English translations of Pan Tadeusz: a comparison with TRACER

As announced in late summer 2015, eTRAP ran a text reuse workshop in Tartu, Estonia, to teach participants how to run TRACER, a text reuse tool developed by Marco aimed at automatically identifying similarities between texts. Some of our participants tested TRACER on sample data we provided (English translations of the Bible); others, like Jan Rybicki, Assistant Professor at the Institute of English Studies at the Jagiellonian University of Kraków and co-organiser of Digital Humanities 2016, brought their own datasets to directly experiment with ongoing research.

Jan has been working with seven English translations of Poland’s most significant Romantic epic poem, Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz (1834). As an expert literary translator himself,  Jan was interested in comparing these translations and to see whether TRACER could reveal any particular relationships between their authors. The translations he analysed are:

  • Maude Ashurst Biggs, Master Thaddeus or the Last Foray in Lithuania, London 1885 (in Miltonian blank verse)
  • George Rapall Noyes, Pan Tadeusz, or the Last Foray in Lithuania. A Story of Life among Polish Gentlefolk, London & Toronto, New York 1917 (prose)
  • Watson Kirkconnell, Sir Thaddeus or Last Foray in Lithuania: a History of the Nobility in the Years 1811 and 1812 in Twelve Books of Verse, 1962 (verse, based on Noyes)
  • Kenneth R. Mackenzie, Pan Tadeusz or the Last Foray in Lithuania, a Tale of the Gentry in Years 1811 and 1812, London 1964 (iambic pentameter)
  • Marcel Weyland, Pan Tadeusz or the Last Foray in Lithuania, a Tale of the Gentry During 1811 – 1812, Blackheath, NSW 2004 (verse)
  • Leonard Kress, Pan Tadeusz or the Last Foray in Lithuania: a History of the Nobility in the Years 1811 and 1812 in Twelve Books of Verse, Philadelphia 2006 (10 syllables with 5 stresses, with alternating rhymes)
  • Christopher Adam Zakrzewski, Pan Tadeusz or the Last Foray in Lithuania: A Tale of the Minor Nobility in the Years 1811–1812, New York 2010 (prose)

After an automatic lemmatisation all of the above texts, TRACER confirmed existing knowledge surrounding these texts but also provided a detailed overview of the degree of similarity between each pair of translations using its integrated TRAViz tool. Among other things, the fact that Kirkconnell based his verse translation on Noyes’ prose is very visible! Distant reading by TRACER also confirms that Kress’ translation differs from the others.

Jan also produced a more general view of the degrees of similarity between text pairs derived from TRACER with a Gephi network analysis (below).

Photo of Gephi network
Gephi network of Pan Tadeusz TRACER scores (by Jan Rybicki).

Jan’s experiments with English translations of Polish literature demonstrate the potential of TRACER for translation studies. We’re delighted to see this application of TRACER and look forward to hearing more about Jan’s research!

If you’d also like to run TRACER on your data, please contact Marco Büchler. We’d love to learn more about your research and to briefly describe your experience in a blogpost.

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