26 Oct

The first presentation on this subject that I will give is in Istanbul (at Doğuş University) and I hope to learn more about dragomans while I’m there. Dragomans (or dragomen) were official translators in Ottoman Kostantiniyye (as Istanbul was then known) and some of them lived extraordinary lives. The one in the picture here (1809) is busy negotiating meaning between a British ambassador and a Turkish Kaymakam.

David Bellos illustrates the kind of language required when speaking to the Ottoman functionary:

Having bowed my head in submission and rubbed my slavish brow in utter humility and complete abjection and supplication to the beneficent dust beneath the feet of my mighty, gracious, condescending, compassionate, merciful benefactor, my most generous and open-handed master, I pray that the peerless and almighty provider of remedies etc etc

What, one wonders, were the original words of the British milord wanting to enlist Turkish support against Napoleon?

OK, tell him this, but say it nicely, OK? And we’ll pay lots of money.

Translation is by definition an intercultural activity: dragomans knew it better than anyone.


One Response to “Dragomans”

  1. philipjkerr September 10, 2012 at 10:17 am #

    Mark Andrews has described a fascinating lesson in which the students compared the labels on two bottles of Tyskie beer, one in English, one in the students’ mother tongue.
    “Did a live lesson at the Polish IATEFL conference in Wroclaw Poland yesterday afternoon with 60 teachers watching! We had about 25 minutes to discuss it afterwards and all credit to IATEFL Poland to have a strand at the conference dedicated to live lessons. Part of the lesson was getting students to compare the labels of the same bottle of Tyskie beer but one bought in England at Lidl on Tuesday one bought at Tesco in Wroclaw on Thursday. Fascinating differences and a great insight into both cultures! Good to get the students using their smartphones in class to find out info from the drinkaware.co.uk website on the English label.”

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