George Orwell's comments on the use of English
Thread poster: Lesley Clarke

Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 04:51
Spanish to English
Oct 20, 2003

I've just found this on the internet and thought it might be interesting to other translators.
http://www.resort.com/~prime8/Orwell/patee.html


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:51
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Thank you - a fascinating article Oct 20, 2003

One can see where he got the idea for "Newspeak" in "1984".
Much of what he says could apply to translation too. When translating such verbiage, should one apply the "garbage in, garbage out" principle, or try to make the translation more readable than the original?
I often had to translate 'Pravda' leaders and similar articles into English for BBC Monitoring during the Soviet era, and I tried, while not departing too far from the original, to improve the style and make them easier to read.


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:21
English to Tamil
+ ...
My question posed to Jack Oct 20, 2003

Now that the Soviet Union is no more, do you see any improvement in the Russian phrases being used by the political leaders or is the malaise too deeply rooted? I have read that the Russians are voracious readers and books used to be sold out in a very short time. Now that the political shackles are no longer there, I should think that the Russian public are able to lay their hands on really good books.

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danya
Local time: 13:51
English to Russian
+ ...
a different vantage point Oct 20, 2003

[quote]Narasimhan Raghavan wrote:

I have read that the Russians are voracious readers and books used to be sold out in a very short time. ... I should think that the Russian public are able to lay their hands on really good books.

We are avid readers (many of us), but i don't think that after the late lamented USSR fell we got access to a huge amount of treasures hidden to us before.
on the contrary - all sorts of junk,and not the "really good" books, fell on us readers from behind the former iron curtain.


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:51
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
To Narasimhan Oct 20, 2003

Danya has answered your question better than I could have done. As for the quality of political speeches, I have had very little to do with this since leaving the BBC in 1990, but I suspect that though the clichés may have changed, there won't be much difference in the quality.

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Kevin Schlottmann  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:51
German to English
Post-dicatorship reading habits Oct 20, 2003

One of my German teachers, a former resident of the DDR, once said that under a dictatorship, literature and art in general take on much more importance because they allow an inner life. Once the Wall fell, books became less important. She wasn't lamenting this change, but she did note that irony that now, anything was allowed to read anything, literature is a much, much less important part of the social fabric.

Just an observation...


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:21
English to Tamil
+ ...
My eyes are opened Oct 20, 2003

All the three responses to my posting are contrary to what I thought. Danya went to the extent of lamenting the fall of the USSR. I am just taking cognizance of the things as I observe, without any judgement on my part. One of my communist friends, who had spent time in the USSR, was nostalgic about the good old days. I read some years back about a Jewish tailor, who migrated to Israel from the USSR after a long wait. Within a few months of reaching Israel he was indignantly asking about the failure of the government to allot him any customers. He was too shocked to know that polical freedom brought in its wake all kinds of freedom including that of starving. Even in the USA immediately after the civil war many former slaves were nostalgic about the old days, as in their own words, they had not had to worry about getting any work and it was the master, who was clothing them and providing them food! In one of his books, the Israeli humorist was describing the lamentations of the Isralelis awaiting Moses, who had gone to receive the Ten Commandments. One dissident went to the extent of being nostalgic about the pharaoh. Well, one never stops receiving surprises.
N.Raghavan


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Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 04:51
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
The use of language Oct 20, 2003

Thank you Jack for your comments. But because of the turn this line of chat is taking, other people may think this is just an article about the Soviet Union, far from it, it is about good and bad writing styles.

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invguy  Identity Verified
Bulgaria
Local time: 12:51
English to Bulgarian
A correct observation :) Oct 21, 2003

Kevin Schlottmann wrote:


One of my German teachers, a former resident of the DDR, once said that under a dictatorship, literature and art in general take on much more importance because they allow an inner life. Once the Wall fell, books became less important. She wasn't lamenting this change, but she did note that irony that now, anything was allowed to read anything, literature is a much, much less important part of the social fabric.

Just an observation...


Before, books were a refuge, and a revelation... one's private territory, you could say. Of course, every book published was pre-screened by the regime, but they couldn't cross out everything that gave food for thought. The chase for a book saying something *different* was a kind of intellectual sport. Being able to read in foreign languages was near a blessing... even though there were severe limitations on literature imports (on your return from abroad, customs officers would often take away from you a foreign book or magazine).

Then, publishing was a strictly state-controlled and -subsidized field, so the books that made it to the shelves were unbelievably cheap: my two-volume English-Bulgarian dictionary (a total of some 1600 pages) cost about US$ 3.50 a volume. A middle-size novel would cost about a buck. Russian books were even cheaper, probably due to the fact that in the ex-Soviet Union they were printed in enormous runs (compared to my country's market size).

There was also the semi-clandestine 'samizdat' (the Russian term for 'self-publishing', common also in Bulgaria) where people published unofficially, often secretly, in small numbers, books which would have never made it through the censorship system. BTW the first translations of many banned books were published like that (The Gulag Archipelago comes to mind).

BTW, this same screening process was partly beneficial: it prevented cheap, low-grade literature from flooding the market. After the Wall fell, the suddenly unleashed avalanche of mass culture landed heavily on the book market and made it the mess it is today (at least in my neck of woods). Of course, there were other factors to this: insufficient funding for book publishing, desire for quick profit by following mass taste, decreased buying ability, people's attention shifting from culture to survival under the economic and political instability of the transition period etc.

Thankfully, during the last few years, it looks like things are getting back to normal. As the economy stabilizes, people seem to drop more often by their local bookstore. The only thing that will never get back are the prices... but I'd gladly take that for a compromise


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Berni Armstrong  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:51
Member
English
+ ...
Required Reading Oct 22, 2003

Hi Lesley,

thank you for bringing this to the attention of more people.

This article is absolutley required reading for anyone dealing with language.

It should also be required reading for every politician, speech writer and even, perhaps, every scriptwriter!

Orwell's warnings have never sounded so relevant as in these days of the sound bite and spin. If the likes of Blair are aware of this article, it must only be to use its lessons in the opposite way to that intended - to deliberately obfuscate, rather than to clarify.

However, it is also an article that us "word professionals" (to coin a phrase Eric Blair would probably have hated would be wise to take to heart.

I would recommend Orwell's essays to you all. Leslie's find is just one of a whole series of articles the man wrote that are never dull and often truly thought provoking. (Available - if memory serves - as "The Collected Essays and Journalism of George Orwell" in 5 Volumes)

On a personal note, it was Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia" that partly inspired my love of all things Catalan and led me to set up home here*. How about that for the influence of literature? (*I was aware that Catalunya had changed a bit since 1936

---------------
On another point raised here earlier...

I am definitely against the "garbage in, garbage out" approach to translation. I have never seen the point in producing an illegible text, even if the original was barely legible.

Issues of acceptable register in Modern English often require major revisions of texts in my language pair (Catalan to English) in order to make dense Catalan texts accesible to an English audience. While remaining true to the ideas behind the original sentence, I do not feel I am betraying the author by splitting his confusing 30 word+ sentences up into three or four clear English sentences.

Cheers,

Berni


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Lesley Clarke  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 04:51
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
thank you Bernie Oct 22, 2003

Thank you Bernie for getting back on topic. I'm a great admirer myself of clear and precise language, though I'm certain I always managed to achieve it myself, and as for George Orwell, he's always been one of my favourite writers and thinkers

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George Orwell's comments on the use of English

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