Prof. Fellbaum’s Talk (Apr. 6th)

For most of us, language is simply a tool of communication. We do not think about language; we simply use it. However, as Prof. Christiane Fellbaum explained in her extensive and fascinating talk about language and human cognition, the systematic study of language can yield fundamental and surprising insights into the way that our brains work.

Language, at the most basic level, is a mapping between “concepts” and particular sounds and letters. For instance, the word “chair” (a sequence of five alphabet letters) conjures in our minds the “concept” of a chair. There are, of course, more abstract concepts, such as “freedom” or “tragedy.” A person who speaks one language has a single reservoir of concepts mapped to his or her lexicon – the constantly changing sum total of words her or she knows.

Interesting questions arise, however, when we explore people who can speak two or more languages. This pertains to both bilinguals and any person who has studied a foreign language. In theory, there are two possible ways in which a person acquires and uses a second language (in the case of bilinguals, the language in which they are less proficient).

The first way is that the person simply builds associations between words in the native language and words in the second language – for instance, by studying from vocabulary lists. No mapping is made between the second language and the mental reservoir of concepts. This is called “word association.” The second way, which usually indicates higher proficiency, is that the person builds a direct conceptual mapping between the second language and the existing reservoir of concepts. This is called “concept mediation.”  A variety of extremely clever psycholinguistic experiments can be used to show differences between the two models.

One implication that these models have for translation is that a weak understanding of a second language (“word association”) will yield fast but inaccurate translation. Though it is somewhat counterintuitive at first sight, a person with greater proficiency in a second language (“concept mediation”) will take longer to translate. This is because he or she will look at the word in the source language, go back to the reservoir of concepts, and then look for the most appropriate way to express that concept in the target language.

Of course, these models of language processing are limited. For most multilinguals, the degree of proficiency in a second language can be explained by a mixture of word association and concept mediation. There are also important questions that can be asked about the assumption of a single reservoir of concepts for multiple languages. It is apparent to any of us who speak more than one language that there are differences between concepts that can be expressed by different languages.

A controversial hypothesis, the Whorfian hypothesis, extends the logical implications of such differences. A language shapes the way that a person perceives, thinks about, and conceptualizes the world. Therefore, bilinguals and multilinguals will have several complex, ambiguous and possibly conflicting world-views.

If all of that induces existential doubts and headache-inducing questions, we can perhaps all take comfort in the fact that most of us know approximately 40,000 words in English. (Give yourself a pat on the back.)


There will be one more speaker event before the end of the spring semester – Prof. Sandra Bermann on April 27th, during the second Campus Preview weekend.

We will keep you posted, so look out for details!

Prof. David Leheny’s Talk (Mar. 30th)


As part of our ongoing PULP speaker series, Prof. David Leheny, the Henry Wendt III ’55 Professor of East Asian Studies, delivered an engaging and fascinating talk about the role of language and emotion in culture and politics, specifically with regards to Japan. By weaving together personal anecdotes with insights from his research, he explored the ways in which certain cultural ideas about the language of emotion may affect political discourse, and what implications that may have – interesting food for thought for anyone interested in translation and cross-cultural communication.

Different languages express emotions in different ways that are sometimes difficult to translate. With increasing cross-cultural communication across the globe today, translators have an important role to play. Politics is just one of many areas which are affected by translation and language.

There will be two more speaker events in what remains of the spring semester – Prof. Christiane Fellbaum on April 6th (this Friday!) and Prof. Sandra Bermann on April 27th, during the second Campus Preview weekend.

We will keep you posted, so look out for details!

Prof. David Bellos’ Talk (Feb. 24th)

At last Friday’s workshop, Prof. David Bellos, director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication, gave a very interesting and humorous talk about the differences between literary and technical translation (or the lack thereof), as well as several pertinent issues that arise in the process of translation.

Among his key points was the view that the dichotomy between literary and technical translation is not as sharp as people might expect. There are certain aspects unique to technical translation – for instance, companies such as Boeing and L’Oreal frequently rely on a standardized database of commonly used terms. In addition, there may be jargon and technical terms that need to be carefully translated based on the intended user(s) of the translated document.

However, issues that arise in translation (in general) very much apply to technical translation as well. Aesthetics is always a concern, regardless of the text being translated. Translating a text affects not only grammar, but also the way in which information is structured, organized and emphasized. There are subtleties of culture and language that need to be considered in the translation of technical documents.

Eddie asking Prof. Bellos a question

Prof. Bellos also answered several interesting questions, providing us with fascinating anecdotes and bits of trivia as he did so. For instance, he addressed ways of translating a word which do not have a foreign equivalent (ex. “cobbler”), and discussed the importance of pivot languages (“Nothing is translated directly from Yiddish to Vietnamese. Double translation, often with English as a medium, is the norm in translation.”).

He also reminded us that translation is anything but a solitary activity, even if it seems so. Translators need reassurance from native speakers of the target language to make sure that the translated work is appropriate – something that PULP members very much understand. In addition, technical translators need to keep up to date about new developments in terminology and jargon, which can nowadays be done through blogs and other online communities.

To bring his one-and-a-half hour talk to a close, he brought to our attention an op-ed by Lawrence Summers in the New York Times on Jan. 20th. Summers says that “English’s emergence as the global language” has made it less necessary to learn and understand foreign languages. Prof. Bellos disagreed with his claim. Language barriers are still as present as ever and it remains vital for those who have the time and the opportunity to continue to master a language other than their own.

There will be another event in the rest of the spring semester, so we will keep you posted!

PULP Speaker Series: Professor David Bellos

Hello everyone,

Hope the new semester has gotten off to a good start! After winter break and finals, workshops have resumed, and our translators and editors are – once again – busy working away at their projects. New projects are also on the way, so look out for announcements on this page in the coming weeks.

To kick off the semester, PULP has invited Professor David Bellos, Director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication, to enlighten us about the differences between technical translation (i.e. what PULP usually does) and literary translation.

The event will be held this coming Friday (24th) in Frist 309, starting at 4:45pm. Everyone is welcome! (And, as the poster emphasizes, there will be pizza…too.)

Hope to see you there!


More about Prof. Bellos: Professor David Bellos received his PhD in French Literature from Oxford University and has been teaching at Princeton University since 1997 where he now serves as the director of the Program in Translation and Intercultural Communication and a proud supporter of PULP.  He was been awarded the French-American Foundation’s translation prize in 1988, the Prix Goncourt de la Biographie in 1994, and the Man Booker International translator’s award in 2005. He is the author of Is that a Fish in Your Ear?, published in 2011.

Translation Contest Winners!

Hey PULPers!

Here are the long-awaited list of winners from our translation contest of Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” last month!

  • Chinese: Sara Sun
  • Japanese: Qizhao Weng
  • Spanish: Logan Coleman
Honorable Mention
  • Persian: Quinton Beck

Last Friday, we held a special dinner for our winners with delicious Indian food, accompanied by American jazz from our president Eddie’s Pandora play list.  An odd combination of East and West to be sure, but somehow it worked to create a relaxing ambiance after a hectic week of work.  Here are a few pictures from last Friday of the winners with their winning translations to the right.

Sara & PULP Officers












Qizhao & Eddie




紙で組み上げた家 風が吹けばすぐ倒れてしまう

だって ベイビー  あなたは花火だよ

自分の価値 彼らに見せてやろうよ




The highlight of the evening had to be Quinton, our Persian translator, singing his version of “Fireworks”.  Google Docs won’t let me copy and paste his translation so you will just have to look at the picture and use your imagination.

Quinton singing












Not pictured here but we love him still is Spanish translator Logan Coleman.  Here’s his winning work:

A veces te sientes como una bolsa nada más? / Vagando con el viento, buscando un nuevo comienzo? / Te has sentido como un papel—así ligera? /Como un torre de naipes, a punto de caer a la tierra

Bebe eres un fuego artificial / Dale muestra al mundo tu cuerpo tan sensual / Hasta que griten Oh, Oh, Oh /Que estrellita en el cielo-o-o

Thanks to everyone for participating!
Like what you see?  Join our facebook group!

November Announcements!

Hey everyone! A great big welcome to the two newest members of the PULP board, Korean Editors, Hana and Heidi!



Last month, PULP hosted its first ever, multilingual concert featuring Tatiana Plus, a trio of talented musicians from Switzerland and Russia.  Set in a cozy cafe setting with the wafting scent of fresh-baked cookies, Tatiana Plus treated Princeton students and Friday-night stragglers with 2 hours of enchanting music.  My favorite part:  the accordion guy…

In case not everyone shares my love of the accordion, there’s other pictures too:

Check out all the pictures here!

Translation Stats 2010-2011

Thanks to the dedicated work of our members, PULP was able to translate 151 pages of documents for 15 different NGOs last year!

Check out the breakdown of our work by language and by organization!

Breakdown by Language


Breakdown by Organization


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