Letter From The Editor

Greetings, fellow translators and interpreters. I hope everyone is staying healthy in this difficult environment.

I also hope you will enjoy the new edition of the Gotham which begins with a profile of our President, Milena Savova. I think you will agree that her multi-faceted translation career is impressive.

To celebrate Women in Translation month (August), I am also including a write up of an online bi-lingual reading sponsored by PEN AMERICA which occurred on August 27, 2020. This event featured readings by authors and translators from around the globe in five different languages. I found it to be a unique and inspiring evening.

Finally, for all of us, but particularly for those who could not attend the Circle’s September 21st online meeting, I am including a write up of Professor Graham Neubig’s highly informative presentation on machine translation.

As the year draws to a close, please keep the Circle in mind for any articles that you might have written on industry issues or on your own personal experiences. We always look forward to receiving submissions from our members for eventual publication in the Gotham.

With best wishes,

Patricia Stumpp, Editor








Meet Our President: Milena V. Savova


Milena V Savova

A native of Bulgaria, Milena brings a wealth of language experience to the Circle. Interested in languages from childhood, she learned French at home, studied English, Russian and German in high school and went on to study English philology at Sofia University. After graduation, Milena became a graduate assistant in the English Department at the University. She then progressed to a full time faculty position in translation studies and earned a PhD with her dissertation on Translation Theory.

She got her start in professional translation and interpretation when she applied for a job at the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Linguists were needed to assist in diplomatic contacts with other nations. During one assignment with a Danish cultural delegation, she began asking questions about the Danish language, which so impressed the Danish representatives that they invited her to attend a one month course in Danish language and culture in Copenhagen. She participated in this course every year for four years and then was awarded a one-year scholarship to study in Copenhagen, an experience that she remembers fondly.

In 1987 she was awarded a Fulbright to study linguistics at Berkeley. Various U.S. academic posts soon came to her. After working as adjunct faculty in the English Department at City University in New York, specializing in ESL, she answered an ad for a position as head of the Foreign Languages and Translation Department of N.Y.U.’s School of Professional Studies. The position was particularly attractive to her since it encompassed her three main areas of interest: translation, foreign languages and administration. She spent 19 years at N.Y.U. in that capacity.

In 2015, always interested in the culture of the Far East, Milena attended a translation conference in Qatar. This led to a two year position in the Translation and Interpretation Institute in Qatar which began in 2016.  As Director of the Language Center there, she modernized the curriculum and developed a professional development workshop for language instructors.

Milena is currently an adjunct faculty member in Hunter College’s new translation and interpretation Master’s program where she is teaching a course in Theory of Translation, a subject that is near and dear to her. She also maintains a busy Bulgarian translation practice.

Milena’s two year term as President will end in January 2021. During her tenure as President,   she has greatly enjoyed working with the other Board Members and is proud of the work they are doing. Milena was instrumental in organizing the highly successful fortieth anniversary celebration of the Circle’s founding and is currently hard at work together with the other Board Members on the redesign of the Circle’s website.

Thank you, Milena, for your service to the Circle. Your translation journey is truly inspiring to all of us in the profession.

By: Patricia Stumpp




Bilingual Reading to Celebrate Women in Translation Month

On August 27, 2020, PEN AMERICA sponsored an online reading by five authors and translators to celebrate Women in Translation Month. The event featured works in Hungarian, Italian, Russian, Sinhalese and Turkish.   After the author’s readings, English translations were read by the translators. The event was moderated by the poet, translator and editor Nancy Naomi Carlson.

The first author/translator reading was by the Hungarian poet Zita Izso whose works have been translated by Agnes Marton. Zita is the recipient of numerous awards and grants for her poetry. Agnes is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in the UK, is the reviews editor of the Ofi Press and the author of the recent collection Captain Fly’s Bucket List. The first poem, “Like Mouthbrooders,” is a devastating account of an attack on two sisters by soldiers of an unnamed army. As the elder sister is dragged outside from their hiding place and the soldiers force snow into the older sister’s mouth to mute her screams, the narrator recalls the taste of snow on her tongue when the two girls played in the snow as children. She thinks that God must be carrying her not in his palm as her mother used to say, but in his mouth since she cannot hear his voice, just as her own voice is silenced. The second poem, New Hope, is a brief elegy on the death of a beloved child.

The second pairing was that of Italian poet Mariangela Gualtieri and her translator Olivia E. Sears. Mariangela has published over a dozen plays and collections of poetry, among which is the bestselling book Bestie di Gioia. Olivia, whose translations of Mariangela’s poems have appeared in various publications, is also the founder of the Center for the Art of Translation and serves on the editorial board of Two Lines Press. Olivia read three untitled poems from “Beasts of Joy.” The first expressed the poets’ bond with the suffering of the animals of the world while yet acknowledging the moments of joy and lightness that still exist in the natural world. In the second poem, the poet used the metaphor of a goat to evoke the idea of sleeplessness while acknowledging that there is still happiness and light to be found in the darkness. The third was a beautiful evocation of a comet falling to earth from a distant star, bringing water, the source of all life, to the planet.

Natalia Rubanova and Rachael Daum then read from Natalia’s play which is tentatively entitled “Awesome” in English. Natalia’s plays have been performed in Russian and also in London, where she won the Best New Writing prize at the SOLO International Festival. Rachael translates from Serbian, Russian and German. She holds an MA from Indiana University and is the communications and awards manager for ALTA.  “Awesome” is an epistolary work told in the voice of a nameless young man who, like Goethe’s Werther, searches unsuccessfully for romantic love and ultimately destroys himself in the process. In the excerpt that was read, the narrator ruminates on some of his romantic encounters with women. The Russian text evokes the theme of the superfluous man prevalent in Russian literature going back to Pushkin while in the English translation there are echoes of the current incel and red pill movements.

The next paired reading was by the Sri Landan poet Thilini N. Liyanaarachchi and her translator Chamini Kulathunga. The first poem, “To be a Queen is a Sin” ponders the story of the sole female ruler in Sri Lankan history, Queen Annula of Anuradhapura. History portrays her as an “erotic being” who reputedly poisoned every man she married. At the same time, history ignores the fate of the many concubines of the kings of old. The poet wishes she could speak to the queen because only she knows what truly happened. The second poem, “Shall We Ask Time to Stop,” is a gentle musing on the poet’s aging mother and the poet’s desire to stop time and remain nestled in her mother’s arms. Also read was the brief and startlingly evocative poem “Inebriated Love,” which compares love to inebriation from substances like smoke and alcohol, a domain that is traditionally out of bounds for South Asian women.

The last reading was from the Turkish writer in exile Nazli Karabiyikoğlu and translator Ralph Hubbell. Nazli is currently a full-time resident of Georgia and is the winner of the Writers-in-Exile Scholarship awarded by PEN Germany for 2021-2022. Ralph Hubbell’s fiction, essays and translations have appeared in numerous publications. He is currently working on a translation of Oğuz Atay’s short stories. Nazli and Ralph read from a yet unpublished novel which describes the experience of a gay woman who has not yet come out but whose family suspects the nature of her sexual orientation. The family brings her to an exorcist with the goal of cleansing her of the “demon” living inside of her. The reading is a harrowing account of the physical and emotional stress to which the woman is subjected at the end of which the exorcist proclaims that she should be “OK” now.

I found this event remarkable in the breadth and intensity of the ideas and emotions expressed. To hear five such diverse and intriguing voices from all around the globe was truly an inspiring experience.

By: Patricia Stumpp


NYCT’s Machine Translation Meeting of September 21, 2020

On Monday September 21, 2020, the Circle presented an online seminar entitled “Artificial Intelligence, Machine Translation and Future Linguists Like You.” The presenter was Professor Graham Neubig from the Carnegie Mellon Language Technologies Institute.

Professor Neubig’s background is quite diverse in that it includes both computer science expertise and experience in interpretation and translation. Fascinated with computers from an early age, he had the opportunity as an adult to live in Japan as a professor in the Agricultural College at Kyoto University. During his tenure at the university he not only taught but also was called upon to act as interpreter/translator for various visiting delegations from other countries who came to tour the college.

In this fascinating presentation, Professor Neubig gave us an overview of machine translation, its technological underpinnings and its strengths and weaknesses. His first example was of a fairly successful machine translation from Japanese into English in which the machine was able to correctly identify the two personal pronouns used in the sentences (he vs. she) based on its ability to correctly associate the proper names in the sentences (Tanaka and Taro) with the appropriate gender.

A second less successful machine translation involved the translation of the Japanese word ko-do that has three meanings: cord, code and chord. In the English translation, the machine used the wrong word (code instead of chord) in a sentence related to music and the wrong word (chord instead of code) in a sentence which involved computer programming.

The professor then outlined the four most common methods of translation, all of which have their strengths and weaknesses. They are:

-Rule-based method: based on linguistic analysis, syntax transformation and word replacement. Limited by the number of linguists available to provide the necessary linguistic inputs in every language.

-Translation memory method: looks up the most similar sentence in the database but cannot generalize to new sentences.

-Phrase-based translation: looks up small chunks of a sentence and combines the chunks into full sentences. May result in sentences that lack fluidity and contain mistakes in syntax.

-Neural machine translation: feeds inputs into a probability model that predicts the next word. Better at syntax and fluency but can also make major errors.

It is important to note that all four methods are data driven.  For widely diffused languages such as French and German, billions of sentences are available to pass through the machine translation process while lesser diffused languages have access to significantly less data. The disparity in available data may affect the quality of the resulting translations.

This led to a discussion of Artificial Intelligence which the professor defined as “the technology that does something that seems intelligent.”  He also defined Machine Learning as “technology that learns from data to do something that cannot be done easily otherwise.” With the use of graphs, the Professor described the basics of neural machine translation as a sequence of mathematical operations capable of predicting each word in a sentence based on the probability of its use in a particular context.

In conclusion, Professor Neubig summarized what machine translation can and cannot do at the present time. Machines are good at capturing associations between words but not so good in cases where more than one step of reasoning is required. He believes that machine translation is good and will get better. However, it is not perfect, particularly in situations where little data exists, where non-literal translation is involved and where there are cultural implications which ideally would influence the choice of a particular word in a given sentence. In other words, machines are good at memory and speed  but not as good as humans at reasoning. In the future, high quality translation may result from a combination of both human and machine translation.

The Gotham would like to thank Professor Neubig for this thought-provoking presentation. Thanks go also to Serene Su, Program Manager, for organizing this fine event.

By: Patricia Stumpp



[Unknown A1]Would be better to add “…so the overall translation quality of the latter is lower than that of the former…” or similar at the end of this sentence.


[Unknown A2]Would be better if we add “at this moment” at the end of the sentence.


[Unknown A3]“Speech” should be “speed”.