Comparing poem translations
January 27, 2006 7:05 PM   Subscribe

I want to build a comparative index of translations for a specific book of poems. How should I do this?

I want to create a sort of database that will allow me to compare different translators' takes on the same poems. I'd like to do this on my computer in such a way as to be easily accessible. I realize the copyright problems inherent in such an endeavor and will be keeping this offline. I'm just not sure where to start. What sort of software/approach should I be looking at to make this work?
posted by selfnoise to Writing & Language (11 answers total)
I'm a novice programmer in Microsoft Visual Basic .NET, and this is how *I* would do it: (underscores used as leading spaces to improve readability.

Structure TranslationTemplate
___Dim FullText As String
___Dim Words() As String
End Structure

Dim Translation() As TranslationTemplate

First, you'd copy the full text of the translation to Translation().FullText.

Next, you'd store the translation in a temporary variable and use string manipulation techniques to remove any punctuation (including line feeds).

Finally, for the first translation, you'd put each word in its own Translation().Word() index.

For subsequent translations, you'd search for identical words and use them to assign equivalent index values, modifying the indices of those earlier Translation().Word() variables as necessary.

Displaying this information clearly would be a bit more difficult; the cleanest method would probably involve simulating a control array, and initializing, displaying, and disposing of new controls as necessary.

If you plan to store your material in a Random Access file, you'll need to set a high FixedStringLength (I may have the exact syntax of that incorrect) for all Strings to avoid errors or trunacation.
posted by The Confessor at 7:31 PM on January 27, 2006

Apologies if my reply seems a tad obscure; tell me if you need more information.
posted by The Confessor at 7:37 PM on January 27, 2006

Compare how? Will you be doing the comparisons manually? Automatically? How do you want the result (a %, common words, common phrases, etc)? There are statistical procceses to compare text/phrases if you do a bit of googling.
posted by devilsbrigade at 8:00 PM on January 27, 2006

Response by poster: Sorry, this was a badly phrased question.

I'll be comparing the poems manually... no automatic jibberjabber is involved. Basically, I'd like a nice setup where I can look at two or more translations of the same poem on screen at the same time, lined up line-by-line.

Programming-wise, I know HTML but that's it. So a fancy DIY solution may be out of the question.
posted by selfnoise at 8:03 PM on January 27, 2006

Hmm... that'd actually be a good bit easier, since # lines per translation, and thus array values, would be standard.

Do me a favor, eh, selfnoise?

1. What's the maximum number of translations you plan to compare at any one time?

2. What's the maximum number of lines (excluding "blank" lines between stanzas) per translation.

3. What resolution do you run your screen at?

This seems like no more than a three-to-four-day project, if my bloody computer doesn't go on the fritz in the meantime.

If nobody suggests something standard, I'll see if I can make you a quick customized solution.
posted by The Confessor at 4:40 AM on January 28, 2006

What a great idea. I remember reading a poem by Rilke in one book and thinking he was the greatest poet ever. I bought a different book, different translator with some overlapping poems. The second book was flat. It was interesting to look at the way the poem was translated differently to squeeze the life out of it.
There is a set of sites on the internet that present the Bible in multiple translations. You can look at what they did and see if it corresponds to what you want.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:45 AM on January 28, 2006

Response by poster: Dances - Thanks, that site is a perfect example of what I want to accomplish.

Confessor - 1. I'll probably have a maximum of 3 at a time, with a total of perhaps 10-12 at the most (although not that many to start).

2. Not totally sure about this one, but I don't think there's one that exceeds 40 lines.

3. 1024X768

BTW, I appreciate the offer but I'm not sure how comfortable I am with it, particularly since I'm basically committing copyright infringement and you have no idea what I'll end up doing with the thing.
posted by selfnoise at 6:19 AM on January 28, 2006

If you own a copy of each translation you use fair use allows for format transfers so long as no other laws are broken. The DMCA, for example, "breaks" fair use by criminalizing the circumvention of encryption.

If you then *distributed* your final product beyond very specific allowances (using it within a classroom falls within fair use, I believe), you would be guilty of copyright infringement.

Do you anticipate using translations that you haven't purchased, or distributing these translations beyond a classroom setting?

If you answer in the affirmative, I'd be held liable (ref. the Grokster SCOTUS decision) for inducement of infringement.

Otherwise there would be no inducement, since infringement would be considered an unsupported use of a product with substantial non-infringing applications.
posted by The Confessor at 6:45 AM on January 28, 2006


OT, but...

have you taken a look at Reading Rilke by William Gass. He does a very similar thing with translations of Rilke, provides his own translations, and writes a very cogent book on Rilke and on the art of translation.

A similar project is called Rending The Veil in which literal and poetic translations of Rumi are written on facing pages. It's a great book for begining to understand the real differences that pertain to translations.
posted by OmieWise at 7:28 AM on January 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

Don't know where you're coming from, but a scholarly paper that shows different translations is not out of reach. Also, I imagine you can extensively excerpt pieces if you want to prove your thesis.
There is some work in how translating court transcripts and testimony changes its meaning. I have some experience in Forensic Linguistics.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:32 AM on January 28, 2006

You might also be interested in picking up Le Ton Beau De Marot by Douglas Hofstadter. He explores the problems of translation by means of numerous incarnations of Clément Marot's poem "A une Da-moyselle malade," tossing in implications for cognitive science, AI, and culture along the way. It's a good read, especially if you enjoyed GEB.
posted by youarenothere at 8:29 AM on January 28, 2006

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