spaying and neutering all young cats automatically.

After reading this book, I find myself agreeing with the argument presented. Yes, it would be better for us to breed cats for personality rather than looks. I don't consider cats to be merely decorative additions to the home, and while some may continue to admire the extremes of appearance created by the breeders, most people would prefer to live with a friendly, indoor, non-hunting cat. My own cats have always been rescued strays, and while they have adapted to indoor life, their feral origins can be difficult to overcome. Pandora, for example, never quite became the lap cat I wanted, and Eleni is still a bit fearful of strangers.

I wonder if we can achieve the author's enlightened vision, where breeders could identify the desired behavioural traits in young cats and select them for breeding, regardless of appearance. This would obviously depend on creating a popular demand for cats bred for domestic personality traits. Instead of choosing a kitten without really knowing much about its personality or its parents, people would be able to choose a lap cat, or a playful cat, or a cat who can be trained easily.

Another aspect the author mentions is the possibility of training cats. Most people assume that cats are untrainable, but with the right method, working consistently, and starting from an early age, it is possible to train cats. This could help cats adapt to the expectations of their owners and become happier in their homes.

I strongly recommend this book to everyone interested in cats, or animals in general. It is an interesting and thought-provoking read.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Let the Animals Live Conference

Last Friday I attended the first conference of Let the Animals Live, Israel's leading animal welfare organization. It was held in Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv. I estimate that there were about 150 people, fewer than I expected.

The host was actor Avi Grayinik, one of many Israeli celebrities known to support this organization. The event started with greetings from founder and spokeswoman, Eti Altman, a true animal welfare hero.

Let the Animals Live CEO, Yael Arkin, described the organization's history, activity, and achievements. The non-profit was founded by Eti Altman in 1986. It maintains a no-kill policy, and tries to save the life of every animal rescued. They have a large shelter housing about 200 dogs and 100 cats, and a clinic with space for 60 animals, as well as some local branches. There is a help line for reporting injured/trapped animals, and two rescue units operating throughout the country, including military bases. The organization operates a TNR (trap, neuter, release) program for feral cats, and of course spays and neuters all animals prior to adoption. There is an education program for children, From Violence to Compassion, in Arab villages in northern Israel. The legal department has been responsible for many court rulings on animal welfare and animal rights.

The next speaker was Adv. Yarom Halevy, who described the organization's court case against human-crocodile fights at Hamat Gader resort. In 1994-1995 the resort put on a show in which a man sat on a juvenile crocodile, bent its head back 90 degrees, turned it on its back, and punched it in the neck. The case went through three court levels, and the Supreme Court eventually ruled in Let the Animals Live's favour, and banned the fights.

Then we heard a fascinating talk from Dr. Ariel Tsovel about the mutual influence between humans and animals. He described the theory of Wolfgang Schleidt, that early humans learned some of their social habits from living and hunting in collaboration with packs of wolves. In contrast to the usual narrative whereby humans domesticated wolves, leading to the evolution of dogs, Schleidt considers early humans and wolves to have co-evolved, and mentions some behaviours common to wolves and humans that are not found in primate societies: mutual reliance among pack members, caring for injured individuals, living in dens, and herding prey animals. This interesting proposal would undermine the ideology of human superiority and show that early humans were an equal part of the animal world.

The final lecture was by Adv. Yossi Wolfson. He described the principles behind animal rights, starting with recognizing that an animal is "someone", not "something", and discussing speciesism. Since humans extend the same rights to all humans, regardless of their skills or sensitivity, surely other animals are on the same scale and deserve if not complete equality, at least compassion?

Following these lectures the participants could take part in round table discussions. I chose one on systemic action for animal welfare, led by Adv. Yonathan Spiegel. He described the type of court cases and legislation proposals the organization has initiated, and we talked about issues such as hunting and a requirement that any animal given for adoption should be neutered first. He noted the difficulty in changing people's traditional perceptions, and my conclusion was that the legal efforts need to be accompanied by widespread education and public awareness work.

I enjoyed the conference, but found it to be a bit disorganized. The lectures started late, which meant I had to leave before the end and missed the Q&A session. It was also not clear what the audience was meant to be. Many participants seemed to be staff or volunteers, but the lectures were aimed at a wider audience. I would have liked to hear more about the work of shelter volunteers and foster care providers.

On the way home I saw a two-legged dog taking a walk with a wheel contraption attached to its hind section. It seemed happy, and the sight made me grateful that there are people in the world willing to give injured animals a chance at a good life.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pandora 11.11.2001 - 04.12.2014

We know nothing about Pandora's early life, her mother, or whether she had siblings. Even her date of birth is a guess based on her size when we first met her. She came into our lives in January 2002. Ivor had gone downstairs to collect the post, and he called me to come and see "a kitten who gives leg rubs". There she was, a fluffy black and white kitten, determined to win our affection and find a home. I picked her up, and she came home with us.
At this time, Eleni was two years old and we had been asking her if she would like a kitten. She was our first indoors-only cat, and we thought she was lonely and had become bored. We thought a new kitten would keep her company and make her playful again. It wasn't an easy introduction. At first we kept Pandora in the spare bedroom, and only gradually let them meet each other. Eleni was scared of Pandora, and often expressed this by vomiting. Pandora just wanted to play, but Eleni didn't cooperate. They never really became friends, and only tolerated each other. However, we think having another cat in her life did help Eleni develop and become more interested in playing.
Like many kittens born on the street, Pandora had fleas and worms when she came to us, and it took several months of treatment to overcome this problem. Apart from that, she was a healthy cat for most of her life, and apart from the annual check-up and vaccination, she only saw the vet for a tooth extraction, and another time when she fell and hurt her leg.
Pandora was always independent and a bit wild. She accepted our love, but on her own terms. For her first few years, she didn't like being stroked, and would turn around and try to bite. As she got older, she became more touchable. She never enjoyed being brushed, which was unfortunate for such a fluffy cat. She didn't usually sit on our laps, but often sat near us to keep us company.
In some ways, Pandora was like a dog. She greeted us at the door when we came home, rolling on her back for belly rubs. She came when we called her, not always, but more often than any other cat I've seen. In other ways she was a typical cat. She enjoyed watching birds and chirping at them, though she never got the chance to hunt. She liked her litter box to be kept clean. She was always begging for food at the table, and loved to eat small pieces of pastrami we bought just for her.

Like her namesake, Pandora was curious. She followed us from room to room, and investigated anything new in the house. When people came to visit, she sometimes hid at first, but usually came out to see who was there and what was happening. The exception to this was my parents. After the cats spent the night at my parents' place while we were moving, Pandora always associated them with a traumatic memory and hid whenever they came to visit. It made me sad that they couldn't get to know her and only saw her being scared.
Pandora hiding
True to her name, Pandora loved boxes. We always had a collection of boxes for her to sit in.

One evening, a window that wasn't usually open had been left open by mistake. When we noticed, we immediately started looking for Pandora, and she was nowhere to be found. We spent about four hours searching for her outside, until she eventually emerged from the bushes. We don't know if she jumped deliberately or fell. She never escaped again, but enjoyed spending time on the balcony, under supervision.
Pandora often kept me company while I was working. Eleni sometimes sits on my lap, but Pandora preferred to sit on the desk. I liked to say that I had both models of cat: a desktop cat and a laptop cat!
For nearly three years now, I have been watching the Foster Kitten Cam, and Pandora loved watching the cats and kittens with me, sometimes tapping the screen with her paw, sometimes looking behind the screen to see where the kittens had gone.
Pandora's illness came on suddenly, just three and a half weeks ago. I noticed that she wasn't eating, had become apathetic, and generally didn't seem her normal self. An ultrasound scan found that she had enlarged lymph nodes, and we were told this could be caused by either IBD (an autoimmune condition) or lymphoma (a type of cancer). Since the treatment for both conditions was the same, a combination of steroids and chemotherapy, we decided it didn't matter what the cause was, and we didn't want to put her through exploratory surgery to find out. The treatment didn't seem to help. She didn't regain her appetite and continued to lose weight, so she had a feeding tube inserted and we fed her through the tube for a few days. As in the myth of Pandora, the last thing to remain in the box was hope, and we hoped for an improvement, while being aware that the end might be near.
It soon became clear that nothing was helping and she was in pain. This morning we took her to the vet for the last time, and she was put to sleep. The vet said that her not responding to any of the treatments meant it was more likely to have been lymphoma, and it could have been very advanced even before any symptoms showed. We did all we could for her.
Thank you, Pandora, for coming into our lives. You taught us about love and about independence. You will be remembered and missed.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

2014 Holiday in England (3)

In the middle of our first week in England, we went to Maidstone, where I always love the river Medway.

Archbishop's Palace, Maidstone

River Medway

We visited two famous seaside towns. First Dover, where we arrived too late to go inside the castle, so we just took photos from the outside and then walked on the beach and saw the White Cliffs.

Dover Castle

Dover beach, with view of the White Cliffs

Dunkirk Memorial

The next day we visited Brighton, where we walked along the beach, visited Brighton Pier, with its amusement arcade, and saw lots of seagulls.

Brighton Pier

Brighton Wheel

Brighton Pier

Sunday, November 9, 2014

2014 Holiday in England (2)

Today, Nov. 11th, the UK marks Remembrance Sunday, and some of the main ceremonies are taking place at a place I visited just over a month ago, an art installation and memorial at the Tower of London, called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. This year marks the centenary of the start of World War I, and the installation is made up of ceramic poppies, one to mark each of the UK and Commonwealth soldiers who fell during World War I, a total of 888,246. They started placing the poppies in August, and by the time we visited at the beginning of October the work was almost complete. The poppy is the traditional symbol of fallen soldiers in the UK and Commonwealth.

When we visited, there were already many visitors at the site, and I have heard that it has become even more popular and crowded since then. It was a very moving and impressive sight, with the slightly disturbing blood colour and all that this symbolizes. The poppies "pour" out of a window in the tower and "flow" around it fluidly, filling the moat. Each poppy is unique, an individual like those who died, but they share a general shape and colour, and together they become a powerful image. Knowing that each poppy represents one human life lost in this war somehow makes the immense loss of life very tangible.

There have been ceremonies held every day at sunset, where the names of the fallen have been read out. We were not there to attend such a ceremony, but I can imagine how powerful this must be, especially for the descendants of the deceased soldiers. Hearing the names makes remembrance more personal.

The individual poppies were made available for sale, to raise money for veterans' charities, and have all sold out. After the remembrance ceremonies held this month the installation will be dismantled. I feel privileged to have witnessed this touching and powerful memorial.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

2014 Holiday in England (1)

We had a wonderful holiday in England at the end of September and beginning of October. I want to describe some of the places we visited and the things we did, not necessarily always in chronological order.

The first week was spent with Ivor's sister Heather and her husband John. We visited many places in Kent and Sussex.

One of the first days out was a country fair held at Belmont House near Faversham. The first event was ferret racing. We were allowed to hold the ferrets, and they were very wriggly and not quite as soft as cats, but still cute. They didn't seem to understand the idea of racing, and kept going back through their tubes!

Then we saw a sheep show, with various types of sheep on display, and a demonstration of sheep shearing.

There was a falconry display, but that was difficult to photograph.

Then we saw a pack of beagles, and they were very friendly with Ivor!

We looked around the grounds of Belmont House, though the house itself was not open.

It was an enjoyable day, though Ivor got stung by a wasp and a scratch from a ferret on his thumb got infected and quite swollen later! He has since recovered.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Ivor's new book!

Ivor's new book is out today.
Published by Lexington Books.
"Ivor Ludlam succeeds in unifying the Republic’s multiplicity of ideas and themes, and in taming what might otherwise appear a great tangle. Ludlam’s ingenious organizing principle is the correspondence between the dialogue’s characters and the political types Socrates describes. Treating the dialogue’s philosophical content as unfolding through its drama, this work honors Plato as a philosopher whose identity stubbornly resists submersion in that of any of the characters he limns. In the Republic, Plato is thus able to present his unique and inspiring vision of philosophy as the dialectical study of dialectic."

Roslyn Weiss, Lehigh University

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Why we find it difficult to say good things about ourselves

I recently took part in a challenge on Facebook. The purpose was to write three things you are grateful for, or as I prefer to say, appreciate, or three good or positive things, every day for five days.

(You were also supposed to nominate three other people to do the challenge each day, but I don't like that and stopped doing it after the first day).

For me it was natural to write positive things, but I observed that other people seemed to find the challenge, well, a bit challenging. They seemed to prefer being "grumpy" or cynical. I started to wonder why we feel uncomfortable saying positive things about our lives.

On the one hand we are encouraged to project a confident and positive image, but on the other hand it might feel like boasting to portray your life as positive and free of problems. Some people even feel guilty about their happiness when there is so much suffering in the world. I think it is precisely because there is suffering that we should appreciate and celebrate the positive things in our lives. Happiness should be shared.

Some people bond through complaining about problems, and this can make them appear bitter and petty. Yes, it is important to get support from others when you need help, but if all you do is complain, you are no fun to be with. Some constant complainers turn into toxic people.

Emotions are contagious, so it's better to share the positive ones and keep the problems and complaints to yourself as much as possible. If everyone focused on consciously and deliberately spreading positive emotions and experiences, the world would be a better place.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

No to revenge

Background: Three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by Arabs. On the day their bodies were discovered, an Arab teenager was found murdered. It is not yet known whether he was killed by Israelis seeking revenge, but there have been a shocking number of calls for revenge, so even if this was not a revenge murder, enough people seem to support the idea.

Revenge is never a good answer! Why does this even need to be said?

If you wish to harm another person, for whatever reason, you are evil. If you enjoy or justify harm being done to another person, you are evil. The only possible justification for violence is immediate self-defence when you are attacked.

Any ethical system based on universal values would support this position. The problem is that we still have so many so-called ethical systems that are based on a group identity, such as nationality, ethnicity, or religion. These groups seem to consider their own members as better than the rest of the human race. As a result, they can justify treating non-members as less than human. This is evil.

I don't know how to solve conflicts, but I do know that revenge only makes things worse, leading to a never-ending vicious cycle of hatred. It doesn't matter who "started". How you respond to hatred and violence defines you as an individual and as a group. I hope the sane majority can pull back the extremists from the brink and prevent further violence and hatred. Things have already gone way too far in this conflict as it is.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Not fitting in

Sometimes memories are triggered by sensory stimuli. Last week I heard the song "Dancing Queen" by Abba, and had a very vivid recollection of hearing it when it first became a hit, back in the summer of 1976.

I was seven years old, and was just beginning to form an impression of what it was going to be like to be a teenager. This song represented a sort of ideal of the perfect teenage girl. I remember feeling a complete certainty that I would never be that girl. It was not only that I was not a good dancer. In an early moment of self-awareness, I realized that I did not have the confidence and social skills to become the sort of person who would enjoy having everyone's eyes on her as she danced.

The more I thought about the song and the type of lifestyle it described, the more I considered this ideal of partying and dancing to be shallow and pointless. That sort of having fun was never my highest aspiration. I disliked the expectation that everyone should conform to the same lifestyle, and the implication that this sort of fun was equal to happiness.

I was a shy, serious, and bookish child. This will come as no surprise to those who know me now, or have been following this blog. I felt that the way I was represented the right way to be me, and I knew that even if society considered me unusual in some ways, that was a problem with society and not with the way I was.

One thing that helped me, and that I hope may help others, is this insight I got from something my father told me. He said, "You were not born to be a child. You were born to be an adult, and that will be most of your life". I realized that I would just have to pass through childhood and adolescence as best I could. The pressure to conform seems to be highest during adolescence, which is unfortunate because this is when people form their identities. Being made to feel that you are weird or an outsider at this age is very damaging. As an adult it is easier to be the person you actually are, and nowadays it is easier for people to find similar friends and explore their interests online.

There are many different ways to be a person, and many ways to be a girl, or a boy, or a woman, or a man. Nobody should feel that their way is wrong just because they don't match someone else's standards of "normal".

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Finding translated citations in academic translation

This post is based on a talk I gave at an informal translators' meeting last week. I gave examples from a book I translated from Hebrew to English last year, but here I will be more general, and refer to the source language and the target language.

When an academic book or article contains source language citations from sources, there are three options: 1. If the work is in the source language and there is no version of it in the target language, then the citation should be translated. 2. If the work was originally in the target language and has been translated into the source language, then the citation should be found in the target language original. 3. If the work was originally in the source language and has also been translated into the target language, then the translation into the target language should be found.

Should finding the citations be the translator's job? This depends on the relationship between the translator and the author. I am fortunate to be able to work directly with the authors of the books and articles I translate. In some cases I ask them to find the citations themselves, but in other cases this service is part of the added value I offer. Finding the citations yourself enables you to use the vocabulary of the sources consistently within your translation, and gives you greater control over the end product. The disadvantage is that it takes time and effort, and of course this should be calculated in your pricing.

The first stage is to look at the book's Bibliography (or footnotes/endnotes) and find which works have a version in the target language.

The second stage is to locate these works, either online or in a library. In some cases, particularly older sources, you can find PDF versions online. Some more popular books have been scanned and appear on Google Books. While not all the pages are visible (at least for free), you can search for specific words and the results will show you enough of the context to identify your citation. It is much easier to search in a digital text, but translators can become proficient at scan-reading even in printed texts. Of course, the page numbers are different in the different language versions. When there are several citations from a particular work, you can eventually start estimating where citations will be located by comparing the page numbers of previously found citations in the source and target versions.

The third stage is to insert the target language citations into the translation, according to the author guidelines of the translation's publisher or periodical. The original spelling and punctuation of the citation must be maintained, even if it differs from these guidelines. Citations over a certain length (sometimes 25 words or three lines) tend to appear as block citations rather than being cited within quotation marks within the text. The length of the citation will vary in different languages. The shorter the citation, the more difficult it is to find because there are fewer key words that can be identified in the target language.

In cases where the versions in the different languages are not exactly equivalent - for example, if the translation added or omitted certain passages - it may not be possible to find all the citations. In such cases, the citation should be translated in the same way as a citation from a work that does not appear in the target language. Then the source language work should be included in the bibliography and referenced as a footnote, endnote, or author-title or author-year in parentheses after the citation, according to the guidelines.

The final stage is adding the target language works to the Bibliography (or footnotes/endnotes), and omitting any source language works that were not used in the translation. Where versions in both source and target language were used, both should be included.

I hope this explanation will help translators decide whether to offer this service, and if they do, how to do it and what to expect from the process.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The culture of not hearing "no"

Yesterday I had a phone call from an insurance sales rep, trying to persuade me to upgrade my insurance policy. I explained that we can't afford to pay any more for insurance, and that we have policies in other companies too. Nothing seemed to be getting through, and he just kept up the sales pitch until I hung up. Then he called back and said, "The call seems to have been disconnected". I told him that I was trying to say "no" to his offer, and he said, "You didn't have to hang up, you could just say that you're not interested!". So I said, "I'm not interested, thank you", and he finally accepted this and ended the call.

This got me thinking about how difficult it is for people nowadays to hear "no". We are often taught to stand up for ourselves and learn how to say "no" to things we don't want, but at the same time we are not being trained to hear and accept when other people say "no".

It starts in childhood. Parents nowadays seem to think that children will be permanently damaged by hearing any rejection. Children learn that they can always get their own way eventually. I remember when I was growing up a request had two possible answers, "yes" and "no", and it if was "no", that was final. Sometimes I got an explanation for the "no", such as "we can't afford it" or "we don't have time", but even without any explanation, I had to accept the "no". This was a good preparation for reality, in which people can't always have everything they want. I grew up knowing that I was not the centre of the universe and that other people had needs and wishes, too.

Another major culprit in the culture of not hearing "no" is sales training. Sales people are taught to "overcome resistance" and have answers for any "objections", and they often become persistent to the point of harassment. This approach has leaked into general life, where people are encouraged not to take "no" for an answer and to keep on trying until they get what they want. Sometimes this stems from a sense of entitlement, and sometimes this sort of persistence is seen as the sort of "hard work" that deserves to be rewarded.

Ultimately, the inability to hear another person's "no" reflects a very self-centered culture in which the self is considered much more important than the other. Selfishness has become not only accepted but cherished, while empathy and consideration are often considered signs of weakness. People who think only of themselves and cannot hear another person's "no" may end up accused of sexual assault without understanding what they did. In the same way the sales rep yesterday couldn't understand that I was refusing his offer, I think it is possible that some men don't understand a woman's "no" in more intimate situations. I know that I often feel "raped" (metaphorically) by aggressive sales reps and selfish people in general.

One of the most important things we can teach and learn in life is the importance of listening, of really hearing and seeing each other, and having empathy and understanding for others even when this is inconvenient for our own desires. I hope some way can be found to get this message across before society becomes even more selfish and aggressive.

Friday, February 14, 2014

ITA Conference 2014

This week I attended the ITA's 2014 Annual Conference, held at the Sharon Beach Resort Hotel in Herzlia. After many years of the conference being held in Jerusalem, it was refreshing to be in a hotel by the beach. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the full conference this year and had to leave on the afternoon of the second day. I will try to link to other blogs describing the conference and especially the lectures I missed.

On Monday night after dinner we heard Ioram Melcer talk about translating invented words in the classic novel "Hopscotch" by Julio Cortazar. Interestingly, the linguistic distance between Spanish and Hebrew, and the deep structure of Hebrew word morphology, made it relatively easy (for him!) to invent new words that could somehow match the invented words and be completely new words but also comprehensible.

Tuesday morning's plenary session started with historian Prof. Anita Shapira talking about the meanings conveyed by silence in the public discourse in the early years of Israeli society. When people were silent about their past lives before immigrating to Israel, this expressed the focus on their new lives and hopes for the future. The silence about the Holocaust and about the fallen soldiers of the War of Independence is understood as reflecting a pain too great to express in words. The subject was interesting, though only very tangentially related to translating and language issues.

Next we heard Polish-British translator Marta Stelmaszak discuss translating as a collaboration rather than a competition. As she noted, each translator offers a slightly different set of skills and expertise, and it is possible to create a unique service that does not compete directly with other translators, even in the same language pair. She also recommended collaborating with other professionals, such as editors and designers.

The session ended with translator Betsy Benjaminson explaining how she chose to become a whistle-blower and expose her client Toyota's cover-up of a fatal problem in its cars. Her story was recently reported in the local media, and showed that translators sometimes have to put ethical considerations above loyalty to their clients. I hope most translators never have to face this sort of dilemma, and would like to believe many in such circumstances would show the sort of wisdom and courage Betsy displayed.

After a break, there were four parallel sessions of lectures. I first attended the Professional track, and heard Eve Hecht talk about the translation of correspondence, with an emphasis on various cultural differences and social norms. Then Inga Michaeli discussed translating guidebooks into Hebrew, again noting the cases where it was necessary to adapt the contents to the readers' culture and preferences.

In the afternoon I went to the track devoted to improving your business. The first lecture was a shared presentation by Yael Sela-Shapiro and Inga Michaeli about diversification. Yael spoke about the importance of expanding your areas of expertise in order to increase your work volume. After spending a long time working towards becoming a specialist in my ideal translation niche, I somewhat disagreed with this idea. I can see that it works for some people, but I am finding that I can have a sufficient amount of work even after narrowing my area and don't feel the need to expand and diversify. Then Inga told her personal story of diversifying her business. She added content writing in her area of expertise to her translating business when she found that she was getting less work, and also proactively contacted potential customers. These strategies can be useful for translators seeking more work.

Finally, Dalit Ben Tovim discussed ergonomics, an important subject for translators who lead a sedentary life in front of a computer. I have heard her lecture at a conference a few years ago, and found it interesting to be reminded of this issue. I think I already implement many of her suggestions.

I enjoyed what I saw of the conference, and it was good to have an annual ITA conference again after there wasn't one last year. I hope some of the lectures I missed will be given again in the ITA's monthly lecture evenings.

Other blogs reporting on the conference:
Stephen Rifkind (English)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The importance of translation specialization

Here is a phone call I received today:

Caller: Hello, I'm ___ from ___ agency. We contacted you by email last month about translating some automative material.

Translator: That isn't my area of expertise.

Caller: What is your specialization, then?

Translator: I specialize in academic translation, especially in philosophy.

Caller: OK, if we have something in that area we'll get in touch. We won't bother you with automative material again.

This is why it's important for both sides, the translator and the customer/agency, to be aware of specializations.

As a translator, you must choose not only your languages but a type of material to specialize in. I always feel my heart sink when a translator, usually a young one, tells me he or she translates "everything" in a particular language pair. Nobody is an expert in "everything", and even highly educated and fluent speakers of more than one language are not equally skilled at all the possible types of material written in their languages.

Other professions have very clear sub-specializations. You wouldn't ask a plastic surgeon to deliver a baby or a tax lawyer to handle a divorce. I would like to see translators choosing a similarly narrow definition of their expertise. Less is more! Saying you specialize in translating a particular type of texts makes you an expert in that specific area.

Translators should have a clear "introduction" to use when they meet someone. It could be something like: "I translate from [source] to [target], and I specialize in ____". It is also important to list specializations on your own website and anywhere you have a professional profile.

Customers and agencies should also be aware that translators have specializations, and should find out what a translator specializes in before (online) or during the first conversation, and then offer only appropriate work.