ELTeCTiT : ELTeC Titles in Translation

(I haven’t posted here since last October. I expect it’s lockdown keeping me quiet. But this morning I did manage to dream up quite an interesting research proposal, which I post here for now.)

The ELTeC corpora were designed explicitly and deliberately [ref design criteria] to exclude translated works. [quote] Despite this principled design decision, it seems self-evident that analysis of the mechanisms and results of the cross-cultural dispersal of the novel across Europe – which emphatically is within the scope of the ELTeC project – depended largely if not entirely on the availability of works in translation. It seems probable that the spread of the novel as a popular form was largely determined by the success of particular works, or classes of work, in translation; in particular, we may surmise, those works which responded to common social problems and common cultural trends. Novelists in the traditions from which those works sprang influenced novelists working in entirely different cultural milieux; just as writers raised in other traditions may be presumed to have influenced the development of what we now perceive as a unified European culture by providing easily assimilated versions of the exotic.

Although some multi-lingual expertise was undoubtedly prevalent during this period, the availability of translated versions of novels must have been essential to this diffusion, in both directions. But even basic data about the scale and scope of translations over the period covered by the ELTeC (1840 to 1920) is hard to find [refs needed] being largely diffused across national library catalogues which vary in the extent to which such works are associated with their originals, and rarely give any indication of the exact pedigree of any translation. It seems probable for example that translations into some target languages (say Romanian) would have started not from the version in the original language (say English) but from some other more accessible L2 (say French), but this is hard to determine without substantial research into individual titles and authors. Even harder to find or quantify is any information about the linguistic skills or preferences of a novel’s intended or actual readership. While it is highly probable that the languages of the great imperial powers (English, French, German) would be widely understood in those countries directly under the political or cultural influence of those powers, the extent to which they would be considered appropriate vehicles for reading for pleasure is less clear.

There are many theoretical and formal difficulties associated with any investigation of the relationship between a source and its translation, particularly (perhaps) for works of a literary nature. Translation, like speech itself, is one of the more inexplicable human behaviours. It ought not to be possible, and yet it is done, apparently more or less successfully, every day. [For an entertaining and accessible discussion, written from the perspective of a professional translator, see David Bellos “Is that a fish in your ear?” (2011)] We do not propose to address any such issues in this project, though we may provide some indicative data points to help us others do so. Our goals are more modest. Each completed ELTeC corpus already provides us with a sample of novel production in a given language within a given time frame, hopefully more or less well balanced with respect to date, size, authorship, and impact. We propose to enrich this list of titles with bibliographic data about all translated versions published within a short period (say 15 years) of their first appearance, recording for example the target language, the translated title, date and other details of publication, the translator’s name, and (where this can be determined) the source of the translation. This data will of course be provided in an open format compatible with existing ELTeC deliverables.

Amongst other research questions which availability of this data should address, we identify at least the following:

  • To assess “impact” or “persistence” of titles, the ELTeC corpora rely on a simple reprint count. Do translation counts complement or contradict this classification?

  • Are translation counts statistically correlated with any of the ELTeC classification criteria? That is, where a given collection shows an imbalance for a given criterion, is this also reflected in the translation count?

  • What patterns are discernible in the L1/L2 pairings manifested by our data: for example, which languages are most frequently translated into for each source language?

  • Is there any correlation between stylistic properties of a given group of sources and the languages into which they are translated? Crudely speaking, are romances more often translated into romance languages?


Where translated texts are available in digital form, it would be easy also to provide an ELTeC encoded version, using existing production pipelines. At this stage in the project, it is impossible to say whether this will be feasible on a sufficiently large scale to constitute true parallel ELTeC corpora: it would in any case require significant investment of time and effort from the existing ELTeC partners, whereas the collection of metadata can be done more simply.

Lou Burnard

February 2021

Counting the Books contd.

A couple of days ago I reported here on some imbalance in the representation of male and female novelists in current digital archives, written while I was still trying to persuade the Google Books server to do tricks for me. I can now report further progress. After 21 iterations, I did finally manage to confect a complete list of all the ATCL titles freely available from Google Books. Putting this together with data already stored in ATCL for Google, I have now identified 2823 ATCL titles in Google Books, which brings the total number of known digitizations up to 11,510: 58% of all available titles. This seemed good enough pretext to revisit the summary table I produced last time, so here it is again in a new and hopefully slightly more comprehensible form:

Revised counts

As might have been predicted, with more data the situation becomes more nuanced. Note first that the percentages of available titles which get digitized (column “%dig”) apparently decreases as the actual number of texts available for digitization (column “All”) increases, suggesting that the more titles you have available the less likely you are to deal with any one of them. Only tentative conclusions are warranted, since we are lacking so much data for the later part of the century. That said, comparing the columns M-dig and F-dig suggests that throughout the century, digitizers are consistently and disproportionately more likely to go for a male-authored text. Even in titles from the 1850s, where there are substantially more female authored titles available than male (778 as opposed to 595), the proportion of them which get digitized is still lower than the proportion of male authored titles (79% as opposed to 84%). In the 1880s, 55% of titles are explicitly female-authored, as opposed to 41% male (the remainder being unspecified); yet the male authors are still sampled for digitization at a far higher rate (59% as opposed to 37%).

My previous accusations of sexism amongst the digitizers en masse thus vindicated I next considered the practice of individual archives. The following table shows the numbers of ATCL titles I found in each of five major archives, and the proportions attributed to male and female authors in each.

Hathi Trust5655356820226563%36%
Google Books28231138158010540%56%
British Lib51042742225211054%44%
Digitization choices by archive

Overall, the balance is comparable with that shown in the previous table: a small preference for male as opposed to female authored titles (54% to 44%). But this is perhaps concealing a marked variation in practice amongst the archives. At one extreme, Project Gutenberg has nearly three times as many male authored titles as female, while at the other Google Books actually has significantly more female authors than male (56% as opposed to 40%). In between is the British Library Microsoft collection, which matches exactly the proportions for all the archives combined.

Irrespective of gender, how much variation is there in the holdings of these archives? Here’s a frequency distribution showing how many ATCL titles are available from 1, 2, or more archives (note that I cannot distinguish how many of these are actually copies of the same digital version).

Archive overlap: how many titles are available from how many archives?

Encouragingly, this suggests that there is little overlap amongst the holdings of the main digital archives: 63% of all 11,511 digitized titles listed occur in only one archive, 87% in one or two.

Which titles get digitized most frequently? This is hard to tell, for several reasons. Some archives list multi-volume titles as multiple copies; some archives list items simply copied from other archives. For my Google Books listing I excluded titles which were already listed by another archive. But for what it’s worth, here, in no particular order, are the fifteen titles listed as available from all five archives I looked at:

  • Caine, Hall (1853-1931). The Deemster: A Romance (1887)
  • Caine, Hall (1853-1931). A Son of Hagar: A Romance of Our Time (1887)
  • Hamerton, Philip Gilbert (1834-1894). Wenderholme: A Story of Lancashire and YorkshireEdinburgh: Blackwood 1869
  • Collins, Wilkie (1824-1889). Antonina: or, The Fall of Rome. A Romance of the Fifth Century London: Bentley 1850
  • Collins, Wilkie (1824-1889). The Woman in White London: Sampson Low1860
  • Eliot, George (pseud.) (1819-1880). The Mill on the Floss. Edinburgh: Blackwood 1860
  • Dickens, Charles (1812-1870). Oliver Twist: or, The Parish Boy’s Progress. London: Bentley 1838
  • Eliot, George (pseud.) (1819-1880). Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life. Edinburgh: Blackwood 1872
  • Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn (1810-1865). Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life. London: Chapman and Hall 1848
  • Grant, James (1822-1887). The Romance of War: or, The Highlanders in Spain London: Henry Colburn 1847
  • Dickens, Charles (1812-1870). Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘EightyLondon: Chapman and Hall 1841
  • Dickens, Charles (1812-1870). Bleak HouseLondon: Bradbury and Evans 1853
  • Wood, Mrs. (-). It May be True: A Novel. London: T. C. Newby 1865
  • Oliphant, Margaret (1828-1897). Harry Jocelyn. London: Hurst and Blackett 1881
  • Ouida, (pseud.) (1839-1908). Folle-Farine. London: Chapman and Hall 1871

No, it makes no sense to me either. I expected to see Charles Dickens and George Eliot and Mrs Gaskell on the list, but Hall Caine and Philip Hamerton? Clearly one needs to be very careful in interpreting this data.

See previous bloggage for details of how the numbers were obtained. Supporting data and scripts have been updated in my github repo.