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Shakespeare at the 2012 Olympics

Next year, athletes from every sport from every corner of the world will reunite in London to participate in one of the most anticipated event of the year. Swimmers, basketballers, boxers, tennismen and many others are going to meet at the 2012 Olympics Games in the British Capital to compete against each other in their respective disciplines in the hope of getting the “so – desired” gold medal. I can predict that 2012 is going to be a very electric year!

But the real star of the show is going to be William Shakespeare… Surprised? I was too when I discovered that the 38 plays he produced are all going to be performed in a different language to mark the 2012 London Olympics. From Italian to Lithuanian, Stagings of Julius Caesar to King Lear, sport to theatre, there is just one step. For all the Shakespeare’s lovers out there, the six-week theatre season (part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad) will start on 23 April at the Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, so don’t be late… Read more

Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

Today is Shakespeare’s birthday, as well as the anniversary of his death. Although he lived 400 years ago, the Bard still influences the English we speak today.  The Oxford English Dictionary gives him credit for coining more than 2,000 words, though of there’s some dispute over whether or not he actually invented all of them.

How did one man come to have so much influence on the English language? In Shakespeare’s case, it was a combination of luck, talent and craft that allowed him to leave such an enduring legacy behind.  To say that Shakespeare “had a way with words” is a serious understatement, of course, but he also had the good fortune to live in a time when the English language was changing rapidly. Wars were being fought, new lands were being explored, and England’s contact with and knowledge of the rest of the world increased tremendously. The English language needed new words to describe all of these changes, and Shakespeare was perfectly positioned to help supply them.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, here are some of the many words Shakespeare (may have) created:

Aerial: First used in Othello to describe the sky on the horizon, where Othello’s ship is expected to emerge.

Arch-villain: You may think of old James Bond movies when you hear this word, but the first “arch-villain” in the English language was actually the corrupt judge Angelo in “Measure for Measure.”

Fashionable: First used by the character Ulysses in “Troilus and Cressida.”

Tranquil: Though the word “tranquility” dates back to Chaucer, Shakespeare is the first person known to have used the adjective “tranquil.”

Downstairs: First used by Prince Hal in King Henry IV.

Pander: In the medieval tragedy “Troilus and Cressida,” Pandare, Pandaro or Pandarus was a character who arranged to have his niece Cressida sleep first with the Trojan warrior Troilus and then with the Greek lord Diomedes. Shakespeare first used “pander” to mean “pimp” in Henry IV, Part II.”

Majestic: “Majesty” has been in use since the 14th century, but as far as we know, Shakespeare was the first person to use the adjective “majestic.”

Obscene: Yes, Shakespeare coined this word, too, by Anglicizing the old Latin word obscenus.

Sanctimonious: First used by Lucio, in “Measure for Measure:”

“Thou concludest like the sanctimonious pirate, that
went to sea with the Ten Commandments, but scraped
one out of the table.”

Image Credit: Attribution Some rights reserved by david__jones

 

The Evolution of Language

As this article on Forbes.com demonstrated, language is never static. It is constantly changing and evolving. But why? Why the English we speak is today different in so many ways from the English our grandparents spoke? Or the English Shakespeare spoke and wrote in?

Language evolves for a number of different reasons. One common reason is to accommodate new concepts or technology. For example, the word “Internet” didn’t exist a hundred years ago because there was no need for it. The word “touchscreen” didn’t exist until we figured out how to make computer and cell phone screens that could sense and respond to human touch.

Language also changes when the commonly understood meanings of words change over time. Sometimes, these changes happen when a new language “need” is created, but sometimes, people just abuse and twist the meaning of words until the “incorrect” word or meaning becomes the “correct” one.

The article referenced above gives several interesting examples. For example, take the word “empower.” Empower used to be strictly legal term, meaning “to give legal authority or power to.” However, over time, talk shows and self-help gurus have twisted the word so that it is commonly understood as “to make someone feel powerful.”

Another interesting example of this phenomenon is the word “literally.” Once upon a time, if you were to say something like “These guys are literally killing me,” you would mean that people were really, seriously trying to kill you-perhaps with a knife. Now, you might just mean that they are seriously giving you a hard time. When used this way, “literally” takes over the meaning of its antonym, “figuratively.” Confusing, isn’t it?

That’s why when you have material translated into another language, it is important to choose knowledgeable translators who are aware of both the “textbook meanings” of different words and the way those words are understood in common use.

New Tool Compares Translations

Translation isn’t always black and white. There is usually more than one possible translation for a given phrase, and part of a translator’s job is to choose the best of these alternatives. The words chosen will subtly influence how the translated work is perceived by its intended audience, and they sometimes reveal as much about the translator as they do about the work itself.

Now, scientists at Swansea University have developed a tool that allows you to compare different translations of one scene from Shakespeare’s Othello to see how they differ.

The program compares 37 different German translations of the scene in which Othello describes how he wooed Desdemona with stories of his adventures, along with the original English version. Different views allow for line-by-comparisons, show which lines of the play have the greatest variation in translation, and highlight the translations that stand out from the crowd the most. You don’t have to speak German to use it, either. The translations are re-translated into English so you can see how different word choices subtly shaped the meaning of the text.

Project head Tom Cheesman, a linguist at Swansea, explained some of the insights scholars should be able to get from this tool to Wired.co.uk:

“The aim is to document the history of the play and its translations. They are implicitly aligned with each other. Digital technology is great for exploring their connections and deviations. Do men translate differently from women? Do East German translations of Shakespeare differ from West German? How has the depiction of Othello as a black man changed through history, from the time of slavery, through the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm, to the Nazi dictatorship, and up to the present time of ‘political correctness’?”

In an interview with the BBC, Dr. Cheesman also stated that the tool could be useful for foreign language students studying translated texts, once more texts and translations are added.

Next up: The Merchant of Venice.