UB Web Site Presents Literary Works in Many Languages and Helps You Read Them, Too!

Glossary translates words, offers pronunciation in some cases

Release Date: March 8, 2001

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- You'd love to read a little Baudelaire in French or kick back with Polish writer Slavomir Mrozek's famous interrogative poem, "Ud Podrozy." Unfortunately, you can't tell a guy traversing forêts de symboles (forests of symbols) from a peck of przydro?ne je?yn (roadside boysenberries).

Help is here, or, to be absolutely accurate, here: http://wings.buffalo.edu/litgloss.


"LiTgloss" is an online project developed by faculty members in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences that gives the reader quick access to works of literary and cultural significance written in their original languages (as long as that language is not English) and helps him figure out what they say.

LiTgloss is not a simple translation tool, nor is it designed for linguistic neophytes. A working knowledge of a particular language is required in order to take advantage of the assistance offered -- but it sure speeds up a run-through of Catullus.

While reading a text in the LiTgloss collection, the reader can click on selected words he doesn't know and an English translation will appear in a little box on the screen. Additional information on the text, such as the author's biography or sound files, also are a click away. Each text is illustrated, as well.

To display the texts properly, the browser must be javascript-enabled and frames-enabled. To listen to sound files, a RealPlayer plug-in/helper application, available from Real Networks, is required.

The LiTgloss project was undertaken in 1999 by members of the UB Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. Organizers say it has benefited greatly from contributions made by members of the university community outside that department, notably members of the departments of Classics and Political Science, and the Office of the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

The goal of the project, says Maureen Jameson, Ph.D., professor of French language and literature who spearheaded the project, is to make the texts more accessible by providing the reader with semantic and syntactical help.

"We wanted to give language students the assistance they need to maintain their concentration and train of thought while reading," Jameson says.

"It seems likely that if they enjoy reading a text in its original language, they might be encouraged to continue their study of the language and culture. The texts included are of literary, cultural or historical interest to speakers of English. They're likely, we think, to be better appreciated if read in the original language," she notes.

The menu page of the LiTgloss site is linked to individual works in Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Latin and Spanish. When a reader selects a work, it appears on screen. The linguistically challenged reader can prompt the appearance of an annotation by pointing the cursor to a difficult word or phrase and clicking the mouse.

The annotations offer the semantic and syntactic explanations, plus grammar and vocabulary cues that help relatively fluent readers move through the text quickly without the constant interruption and distraction of constant reference to grammar books and glossaries.

As soon as the mouse moves off of a word, the annotation disappears. If a reader seeks annotations for several words the editor has not chosen to explain, he may suggest further annotations by linking to the site's evaluation page.

In some cases, an accompanying sound program offers pronunciations in the original tongue, further clarifying the text and helping readers to appreciate more fully the music of the specific language.

Jameson says the ideological foundation for the project is the conviction that American students of foreign languages should have the opportunity to read important and complex texts written in the languages they are learning.

"We hope to encourage further study of the language by offering a glimpse of the intellectual wealth to which fluency would give them access," she says. "We also want to help American students appreciate the interesting complexity and sophistication of other cultures.

"It is difficult to achieve this mission via traditional language pedagogy, yet it is important that these cultures not be permanently relegated to the fringes of the folkloric, quaint or exotic," she says. "LiTgloss is designed to promote a more meaningful engagement with important literary works."

So far, the site includes 39 discrete works of literature, but Jameson says it will remain a work-in-progress.

"We will happily accept contributions of texts with substantive intellectual, artistic, historical and cultural value," she says, "and also suggestions for technical/design improvements are welcome, especially if they come with specific coding suggestions."

Media Contact Information

Patricia Donovan has retired from University Communications. To contact UB's media relations staff, call 716-645-6969 or visit our list of current university media contacts. Sorry for the inconvenience.