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December 12, 2009

Awesome
Posted by Patrick at 07:24 PM * 35 comments

A Kickstarter project to translate Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother…into Burmese. Run by New York-based outfit Digital Democracy, in partnership with the All-Burma I.T. Student Union.

I’m not someone who believes that information technology will inevitably usher us into a utopian era of freedom. Anything humans can dream up, they can use to shaft other humans. But for reasons particular to the Burma’s situation, this seems like a thoroughly good idea.

With your support, we will translate the book into four Burmese languages: Burmese, Karen, Chin and Rohingya. The money will go to support Burmese activists living in Thailand, Bangladesh and India who will be translating it into the local languages. Each page of translation will cost approximately $3.60. By supporting this project, you’re not only helping get Little Brother into Burma, you’re supporting the livelihood of Burmese activists. The book will help teach people to protect themselves by doing such things as running applications from a USB drive, using block encryption to safeguard data on a USB stick, and hiding your encrypted data in a deniable format in the event of capture and torture.
Elsewhere, Emily Jacobi of Digital Democracy makes a good case for the idea that Burma really is a place where mobile communication tech has made a difference, and can continue to do so.

The idea behind Kickstarter is that you don’t actually donate any money until the project in question has met their goal in pledges. For this one, they’re trying to get pledges totalling $2200 by December 15, three days from now. They’ve got $911. Go for it.

Comments on Awesome:
#1 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2009, 08:06 PM:

Woah. This translation costs less per page than typesetting.

#2 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2009, 08:50 PM:

I wonder if they'll be able to get Burmese teenagers to help get the slang right.

#3 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2009, 09:24 PM:

If this works, Cory Doctorow will be Emperor of Burma by 2031!

#4 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2009, 09:50 PM:

In for $100.00.

#6 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2009, 12:58 AM:

Go Digital Democracy!

#7 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2009, 04:29 AM:

Generally great, but I think I remember that some of the tricks explained in the book aren't really all that safe if you're up against someone with the full resources and powers of a ruthless police state- will there be warnings about that?

#8 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2009, 10:18 AM:

I think assessing danger is something for Burmese organizers and activists to decide among themselves. I don't think amending the text of a translated novel would be appropriate.

I doubt very much that anyone minded to activism inside Burma is unaware that the regime is powerful and dangerous. And I certainly don't think we should refrain from letting Burmese people read our literature because people in stories do things that would be more dangerous in Rangoon than in Des Moines.

#9 ::: AndrDrew ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2009, 01:58 PM:

Wow! I'll be passing the word along about this project. I'm now wondering what other works would be good candidates.

It's sad that Amazon's rules mean non-americans can't initiate Kickstarter projects. This is one amazing, and potentially game-changing way of fundraising.

#10 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2009, 05:07 PM:

It'll be sooo cool to collate all of the eventual translations against one another and see what the translators have done with the text.

While we're talking about translating Little Brother: I have German and French translations of Nineteen Eighty-Four on my shelf (both of which are called 1984). In German, Big Brother becomes Der Große Bruder. In French, he remains Big Brother ("BIG BROTHER VOUS REGARDE"). If anyone has any good ideas why this is the case I'd be interested to hear... everything else seems to have been Gallicised exactly as you'd expect—la Police de la Pensée, La Guerre C'est La Paix, etc. Does "Grand Frère" just sound dumb for some reason?

#11 ::: Emily Jacobi ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2009, 05:22 PM:

Thanks for post, Patrick, and all the awesome comments from everyone!

We're really excited about this and you're right, Teresa, at $550 per language, the translation is totally a good deal! For our friends who will do the translations, their living costs in Thailand, India and Bangladesh are very low, so translating this book will also help cover their expenses for many months.

For the ethnic minority languages (Karen, Chin & Kachin) we're really excited to spread the book around the schools in the refugee camps, where students often read Animal Farm and 1984. We think Little Brother will be the perfect addition!

Thank you so much for contributing and spreading the word.

#12 ::: Emily Jacobi ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2009, 05:37 PM:

Oh, and I wanted to add that I completely agree with you, Patrick, that technology alone won't lead to a utopian future ... tech is clearly a tool that can be used toward negative as well as positive ends. That's why we do a lot of safety and security trainings, and why we emphasize digital literacy.

But in Burma, technology is a tool being used by the government as well as the opposition, and we think this book can give some hope to the young people who are desperate for change. They do indeed know about the risks ... in a place that's ruled by a culture of fear, our friends have told us that the most important thing is feeling like they're not alone - that they're not up against an impossible task.

Raphael, I agree with Patrick that it might not be appropriate to amend the text itself, but I think that the translation process, being done in teams, will lend itself to blog posts by the translators on what aspects they think do and don't apply to the Burma context. I would love nothing more than for this project to spark a conversation among Burmese youth about what does and doesn't apply to their context!

Earl, since the translators will be working in teams, we're definitely hoping they consult with Burmese teams to get the slang right. At least two of the languages will be translated by the All Burma IT Student Union ... as they generally house 10-15 young computer students at their office, we expect they'll have a lot of fun dealing with slang.

#13 ::: Eirin ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 11:00 AM:

Steve @ 10:

In German, Big Brother becomes Der Große Bruder. In French, he remains Big Brother ("BIG BROTHER VOUS REGARDE"). If anyone has any good ideas why this is the case I'd be interested to hear...

Possibly because the words/term "big brother" doesn't carry the same connotation of 24/7 surveillance and control in all other languages as it does in english.

#14 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 11:30 AM:

Eirin (13): I think you have cause and effect backwards. As far as I know, 1984 is *why* "Big Brother" carries the connotation of 24-hour surveillance and control in English. (I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong about this.)

#15 ::: Eirin ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 12:45 PM:

I wasn't referring to 1984 at all, merely speculating why one would use the english term "big brother" in some translations, while others would use the local language. If the local term doesn't hold any ominous overtones, keeping the english "big brother" would make sense.

Regardless of Orwell's novel, in some languages a big brother is just the guy born to one or either of your parents ahead of you.

#16 ::: Eirin ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 12:45 PM:

I wasn't referring to 1984 at all, merely speculating why one would use the english term "big brother" in some translations, while others would use the local language. If the local term doesn't hold any ominous overtones, keeping the english "big brother" would make sense.

Regardless of Orwell's novel, in some languages a big brother is just the guy born to either or both of your parents ahead of you.

#17 ::: Eirin ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 12:47 PM:

Gah!

*Kicks browser*

#18 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 02:10 PM:

Eirin (15/16): And my point was that Big Brother only has ominous overtones in English because of the novel being translated. So, in that context, refraining from translating the term makes little sense.

#19 ::: Eirin ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 03:46 PM:

So, in that context, refraining from translating the term makes little sense.

Actually, it does. Frex, in norwegian, "storebror ser deg" (direct translation) doesn't sound nearly as ominous as "big brother ser deg". The word "storebror" simply doesn't carry quite the same Orwellian connotation as it does in english; whereas the english concept of "big brother" is well known and understood, almost to the point of it being part of the language (I blame the reality show more than Orwell*g*).

I admit I can't remember how the big brother concept was translated in the norwegian edition of 1984, though. That probably plays a part in how we perceive the term. Also, IMO.

#20 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 04:12 PM:

Eirin (19): If the English term has become "almost...part of the [target] language," okay, that does make sense. I had not realized that that was what you were saying.

#21 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 04:16 PM:

Eirin: When Orwell wrote the book, in 1948, the term "big brother" just meant an elder male sibling in English. It gained it's Orwellian sinister meaning by Orwell's act of writing 1984. So since the book did this in English, it could potentially do the same to two words of the same meaning in any language it was translated into.

I think it's a nice example of Orwell getting it right -- of course British people wouldn't call their dictator "Glorious Leader". That would be quite alien. They'd make him sound cuddly and protective like a big brother, but without this in reality making him any less sinister.

#22 ::: Eirin ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 04:18 PM:

:)

I had a feeling we were talking past each other - I just couldn't figure out how to put my finger on it.

#23 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 04:27 PM:

The fact that Little Brother is full of Orwell references is a bit problematic. It was written in a place where the writer thought it was safe to assume the audience knows about the same books. Across a culture barrier this is less true.

Incidentally, Orwell was in Burma once (see Shooting an Elephant)

If I recall correctly, the idea of Newspeak was inspired by Basic English, which was founded on the principle that if you have an international audience, it is safer not to assume that they all will recognnize things like obscure cultural references and big words.

#24 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 04:30 PM:

Steve, Eirin, Mary Aileen:

I asked the question on a translation forum. No one had a direct answer, but one translator postulated that Big Brother was left as is in the French translation because it was foreign and therefore more ominous, whereas Grand Frère wouldn't have had the same effect. As Mary Aileen pointed out, Big Brother has the overtones it has because of Orwell's novel, so this didn't really make sense to me. I have yet to find Amélie Audiberti's explanation for her choice to leave it in English, though, but I'd love to know why as well.

#25 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 04:38 PM:

And whoops, that'll teach me to check for new posts before submitting my own.

That said, I wonder if the Big Brother concept was already familiar to the French before the actual novel was translated. While the original was published in 1949, the French translation only came out in 1972, as far as I can tell. The expression may have gained currency in France in the intervening years, which would explain the translator's choice.

#26 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 05:33 PM:

Pendrift@25: thanks very much for the detective work! (and thanks to everyone else too for the replies...)

Erik@23: and in his biography of Orwell, Crick goes into some detail about the training that a colonial police officer of Orwell's (Blair's, as he then was) rank would have gone through in Burma. This included pretty gruelling courses in the local languages; perhaps he might have been able to translate Nineteen Eighty-Four into Burmese and Karen himself, had he lived.

I distinctly remember reading the serialisation, in that high-minded literary periodical the Daily Mail, of a sequel to Orwell's novel. This would have been in the year 1984 itself or thereabouts. I've done a bit of digging but haven't been able to find any reference to it at all. It wasn't Anthony Burgess's 1985 (which was published in the 70s), and I'm not sure it was the György Dalos novel 1985 either. The one detail I can remember is that Big Brother had been succeeded by Big Betty.

#27 ::: Pendrift ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 05:52 PM:

Steve with a book: I found a mention of Thomas Keneally's The Year 2020, described as "Dystopia in sequel to Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in which Big Brother has been replaced with Big Betty, who comes from the Proles. Superspeak has replace Newspeak[...]" in this bibliography of Australian Utopian Literature. I can't find any trace of it elsewhere, though.

#28 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2009, 06:10 PM:

Pendrift@27: you've hit the bullseye; thank you so much for confirming that my brain didn't make up Big Betty. Looks from the bibliographic information as though it was a short story (published in a few newspapers worldwide?) rather than a serialisation of a novel; and I would never have guessed in a million years that it was Keneally! Slightly corrected link here. AKICIML, which isn't a slogan of the Inner Party but jolly well should be.

#29 ::: Jim Henry ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2009, 10:55 AM:

Besides "Shooting an Elephant", there's also Orwell's novel Burmese Days; IMO a better novel than Nineteen Eighty-Four.

#30 ::: LMM sees a spam probe. ::: (view all by) ::: March 31, 2012, 08:56 AM:

#31.

#31 ::: janetl see spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 02, 2012, 02:51 AM:

#33 is spam-o-riffic

#33 ::: hedgehog sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 01:33 AM:

#34 looks like a spam probe.

#34 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2012, 02:14 AM:

You don't need the threadname -- the last-comments listing sticks it on automatically.

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