Tag Archives: translation

Translation, Gender, Sexuality: a report from Genealogies of Knowledge 2017

In December 2017, Sheffield MA student Nathaniel Dziura attended part of the Genealogies of Knowledge conference in Manchester. While the LDNA team were exchanging conceptual insights with other data-driven scholars, Nathaniel participated in sessions connected to a different field of interest. He writes:

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am keen to contribute to research on how social factors impact language use, particularly gender and sexuality. As a second-generation Polish immigrant, raised with influence from both Polish and English culture, I am also very interested in the effect cultural background can have on the production of linguistic features.

Next year, I hope to start a PhD focused on this interplay between social and linguistic elements. Schumann (1978) suggested that the degree of ‘acculturation’ influences use of non-standard variants in second language learners. In other words, if the speaker is more immersed in the culture of their second language, they will be more likely to acquire native speaker-like linguistic variation. However, previous studies have not considered how other social factors such as sexuality might affect which features are acquired. This is despite previous studies having shown certain linguistic features to be cross-culturally associated with LGBTQ+ membership. These features include fronted-/s/ (Levon, 2006; Pharao et al., 2014) – colloquially stereotyped as the ‘gay lisp’ – and creaky-voice (Zimman, 2013: 3) – speaking with a low elongated ‘creak’, like a stereotypical ‘valley girl’. LGBTQ+ people do not inherently use these features, but they can play an important part in interaction (Barrett, 2017: 9).

I want to help fill this gap in the research by investigating how sexuality might affect the linguistic variants acquired in English by second language speakers (specifically, Polish migrants to England). I will examine whether the use of these features differs depending on two variables: the level of integration into British culture. And the level of involvement with the LGBTQ+ community.

This was the project I had in mind as I headed to Manchester for the conference. I was rewarded by an excellent thematic session on ‘Translation, Gender, Sexuality’.

I found Przemysław Uściński and Agnieszka Pantuchowicz’s presentations to be pertinent and insightful. Uściński’s talk focused on the downfalls with approaching Queer Theory in Poland from a ‘Western perspective’. The political environments in Poland and England have differed historically, and continue to do so. Uściński argues that ‘LGBT emancipation’ has not yet occurred in Poland. Critical theorisations of gender are intentionally scarce in Polish academic discourse. The reception of Queer Theory in academia has been comparatively belated, and has sometimes discredited the LGBTQ+ movement. British society has its share of problems with LGBTQ+-phobia. Yet, Poland has seen much far-right and religious rejection of the LGBTQ+ community. These groups have dismissed LGBTQ+ identities as ‘Western secular propaganda’ and ‘gender ideology’. So, English translations of concepts within Queer Theory, which are gradually being introduced to Polish academic works, reflect English notions and societal progress. Even when concepts from Queer Theory enter Polish, there is no possibility for their dissemination within Polish society. Queer Theory tends to be viewed as a ‘foreign’ and subversive concept. A theoretical importation into Polish from English, and not one congruous with Polish culture.

In another paper, Pauline Henry-Tierney noted that misinterpretations in translation of Beauvoir’s ‘Mauvaise Foi’ have slowed academic progress on the subject. Taking this into account, perhaps misinterpretations of Queer Theory as a ‘foreign’ concept to Poland are hindering the normalisation of LGBTQ+ concepts and perpetuate their perception as something radical and provocative.

This thematic session highlighted that introducing concepts into a language through translation can be a step towards spreading those ideas within another culture. However, this alone might not be enough to achieve society’s understanding and acceptance of those concepts. The translation of Queer Theory between cultures was not an issue I had previously considered. This thematic session reinforced that the political and social environments in Polish and English culture exhibit stark differences. This is significant within the framework of acculturation: LGBTQ+ community membership is arguably more accepted in British culture, and consequently so are associated non-standard language features. So one might predict that LGBTQ+ Polish migrants to England who become more British-acculturated are more likely to produce non-standard features associated with LGBTQ+-community membership than those who are less British-acculturated.

Overall, I was able to interact with academics from areas such as translation studies and politics with whom I would not otherwise be able to network. I am very grateful to the Linguistic DNA team for inviting me to attend the conference. The insights it has given me will be useful in my academic pursuits!

Featured image:
Jaap Verheul (Utrecht) presents an example from ShiCo research at the Genealogies of Knowledge conference, 8 December. Photo (c) I.C. Hine.


Barrett, R. (2017) From Drag Queens to Leathermen: Language, Gender, and Gay Male Subcultures (Studies in Language Gender and Sexuality) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Henry-Tierney, P. (2017) ‘Translating in ‘Bad Faith’? Articulations of Beauvoir’s ‘Mauvaise Foi’ in English’, Genealogies of Knowledge I: Translating Political and Scientific Thought across Time and Space, Manchester: University of Manchester


Pantuchowicz, A. (2017) ‘Translation and the Failure of Gender Mainstreaming in Poland’ Genealogies of Knowledge I: Translating Political and Scientific Thought across Time and Space, Manchester: University of Manchester

Pharao, N., M. Maegaard, J. S. Møller & T. Kristiansen (2014) ‘Indexical meanings of [s] among Copenhagen youth: Social perception of a phonetic variant in different prosodic contexts’ Language in Society 43, 1–31

Schumann, J. H. (1986). Research on the acculturation model for second language acquisition. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 7, 379-392

Uściński, P. (2017) ‘Thinking Sexuality/Translating Politics: Queerness in(to) Polish’ Genealogies of Knowledge I: Translating Political and Scientific Thought across Time and Space, Manchester: University of Manchester

Zimman, L. (2013) ‘Hegemonic masculinity and the variability of gay-sounding speech: The perceived sexuality of transgender men’ Journal of Language & Sexuality 2 (1): 1-39

Seth and Iona present a joint paper with LDNA data at Genealogies of Knowledge. Photos (c) Japp Verheul.

Under the surface: SHARP, LDNA and sundry sources

This blog post excerpts material Iona wrote reflecting back on her contribution to the SHARP conference in Paris in July 2016, building on the work of her PhD thesis and incorporating material and processes that have formed part of the Linguistic DNA project. The full post can be found on Iona’s personal blog.

In preparation for the paper, I dedicated time to manually extract, compile and refine measurements for some of the early outputs from the LDNA processor. To fit in with the pledges of my abstract, I targeted the associations of valour and valiant in subsets of EEBO-TCP.

During my PhD, I used EEBO-TCP to provide context for my work with early modern bibles. Valour entered the equation as I examined trends in the translation of a Hebrew collocation gibbor chayil. In the King James Version (publ. 1611) most gibbor chayil men are “mighty . . . of valour”. The repetition of this phrase across the translation means that English bible readers could form associations between the group of characters referred to, in a similar manner to those who encounter the Hebrew narrative directly. For this to happen in translation shows that the translators recognised and (sometimes) prioritised the transmission of this connection; in this respect “mighty of valour” is a partial example of a larger trend in favour of a more technical approach to translation, a move likely influenced by the increasing use of precise cross-referencing in bible reading (facilitated by the introduction of verse numbers throughout the Bible, an innovation of the 1550s). Yet the phrase is intrinsically interesting because before that “valour” was not part of the English biblical lexicon.

Collating instances of gibbor chayil demonstrates that the lexically related “valiant” was used in earlier translations, but in a piecemeal manner (illustrated by the changing distribution of black square bullets in the diagram below).


This diagram, extracted from my SHARP presentation, is one of a series colour-coded to highlight consistency within individual versions with a focus on the characterisation of Boaz. The black square bullets are added to highlight where a form of ‘valiant’ (or for KJ ‘valour’) was used.

By exploring the words valiant and valour with the LDNA tools, I was able to corroborate the impression I had formed during my earlier quantitative and qualitative analysis which was conducted via a standard EEBO-TCP interface.

The PhD bit

Searching hits in the population for the first century of English print (to 1570) and comparing that with the next half century (a collection of documents three times the size) I had observed that the frequency of both valiant and valour increased markedly above expectation.


Comparison of word frequency (hits) and distribution (records, hits per record) in EEBO-TCP for 1473-1570 (P1) and 1571-1620 (P2) expressed in ratios.

Scrutinising the data by decade exposed some significant textual influences. To quote from my thesis:

87 per cent of occurrences of “valiant” in the corpus for 1520-1529 (316 of a total 363) appear in a two-volume translation of the French chronicles of Froissart, while two other translated works account for a further 9 per cent; just 4 per cent of hits occur in ‘indigenous’ texts.

For “valour”,

a jump in the decade 1570-1579 is significantly related to the publication in 1579 of a translation from Italian: 403 of the decade’s 501 hits appear in a one-volume translation of The historie of Guicciardin conteining the vvarres of Italie and other partes (London, 1559). Once such scrutiny is imposed, it becomes evident that translation had a significant role in the increased currency of these two Latinate terms. It is also evident that the words normally appear in certain genres: conduct books concerned with warfare and chivalric behaviour; and chronicles of past history. This contributes to the recognisable sense of valour as “The quality of mind which enables a person to face danger with boldness or firmness; courage or bravery, esp. as shown in warfare or conflict; valiancy, prowess.”[ OED s.v. “valour|valor, n.”, §1c.] This sense, cultivated through translation in the course of the sixteenth-century, fits the context in which King James’ translators employ the word.

The LDNA bit

The subsets of EEBO-TCP sent through the LDNA processor earlier in the year were intentionally compatible with the periodisation of my thesis, providing windows onto English discourse that could be cross-referenced with the publication of particular bibles. The subsets thus incorporate all transcribed material from EEBO (TCP update 2015) known to have been printed during the following spans:

  • 1520-1539 (cf. Coverdale Bible 1535, Matthew Bible 1537, Great Bible 1539)
  • 1550-1559 (Geneva Bible 1560, Bishops Bible 1568); and
  • 1610-1611 (Douai Old Testament 1609-10, King James Version 1611).

Taking the first and last of these, measuring PMI in windows of discourse around the word “valour”, we find marked change in the prominent associations. Our approach yields plentiful data, and we are still thinking through the challenges of visualisation. In the slide shown, I have coloured associated terms according to the innermost window in which the cooccurring lemma rises to prominence. Thus red terms occur frequently in the narrowest window around valour (+/-1 words), orange terms in the expanded window (+/-10 words) that might approximate the surrounding sentence, green for +/-50 words (which now form the default window size in our public interface) and blue for the wide discursive window of +/-100 words. (Many lemmas appear in more than one window, and the list shown for the later period does not reach to some relevant low frequency items such as “prowess”.)


What should be visible is a distinction between the use of “valour” as a synonym of value or worth (prominent in the 1520-1539 subset), and the association with conduct in conflict (dominant in the 1610-1611 dataset). Both senses were part of the Latin root “valeo” and, had King James’ translators ventured it, both could have been played upon to make even more “mighty men of valour” in 1611. (One of the exceptions comes at 2 Kings 15:20, where Menachem taxes all gibbor chayil men, “mighty men of wealth” in the KJV.)

Inevitably, the set of observations I could draw from this investigation are not part of the bottom-up process that LDNA strives to achieve. But the exercise has helped me to think through some different ways we will want to be able to interrogate our data and to study the effects of some different baselines for our expectation calculations. And it demonstrates, I think, the valour of conducting semantic enquiries through discursive windows.



Thesis quotations are from: I. C. Hine, “Englishing the Bible in early modern Europe: The case of Ruth”, PhD thesis (University of Sheffield, 2014), p. 163. These numbers reflect searches conducted through the Chadwyck EEBO interface using its variant spelling option.

The datasets employed in my thesis are not quite identical to those used by the project: LDNA uses a slightly expanded version of the EEBO-TCP collection (last updated early 2015) with its spelling regularised and tokens lemmatised locally using MorphAdorner.