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Shakespeare’s Plays to be Translated into Modern English

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Bad news for Shakespeare purists, good news for struggling English students: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival recently announced a project called “Play On!” which will task 36 playwrights with translating the plays attributed to the Bard into “contemporary modern English.”

The OSF says that the diverse group of playwrights, which they say will be least 50 percent women and at least 50 percent people of color, were asked to “put the same pressure and rigor of language as Shakespeare did on his, keeping in mind meter, rhythm, metaphor, image, rhyme, rhetoric and emotional content.” The theatre arts organization explains that the goal of “Play On!” isn't to improve or replace the original texts, but to have “39 unique side-by-side companion translations of Shakespeare’s plays that are both performable and extremely useful reference texts for both classrooms and productions.”

“There are differences between the early modern English of Shakespeare and contemporary English," Lue Morgan Douthit, the organization's director of literary development and dramaturgy, said in a press release. "What if we looked at these plays at the language level through the lens of dramatists? What would we learn about how they work? Would that help us understand them in a different way?"

In a FAQ on the OSF website, the organization addresses concerns about the project, how the writers will approach the translation of the more famous quotes, and how far they will take the modernization of Shakespeare’s texts. “The writers are empowered to leave any text alone if they want to, and we expect they often will ... it will be interesting to see what each playwright does with Shakespeare’s best-known passages; we will engage in deep dialogue with them about all their choices, while of course leaving the final artistic decisions to them.”

There are already some pretty inventive and geeky versions of Shakespeare's work floating around the Internet, but the OSF makes the distinction between translation and adaptation, noting that “everything to do with setting, time period, references etc. will remain unchanged. As such, pop-culture references and contemporary slang will not be appropriate, and the politics of the original plays will not be cut or 'fixed' in any way.”

Reactions to the translation news have been mixed. John H. McWhorter, a linguistics, American Studies, philosophy, and music professor at Columbia University, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal that argues in favor of making Shakespeare more "comprehensible":

"Much of Shakespeare goes over our heads because, even though we recognize the words, their meaning often has changed significantly over the past four centuries ... we can piece these meanings together, of course, by reading the play and consulting stacks of footnotes. But Shakespeare didn’t intend for us to do that. He wrote plays for performance. We’re supposed to be able to hear and understand what’s spoken on the stage, in real time."

Author Lev Raphael disagrees. He writes at the Huffington Post that it is "the job of the director and the actors to make the play comprehensible to the audience ... why should some well-meaning pedant be making decisions about what people do or don't understand, rewriting great poetry and spoon-feeding them Shakespeare Lite?"

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section, preferably in iambic pentameter.

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From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State
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There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

A chart showing the top slang words in each state
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Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
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New 'Eye Language' Lets Paralyzed People Communicate More Easily
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // ;CC BY-SA 4.0

The invention of sign language proved you don't need to vocalize to use complex language face to face. Now, a group of designers has shown that you don't even need control of your hands: Their new type of language for paralyzed people relies entirely on the eyes.

As AdAge reports, "Blink to Speak" was created by the design agency TBWA/India for the NeuroGen Brain & Spine Institute and the Asha Ek Hope Foundation. The language takes advantage of one of the few motor functions many paralyzed people have at their disposal: eye movement. Designers had a limited number of moves to work with—looking up, down, left, or right; closing one or both eyes—but they figured out how to use these building blocks to create a sophisticated way to get information across. The final product consists of eight alphabets and messages like "get doctor" and "entertainment" meant to facilitate communication between patients and caregivers.

Inside of a language book.
Sagar.jadhav01, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

This isn't the only tool that allows paralyzed people to "speak" through facial movements, but unlike most other options currently available, Blink to Speak doesn't require any expensive technology. The project's potential impact on the lives of people with paralysis earned it the Health Grand Prix for Good at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity earlier in June.

The groups behind Blink to Speak have produced thousands of print copies of the language guide and have made it available online as an ebook. To learn the language yourself or share it with someone you know, you can download it for free here.

[h/t AdAge]

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