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Be that as it may
Friday, May 14, 2004
  Future blogging will now happen at Fake Barn Country (http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Philosophy/Blog/). The vanity blog may be resurrected on day, but not any time soon. 
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Sunday, March 07, 2004
  "Back Translation"
Google is my saviour! Just as I suspected, professional translators play this "Broken Telephone" game often. In fact, they are often forced to play it by the people who pay them to perform reliable translations. There seems to be a considerable amount of controversy over whether it's an effective technique. There's a very interesting discussion of the practice here
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  Lost in Translation

Did battle again today with the Swarthy Swabian at the Exchange. He gained the early momentum, while I played a distinctly hypermodern game, accumulating minute positional advantages over the course of the game. After two grueling hours, his defenses crumbled (shout out to My System). The score so far this season: Canada, 3; Swabia, 2. Look for the season's highlights in Chess Life (or as some (heartlessly) dub it, Chess (No Life)).

Instead of our usual post-game conceptual analysis session, we decided to indulge ourselves in a little speculation. It is often said that the meaning, spirit, and tenor of the written word is lost in translation. What sort of methodology, we wondered, would be effective in measuring what exactly and how much is lost?

So, we devised a simple scheme. We would take a portion of text (verse or prose) in English and have it be translated by a skilled translator into another language (say, French). Then we would take the French text to another skilled translator, and have it translated back into English. We would iterate this process a number of times with different translators, and then compare our final English result with the original (sort of a translator's version of Broken Telephone). We would do this for a number of different languages, and would hopefully get a feel for what sorts of things were lost between which languages. Of course, our results would vary with the relative skill of all the translators involved, but it would still be an interesting exercise. Come to think of it, I'm sure that this is the sort of thing that people do in university translation programs all the time. If anyone knows where I could see some results, I would be very interested. (Lord knows I'll never get around to actually performing this little experiment - I'm a philosopher!)

Not only were we interested in what sorts of things would be lost between which languages, but also which genres are generally the most problematic to translate. My guess is that the most suggestive genres would lose the most, the most articulate genres would lose the least. Here's a tentative hypothesis - the list goes from most articulate to most suggestive:

Electronics user manuals
Articles from Analysis
Work in the social sciences
New Yorker-style personal essays
Novels
Articles from Social Text
Poetry 
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Saturday, March 06, 2004
  This Just In: Eligible Bachelors, Not Very Eligible!

This evening at Coffee Exchange I was playing chess with my bitter rival, the implacable Derek, Jew of Öttingen. After two intense hours, the game tally was: Canada, one win; Swabia, two. (For the record, the Swabian played white twice.) Both of us were exhausted and hungry; I was bitter. So what better way to wind down and make up than a bit of pre-sushi collegial conceptual analysis?

The phrase at issue was “eligible bachelor”. What exactly, we wondered, renders a bachelor eligible? On the one hand, one is qualified as a bachelor by being single. One is most eligible if one is not romantically linked with anyone, somewhat eligible if one has an unrequited crush, less eligible if one has a girlfriend, and even less eligible if one has a fiancée (not at all eligible if married, and not even a bachelor, for that matter). But there is also another dimension of eligibility. We say of a man that he is a very eligible bachelor if he is the best looking, the richest, the most charming, and the best at philosophy. So it seems that one can be a perfectly eligible bachelor (that is, utterly and unequivocally single) without being very eligible at all (that is, ugly, poor, boorish, and bad at philosophy).

Eligibility behaves strangely as a predicate because the extent to which one is unattached and the extent to which one is a desirable marriage partner can (and often do) vary independently of each other. When we say, "He is a very eligible bachelor" we usually mean, "He is a bachelor who is very desirable." When we say, "He is a bachelor who is very eligible" we usually mean, "He is a man who is most assuredly single and looking (although not necessarily desirable)."
 
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Jason_D'Cruz@Brown.EDU

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