1. GREETINGS to everyone who has visited this site and/or attended meetings at the Poetry Café. I am no longer the organiser of the series “The Trace They Wished To Leave” which presented relatively little known foreign language poets during the last two years or so but Bernadette Jansen op de Haar of Holland Park Press will be taking up the torch (see Events page for dates of future meetings). I shall, however, continue with the website and anyone who has material of interest can send it in to me at sebastianhayes@tiscali.co.uk . (To prevent being inundated by advertising everything has to go through me for the moment unfortunately but I don’t alter or censor anything.) I also aim to send out a monthly Bulletin from now on giving news and add something I have come across likely to interest readers.

2. FUTURE PERSPECTIVES.   I hope to expand the website in various ways, for example by including, as well as posts of poems in translation, more reviews of books and interviews with well-known translators. I shall be contacting translators known to me to invite them to write informal articles about their work. They might, for example, talk of the particular difficulties of translating from a certain language and give tips about how to deal with the problems. (Note there exist a certain number of posts already on the ‘theory of translation’ — see Menu).
Another initiative is to have ‘sound posts’ in the form of bi-lingual readings of poems and I am preparing one of extracts from Anna de Noailles at the moment. If you are a translator and can record poems in the original and in English I shall be glad to put them on the site if possible. Subsequently I hope to bring out some CDs of bi-lingual poems.
I also plan to bring out at least two books using the material accumulated during the last two and a half years, one an anthology of poems that have been presented at the Poetry Café, the other the complete set of Robert Yates’s translations of Rimbaud’s Illuminations  from which he read at the Poetry Café on 25 April (see also the linked site www.arimbaud.com).
There may be other ways in which this website can expand, perhaps via language translation Workshops — I welcome any suggestions.

3. ASSISTANCE    This site is your site and the best way you can help to keep it going is to send in articles or translations of poems you are working on. Also, if anyone is able and willing to give technical assistance on improving the site, this help will be gratefully received.
Eventually,  I hope to have books and CDs on offer to raise money (since revenue from the meetings will stop from now on). I can as from now offer to devote any sales of my recent book on Rimbaud entitled  Rimbaud Revisited & Une Saison en Enfer A New Translation  to “Poetry In Translation” (which has a collective bank account in this name). This book can be purchased online via the Brimstone Press website (www.brimstonepress.co.uk) or directly from me at £6.50 incl. p & p . I can also offer two booklets beautifully printed in limited edition by The Hague Press of extracts from the poetry of Anna de Noailles and Catherine Pozzi translated by myself at £4 each, available only from me, sae appreciated.
But the best way you can help to keep this site going is, as I said, to visit it and contribute articles and translations of high quality. All best wishes.
I append a brief piece about something that has caught my attention recently.

4.  FAST TALKERS AND THE ORIGIN OF LANGUAGE  Anne Pycha, in Scientific American April 2012 , tells us that François  Pellegrine and his team from the University of Lyon recently  carried out a survey on the ‘talking speed’ of twelve well known languages. The results were more or less what I would have expected with Japanese coming first at 7.84 syllables/sec and Mandarin last at 5.18 syllables/sec. English is mid-speed with 6.19 syllables/sec. (See Note for complete list).
However, speed is not everything. Mandarin, since it does not bother with articles and all sorts of other linguistic embellishments (but uses tones), punches far beyond its syllable weight while the Romance languages are full of charming (or irritating) redundancies. The researchers go so far as to suggest that most languages have a “relatively constant rate of conveying information” which Anne Pycha sees as an argument in favour of Chomsky’s ‘universal grammar’.
These results (on the basis of twelve languages only) are interesting but we need to go beyond the strictly informational aspect of speech. Plenty of people talk, not to convey data but “because they like the sound of their own voice” — and in a sense, why not? There have been cases of autistic children who use speech strictly as self-expression, as a kind of music.
Why do humans bother with spoken and written language anyway? After all, plenty of species can communicate perfectly well using smells and gestures. One theory is that spoken language started up when tribesmen got involved in complex joint operations such as hunting and killing a mammoth. Sound has the advantage here over gesture in that a spoken message (a yell) carries much further and you don’t have to be facing the speaker to get the message. Spoken language was, according to this theory, the original ‘walkie-talkie’.
However, it is doubtful if this is the whole story. A more recent theory is that language evolved, not so much to communicate information as to persuade. Reasoning plays a role in persuasion but this role is hardly decisive : highly effective public speakers such as Eva Peròn or Hitler (also for that matter Winston Churchill) tended to be thin on reasoning but strong on emotion and rhetorical flourishes.  If the economical transfer of information were the main function of spoken language, we would expect ‘early’ languages to have a very reduced syntax. The precise opposite is the case : the older the language the more elaborate the structure as a rule, with succinct telegrammatic Mandarin being at the other end of the evolutionary process.
As Voltaire said, “Le superflu est très nécessaire”. You only need to think of the endless amusement children get (or used to get) out of nonsense rhymes and jingles to realize that human beings love playing around with sounds for their own sake. The origin of poetry lies in song and it is unwise to stray too far away from this base.

Note 1.

Language               Syllables per second
Japanese               7.84    ±0.1
Spanish                  7.82
French                   7.18
Italian                    6.99
English                  6.19
German                 5.97
Vietnamese          5.22
Mandarin             5.18            

from Scientific American, April 2012  p. 14  “Linguistics” by Anne Pycha 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sebastian Hayes   19 June 2012

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