Small Talk- More than Just Monkey Business

For most primates, grooming is the number-one social behaviour. We’ve all seen nature shows on TV that show a band of chimps combing through one another’s other’s fur.

However, among humans, picking fleas off your neighbour’s scalp is generally considered anti-social behaviour. Instead, we bond by talking, whether it’s about sports, the weather, the news, or the latest round of celebrity gossip.

Now, scientists have found evidence of similar behavior among a species of monkey known as the macaque. Like humans, macaques, especially female macaques, tend to form large social networks. These networks simply consist of too many individuals to make grooming an effective method of bonding. It would just take too much time. The scientists conducting the study theorized that since macaques have such large social networks, they may be using vocalizations as another method of bonding, one that’s equally as important as mutual grooming.

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Chicago Red Jackets

The Chicago Tribune reported on Tuesday that 29 “airport customer service representatives” may lose their jobs as part of the City of Chicago’s effort to reduce its spending.

The problem is that these airport employees are more than just “greeters” or “customer service representatives.” They are also translators for the many visitors from other countries that go through the Chicago O’Hare Airport each year.

The employees are known as “red jackets” because of their eye-catching uniforms, and they have been part of the scenery in Chicago O’Hare Airport for the past four decades. From the article, it appears that each employee speaks at least 3 languages.

Why would the city of Chicago consider throwing away employees with these valuable skills? It all comes down to money. The city is facing a $469 million financial shortfall this year. However, upper level management in the same division as the greeters gets to stay… and they actually get raises.

If you’ve ever travelled abroad in a country where most people don’t speak your language, you know what a wonderful service it is that these greeters provide. When something goes wrong with your travel plans, it’s an incredible relief to be able to find someone who can understand you and who is willing to help.

So, who is going to provide this service now? Stephanie Burzawa, one of the employees quoted in the article, asks:

“How is Chicago going to be there to help travellers, or welcome people to the Olympics here [in 2016], if they are rolling up the welcome mat for people getting off the planes?”

Apparently, Chicago’s Olympic visitors will be warmly greeted by…a phone booth. According to the Tribune article, “the city has placed “translation phones” at five locations at the airports.”

“Translation phones” instead of real people?

Hopefully, the city will reconsider. Even the U.S. Transportation Security Administration chief in the airport is quoted saying that:

“It would be a great loss to the airport . . . to lose this valuable resource.”

Lost in Translation

Last month at the Frankfurt Book Fair, one of the largest international literary gatherings, guess what American publishers lined up to buy?

Work by other American, or at least British, authors.

Apparently, according to the New York Times, large American publishing houses are afraid to buy publishing rights for foreign-language books because they don’t think Americans are willing to purchase literature that has been translated from a foreign language. But are they being given a chance?

Out of 15,000 new book titles released in the US this year, only 330 were from authors that write in a foreign language.

That’s only about 2%!

Sure, a poorly done translation can turn off readers, but great literature is not just limited to the English language.

A good translation of a foreign novel can capture and communicate the essence of the original book, allowing English-speaking readers to enjoy reading books from all over the world even if we speak a different language than the writer.

Why are American publishers afraid of publishing translated books?

The conventional wisdom is that they don’t sell well. However, the New York Times article quoted Anne-Solange Noble, the foreign-rights director at Gallimard in France, as saying that translated books simply don’t get the same marketing and promotion as English-language books, so of course they don’t have strong sales.

However, even highly regarded international titles are usually much cheaper to purchase than work by American authors. Plus, many European governments will reimburse publishers for the translation costs.

With so much great foreign literature going un-translated and unpublished in America, what are Americans missing? In the Times article, Anne-Solange Noble has an answer:

“American publishers are depriving the American readership of the cultural diversity through translation to which they are entitled,”

Ms. Noble said.

“It is what I call the poverty of the rich.”

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