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[The most recent one is at the bottom.]
DEFENDING TRANSLATION WORK QUALITY CLAIMS – MAYBE I REALLY AM COMMITTED TO THIS TO THE POINT OF BORDERLINE INSANITY. WHAT DO YOU THINK (PUN INTENDED, AS YOU WILL SEE LATER)?
It won’t be long before I turn 33 years old – doesn’t time fly? But never mind how I intend to celebrate my birthday; I am currently in my eighth year of being a self-employed translator, and while I am as keen to do what I know it entails and has always entailed as ever, I would say that the need to reinforce my profile as one will probably never fully dissipate. So it will likely come as no surprise to hear that I’ve been eager to write another blog comment, as (unusually) big in size as the rest; something which I have aimed to do while becoming more and more aware of my own limitations. I like to believe that I deserve credit for recognising my own limitations without the need for external help, but these days this has started to happen with increasing frequency, and I guess that part of me is torn by wondering whether I should admit that it’s getting just a bit alarming now, or not doing so (or maybe that in itself is an admission of the former). Maybe it’s all part of growing up.
I don’t know if anyone reading this has ever experienced a point in their life where they learned or came to realise something and then, very soon afterwards, they also came to understand that others fully believed that they had learned it a while back. I think anyone would agree that the most rewarding kind of thinking is the kind where your own preconceptions do not always prevail as if on principle. It’s true when people say that travel broadens the mind. I mean, look up “ethnocentrism” if you don’t know what it means. I will freely state at this point that I personally do not call ethnocentrism simply another word for racism. You see, “racism” is a noxious, shunning, potentially slanderous term that can tarnish someone’s reputation whether it’s true or not. It has to be, when the most famous racists in history are surely the Nazis, for their appalling treatment of Jews (and other social groups). Ethnocentrism is not so bad; sure, it may be indicative of ignorance, but that doesn’t mean that ethnocentric people are not fully prepared, in general, to give those of other cultures and backgrounds a fair chance.
That said, I wonder if there’s a word for terms whose very existence is enough to start waking people up; to change a small aspect of how they think for ever if they are merely offered a definition of it. No example is necessary. “Ethnocentrism” qualifies as such a word in its own right. And might I add, as another example, that while it’s easy enough to find a definition of the verb “delude”, it’s not just not the same when you know about a method used to fool people in some way for some end and then find that said method has a term for it; a term which you know you will find easy to remember because it’s so easy to appreciate the ingenuity of the method in question. And I believe that terms like those used for labelling techniques for tricking people, belong to this category of words – I’m not saying that there does already exist such a term and I’m not saying there doesn’t, but I’m certainly keen to bring it up. Consider the chance of coming across a word whose definition has you thinking that it’s actually pretty close to home, and maybe not everyone’s heard of this word but you’re sure glad you did because you think that this could be the start of seeing something “more clearly” (i.e. literally with more sense). And I would suggest that those who start to see things more clearly tend to develop a talent for things that go beyond just learning new facts or consigning things to memory, which anyone can do. I believe that learning how to tell when someone is lying to you is a good example of this. Could the robots in “I, Robot” (the feature film starring Will Smithhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I,_Robot_(film) ) do something like that? Or can they tell jokes (another example)?
Not that it’s my job per se to inspire or enlighten people I’m doing a translation job for when I’m not supposed to let my personal opinions get in the way of my judgement. I’m not an entertainer, nor am I a crusader. I’m hired for my knowledge of a language besides my own and, more specifically, my ability to convey messages written in one language into another, with all the accuracy that one could hope for, however well or poorly my customers could explain exactly what that means. When I translate something for a client: as I eschew all bias, it is not my position to clarify anything ulterior I have acknowledged in the material, as if I were doing the client a favour in this manner. I can say that I owe it to the client to do this, but that’s another subject.
I would like to point out that it’s not true that I only write such long comments because they are so many words long and I find that that is the best (unverified) way to increase my visibility on Google and online in general. But when you look at what I actually discuss in them so willingly and at such length, it should be more than enough to support the claim that, whenever I pledge to do a translation job for someone, I will not merely do it “somehow”, the word “somehow” possibly being enough to frustrate my peers and lead to them losing confidence in me somewhat if they really knew what it potentially reflected. The question of how hard I am willing to try purely in stamina terms just won’t matter to them. They may need my talents to help me, but I am a professional and I know that it’s up to me for me to act like one.
For better or worse, I’m willing to mention that I regard my professional translation blogs as unique in nature – they don’t just do things like explain the meanings behind uniformly recognised terms in the broad domain of the academic study of language and linguistics to the layman. The content of my blogs is not limited to response to anything and everything I’m willing to embrace from the start purely to find material to write about in them (some might have the temerity and effrontery to suggest “somehow”). As far as I’m concerned, I aspire to have them hinge on reality such as I experience it… but not just my own reality. And guess what: the same applies in what I write as the product every time I undertake a translation project. I’m not talking merely about the simple concept of taking on translation work here while being prepared to do what I feel I personally could to just deliver, whatever that may be. This isn’t even about me being brutally honest about my own limitations when it comes to doing this. For it is the case that it’s always me who is my final hope for learning the linguistic skill / communication aptitude that makes the deciphering and interpreting the meaning of any communication possible even if it doesn’t obey the rules of reason, common sense or soundly aligned verbal representation because the provided demonstrated content cannot be open to suggestions of approaches which serve unifying reasoning – the universal kind; in other words, the rules of sanity. I’d hate to learn that it was my decisions whose otherwise unmentioned consequences had resulted in me forgetting something. Take the German verb “feststellen”: according to Google Translate it can mean “find”, “detect”, “establish”, “determine” and other words which can only be construed as synonyms if the right kind of creative imagination is invested in. But it can also mean “observe” or also “lock”. That’s just one small example of just how easy it is to get confused with regards to the genuine significance of some words. “Anstellen” is even more chaotic and random depending on the sentence in which it is found. But as a self-employed translator I simply have to know or find a way how to get it right in my situation, because no-one else will. And I really don’t always have the help of, say, a native speaker to lean on.
And a big part of that is dealing with questions and criticisms in a reasonable manner even if you personally felt that you were confident of what you suggested the first time. I suppose that, in an ideal world, I would be assured that whatever I put would be good and reliable enough that I knew that people would never ask possibly awkward questions about it. And so I am encouraged to scrutinise my work before I send it off – I certainly know that some customers like to do that (especially if they’re translation agencies).
You know, I get the impression that a lot of people get a kick out of expressing things which they know others just can’t, with the person who can express it being fully appreciative and modest of the reasons (real or hypothetical) why the person who can’t, can’t. Speaking as a professional translator, I certainly don’t need people to clarify for me just how literate I am, but I would imagine that there are probably people who are stupid and ignorant enough that, if you suggested that they should look up a word in a dictionary, they wouldn’t even know what a dictionary was, let alone find one (no offence). Meanwhile, I’ve got to be the only person I know who will look at the subject of how to articulate the underlying context of irrational or hysterical communication, which I’m very glad I’m not prone to. You see, sometimes you just need to make it clear that while something that someone else may be saying may not make sense in real (absolute) terms, it does still “make sense” in that it still reflects an otherwise justifiable point which you have identified but they seem to have trouble identifying it themselves, let alone communicating it. We can all engage in exploration of the broad spectrum of academic paraphernalia in the pursuit of arguments to justify our reasoning of this claim or that claim by someone else as concerns their account of something – but I find that very few will bring up, let alone discuss, the topic of resolving to touch on their unelaborated (apparent, unverified and possibly unknown) reasoning behind what they are saying. And attachment to the personal experiences of another sometimes proves to be the very thing that lets one understand the actual significance of the words that they use in their communication.
The world is giving you answers each day. Learn to listen – even if what is said by others is born not of facts, but of apparitions, preconceptions verified or unverified, misled delusions, and the output of cultural connection which, by logical definition, is representative of what doesn’t actually exist in the real world – the one that gives us life. To be sane is to have an awareness of reality you’re willing to elaborate without fear or shame AND to actively ensure that it does not end up compromised as a result of anything where your own emotions, desires, vested interests etc. – but especially fears – are “supposed to” speak louder than you. After all, when it’s said that one’s actions have consequences, depending on the action it can extend as far as consequences for those who had no knowledge of your actions to begin with and this may well pertain to those who don’t normally have anything to do with you; and it may also result in the development of underlying proclivities in yourself and / or others which foster the development of attitudes and behaviours which, given the right conditions, will soon prove to be the basis of something, say an incident or a theory, that shapes the very society we live in.
If I suffered from visions of things which could only have been born from theories (verified or otherwise) which are a token of any situation where favours and appeasement matter more than stability and progress, but proceeded to act like it didn’t concern me and shouldn’t – well, maybe that really is a taste of insanity which I never totally succumbed to; and it’s just waiting to be deciphered and outlined in verbal communication. Please understand that the only reason I write this is because I would say that it’s indisputable that deciphering and outlining things in verbal communication is precisely what I’m supposed to do for a living, but as a translator rather than as a psychiatrist, although psychiatry is a topic which interests me. We can expect the average person’s communication style (or idiolect) to be unique, but psychiatry is essentially the angle of looking at the history of the individual which best illuminates the mistakes of their past; and the effects of these manifest themselves in their self-expression and the confidence and conviction that they do it with, which, of course, can vary depending on the matter under discussion.
It's all enough to make me consider re-evaluating my procedures when I translate. And re-evaluate them I have. I certainly agree that I always have to make do with what I’ve got; nearly every time, acquiring more supporting information is simply not an option. In a recent project (German to English), there were times when I was expected to translate only bits of sentences – these were quotes of bits of sentences in larger sentences, such as this:
Original: “In § 32 zweiter Halbsatz werden die Wörter „§ 23a Absatz 1 Satz 2 und 5“ durch die Wörter „§ 23a Absatz 1 Satz 2 und 12“ ersetzt.”
Translation: “In § 32 second half-sentence, the words “§ 23a Parag. 1 Clause 2 and 5” have been replaced with the words “§ 23a Parag. 1 Clause 2 and 12”.”
Now, I didn’t have access to the material that the snippets of words were taken from – in the cases where it really was a collection of words forming an incomplete sentence and not just a separate word or list of words standing as a representation of some static thing or concept, I had to rely on educated guesswork, and justify in my head the decisions that I did make, for I just knew that asking the client what they thought would have been fruitless.
Anyway, I can still remember this time when I was at one of Chris Cardell’s business marketing discussion conventions in London; one exercise he went through with us was that we would all look at this piece of marketing but it was all “greyed over” – like it had a sheet of tracing paper had been placed over it; this apart from bits of it being “highlighted” (no grey) – he claimed that these are the bits that people will be attracted to straight away, and be most likely to remember. Well, I apply the same analogy in translation work I have done: ask myself the question of which individual words or expressions the reader is likely to focus on most purely for the purpose of comprehension of what they’re reading, whether this is to be justified or not. Of course, I realise that, technically, chances are that they simply won’t consider the matter of the actual importance of such comprehension, and not because they couldn’t.
At the end of the day, I ask myself the question of how likely a client is to have a go at me personally if they are unable to acknowledge sense of what I have written possibly due to their own limitations rather than my own – but then, I understand that they will not always personally read the material that I have written. Just as they will speak for themselves, so shall I. And, at the risk of sounding patronising, I will essentially do what I can to speak for them as well.
But let’s take another example; one where I paint a picture of “thinking outside the box”, the metaphorical box being a willingness to tackle a given translation project even if it takes more than I originally thought, but in a manner which is limited to responding to concepts that I personally am hoping to acknowledge in separate words in the original material which I read purely on a level of established theory and logic, if with as much devotion to being articulate about it as necessary. You may have heard about the recent terrorist attack in Burkina Faso, and how the media have said that they have received “unconfirmed reports” of exactly what’s been going on. Now obviously, the following are (usually) not questions you can ask the reporter of the story forthwith, as if you were interviewing them about what they claim to know, but don’t you just wonder exactly who is supposed to do this confirming, and / or exactly why it is that these reports are defined as “unconfirmed”? From my own independent reasoning, I would suggest that “unconfirmed” means that these reports are not necessarily from whom they claim to be. Now, while I could be wrong to think that that is what is meant, it is curiously liberating for me to be able to even arrive at that conclusion, let alone discuss it here.
When a project is challenging, I try to make a point of “explaining to myself what I am doing” as the project progresses – as if I were schizophrenic with one me ever clarifying and justifying my choices to the other me, and showing as such wherever possible, to make sure I get things right in the writing of my translation.
In short, I make no secret of the fact that consideration of… well, the truth… may well be of greater importance if you’re serious about doing a good job of a translation. The real question is whether or not it would be best to do what you can to have the reader end up familiar with it, either directly or in a more discreet manner.
Hey, I’m paid to translate far more than simple things like menus, straightforward simple requests or the kind of personal correspondence that one is expected to learn how to muster when they’re starting out learning a new language. And I think you know this.
17th January 2016
WHY I WAS BORN TO BE A TRANSLATOR
The more eager linguists among us may look forward to doing translation work in particular whenever they take lessons in learning a new language. Of course, it is known that deciding on / agreeing on the best way to put a piece of communication when rendering it from one language to another can prove frustrating – even for those who do it professionally, like me. And by all means suggest that I’m only blowing my own trumpet here, but – as should already be evident – I do this on a self-employed basis, which is why I claim that I must be under more pressure than anyone else (or certainly almost anyone else) to… well, get it right. But, like I said in my last comment, I’ve been doing this for seven years now, and I realise that some of the tales I can tell of my career to date show how much it satisfies me to pursue this line of work.
If you need convincing about this, there follows some more of my translation work-related anecdotes such as I have discussed in previous comments.
Original German: “Nahezu alle interviewten Produzenten brachten klar zum Ausdruck, welch hohen Stellenwert ‘I got it!’ für sie persönlich”
English translation: “Almost all the interviewed producers clearly expressed what kind of high value ‘I got it!’ represents for them personally” …their station or even the public in their country; and not “the kind of high value that”, where, doing word-for-word checking, I had to see and delete the “that” in the expression that I actually did use.
“Treated in a highly different manner from the treated animals” i.e. animals which have been treated or animals which are still being treated? I hope it wouldn’t mislead, do you know what I mean?
Original French: “Durant quatre jours, ce salon concilie ainsi arts et gastronomie, excellence du terroir et création, mais surtout dégustation et vente directe!”
English translation: “In short, over a period of four days, this show combines arts and gastronomy, local and creative excellence, but also, in particular, tasting and direct sales!”
I.e. “Ainsi” in the original was translated by “in short” at the end.
Original French: “C’est un artiste d’atelier : concentré, lent et dense”
English translation: “This is a studio artist: concentrated, slow and with substance”
Let’s just say that I knew better than to translated “dense” in the original as “dense” in the English translation!
Original French: “Le musicien parisien démarre sa carrière dans le jazz manouche à 18 ans. Django Reinhardt est son héros et la guitare son instrument de predilection.”
English translation: “This Parisian musician began his career in gypsy jazz at 18. Django Reinhardt is his hero, and his guitar is his instrument of choice.”
I remember how, when I was doing this project, just for a bit, I forgot I wasn’t writing about Django Reinhardt, and would have been wrong to write that “this man is his own hero”. No, we’re talking about Thomas Dutronc here.
Original French: “dans le but de mettre en lumière la vie et la personnalité d’un des artistes les plus influents du tournant des XIXe et XXe siècles”
English translation: “with the aim of highlighting the life and the personality of one of the most influential artists at the turn of the 19th century”.
Original French: “Arman Méliès se joue bien des étiquettes.”
English translation: “Arman Méliès goes by many labels”.
Although, I NEARLY translated it as “Arman Méliès is played by (represented by) many labels.”
Original French: “…qui permet d’emprunter trois pièces en même temps”
English translation: “…and where a customer can borrow up to three articles at once”
The words “up to” were added for better quality.
Original German: “Sie erzielt feste Vergütungen für geleistete Tätigkeiten, keine Provisionen.”
English translation: “They receive fixed payments for the work activities that they perform, not [I specifically remember deciding to remove the word “including” at this point] commissions.”
The phrase “lost in translation” is very widely recognised now. Not least because these days it’s so easy to find examples of bad translations whose intended meaning may be easy to understand or it may not be, but it will always strike readers as humorous. Sometimes it’s because of something simple, straightforward, and easy enough for anyone to define confidently, like a typo or an expression which, however commonly used otherwise, is just out of place in the material in question. Other times it’s owing to what might be labelled as stylistic or syntactical errors, the discussion of which can only really be done confidently if one knows of common terminology applicable with that sort of thing (assuming that this even exists at all). Of course, sometimes mistakes in translation revolve around cultural matters, and while it may be amusing on occasion, there are – there really are – times when it’s enough to cause embarrassment or offence! And if you really want to talk about cultural matters, then look no further than what Professor Mona Siddiqui says in her recent Thought For The Day monologue on BBC Radio 4 entitled “Culture is more than holding onto food, dress and ritual.”
Hence, we see why translation is regarded by plenty of people as a science, and as an art. Bearing in mind that, seeing as people have always communicated and different languages have always existed, translation is indeed hardly a “new thing”, there’s every chance that one would think that translation is a science / art whose “content” (i.e. its methods and principles) has changed very little or not at all after all this time – through the ages, no less.
You know, although I’ve just described translation as an art – for art is a cultural thing – I really should make it clear here that “imagining” isn’t always about thinking of things that don’t yet exist, like when you’re writing fiction or putting together a choreography, as will become clear in the next paragraph.
When I translate, I relish the chances I get to be inventive and clever in what is essentially the representation of a message. And of course I can and do get bothered and irritated (angry?) by gaps – real or imagined – in my knowledge of what is being said in the original material; and it’s by no means limited to the mere static and (generally) plain “boring” written information that has “ended up”, as it were, being the content of the original document for, for better or worse, it was just meant to be as such. What I’m saying is that every so often there are occasions when my own lack of knowledge of the story behind it (whether real or imagined – the context, if you will); and I have to consider that whatever may be “supposed” to happen with regard to the matter in question once my own translation work is completed and submitted, also has to be remembered and afforded enough attention, and it’s not like I can lean on anyone else to do that for me!
I hope this makes it clear enough what “imagination” can also mean. In a sense, it has to be recognised as a prerequisite for one’s very stability and welfare sometimes – I think Liquid Snake would agree on this in his final speech in Metal Gear Solid (PS1) when he talks about how nature tends to “favour asymmetry” (from 7:01 onward). Hideo Kojima is a great writer, but then everyone knows that. You only have to read his Wikipedia article.
Now, as I said before, I, like a lot of other people, accept that translation is an art. But it’s rare for me to feel like I’m revealing “anything great”, or the underlying truth about anything when I do translation work. It’s not really self-expression, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling somewhat sorry for myself about it. At any rate, one of the things I find most fulfilling about translation is when I know that I’m not just writing the correct meaning of something in a way that some people would appreciate as “impressively articulate”. I will always remember that bit in the film Hot Fuzz where Simon Pegg is standing in front of all these schoolchildren with his hands his back talking about what being a police officer is all about. He says, and I quote, “Police work is as much about preventing crime as it is about fighting crime. More importantly, it is about procedural correctness in the execution of unquestionable moral authority.” …and only then do you see that he’s talking to all these schoolchildren – that works as a joke for me. Anyway, I know that these are very good (nay important) points, and I’m sure Rowan Atkinson – for he played Inspector Fowler in The Thin Blue Line, and I would feel very comfortable around him as a police officer – would agree. But you see, it’s not particularly unlikely that someone may need an example of Simon Pegg’s character’s points to properly agree with them as much as would have liked. How much do the points he makes really speak for themselves?
That said, in my translation work, I delight in it when I can write things which convey an idea which speaks for itself without the need of any “thing” (i.e. argument, incident, whatever) to serve as an example of it. A case in point: this is the point where I admit that RAC – Relief Addiction Cure, the term of affection that it is supposed to be obscene to use casually – was my invention (not that this was originally a translation of something from another language into English). Now, anyone can just decide to use any expression as a term of affection that it is supposed to be obscene to use casually. You can do that with a swear word, for God’s sake. But I remember how I amused I used to be by how it was, essentially, a “technical” “special” term of affection.
Not that I would expect it to remain all that popularly used forever. You see, once you’ve heard about the acronym RAC being used like this (just now?), then you can fathom what it means independently… and that means that you will, by logic, never meet anyone who will prove to be your own RAC, however great they may be.
Anyway, I’ve covered everything I wanted to cover in this comment: the topic of getting translation right, discussion of translation as an art, what “imagination” sometimes really means and its significance, how nature tends to favour asymmetry, the concept of comments which make points without the need for example (with what I say about RAC to back it up)… what shall I do now? I guess I’ll have to use my imagination.
PROFICIENCY IN TRANSLATION: THE CHALLENGE OF LEARNING TO DISCARD THE IDEAS AND MENTAL INCLINATIONS THAT YOU HOLD DEAR (APPARENTLY)
Foreword: as I was writing this comment, I got to thinking that anyone who reads it would probably think that I “think too much”; but when it’s a matter of making a living on a self-employed basis, you could say that I’d rather think too much than too little (and, of course, “take” whatever’s coming my way as a result of this). Either way, it’s not a crime to want more appreciation, and it’s not a crime to want more power – if you’re serious about fair play – but I’d rather not let it change me in ways I couldn’t imagine before realising the same only too late, which could only happen as a result of the consequences; consequences which do not necessarily affect only me.
Foreword 2: an example of what I mean by the title is me translating something into English as “drafting of the overall plan”. For me it’s very easy to regard a “plan” in this sense as something outlined on a piece of paper or on a blackboard or something. That’s just the way I think, and there’s nothing wrong with that; but I found myself agreeing that I should realise that this “drafting an overall plan” does not necessarily involve a piece of paper or a blackboard or whatever in practice.
Sometimes we end up in situations where we would do well to realise that, by practically anyone’s standards, all bets are off when it comes to guessing what would be going through our mind or what conclusions we would arrive at (eventually)… but as long as we don’t arrive at a conclusion we can support with a workable argument it will only frustrate us indefinitely; and then it’s not long before it really does develop into an “all bets are off” situation. “What do you say?”, indeed; and you must know as well as I do that this doesn’t apply only to the question of what is the best way to reiterate something in a new language when you’re translating something (for this is a blog comment aimed at promoting me as a professional translator). So don’t you believe me when I say that I want to climb higher as a professional translator? Up to the highest echelons of the industry if possible? If I were ever told that I was officially the best translator in the world, I would be delighted, and as confident as I would ever need to be for however long I continue to do it. Well, wouldn’t I be? I do realise that, even for the activity of translation as a practice with a purpose i.e. the general concept of it in real terms, its industry has changed over the years, an example being the recent creation of CAT tools and even just the creation of the Internet; just another couple of cases of people eagerly putting forth their ideas to make things easier (in the domain of science). If you’re smart and determined enough, that is. Of course, I realise how likely this phenomenon in society as a whole is to push up standards, and however hard I was prepared to try to retain my position at the top of the heap in the world of translation if I ever somehow achieved it, it wouldn’t have any bearing on my wish not to want to appear complacent. That said, the bottom line can only be this: how smart and determined – nay, professional – am I in my job really?
I’ll be honest: I don’t really see myself as being at the top of the heap of the world of translation (at least not yet). Still, as someone who’s nothing less than a self-employed translator with seven years’ experience, there must be some things I have done which other people haven’t, and things I know which other people don’t, but that is surely the case vice versa as well. For example, while my professional translation motto is “communication needs the right words”, to me that just seems eclipsed by all of these mottos by other professional translators:
“uncommonly good sense” – Shotlander (on ProZ.com)
“Communication is all we have” – wlgener Waterford, Michigan USA (on ProZ.com)
Communication is more than just words – Jacques Desnoyers (on ProZ.com)
And I also recently got an email from a (supposed – possible scammer) translator called Ana Soloboda Ana.firstname.lastname@example.org, for which the title was “Make my words work for you!” Interesting.
Now, I would never want to boast too much about what I do. Seriously, Tim Doner may be able to speak more than 20 languages while I could only converse in three (including my mother tongue) while he’s only 20-odd years old, but he would never have been able to post all his videos in which he shows off so much if the whole world spoke but a single language (of course, I have to concede that I would never have been able to be a translator as a result of that, either). But as a professional translator of all things, I have an absolute obligation to commit to accuracy and reliability in translation whether or not anyone else can or will. For this reason, it is easy to regard “make-believe-based forgetting by default” (if that makes sense) as foolish and irresponsible; it is simply not admissible. And I continue to write about the subject. The big question is this: what can I talk about having come across something language-related purely by chance rather than pending a decision to have a look at this or that, do you know what I mean?
We shouldn’t forget that communication sometimes requires listening even more than saying what you will, but then anyone who’s ever been in a serious relationship will know that. Now, actors may make a living out of being people they’re not, but I demand myself to put myself in the shoes of the eventual reader of my work, and one thing that has struck me in connection with my work is that maybe, just maybe, I could be expected to explain their understanding better than they could – even if it’s illogical and amounts to being a sign of craziness – while still having a concentrated job to do my end to just write something… anything which will pass for a (correct) translation of whatever it is. I keep wanting to be both at once, and not just each in turn – it’s like I’ve become more aware of the realities of being schizophrenic as a result of doing this job, you know? Or how about considering the concept of writing something which you know may not make sense to a reader straight away but is supposed to later on (and I don’t even read suspense thrillers or crime fiction!)?
What am I talking about, anyway?
At any rate, I would find it very, very hard to think of anything better to say to convince you that I definitely DO consider what would happen if I got too cosy in my job, and definitely DON’T have an absent-minded and dismissive approach to it like an exercise in box-ticking, however challenging or unpleasant the particular actions in question may be. I don’t want to fall into a habit of “hoping for some understanding”, like Katie Melua in her song “A Happy Place” (although, personally, knowing that she spent her childhood in poverty – even though her father was a heart surgeon – and that she has done skydiving in the past, I find that she’s tougher than she looks). I will admit that, even with my level of education, I get surprised by some of the things that I remember; and, for all its simplicity and invariable abstractness, it frequently delights me (not always, of course). Believe me, whatever you think of me, and whatever I think of me, I have no reason to be ashamed to call myself as a professional translator such as I am today. At the end of the day, I want to remain a professional translator, which is probably the only decision which shapes anything in the matter for me personally. And when I do what I do, I find immense pleasure in writing these blogs.
But that’s enough about me. Now, I say this: nobody likes being told that what they are saying, while they themselves are so sure that it makes sense, is in reality a load of nonsense. That’s bound to put anyone’s nose out of joint, do you know what I mean? At this point I will include some more translation work-related anecdotes – challenges that I have had to deal with in my work:
French original: “Nous ne faisons pas de calcul pour cela, nous ne réfléchissons pas.”
English translation: In the material this quote belonged to, this is a reference to human acting on impulse. Although I translated it as “We do not perform any calculations for this; we quite simply do not think.”, the correct translation, I realised that an unwary translator could have “translated” it as “If we do not perform any calculations for this, we quite simply do not think.” (LOL)
French original: “C’est contradictoire avec le fait que ces derniers ont besoin de faire preuve d’intelligence situationnelle pour retisser un lien de proximite avec les clients.”
English translation: I did the right thing when I wrote “It’s a contradictory case [or maybe it would have been more appropriate to write “It will be a very different story”] should one consider the fact that”, NOT “given the fact that”.
I have seen “vorhanden” in things like contracts in German, and realised that “available” was a better translation than “existing”.
I have become familiar with the concept of mistranslating German “Fahrplan” as “travel plan” when it should be “timetable”.
German original: “Anerkannten Werkstaetten”
English translation: better translated as “recognised workshops” or “registered workshops”?
German original: “Zudem finden Sie die Berechnungsgrundlagen […] und verschiedene Alternativen hierzu.”
English translation: “Additionally, you will find the calculation bases for a forecast of the costs up until the end of the life of Mrs. Somerville, along with various options” (not “various alternatives”!)
German original “Pflegeleistung” (as the header of a column in a table) – would it really matter if I translated that as “nursing services” or “nursing payments”?
Verily I admit that it’s easy for one to agree that this may arouse discussion of the very way I do translation and how much I can rely on the methods that I do use (whether I’ve taken the time to define them for myself or not). Indeed, when translating I’m afraid to proceed step-by-step like with most tasks, for fear that that could result in an embarrassing mistake. After I’ve finally finished translating a whole sentence I just need to look at everything at once, and not just “Bit 1”, followed by “Bit 2”, followed by “Bit 3”… It’s not like being happy to live life day by day. I certainly imagine that clients wouldn’t be too happy if they thought that I treated the work that I was supposed to be doing for them as “just another job” – “just another boil in need of lancing”, as it were. Maybe I really do scrutinise written text to the point of borderline obsession these days, even if it’s my own (all for the sake of doing a good job in my work, of course); here’s an example: if you go to Civ 5 Wikia and look at the page of the Thai leader (Ramkhamhaeng), scroll down to Civilopedia entry – Arts and Culture and you will read “Ramkhamhaeng was an ardent patron of Buddhism. He also supported the arts and Thai artistic expression [return – new line] achieved an especially high level during his reign, especially in bronze sculpture and ceramics.” Here, “He also supported the arts and Thai artistic expression” works as a full sentence in itself, but don’t be thrown off, for “Thai artistic expression” is but the start of a new sentence within a sentence, after the conjunction “and”. You see?
There now follows a definition of the word “esoteric”: “intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.” (Google search “esoteric definition”). I say this because, while lots of people decide to show an interest in foreign languages these days, it is surely the case that very few will be as willing to look at and discuss the art of translation in full depth to the extent that some people do… like me – well, I am a self-employed translator, after all. And a serious one, at that. What I’m saying is that I agree that it’s very likely that the average person on the street would label the study and practice of translation as an “esoteric” subject – and everyone can only confidently support their opinions they have on anything so far.
I recently watched Pat Condell’s latest Youtube video “Dumbing down university”. Speaking as a linguist, I find it both shocking and ridiculous (or maybe it should be more like embarrassed and worried?) that he says that British universities today feel the need to provide remedial literacy courses to new students, as if plenty of undergraduates were in Britain today had all the education of your average delinquent yob (or chav) who talks this: “Yo, wa g’wanin blud, you dig me bling, like? It’s like f***in’ well phat, innit?” And he really does provide links to newspaper articles to back this claim up. This is one of them:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews...
I have read this article, by the way. So let’s talk about that for a bit. There’s a bit in it where someone says (quoted ipsissima verba): “Their needs vary from having difficulty with the very basics, such as 'what does a noun do?', to students whose English is fine but they have never constructed a report or written an academic essay.” Time and time again, we have to consider how much more likely we or anyone else would understand something in real terms if only it was explained in a different way. In that episode of Blackadder where Baldrick’s trying to rewrite the dictionary, his only definition for the word “dog” is “not a cat” – what “better” definition would you have given him to write down? It’s just that I sympathise with people who have the intelligence to go far but they don’t actually know what, say, a noun or an adjective is when they would surely “get it” straight away if it were explained to them, such as I am going to do here. In layman’s terms: noun is the name given to the kind of word which exists as a label for any given thing, like an object (like the word “noun” itself); and adjective is the name given to the kind of word which says something about something. Any dictionary will confirm these things, itself possibly providing examples. It really is as simple as that. And you don’t have to be any kind of self-proclaimed master linguist, like me, to clarify something like that.
Taken from the same article above: the writer actually claims that some university students “struggle with basic grammar”. Really? What is struggling with basic grammar, anyway, if it’s not just knowing how to get word order right? Myself, I am aware that many people are familiar with the common mistake in English that is writing “should of / could of / would” when it should be “have”, even though “should”, “could”, “would” and “of” (and “have”, for that matter) are all among the most commonly used words in English, and I don’t think I need to explain how “should”, “would” or “could” can simply not “co-exist” in English language terms i.e. when they are followed by the word “of”. Then there’s getting “to”, “two” and “too” confused, or not knowing the difference between “accept” or “except”, or “discreet” and “discrete”. To me that can’t be properly defined as “struggling with basic grammar” because I regard it as more a case of getting the spelling of words wrong (or rather, using otherwise correctly spelled words in places where they just don’t belong and, as such, just leaving a sentence “not making sense” in that it’s not grammatical; something which should be obvious). Then there’s the fact that sometimes people use “it’s” wrongly when it should be “its”. That I can understand, for you would use an apostrophe in, say, “That book is Louise’s”, so I would define, say, “The reason that car is not roadworthy is that the tread of it’s tyres is not sufficient” as a “grammatical” error.
But given that communication is generally to be understood as expression of ideas (whether they are properly elucidated or not), it shouldn’t be too hard to consider how I’m willing to look at the idea of translation as the same thing. I mean, as Pat Condell says in his video (mentioned above), our culture, and with it the success of our education, depends on people germinating ideas rather than exterminating them. And I imagine that it’s fairly common for people to have an idea which carries weight about a topic that matters which they regard as “smart” or “clever”… but they may falsely label it as original or their own while being none the wiser. Or – and I must confess that I was a bit like this when I was still a child – even if one is proud of such an idea for reasons which are hardly selfish, cynical or morally corrupt, they may love to see it demonstrated or verified but they are just not ready to do what’s necessary to realise that themselves. Just for a minute, consider how angry that mindset could (eventually) encourage others to become – not to mention yourself.
Maybe the truth is that even I’m not completely immune to writing things that are a bit odd to read, whether I’m doing a translation task or not. But as far as I see it, in all selflessness, the more I can prevent myself from writing things that sound a bit “iffy” in my translation work, the better. The thing is, I remember how, when I was at school, sometimes I was told by my teachers that, while there was nothing wrong with my own English – the language I translate into in my work as a self-employed translator – I sometimes wrote things which were a bit odd or awkward in terms of following them even if they had to admit that it did made sense (theoretically, at least, I presume). Now, when I do translation work, I definitely realise how serious it is that I find a way to write the intended message of the original in a way that makes sense, and it does weigh on me that I could end up in a scenario where I have to do this “somehow”. And it’s not entirely limited to the issue of the vocabulary I know or the verbal creativity I can show when it comes to the grammar of English (are you following me here)? When I’m writing a translation of something I do love it when I feel that I’m revealing a fact of significance about the subject matter that I am supposed to be writing about even though some might find it easy to claim that I don’t know what I’m talking about but that’s only because it happens not to directly concern me personally. In short, I have to be careful not to end up misled – not just by what I’m presented with, but also with regard to what I’ve allowed myself to feel about whatever it is that I’m effectively discussing in my writing of a translation product, which may well need properly outlining for me personally. And chances are that it will be up to me and only me to do that. After all, I can seldom expect a translation client to be fully ready to take the time to discuss with me why I chose to write this or expression or that expression, or why I seemed to think this thing or that thing.
I’ve been doing professional translation for seven years now and, maybe it’s a bit sad, but I refuse to regard the work itself as anything of an “adventure” any more. Having said that, I suggest that this is because I don’t want to feel that I equate my professional work to children’s stories of adventure – this isn’t “George The Translator – join him in his exciting translation adventures!” (much as I realise how much my job as a self-employed translator has taught me personally); this is real life, and to me it should be a more formal and euphuistic register that shapes the narrative of my blogs.
14th February 2016
RECOGNISING AND REITERATING A TEXT’S PURPOSE AND FEEL – IS THERE SUCH A THING AS “TRANSLATING FROM THE HEART”?
Starting point: don’t we agree that there’s an art to translation – whether or not we could elaborate on this idea? Yes? Good. Also, bear in mind that, while this article is more than 2,000 words long, I don’t provide any examples of “translating from the heart”, as I see it, until in the last paragraphs. I’m sure you will understand eventually. Although, at this point, I think I should mention that a likely pre-requisite to “translating from the heart” is “explaining / clarifying from the heart”.
That said, while this is a blog aimed at promoting myself as a professional translator, I don’t actually want to proceed to discuss translation or anything I do / have done in this job personally straight away. Now… I find it easy to believe that there are some professions where people who do not do them tend to have rather rigid and obstinate ideas about the kind of person that those who do them “should” be. Basically they believe that they tend to dress alike, speak the same way, have largely the same personal priorities and ambitions and all the rest of it, while probably not intending to make friends with a person who practices such a job in their life. It’s like stereotypes, I think.
And then there are the kinds of professions where, if you’re serious about doing them, I would strongly recommend that you consider your very status and worth as a member of society and your presence in it before you even start considering how you would make a success of yourself doing such a job. And they are by no means strictly categorised, as you’ve probably guessed. After all, if you’re a teacher, it’s not limited to merely informing your students about what is correct in the subject you’re supposed to be teaching, or even being attentive enough to understand where and how they have ended up confused. Police officers are certainly expected to take charge of things, but to do so in a way that assures public confidence. And if you work in an office and get promoted to manager, you can expect to be told that your duties won’t just include “more of the same old typical carry-on, only lots more of it, and enough to try the resolve of a lot people.” Indeed, in all three, who would argue that an important part of it is being prepared to set an example to people you don’t even know? Even bar staff are expected to show the right kind of judgement and sense of duty when a drunken brawl breaks out; and however fond a lapdancer may be of performing, she couldn’t possibly fail to realise that her social skills will be put to the test again and again.
But I think about celebrities as well – singers in particular, for some reason. The idea of being famous has its allure even for someone like me, but at the end of the day, if I were ever granted the opportunity to be famous, I’m sure the only question that would really matter is what I would make of it (note: it was barely possible for me to decide whether it would have been better to say “would” or “could” there; I just thought it was worth pointing that out). Oh, it would be nice if I had that kind of looks and charisma and got paid loads for rousing crowds hungry for excitement and an excuse to be loud… then again, it has to be said that sometimes you get a singer or group of singers who change an individual’s life forever by doing what they do; but you knew that already, didn’t you? Now, being stuck in front of a computer doing what I do is hardly glamorous… but the thing is that I too have plenty to say which isn’t just of relevance – and not fickle relevance – to me “on stage” (or, in my case, when I’m communicating with customers in relation to my work), but also off it, nay even when I’m not actually looking forward to being on one.
As I already mentioned, I myself am a translator, and as such I don’t really think I need to care about my public image THAT much… but I am as keen to promote myself as I have ever been (hence this blog, for that matter). Mind you, while most people DON’T do a job in which they make good use of creative writing skills and not much else, I’m self-employed – if I don’t find out (let alone implement) what it takes to remain in this position, then who will? How far can I go, anyway? And, as easy as it is to regard a job like mine as boring, it’s not like it’s straightforward and plain sailing all the time: the practices of translation may remain the same, but even something as fundamental as language can cause division given its versatility. When I take on a project, I hope to find an attachment with the original material without getting too absorbed by it, if that makes sense.
That said, I’m very much ready to be honest and frank; I think I’m very lucky to be doing what I do today, and I’m sure the pride I place in it is evident enough. Perhaps unrelatedly, I remember how, during my childhood, I was sure that, when I became an adult, I eventually would become someone that I never knew I could be. Today I am 33 and it is an assumption that has been proven correct, which doesn’t surprise me at all. But I’m very pleased that it has not made me far angrier than anyone could ever hope to make me (well, intentionally and on an opportunistic level, anyway). Personally, I can’t help feeling that if you’re pretending to be something you’re not while not even really knowing or caring what that thing is… then you run the risk of going crazy. Love yourself for what you are; love yourself more for what you could be; love yourself even more for what you will be. That’s how I find it works.
And that’s the way it is. Reality is reality. And surely reality should be appreciated and embraced by anyone serious about doing any sort of translation work properly. Talking of which: cultural factors play a role in translation, right? Then consider this: it’s not like I don’t cherish certain personal memories from my past to this day. I’m sure we have all had episodes in our lives that we don’t remember as well as we wish we did. But traditions and legacies continue to mingle and rival with firmly held attitudes, hopes and aspirations of the present day to form what we call a culture; and culture’s not even the only thing to bear in mind in translation work; although, of course, that’s well known already. And anyone who wants to learn more about me will, I think, be pleased to hear that I have plenty of fantastic tales and roller-coaster rides from my own life which I would be very likely to include in an autobiography. Just as Google defines culture as “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively” and “the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society”, my past surely makes me who I am. How about this: I remember when I learned that Vanessa Carlton has an album called “Be Not Nobody” and I got to thinking that by that she meant, “Don’t try to be ‘the true you’; seek to be ‘a true you’!” (I certainly think she’s a singer worth the name, in case you forgot what I said in paragraph 4.) I was impressed enough by this to state on my personal Facebook wall that she was my idea of a real woman and that however much I’ll never know, I was no longer afraid. I even remember writing a later comment in which I said that she had read what I had said about her and sent me an email saying that it was because of what I wrote that however much she’ll never know, she’s no longer afraid; “OK, I made that up, but I do wonder.” But, in all candour, things change (of course they do). Ever since I posted those comments about Vanessa Carlton I’ve learned of the quote from George Bernard Shaw which reads “Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.” Given the meaning of that quote, that was when I realised that Vanessa Carlton is not the only one who’s ever thought of it (if she ever did); but you can be sure that I still listen to her! I’ll say it again: things change… and I don’t always “get it” so easily; but I’m still pleased with myself for what I manage to learn in the long run – along with the occasional harsh yet inevitable realisation that comes with it, of course. Maybe these days I should be saying that however much I WILL know, I’m no longer afraid.
True, I enjoy the comfort of my study, a quiet space where I can be sure of not being bothered by others. On the other hand, I would define underestimating the weight of my job as habitually getting things done “somehow” and – perhaps not unrelatedly – explaining the things I do and the decisions I make on but a “basically” level. It has been said that the aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together – that their very nature cries out for the goodness in men (Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator speech). If an essential part of translation is taking the time to understand culture and societal values (obvious or tacit), shouldn’t one say that translation is also supposed to accomplish this?
Now comes the funny bit. Have you ever known of a time where you or anyone else tried to translate something that just didn’t make sense? To be fair to you, you probably think that I’m not making sense by saying that. But what passes for a good definition of text which “doesn’t make sense”, anyway? I haven’t forgotten the time I wrote that blog in which I thought of translating (or rather, trying to translate) “Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?” Other examples of written information I can think of which I find make no sense by my interpretation include the badger song on Youtube and the Big Brother conversation in which Jade Goody brought up “East Angular” and said that she thought it was in Tunisia for some reason. But I’m not going to stop there. I’m now going to write 50 words of something in English of my own creation which I would say doesn’t make sense, followed by my best translation of it in French:
“It’s a shame that squirrels don’t go water-skiing because I think that would be very funny. And it would be so cool if the moon was green rather than white. But I would especially like to be able to walk along ceilings, even though I couldn’t juggle when doing that.”
“Il est triste que les écureuils ne font pas du ski nautique – je pense que cela serait très drôle. Et il serait si cool si la lune était verte plutôt que blanche. Mais j’aimerais en particulier être capable de pouvoir marcher sur les plafonds, même si je ne pouvais pas jongler quand je faisais cela.”
You can decide how good my French translation of this is, or have a French native speaker decide. My point here is that I find it easy to be confident about translating things like this precisely because they have no purpose and I don’t have to worry about what I write “making sense” in real terms. Does that sound close to home? Either way, I certainly can’t and won’t dispute that people look to / depend on me to make sense in the translations that I write, just like any other professional translator.
Finally, about my actual translation work… I recently translated a contract in which I wrote the following sentence in the translated product: “The start and the end of the season are clearly stated in the seasonal confirmation of the Serbian Association (Annex 5 of the application); from which it can be determined that the 21st birthday of the player (14th July 2012) falls in the season 2012/2013”. I realised that I made a wise choice of words which suggested “it can be deduced from this contract that…” rather than “according to this contract…”. Those two things don’t mean exactly the same thing i.e. what does a given contract actually intend to make clear from the outset, compared to what could be understood from it with the right kind of critical examination? Maybe this is the kind of thinking that makes one a good detective / lawyer / judge. And this is what I dare to label this as “translating from the heart”.
Example 2: in another recent translation project (German to English), which was also a contract, I translated “Kommt eine Partei einer ihr obliegenden Instandhaltungs- oder Instandsetzungspflicht trotz Mahnung und Nachfristensetzung nicht fristgerecht nach” as “If any party fails to satisfy any [given] maintenance / repair obligation of theirs on time despite the provision of a warning and an extended deadline”. About the word “given” in square brackets: I originally didn’t think of including that, but then I wouldn’t want it to be “supposed” to mean (on a purely pedantic level) essentially “If any party failed to satisfy ANY maintenance / repair obligation of theirs”, as if to imply that failing to satisfy not all of them from a list of them was OK. They say “the law is a ass – a idiot” – I think much of the meaning behind that quote refers to how lawyers sometimes choose to interpret the intended meaning of the law and “justify” it with an “excuse” which is nothing more than selective logic.
But at the end of the day, when it comes to the translation work that I do for a living, I just know that I should be on my guard against misreading and misunderstanding things and understanding what simply isn’t there, and when I actually write what I write I do what I can to avoid miswriting things and encouraging an understanding of something which is either wrong or, well, doesn’t exist. One could argue that this requires the application of something like zanshin (the Japanese martial arts term – and I have a purple belt in jujitsu, by the way): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zanshin
19th February 2016
SPECULATIVE REFLECTION ON ONE’S RELATIONSHIP WITH LANGUAGE FROM A PROFESSIONAL TRANSLATOR (AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR ME PERSONALLY)
To those who live a plain existence which is not necessarily as satisfying as they like to pretend, their appreciation of the language they were taught from their earliest days is unlikely to extend too far beyond recognition of terms / individual words as labels for individual things, precisely because “well, that’s how it should be”. But we’re not stupid, are we? People have pointed out anecdotal facts about individual languages which they can’t do anything about and which are there to stay – I’m sure the age of the Internet has made society as a whole more aware of this phenomenon than ever. In the case of English – my own mother tongue – I wasn’t the one who thought of how the word “fish” could be spelled “ghoti”, for example. I wasn’t the first to observe that the sequence of letters “ough” sounds very different in words like “through”, “tough”, “cough”, “bough” and “bought”.
Of course, the content of these blogs I write for the purpose of promoting myself as a professional translator, is not limited to bringing up things like this; after all, in my eyes, it is to be understood as something that anyone could just end up doing, and I don’t want to sell myself short here.
That’s not to say that, during my time at school and university, my teachers and lecturers never referenced such anecdotes – which, without wishing to sound rude, would likely be appreciated by anyone who wasn’t there to study as the things most likely to retain their attention – in connection with whatever they were talking about at the time. It’s easy to pay attention to what you understand compared to what you don’t understand – but if you ask me, both tend to be easier than paying attention to what you once thought you understood.
The paradoxical truth is that, for all the good reasons I may have to call myself an “authority” on language and linguistics given my position as a successful translator who does it for a living (seven years of experience or not), it is just not my position to say what the precise meaning of any given term “should” or “shouldn’t” be; and if I have ever “sort of felt the need to do this” in the past, then I have tried to do it with some sort of tacit justification in the translation text that I am producing itself i.e. a supporting argument which speaks for itself. The thing is, I always have to make language-related decisions in what I do; of course I do. So it shouldn’t be hard to believe that I have sharp acumen for false translation.
Compare false translation with plagiarism, or talking in clichés and PBAs (see an earlier comment I wrote on 14th June 2015 which explains what a “precedent-based assertion” is, in the last big paragraph). People have done all three of the latter in the far simpler act of everyday conversation, and who’s to say that it doesn’t extend to works of writing? That said, please don’t accuse me of trivialising anything when I say that it’s common for people to think and state openly that they can’t express how bad they feel when something truly terrible has happened to them e.g. if they have lost a child or been raped. Being a translator and therefore a professional linguist, I guess I like to think that if anyone can express anything in coherent language (where details of the memories of it are LEAST likely to fragment and dissipate over time), it’s someone who does what I do; but I’ll be honest with you: I couldn’t promise you that I could always manage it without leaning heavily on comparisons, whether they were to be understood as realistic or wildly detached enough from reality to leave just about anyone “lost”… for words or anything else. I’m not stupid. An attempted definition of a word which is based purely on what it means compared with the meaning of other words, is too woolly for practical purposes, isn’t it?
People don’t agree that they could misunderstand something if they agree that it doesn’t make sense, do you know what I mean? But for something to be defined as “not making sense”… that’s too vague, isn’t it?
Maybe, just maybe, if I am going to make people believe that I am some kind of super-hotshot professional translator, I should freely admit to being prone to asking questions which I don’t know why I’m asking at the time (as long as they’re faithful to a sense of duty in what I do, of course). At any rate, I look at lists of words in various languages which are not so easy to translate (like this one http://www.boredpanda.com/untranslatable-words-fou... ), realising how this can extend to whole phrases and sentences as well; in recognition of all my clients who expect / yearn to be carefree with regard to what I’m supposed to do for them, I would rather have my translation work be reflective of astute “make-believe” than wholly uncertain “let-believe”, especially when I have no idea how much research the client is prepared to undertake in connection with what I write in order to ensure its veracity and reliability (if any). And I really, really wouldn’t want to know that anything I had ever said or written had proven to be falsely enlightening – and therefore potentially confusing, possibly with the result of someone becoming angry – after I had been forced to acknowledge that what I had said was incorrect even though I had said it in good faith. All I’m saying is that the more you practice translation the more inclined you become to regard it as a matter of the pursuit of the truth, as Ted Hartrup discusses so eloquently in episode 3 of the Ambition series on Zapdramatic (the psychological assessment), depending on the choices you make. Personally, for me it’s intriguing enough that I wonder if the character of Ted Hartrup is based on that of a real person, whether that’s supposed to the case (strictly speaking) or not. #PursuitOfTheTruth
Speaking of hashtags – and that was the first time I’ve ever used one – I would agree that people use them with words and concepts with which they, effectively, openly imply: “Let anyone say what they will about this if it is to be better defined – I just don’t care about it that much.” Now that sounds like a mindset to be avoided when you’re trying to create a product of correct and reliable – and, indeed, responsible – translation! I’m certainly used to translation and I find it easy enough most of the time, but I would suggest that it’s one of those things where a careless oversight when doing it could (possibly – depending on the details) lead to a mistake where identifying exactly what it was that led to it could prove a challenge; and only then comes the matter of actually correcting it.
I’m probably going to make a lot of enemies saying this, but I’m going to say it anyway. In a sense, translation is an exercise in being committed – wholly committed – “telling it how it is”. Maybe I should be claiming that I’m always the first to deal with text written in a foreign language ad nauseum for the right reasons. And you don’t need to be a genius to know that one purpose of communication is the revelation of truth. That said, it intrigues me to consider how many people have said something truthful which was redundant – maybe because it was a truth that was already known – but they still expected credit for it by virtue of their honesty and frankness. But among the times when I’m most satisfied in my work as a translator are when I translate something by writing something which I know in my heart indicates a truth capable of shattering a lie.
28th February 2016
WHO WILL CHALLENGE MY KNOWLEDGE OF FOREIGN LANGUAGES, OR LANGUAGES IN GENERAL (IF THEY KNOW HOW TO)?
I was recently going through my business records to get rid of records of old translation projects that I no longer needed, and I came across some very old projects I translated not from French or German into English, but the other way round. I very rarely do these jobs but I think it’s great that I can say that I’ve taken these on as well (they weren’t too sophisticated, mind)!
You know, people who have read a lot of my professional translator blog comments are by now very likely aware of how much I go on about how literate I am in the language I write in when I’m doing translation work, along with all I’ve freely said to back it up. But as important as that is in this line of work, I can’t always lean purely on that to help me out / save the day when I’m stuck. My job may be a very peaceful one, but, frankly, it’s just so, so likely that, whenever someone gives me a translation job to do, they will be willfully ignorant of the realities of what I do, the procedures I follow, the choices I make, which will determine whether the project will be a success (hopefully a definite success rather than a passable success, of course) or a failure. Mind you, even today I do most of my work for translation agencies, and this is very much less likely to be the case with translation agencies compared with private clients; and yes, maybe that really is why the “translation agency” exists. Anyway, my mother tongue is English, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it is English that I am paid to translate into – mostly. But there have been a few rare occasions where people have offered me translation work assignments with the language pair English to French or English to German, and in this comment I’m going to put forth a couple of examples of these.
At this point, let me make it clear that whenever I put forth the details of an episode related to some translation task I’ve had to deal with as a professional translator, I include both the original and my translation of it wherever I can, for sake of my own credibility. Of course, I believe that exactly how much this particular comment will be appreciated will depend on how much it is referred to people whose mother tongue is French or German, for their honest appraisal of what I say… but at the end of the day, I keep records of this stuff for a reason: a reason which is enough to delight me and potentially enlighten me, even if it’s not necessarily in the immediate future.
The first example is taken from a press release originally written in English, although it’s clear that it was written by an Indian rather than an actual native English speaker (not that I’m saying Indians’ English is usually bad, by any means – they’re actually very well educated and speak it very well, but I’m sure we all know that). The client in question, someone in India (surprise surprise) actually paid me to translate this press release into both French and German even though my mother tongue is neither of those, but the language I was translating FROM, not TO. Here goes:
“Located on the western coast of India, Gujarat is a leading industrial state with a unique combination of strategic geographic location, state-of-the-art infrastructure, multilingual workforce and concentration of corporate and financial resources. Its proactive government and business-savvy population make a perfect ground for businesses to flourish. By carefully planning special industrial zones and investment regions, the state has created a much more conducive business and regulatory environment within many areas, including in waste management, biotechnology and local transport system. With Luxembourg’s strong foothold in these sectors, the delegation’s meetings will provide an excellent foundation for building partnerships that will invigorate the economies of both regions.”
My translation of it into French:
“Situé à la côté occidentale de l’Inde, le Gujerat est un état industriel prominent qui dispose d’une combination unique : sa position stratégique géographique ; son infrastructure d’état de l’art ; son effectif plurilingue ; et sa concentration de ressources incorporées et financielles. Avec son gouvernement proactif et sa population entrepreneuse, il constitue une zone parfaite en ce qui concerne l’épanouissement d’entreprises. Parmi le planning prudent de particulières zones industrielles et de régions d’investissement, cet état a crée un environnement qui est beaucoup plus conducif pour l’entreprise et la régulation en beaucoup de domaines ; ce qui inclue le traitement de déchets, la biotechnologie et le système de transport local. Étant donné la progression forte du Luxembourg en ces secteurs, les rendez-vous des délégations constitueront une fondation excellente pour la formation d’associations qui revigoreront les économies des deux régions.”
My translation of it into German:
“Gudscharat, auf der westlichen Küste Indiens, ist ein führender industrieller Staat mit einer einzigartigen Kombination von seiner strategischen geographischen Lage, seiner Infrastruktur auf dem neuesten Stand der Technik, seiner mehrsprachigen Arbeitskräfte und seiner Konzentration von körperschaftlichen und finanziellen Ressourcen. Mit der proaktiven Regierung und der untermenbewussten Bevölkerung ist es einer perfekter Ort für Unternehmenwachsen. Mit der vorsichtigen Planung von speziellen industriellen Zonen und Investitionsregionen hat der Staat eine viel Geschäfts-und-Regulation-freundlichere Umgebung geschafft und zwar in vielen Bereichen z.B. Abfallentsorgung, Biotechnologie und das lokale Transportsystem. Dank dem guten Halt von Luxembourg in diesen Bereichen werden die Meetings der Delegation ein exzellentes Fundament sein für das Bauen von Partnerschaften die die Wirtschaften der beiden Regionen erkräftigen werden.”
The original sample from the second English text was taken from a document of LED instructions, and I only translated this into French:
“Each control gear in your installation can be controlled entirely individually. It is also possible to control the two outputs of the control gear separately.”
My translation of it into French:
“Chaque unité de contrôle en votre installation peut être commandée entièrement individuellement. Il est aussi possible de contrôler les deux sorties de l‘outil de commande séparément.”
Finally, the original sample from the third English text, translated into German (again, if it looks a little “off”, bear in mind that my client for this one was based in Lithuania, so it was probably a Lithuanian who wrote it):
“UAB Jutrix specializes in the production of high-quality stamped, bended and deep drawn parts. Main production process is advanced coil stamping. At your services more than 40 years of experience in stamping, professional approach to the work, qualified people and advanced technologies.”
My translation of it into German:
“UAB Jutrix spezialisiert auf die Herstellung von qualitativ hochwertigen Stanz-, Biege- und Tiefziehteile. Unserer Hauptproduktionrahmen ist fortgeschrittenes Spulestempeln. Wir besitzen mehr als 40 Jahren Erfahrung in Stempelarbeit und zeigen Professionalität bei der Arbeit, mit qualifizierten Personen unf fortgeschrittene Technologien.”
This comment ends with something rather more appealing. I haven’t forgotten the time this translation agency in France asked me to provide a translation of this French song into English. This is the original French text of the song:
“Il est pour chacun d’entre nous
Au moins une femme dans l’univers
Que l’on épouserait sur un coup
Comme on fait tapis au poker
La mienne est venue au Texas
Le jour de ma fête, sur la Terre
A Katy, en cet an de grâce
L’année où l’on s’aime à l’envers
Il y aura une jolie lumière, il y aura du bruit dans la cour
Elle fermera les paupières et nous irons faire un tour
Et si l’on roule assez longtemps
Pour ne plus penser aux détours
Que l’on a suivis trop longtemps
Pour ne pas se rencontrer
Ceux qui emportent nos mémoires
Et nos corps trop lourds
Ceux dont nous étions les moins fiers
Nous seront aveugles et sourds.
J’ai beau tourner dans l’espace
Je retombe toujours sur la Terre
A tous les coups je me perds,
C’est toi qui me serres et nos pieds sur la Terre
Dansent en attendant sous la pluie
Que les Indiens reviennent vivre sur la prairie
Que les esclaves puissent
Rendre leurs chaînes.
Jusqu’à Tucson la route est droite
Je ne lâcherai pas ta main
Jusqu’à Vegas tu fermes les yeux
C’est peut-être là qu’on s’embrasse
A ton doigt je glisse une alliance
Qui est dans ma poche depuis toujours
C’est un sosie d’Elvis qui nous unit
Que sait-il de l’amour ?
La route est longue allons-nous en
Je l’ai faite il y a si longtemps
Depuis des siècles je t’attends
Allons dormir sur Hollywood.”
I really enjoyed this project because I couldn’t wait for a chance to attempt a rhyming translation of it, like My Most Audacious Marketing Move IV (earlier ones: nr. 1 see comment dated 3rd October 2011; nr. 2 see comment dated 25th June 2014; nr. 3 see comment dated 26th June 2014). I wasn’t specifically asked for this and it wasn’t necessary but I got a kick out of it – but at that stage I thought it was likely that the project manager would want to come back to me with points about it anyway. I was originally inclined to translate this song something like this:
“For every man’s a woman who
Is like a poker wallflower
He’ll hold her as a jewel true;
He’d very quickly marry her
In Katy, Texas, along comes mine
We’ll meet again on Saints’ Day
This fateful year is ‘69
And we will show our love that way
There will be a happy light, there’ll be a serenade in the yard
And we’ll close our eyes and start a journey where we’ll never part
And if we drive on long enough
To forget about the detours
That we have followed long enough
In order that we won’t meet
Those who’ve stolen our ever-cherished memories
And ever-hungry hearts
The ones we were so far from proud of
We will be lost in the dark.
I keep spinning in space
And I always land on Earth
Every time I lose myself,
You hold me and our feet stay on this Earth
We dance as we wait in the rain
For the Indians to settle in this prairie again
For those tormented slaves
To break free from their chains.
Up to Tuscon the road is straight
I’ll hold your hand as we do this
And in Vegas you close your eyes
Maybe here is where we’ll kiss
I’ve kept a gift for you in my pocket for so long
I’ve been waiting to give you a turtle dove
The Elvis impersonator who united us,
What does he know of love?
To me, this road is nothing new
It’s still so long – let’s continue
It’s centuries I’ve waited for you
Let’s go and sleep at Hollywood.”
Sadly, I don’t have the text of my very first attempt at translating this song any more, but I do remember being told that I had failed to understand the saucy sexual innuendo of “L’année où l’on s’aime à l’envers”. As “à l’envers” usually means “upside down” or “backwards” (or something like that, depending on the context) I must have originally translated that as something like, “We will love each other just like old times”. But no, apparently, according to my project manager (who was a man, by the way), this was an oblique reference to the sexual position which I will strictly do no more than mention the name of here: the 69. And that’s why I settled on writing “This fateful year is ’69 // And we will show our love that way.”
But that didn’t stop him from asking for a “more literal” (i.e. a non-rhyming) translation later on afterwards. I found that a bit sad personally but I wrote one (at no extra cost); this is also supplied here, and feel free to compare that with my original rhyming translation (with the original French version on hand, of course):
“For each one of us there’s at least
One woman in the universe
That we would marry straight away
A real poker wallflower
Mine has arrived in Katy, Texas
On the day that is Saints Day
This fateful year is ’69, and our love
Will indeed be shown in a new way
There will be a nice light, and noise in the yard
She will close our eyes as we ride together
And if we drive on long enough
And forget about the red herrings
Which we have been following for too long
And thus avoid meeting
Those who’ve stolen our ever-cherished memories
As we feel so heavy inside
The ones we were the last to be proud of
We will be blind and deaf.
I’m spinning in space
And I always land on Earth
Every time I lose myself,
You hold me and our feet stay on this Earth
We dance as we wait in the rain
For the Indians to settle in this prairie again
We wait for the slaves
To break free from their chains.
The road is straight on up to Tucson
I won’t let you go
Up to Vegas, you close your eyes
Maybe here is where we’ll kiss
I slide on your finger something that will keep us together
Which has been in my pocket for so long
The Elvis impersonator who united us,
What does he know of love?
The road is long, so let’s continue
I have been doing it for so long
It’s centuries I’ve waited for you
Let’s go and sleep at Hollywood.”
29th February 2016
ARGUING THE EXISTENCE OF THE MORAL SIDE OF PROPER TRANSLATION
“Western civilisation owes its civilisation to translators.” (Kelly Louis)
Really? No wonder I seem to find it so easy to delight in making a big thing of what I do for a living (certainly in my professional translator blogs, of which this is my latest)! Besides, when I’m not addressing my marketing campaigns, sending invoices or chasing debts, my work doesn’t really entail anything other than, in practice, receiving translation assignments online, writing a working version of them in another language and sending them back (possibly with the need to deal with customers’ subsequent feedback comments), so it’s probably easy to conclude that I would hardly have anything to write about; and yet I have written more than 125,000 words (yes, 125,000) of articles just like this dedicated to promoting myself for what I do. I might as well mention that I found this quote on this website: http://www.languagerealm.com/quotes/quotes2.php
But however you may respond to that, I am compelled to mention that I have travelled a lot in my life. I say this because it is well known that the more you travel, the more you get a sense and feeling for different peoples and different cultures; and different cultures are reflected in their local languages (which shouldn’t come as a surprise, really). If anything, this makes the importance of considering accuracy in translation work all the more significant. And, speaking as a professional translator, surely if anyone should be prepared to bear this in mind, it’s someone in my position! It’s just as well that I’ve been renowned as a highly talented linguist from an early age.
Oh yes, the times when I do assignments as a professional translator are definitely times when I am NOT there to express myself or “find myself” in my writing. It’s just not about me. And I don’t expect anyone to openly acknowledge that it was specifically me who wrote a given translation piece, much less guess that it was my own work (although it will be a very different story if I start doing a lot of official / sworn translations, of course. It would certainly be nice if I got qualified to do that by becoming a member of the IOL or the ITI or something). But whether or not it should be specifically said that that is too easy to say, the content just doesn’t matter, to anyone else or to me. Read on – you’ll see why.
That said, as enthusiastic and proud as I am about finding verbal solutions which work (and properly so) in the new language when I do translation work, in a sense, what I do is little more than the basic role of communicating, complete with consideration of prose register, cultural elements and the other related things that matter. And yes, of course I realise that I get called on to do it where someone else just can’t – ever ready to defy the limits of machine translation tools, of course (not to mention the foolish and spurious sense of security and comfort / ease related to their use). And that’s great – and I think I’ll mention here that there is a quote by Albert Einstein in which he said that we are all geniuses, to show I’m not too full of myself here. Go and Google it. I mean, nobody likes not being able to make themselves understood, and as far as I can see, none of us have any excuse for disputing that when we were all babies once.
And so one may be easily inclined to ask how I really “do” translation – even if there is a relatively good chance of them becoming bored as they listen to a detailed explanation of it. When people talk in everyday conversation, it’s common for them to make up a sentence as they go along i.e. saying it, hence the habit of randomly saying “like” all the time, like Valley girls do. I endeavour to avoid taking my chances doing anything like that when translating: wherever possible, in my writing of a translation product, I will make up all the words contained in the sentence that I am currently in the process of creating, whose equivalent I am currently dealing with in the original, before I start my final definitive writing of it. Although, in practice, it’s usually clause by clause, especially if individual clauses could exist as recognisable (if possibly odd-sounding) sentences by themselves. But I will still always be ready to review the whole sentence afterwards. I’m sure I could discuss how I do translation a lot more, but in the scope of this comment I’ll leave it at that (suffice to say that I’m still learning, even after all these years).
Unless you’re something like an unusually rebellious teenager possibly in need of psychiatric help, there’s a chance that you will get upset and irate at being misunderstood (which is way different from being “misunderstood”, as if I really needed to say that). And consider how serious the implications of that can be given how it’s so easy to underestimate how angry you are compared with how easy it is to underestimate how brave you are (if the latter can even exist). I’m guessing that it should be agreed that, in the worst case scenarios, it would amount to someone’s very spirit potentially ending up lost / gone, maybe forever. Or even slander – I mean, I am familiar with this notorious story: apparently the French actor Gérard Depardieu once witnessed a rape when he was a child, and someone made the mistake of essentially mistranslating “pendant son enfance, Gérard Depardieu a assisté à un viol” as “during his childhood, Gérard Depardieu assisted in a rape”. …Oops.
Hopefully the examples of work-related anecdotes (as seen in previous comments) below do a good job showing my commitment to accuracy in translation (again), but this time with a sense of moral responsibility reflected.
German original: “anerkannten Werkstaetten”
English translation: “recognised workshops” or “registered workshops”?
It’s a matter of confidence, but it’s also a matter of legitimacy, I’m guessing.
French original: “Le contrat a été bien exécuté”
English translation: “The contract was ‘well’ (i.e. professionally and diligently) executed or ‘fully’ executed, or both? If the truth is not so obvious to you – and even if it is – I would invite you to consider the consequences of possibly mistranslating it, getting it wrong – hence the idea of the moral side of the commitment to proper translation.
5th March 2016
FOR A KEY PART OF OPTIMAL TRANSLATION WORK IS REACHING OUT
In previous blogs I’ve gone on at length about how examination of the very way you think / introspection helps if you’re serious about being a good translator (which is what I do for a living, of course). And why not? Especially when one could, in my opinion, quite easily argue that we’re limited by what we don’t know – and at least as much by what we mistakenly think we do?
The thing is, ignorance and complacency can prove costly, and not just to the culprits. You see, however intelligent you may be in the “in a bubble” sense, it also pays to be properly acquainted with the world around you if you are serious about convincing people that you are a “good” translator. What is the real purpose of an education, anyway? Now, lots of people speak multiple languages these days, including the multitudes who speak more than me. Good for them, but if we all spoke the same language, that would never have been a possibility. Then again, it is said that “He who knows no foreign language, knows nothing of his own”. For a key part of optimal translation work is reaching out.
I imagine that a lot of people who claim to be fond of foreign languages simply because they like the idea of being able to talk in a different language – as I once was, come to think of it – would be amused by literal translations (the more nonsensical the better, in my case) like what follows here:
French: “Monsieur, vous êtes droit, et si les français pensent que nous allons donner en ils ont une autre pense venant. Votre sincèrement, …”
English original imagined by me: “Sir, you are right, and if the French think that we are going to give them any they have got another thing coming. Yours sincerely, …”
English: “Misters, I refer myself at your French letters and if you think that the French tongue is less important that the English, your put the finger in the eye up to the elbow! Agree, Misters, the expression of my feelings the most distinguished.”
French original imagined by me: “Messieurs, Je me réfère à vos lettres françaises et si vous pensez que la langue française est moins importante que l’anglaise, allez mettre le doigt en l’œil jusqu'au coude ! Agréez, messieurs, l’expression de mes sentiments les plus distingués.”
…But so what?
You know, throughout history people have risked dying for things, and maybe some have knowingly also risked becoming insane for something while wondering if there are some things that people can only understand while borderline insane or after they have had a touch of insanity. But if you are one of these people, what do you hope achieve by letting your emotions speak for you – even if they are one of the very things that make us human? To be too comfortable doing translation means to run the risk of writing translation text in the new language which is against your better judgement – even if you could “justify” it.
I am indeed a self-employed translator. And that’s all very well. And those who know this may wonder how I stand (or would stand) in the professional translation community (if one actually exists); certainly if they feel for the saying “it’s lonely at the top”. When I took the plunge and actually became a self-employed translator – something I should have done several months before I actually did do it, but that’s another subject – I never really intended to become or end up a part of any such community. But if I did, what of it? What would I be most known for, whatever my reputation? And how likely would it be that the truth of it could end up distorted over time? And would I be typecast in any way over time for my ideas and attitudes?
I’m going to mention that I am the person who invented the terms vorning and COTHED / COTHEA (Confirmation of the Definite / Abstract) when it comes to the field of translation. This is what “vorning” means: when someone advertises a translation project, people respond to it, and the person who advertises it then has those who express an interest in it “do a sample”, or rather, gives all the people who express an interest in doing the project a different part of it so as to trick them into doing the whole thing for free while they may never find out; I call that “vorning”. Meanwhile, I would define COTHED and COTHEA like this: when you write something COTHED, the content of the point in question is already demonstrated and that’s what you point out, while COTHEA is explaining something intangible, like pointing out a concept, with no example given. I think writing COTHEA stuff is harder for people with but simplistic and functional writing skills in any given language. In a job interview, inexperienced people are, in my experience, more confident about proving their COTHED claims than their COTHEA claims. A good example of a COTHEA claim in this regard might be good conversation skills, where they may be a strict requirement but the interviewer is unlikely to be especially sure of what a candidate will do or say to prove them if they really have got them. Basically, it’s anyone’s guess, rather than an underlying readiness to compare whatever’s coming with anything that’s essentially, in some sense, pre-defined or typical. Consider when you’re writing COTHED content in translation work and when what you’re writing is COTHEA content.
I’m not going to go out of my way to focus on the history that led to their invention just for this – sorry if I’ve disappointed anyone – but I swear that I thought of both of these. Was it worth it? I will make this point in support of the idea that it was: aiming to make sense of what you’re reading is not strictly speaking the same as looking for the truth in it. A case in point: in this video labelled “the world’s worst rap video” what’s the guy talking about when he says “don’t try to understand me, girl” (3:03)? By all means try to find some reasoning why in the lyrics (much as I believe that this would be in vain and a waste of time).
So what’s my point? Well, as far as I see it, I believe that an interest in observational and social psychology, as well as cognitive psychology, can play a role in learning how to translate effectively and confidently. I recently saw Inside Out and found it an interesting possible starting point for looking at human psychology and how it inevitably impacts our lives and those of others (at least, we all know how fond children are of Disney films, aren’t we?). I like that film.
Speaking of psychology in translation – for my work as a professional translator this time – when you’re self-employed, especially if you “want more”, there’s a very good chance that you will soon end up afraid to be dismissive of anything, and quite possibly attribute a stigma to dismissive attitudes (the particulars will depend from person to person, of course). And with the long hours I work doing this job, I already feel that I have a love-hate relationship with it. Still, I would say that I am very articulate when I write, and ALWAYS mindful of writing intelligent translations which work while being on my guard against leaving anything to chance which I can’t and don’t expect anyone to point out for me. And this surely shows in the times when I just can’t help writing something in the translation language which, while correct and in perfect grammar and all, I feel in my heart sounds odd to read, and it leaves me afraid that the project manager who gave me the project, during proofreading of it, would suspect that I had had a machine translator do the work for me when this simply wasn’t the case. Here’s a couple of examples from a recent project which I just had to take note of at the time:
German original: “Da vorliegend nicht nur 15% p.a. vereinbart sind als Zinssatz – bereits diese würde daher zu einem auffälligen Missverhältnis führen – sondern zusätzlich 5%, die dazu rechnen sind, in das auffällige Missverhältnis, kann gar nicht strittig sein, dass ein Verstoß gegen § 138 BGB.”
English translation: “Given that, at the moment, the conspicuous disproportion recognizes an agreed interest rate of not only 15% p.a. – for this alone would result in a conspicuous disproportion – but also an additional 5% which must be taken into consideration, it cannot be disputed that a violation against § 138 BGB has taken place”.
German original: “Das sollte ursprünglich auch im Sinne der aeris verhindert warden, da dies die amerikanischen Finanzbehörden auf den Plan rufen kann.”
English translation: “Allegedly, this was, originally, also prevented by aeris, for aeris can involve the American financial authorities in the matter.”
Indeed, if you agree that an interest in psychology can play a role in learning how to translate effectively and confidently, I would say that it’s not wise to focus only on what might be termed responsive psychology. For example, cultural elements are meant to be understood in writing, really; especially if the language of the writing is the language that any given cultural elements were originally expressed in! And the fear of them ending up lost when they are to be expressed in another language might induce xenophobia, or is that just me? But, getting back to the topic at hand, depending on the circumstances I have to deal with in any given translation work, is it really a question of the questions I should be answering, or a question of the questions I should be asking? Anyone can write a sentence and later include an add-on which specifies / reveals more information about a given situation, which may be something as simple as an adjective or an adverb or a whole subordinate clause – but you see, in translation work, some of the most important information that should be recognised lies in these add-on bits (like modal particles in German). And while I believe that text proofreading exercises involves the exercise and development of key skills for improving one’s translation abilities, but that’s far from the sole most “important thing” as far as that is concerned. And I have a habit of proofreading my own work (as opposed to others’ work) anyway, so…
Good translations are efficient as well as correct, right? Given that I’m reluctant to leave clients guessing after I’ve done a translation job for them, maybe that’s where I learned to consider how likely it is that someone wants someone else to understand something without stating it directly; and it probably does overlap with the subconscious to a certain extent (talking of which, Joy and Bing Bong explore the girl’s subconscious in Inside Out, that film I mentioned earlier).
What is the most important thing you would say – not pending any conditions? How about me, you probably wonder. That’s a good question. But things are different when you’re reckoning with the confines and challenges of translation work (especially if it’s professional, most likely). Even so, is it unreasonable to fight for more choice with regard to what you write when you’re doing a translation of something? I do hope not! But, as self-confident as I am about what I do, I’m not interested in regaling other people with what I am able to write in translation “all by myself”… for a key part of optimal translation is reaching out.
14th March 2016
THE THINGS I HAVE IN COMMON WITH JOHN BIRD, PLUS OTHER REASONS WHY I’M SO SELF-ASSURED IN THIS JOB
John Bird is the founder of the Big Issue, the well-known street newspaper which I have repeatedly seen homeless people selling in my local area. I don’t read it myself but I know enough that I am aware that it was founded in 1991, a time when the British economy was doing badly. Indeed, in his book “The 10 Keys To Success”http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Keys-Success-John-Bird... , John says that “it was not a good time to start anything, let alone something charity-based.” And yet it is now published in four continents and has a circulation of more than 100,000, according to Wikipedia. John Bird has definitely been a successful entrepreneur – like me, since I’ve been a self-employed translator for seven years and I too have clients all over the world.
But what really motivated me to write this comment was not so much the existence and legacy of the Big Issue as that of “The 10 Keys To Success”, mentioned above. Apparently, as a child, John was homeless at five and he committed several crimes, having had several prison sentences by the time he was in his late twenties. I’ve made mistakes in my life too, but it never got close to anything that bad. Needless to say, he’s come a long way since those days, and I guess that it was his life that encouraged him to write this motivational book. And I have read that.
One book-selling website says that his style is “inimitable as well as no-nonsense”. What is his book about? Basically, it says that if you want success, you can’t wait for it; you just have to grit your teeth and make it happen. But how he outlines it all, the lessons he teaches in this book… it’s just all completely true. The Evening Standard describes him as “a hero of our time”, and I’m not going to argue with that.
So yes, I agree that his style is inimitable as well as no-nonsense. What would people think my style is like, I wonder? Do you think that, when he decided to get himself out of his rut through his plan to become a printer and, eventually, produce the Big Issue, he ever imagined that it would develop into the success that it is today? I wonder how he would have imagined being ready for something like that? Was he content to “let the chips fall where they may” and respond in kind? Or did he knowingly dare to pursue more than that at some point? Whatever the truth of the matter is, I observe that he was only able to write this book at all because part of all the hard work and determination that the Big Issue required was that he really did do whatever was necessary to come to terms with the truth so that he could put it into his own words – something I do all the time in translation.
Yes, translation is what I do. Even today I go on and on about the intricacies of language as well as work with it. I believe that’s very evident in my past blogs, but I’ve got a couple of new things to say here as well:
I indeed understand that culture determines language. I can still remember how, as a teenager, I gave the word “fatal” an alternative meaning in that if something’s fatal, that means it’s a thousand times better than being cool, and has proven itself capable of changing someone’s life forever in a very big, definitely good way. I am aware that people use the word “epic” in pretty much exactly the same way in Youtube video comments and whatnot, but I invented this new meaning for the word “fatal” long before I first found that out. But, if you’re a woman and “fatal”, I wonder how the French would respond to that, considering what a “femme fatale” is?
When I do translation work, it’s all I can do to understand what might seem all but illogical or irrational to some people when I’m reading the source material. I recently imagined that it’s possible for someone to develop an irrational fear of magicians when they see a magician do illusion tricks which rely on deception of the audience to work (like Darcy Oake – he’s good), and then, on a subconscious level, they decide that such people would probably use such deception skills to take advantage of them and in that way abuse them. What do you think of that?
16th March 2016
WHY I CLAIM TO SPEAK THE LANGUAGE OF ASSURANCE
Foreword: I remember how, in my last big blog, I talked about how I was “self-assured” in my job. But looking back, that’s just not enough…
You know, part of being self-employed is wanting to be taken seriously for what you do (although it depends largely on your aspirations and ambitions, I guess). How? You tell me. I didn’t specifically know what to do or where to explore from the start either. No-one told me, but then I couldn’t have expected it, could I? Of course, I’m hardly reluctant to make it clear why I want to be taken seriously for what I do, or how I can I expect to achieve this – you’ve only got to look at my blog record, which, by the way, now has way more than 130,000 words in it, and that’s not including the short ones that I pay my marketing team to put up. But I put them up for a purpose, and a big part of that is assurance in some way, shape or form… hence the language of assurance.
In a sense, “speaking a language” can and does amount to knowing “tricks of the trade”. And translation work certainly requires being able to “speak the language” well, so to speak. People who are good at what they do will surely delight in their skill at exploiting “tricks of the trade” – some of which could only be appreciated by outsiders if they were sharp, switched-on or cynical enough. Indeed, sometimes the question of the legitimacy of some of them can prove a controversial matter. The so-called gift of the silver tongue is by no means a million miles away from being competent in the so-called language of, say, hope. Or – since I’m feeling really bold right now – seduction. As a professional translator I place a particularly high priority / emphasis on being acquainted with the language of articulate expression, if it ever existed. But of course, in reality, being self-employed, I realise how occupied I am about speaking the language of assurance. I mean, even today, for all my talent and diligence, sometimes people whom I’ve done work for feel the need to get back to me to point out things i.e. things I have written that… bother them. Because it has failed to assure them in some way. And that makes me sad. It is capable of leaving me annoyed and concerned (and, in the worst scenarios, irate), of course, but sad all the same. Even though I’ve argued that translation is both a science and an art, I really don’t see how it’s possible to do anything to just make translation easier – the practice of translation is what it is, and won’t have changed much if at all over thousands of years (although, of course, details of the actual practices used may be shaped by the actual content of the language translated from and the structures and vocabulary of the language translated into) – and I would say that there can’t be many occupations which require a person to “get with communication content” “in the right way” where this should be emphasised as much as it should be to professional translators like myself. This applies to both direct communication and indirect communication, including the realm of how it could end up confusing as if it were tacitly intended as such, such as devices like irony and double entendres, if that makes sense. Maybe the easiest way to define it as is all things that one is / can be mindful of when it comes to language. But the thing is, I do care for assuring those I do work for that they are free / have every right to put their disputes with my work in their own words (as if I needed any more reminding that I should be prepared to “get with communication content” “in the right way” if I should be taken seriously as a professional translator). Speaking as someone who’s self-employed, it’s just basic sincere cooperation. And “high thoughts must have high language” (Aristophanes).
Consider this part of a translator registration form for a translation agency whose name I have concealed [refer to image]. The bit I have circled didn’t seem like a good idea as something to include when you consider what that suggests about them! I mean, don’t we all agree that, however good machine translation tools may get, there’s just no substitute for human translators? Meanwhile, interprelate.com says, “There’s no such thing as foreign”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Basically, I’m confident that what I have written here suggests that I really am as good a professional translator as I claim to be – and I’m going for gold here. All with the help of the language of assurance, of course. Since I went self-employed I have noticed a surge in how willing I am to stand out for certain things about me, but strictly on an in itself basis and not vis-à-vis others. It seems sensible to suggest that you can tell more about yourself than anyone else, but it pays to ask: on what basis can you tell the most about someone else? Myself, I think it’s what they think people are not as smart as they think they are, and people who are smarter than they realise, would agree about them. What do you think?
When I was young, I used to love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the old cartoon series), and on Wikipedia you can get fairly lengthy character descriptions for all the main characters which just make perfect sense – I just never would have put their character descriptions in such terms back then, for the simple reason that I couldn’t. Being able to put it in such terms would have just plain eluded me back then; I didn’t have that kind of kind of vocabulary / command of language back then. But would the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles be the same if not for, say, the “bad boy” demeanour of Raphael or the comic relief provided by Michaelangelo? If I wrote my own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story, would the characters in it necessarily strictly be the same as those in the cartoon series I know, or is it more likely that I would be guilty of hijacking their image rights? I’m guessing that we all have things that we don’t remember as well as we wish we did, but for me the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is very much not such a thing (well, these characters were created by adults, before you start ridiculing me). But, hopefully this can be understood as a parallel of my own actual commitment to proper representation of messages and understanding thereof when I do translation work.
I’ve said it already, but I’ll say it again: I am a translator. And as a translator – an enthusiastic one – I’m basically fond of describing and verbally accounting for things in general without comprehension of it hinging on “knowledge” of what related stuff seems to be (which would effectively negate the language of assurance); and I would say that the language of assurance and my own competence in it is always good for backing claims that I’m very articulate and all that. And who’s going to dispute that a high level of articulateness is essential for being a good translator? And I’m not afraid to state that people proofread my translation work all the time – certainly all or most of the numerous translation agencies I have done work for – and that doesn’t surprise me at all. In fact, good for them, for being responsible. For people who read something they know to be a translation, are always keen to read the language of assurance bits of it (subconsciously). Surely the language of assurance ALWAYS promotes confidence.
While we’re on that subject: time for some work-related anecdotes from my work as a professional translator, which should help to paint a picture of me as a professional translator (just as I have done in previous blog comments):
In one recent French-to-English job I translated “pas de pile ni de batterie” as “no battery of any kind” – I was proud of myself for coming up with that apt solution.
I also translated French “L’utilisation d’une base de données permet à plusieurs utilisateurs de facilement consulter les données simultanément” as “Use of the database allows many users to consult data easily, simultaneously” in English. Is it OK to split infinitives here i.e. would “to easily and simultaneously consult data” have been better?
And is French “Vérifier qu’aucun défaut n’est signalé” really the same as “Check that no fault notification appears” in English?
When I saw “Brandverhalten” in a German technical contract I was translating recently, my first thought was “DON’T translate this literally i.e. ‘fire behaviour’ ”, so I decided on “fire safety conduct”, which is a sound suggestion, right? But then – like, almost straight away afterwards – I imagined a proofreader changing this to “fire procedures”, which struck me as even better, so I went with that instead.
Unusual expressions can still be easily remembered (probably for their apparent sentimental value more than anything else). But the language of assurance is a cut above the language of logic – the latter being language which only does its job in logical terms.
But there are two more things I want to bring up here which suggest concepts that are worth bearing in mind when you do translation. I include them because I think it will ASSURE you of things in general as far as understanding of doing translation, what I do, properly is concerned.
Number one: if I did a translation, how different would it be if I did it again (presumably with some sort of differing result) vs. if somebody else did it?
Number two: have you ever heard people say “it’s obvious” and all you can think is “how?” In Lord of War, the Nicolas Cage film, there’s a bit where Yuri’s dad asks him “Is this how you want to be remembered?” even though we all know, as does he, that he doesn’t know exactly what he’s talking about by the word “this” in that sentence. But he’s suspicious, for the right reasons, when he says to Yuri, “I don’t think you’re going there to sell Pepsi Cola”. But anyone’s who’s watched the film certainly knows why: the reason Yuri’s so rich is that he’s an arms dealer, and how willing is he going to be to be open about something like that!? It’s the same in the Kingsman Secret Service film, where Galahad says to Eggsy that he’s humiliated him by stealing his boss’ car. Of course Galahad had nothing to with it, but it’s a matter of having enough wits about you to remember that it was Galahad who chose Eggsy in the first place.
Basically, the language of assurance has cultural value which shouldn’t be underestimated. In translation, knowing it is, in my opinion, a far greater badge of honour than writing something possibly awkward-sounding however well it reflects the content of the original and “in the right way.” Of course, there’s no language of assurance to be found in, say, the French version of “I should of” (“Je de dû”, which I invented), but I just want to reiterate that people in my position are supposed to be the first to be able to translate things with ALL the relevant and proper points and hints implied.
2nd April 2016
TAKING ON THE SO-CALLED “NON-NORMAL” CHALLENGES OF TRANSLATION
Admittedly, “Taking on the so-called ‘non-normal’ challenges of translation” is a vague-sounding label for a concept, and no less vague-sounding as a title for a professional translation blog, such as this is supposed to be. I thought of defining it as “reckoning with possibilities of reality with no precedent” – in other words, not just “the likes of which you’ve never seen before, but which hardly anyone, if anyone, has ever seen before”. But then, I can believe that most people eventually come to realise – or, indeed, remember – that not all claims about things, and not even all impressions about things (even if they stem wholly from direct memories about them) are rooted in an appreciation of what is real – it’s only a matter of when. If I were wrong about that in the real world, I would be very confident that it would leave me disturbed.
You know, I recently saw the trailer for the new Jason Bourne movie, in which Matt Damon says “I remember everything now”, but then there’s a bit where one female character says to him, “Just because you remember everything doesn’t mean you know everything.” In my book, no wiser words have ever been spoken. Living a lifetime ashamed and afraid of your memories through no fault of your own is a fate I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. And it would appear that the translator who is hungry for more status and power will, inevitably, always be yearning to realise self-validating facts if it helps to produce translation work which is correct and reliable and can be trusted no matter what. These are facts which, ironically, have nothing to do with sensitivities or cultural priorities as such i.e. even though aspects of language (in its standard form) are most often born not of the individual but of the consensus of society. After all, “real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance” (Confucius). If you’re going to get afraid of and / or angry at anything, let it be your ignorance – my own ignorance would certainly only harm my business prospects.
Now, some people can do brilliant and usually instantly appealing things as masterfully and confidently as anyone who was born in the United Kingdom, like me, can speak English (much as I appreciate that we simply won’t speak exactly the same). A gymnast can do backflips, for example – imagine being the first person to accomplish that! A master chef may know gourmet recipes off by heart, and associate a certain kind of personal prestige with it. But it could quite easily also be something categorised as everyday “boring” standard stuff; it could quite easily be something that’s NOT normally only done “for show”, certainly if it’s a habitual thing practiced in one’s everyday life. And yet we never know exactly when or how we will next need to rely on our English language skills (with actual hope and faith) when it’s difficult to believe that anything could work as a substitute for them. Myself, I can undoubtedly speak good French and German as well as English, but even today, for all my prowess and history in it… all my skills in these languages, however fertile it may be as a conversation subject, are just not something I can always take for granted. Indeed, just because I can speak French and German well doesn’t mean I’m going to claim that I know “most” words in these languages. I’m not even going to claim that I know “most” words in my mother tongue, English. It was Derek Walcott, the Caribbean poet, playwright, writer and visual artist, who said “The English language is nobody's special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself.”
Language indeed changes and is seldom uniform for everyone. How nice that I learned of this Thought for the Day article from BBC Radio Fourhttp://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03qpryb
At the end of the day, it’s good to identify things. I do mean real “identifying things” i.e. as / for what they are, and not just what they’re not. It makes you feel smart. Especially when they don’t actually exist yet (in practice). In a way, it doesn’t just help you to learn; it’s a part of growing up. And even though becoming a self-employed translator was the best decision I made in my life – and I subsequently am very much in touch with who I really am and live a relatively satisfying life which reflects it – sometimes it’s still easier for me to talk about who I “should” be rather than who I really am, which, in all candour, really is capable of leaving me unsettled and intimidated.
But about translation, my job and living. When I’m undertaking translation assignments: my work is full of challenges when it comes to producing a proper and working translation from what I’m reading in the original. When I say “challenges”, most of the time they’re things that would definitely be accepted as challenges by people who don’t have the language talent I do even if it’s a “challenge” that I can overcome pretty easily as long as I apply the right kind of thinking – sometimes it’s “typical fare” thinking, sometimes not.
But one may wonder how anyone whose mother tongue is not English would translate something like barely comprehensible chav-speak, like this:
“oi init bruvv, got my 4 by 4 ravers and bass line skankers init sket. we goin to blow this place out wicked blud. ahhh mate thats well dog has it bluddd oi lets sketchit yo ay and hit the legs this is well waffle munter bruv.”
…into their own language while retaining the would-be authenticity of it, or with the application of any linguistic devices that utilise aspects of an idiolect which everyone just knows is not spoken by everyone, but rather people who knowingly classify themselves as separate from the norm of the average person in society at large in some way as a result of what they do or think (whether they admit – or believe – it or not). With non-normal challenges like this in translation work, aren’t you just originally overwhelmed and not knowing what to think other than how confusing it is, only to think: just what in God’s name could be the story behind anything like this?
If we’re going to look at ideas for tackling this sort of thing: starting by trying to categorise anything and quite possibly everything in any commonly known existing way won’t help. Think about it. And while we can all explore our own inner world fully without delay or hindrance at any time, deep down we usually know what to expect; but we don’t usually believe that we could find it easy to explain the abnormal properly even if we were everything we wanted to be and probably more. It may frighten us… but in translation, words are words. But however much you may think I think of translation as a game, it’s not all entirely fun and joy, as if I really needed to point that out.
Oh yes, we are inclined to avoid abnormal things which have no place in our mentality or mindset as we know it. (By the way: Google defines “abnormal” as “deviating from what is normal or usual, typically in a way that is undesirable or worrying.”.) And that’s perfectly understandable. After all, it tends to trigger psychological upheaval from the subconscious until we’re simply not the same person. Look at paedophilia. I could not explain why some people are sexually attracted to children, but then again, how could we hope to coax anyone into admitting that they were if they were, for reasons best known to themselves (or maybe they don’t know the reasons, which would only make the matter – and I use this word with great trepidation – engrossing)? I know, I know; it’s abnormal – and evil – behaviour, of course it is. That said, mind, I do agree that sex is sometimes used as an instrument of domination; but it’s not like I am not concerned about what people will think about me if I simply came across as too eager (in a morbid sense) to discuss something so… well, wrong, disturbing and criminal here. But, for the sake of showing that I have a modicum of sensitivity (and responsibility) and don’t want to trivialise anything, I do accept that inappropriate sexual contact with a child is a choice – in all likeliness a choice characterised by some kind of warped enthusiasm for something which has been tacitly (and certainly shamefully) mislabeled as something to be encouraged or rewarded rather than discouraged and denounced – who’s to say whether these reasons lie more with the rapist or with the child (in the paedophile’s mind) in any individual case. One thing that really doesn’t help alleviate the emotional temperature that is, inevitably, universally recognised with the subject, is that today’s teenagers are more sexualised than ever, and I’m sure today’s paedophiles have noted that very well. But, supposing I wasn’t the person I am today, and actually did – surely for reasons which really should be in violation of my better judgement – have such askew inclinations which most people simply couldn’t bring themselves to discuss… I know I WOULD know better than to actually “make a move on”, say, a ten-year-old girl who’s fond of experimenting with make-up (hello, psychiatrists and police. Please, don’t worry. I solemnly swear that I do know better, and like everyone else, there are some lines I will NEVER cross, no matter what.). It’s simply not something that one will openly relish or celebrate under any circumstances; not least because, at some level, she’s actually being encouraged to play the role of a silent victim, do you know what I mean? There wouldn’t be any kind of consent on her part revolving around anything which would be any more likely to reinforce a sense of well-being than to undermine it – I mean, having someone believe that they “should be” something as part of the pursuit of something that is morally wrong is one thing, but having them believe that they “are” something as part of something morally wrong is a lot more detrimental and nauseating, because it’s more insidious i.e. once they start to buy into otherwise unstated lies. And probably end up a pawn which sustains an agenda that is morally wrong, of course. Personally, without anyone getting upset, I think that that’s very likely to induce insanity, certainly among the more naïve. Like I said earlier, living a lifetime ashamed and afraid of your memories through no fault of your own is a fate I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. But, to a paedophile, would that even factor into the equation if they were more concerned with, say, defying the constraints which exist as a result of conscience as they proceeded to rape a child and / or use him or her in a porn film and probably make money off of it on the dark web? And for what!? No-one should be prepared to try something like that for hormonal highs or discovering new sources of ego-driven wry pleasure, do you know what I mean? Anyway, just as paedophiles try to work with things which have purely imagined characteristics and merits in the pursuit of sub-human pleasure, when I’m translating, I do have my limits which I can be reluctant to acknowledge, let alone discuss, when it comes to dealing with text in the original with elements that are non-existent or just rooted in something that is, for lack of a better word, improper – maybe they are there entirely because of my own imagination – and usually simply aren’t “meant to” “be there” either.
Now, as someone who translates for a living, I regard myself as someone expected to defy the limits of reason related to words used in verbal communication (who else would? Or could?). I don’t like the idea of being stuck in any kind of habit where pretty much everything I say about something is things that it’s too easy for me to say – even if it’s true – after a while it starts to sound less authentic (not to mention the fact that doing it too much would suggest something negative – if, most likely, indefinite – about me). And my job is essentially one of writing texts which I know people will rely on wholly – texts for their benefit and not mine. In one recent German-to-English translation project I nearly translated “Geschäftszahl” as “business number”, which is hardly a stupid idea (depending on the context of course), but at the end of the day I went with “reference number.” Now “reference number” isn’t really jargon but I did get to thinking that this was worth treating as a case of (successful) use of correct terminology rather than just a matter of preferred / standardised choice because one person said so.
But I have become especially averse to / on my guard against misinterpretations and false ideas in communication in general. Just because there’s such a thing as “waking up” doesn’t mean that there’s such a thing as “waking down”. But I want to impart an actual example from my own life. There have been times when I have accepted a translation project with what I at the time called an “irrevocable” deadline, meaning that the deadline could not be extended under any circumstances – this was pointed out to me at the start, before I accepted the project. But suppose I mentioned to someone that a deadline for a given translation project was “irrevocable” and, not knowing what “irrevocable” meant, they asked me what I meant and I explained to them that it meant that the deadline could not be extended; would they end up thinking that the word “irrevocable” quite simply has the definition: “something that cannot be extended”? Because that is not a completely accurate definition of the word.
To admit that “you’re done” with something can be interpreted as an open admission that you have fully given up trying to come to terms with it, and in the worst case scenario would start to develop early feelings of personal helplessness, and quite possibly impatience / annoyance with those who insisted that you do so anyway (although whether or not you would rather dismiss it from your life entirely is another subject). Such is the importance of an open mind, if I’m not mistaken.
How used are you to handling moments of madness? Someone should ask Katie Melua that – she has a song called “A Moment Of Madness”, doesn’t she? Anyway, at the very least, like most people, I aim to continue to act normal (or should that be “normally”?) on principle, for the greater good – I certainly wouldn’t want to know that it’s not the damning truth that I mostly try to achieve this “somehow”. But who’s going to argue that sustaining patterns of normal reasoning was and always will be a part of managing this successfully (and not just when in professional translation work)?
YO! I’M A GANGSTA RAPPER FROM THE SHAOLIN TEMPLE! SUP, HOMIE? CHECK DIS, YO! DRAGON FIST! YAH! YAH! HIIYAAAHHHH! FO’ SHEEZY! AND PEEP DIS, CUZ I CAN DO A KICKFLIP ON A SK8BOARD STR8 IN2 A SMITH GRIND WHILE PLAYING A GUITAR, YO! CUE ELECTRIC GUITAR RIFFS. No, not really, of course I’m not, and of course I can’t. Whoever heard of a gangsta rapper at the Shaolin temple, practicing kung fu moves in an incense-scented room, anyway? Or a Shaolin monk ballin’ it on da streetz rappin’ like a badass mofo as he skins up a bifta? Or a gangsta rapper or a Shaolin monk doing a 900 on a skateboard in a halfpipe like Tony Hawk etc. etc. (ROFLMAO) No, enough with this nonsense; I’m George Trail, and I’m a very ambitious professional translator. And I claim to be as sane as anyone I’ve ever known. Having said that, as a “good man”, I’m a man of virtue and faith, with keener good intentions. And as such a person, I may be the first to realise that an insane thought about something is pretty much inevitably – in practical terms at least – accepted as better than no thought about it at all (even if it isn’t), even and perhaps especially if you can put it into terms of your own (I think of the lyrics “Got to think about something to keep from going mad” from the No Doubt song In My Head). And I know I have to keep putting things into terms of my own (both literally and figuratively) when I deal with problems in translation however bizarre they may seem – what follows is a few more work-related anecdotes (see earlier comments) which, I hope, will exemplify this:
French to English
French original: “Je trouvais que ce mode de financement collait avec l’image de l’entreprise”
English translation: “I found that this method of financing went well with the image of the business”.
I chose “business” rather than “company” at the end. Well, it was Skinoo, the company that makes that product for breast-feeding mothers.
French to English
French original: “Ci dessous, vous trouverez ce que Christophe a à dire sur son histoire”
English translation: “Below you will find what Christophe has to say about his story”
I went with “story” at the end, even though I had thought of saying (implying) “the history of the establishment of his company” (and not his history in a more general, vague sense)
French to English
French original: “Je ne me souviens pas nécessairement de grosses erreurs lors de ma campagne”
English translation: “I don’t strictly recall any substantial mistakes made during my campaign”
I went with “recall” rather than “remember”, which was my first inclination.
And that’s what I do. While I don’t see myself as any kind of amazing hardcore guitar-playing skateboard-riding kung fu rapper any time soon (wouldn’t that be great? But never mind LOL), I continue to wonder; I continue to act; I carry on…
30th April 2016
CAN (DO) EFFORTS TO DEFY THE BOUNDARIES OF (STANDARD) COMMON SENSE IN TERMS OF BEING IN TOUCH WITH UNDERSTANDING AND REALITY (WHETHER ACTUALLY, OR IN THEORY / SUPPOSEDLY) GUARANTEE TO MAKE ONE A BETTER TRANSLATOR (IF IT’S DONE RIGHT, OF COURSE)?
“Words only connect where our wavelengths fully match.” (Max Frisch)
I was encouraged to write this comment as I was writing and editing the words of my last comment. Now, just because I’ve been a professional translator for like 7 1/2 years now, and, quite frankly, simply regard myself as “better” at translating than more than 9 out of 10 people in this world, doesn’t mean I never marvel at the translation solutions provided by others. And this would include people who don’t have translation experience on par with mine, just for future reference. Let’s not forget that Einstein said that it is imagination that is the source of real genius. I suggest considering that, sometimes, the product of imagination is better than the real thing – well, I once read that knowledge can be a dangerous thing in the hands of the ignorant.
As I write this, I continue to like the idea of achieving the status of best translator in the world as much as ever. But I can’t be the only one who’s ever thought that translation competence and potential is limited not just by lack of understanding of words and language as applied but by ignorance in a more general sense – ignorance of content and ignorance of existing situations, circumstances and consensuses in a larger forum; a forum bigger than the individual. Have you heard of the expression “edge of reality”? It’s the name of Darcy Oake’s tour in which he seems to take the art of illusion to the limit, and it’s a very good, fitting name if you ask me. And he is very good at what he does. But studying the art of translation and acquiring (and maintaining) proficiency in it, and doing it at the highest standard, asks one to actually journey to the edge of reality – and non-reality – if you ask me. I cannot overstate how liberating it is to transcend understanding and reality of the de facto kind – but then, there’s adept enforcement of pure and absolute understanding (based on acquaintance with otherwise always undefined reality) with manifestation of the application of one’s own common sense. This is what separates a great translator from a good translator. After all, reality, understanding and common sense begin and end in the mind… even if it’s not that strong.
I think that the best way that I can illustrate this is as follows: it is a sensible suggestion that, when people translate, they don’t always care to depict in their own minds (consciously) any sort of visual representation of what is essentially implied by the words that are to be translated and / or any sort of visual representation of what is essentially implied by the words in the translation version that they are writing, as if to show that they live in hope of finding something in it to confirm that they are right i.e. it’s something to confirm that their translation is an accurate one. But you hardly need a degree in foreign languages or translation to translate simple content, examples of this being what you can expect to read in children’s story books or in tourist information leaflets. This is an example of a piece of simple writing with very straightforward content, specifically with nothing potentially misleading or clever literary devices in it or anything like that:
“The baths have been modified on several occasions, including the 12th century when John of Tours built a curative bath over the King's Spring reservoir and the 16th century when the city corporation built a new bath (Queen's Bath) to the south of the Spring.” (taken from the Wikipedia article on the Roman Baths in Bath, Somerset, England; first sentence in the second paragraph under “Museum” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Baths_(Bath) )
Now it’s easy enough for anyone to take that sentence and switch nouns around (and yes, I know this is going to sound peculiar and nonsensical, but bear with me):
“The Kings have been modified on several baths, including the 12th bath when John of Tours built a curative corporation over the Reservoir’s occasion spring and the 16th spring when the city bath built a new century (bath’s century) to the south of the Queen.”
Or you can do it with verbs:
“The baths have been built on several occasions, building the 12th century when John of Tours modified a curative bath over the King's Spring reservoir and the 16th century when the city corporation included a new bath (Queen's Bath) to the south of the Spring.”
Daft and nonsensical it may be, but any French person who speaks good English, and any English person who speaks good French, should be confident about being able to translate these altered sentences into French “correctly” if only by the logic of the rules of the language of French (as an example).
And that’s why I am willing to address the question of whether defying existing boundaries of common sense – defying the supposed constraints that it imposes (which may or may not be imaginary) – helps one to be a better translator, for the sake of all humanity, assuming I know what I’m talking about. We all know that there is no confidence in translation without confidence in… just some notion that makes sense, always backed up by logic. Now, there is a well-known existing bad English translation of a mailshot originally written in Spanish, one very long sentence (not that it can really be called that) which reads like this:
“Half statement of press publishes and distributes free sectors publications of the most representative Spanish industry in order to collaborating exporter of the products and manufactured of happiness in the expansion companies, for the one which we have considered you could be of their interest know to the the detail the reference of the fabric industrial Spaniard, of the that they are facilitated the reasons social, complete adresses and description of the productive activity for medium from journalistic reports.”
What IS this actually supposed to mean? I will see if I can gain some insight as I apply the following translation experiment. Now, I don’t speak Spanish, so I couldn’t even begin to arrive at conclusions about what the text in the original Spanish version was or might have been, prior to writing a proper translation of it. What makes things even more awkward is that this English version is not even grammatical. So I decided to put this English text into a machine translator, to translate it into French, wondering if I could write a convincing English translation of that which would be enough to demystify the content of this English text. It would have been a different story if I had access to the original Spanish version; I would have used that instead. And the only reason I’m using a machine translator here is that this English text is not grammatical; maybe what it “translates” it as (well or badly) will give me some ideas. Anyway, here is the automated French translation of this bad English text:
“Demi déclaration de la presse publie et distribue des secteurs libres publications de l'industrie espagnole la plus représentative afin de collaborer exportateur des produits et fabriqués de bonheur dans les entreprises d'expansion, pour celui que nous avons considéré que vous pourriez être de leur intérêt connaître la la détail la référence de l'Espagnol de tissus industriels, de l'qu'ils sont facilitées les raisons, les adresses et la description de l'activité productive pour les moyennes des rapports journalistiques complets sociaux.”
What I’m going to do now is translate into English this French version word by word, NOT using a machine translator (as in the faux English-to-French translation of “I want to leave school”: “Je veux à sortir école”, which any French person will tell you is not proper French, and does not make sense, even if all the individual words are).
“Half declaration of the press publishes and distributes sectors free publications of the industry Spanish the most representative in order to collaborate exporter of the products and manufactured of happiness in the companies of expansion, for that which we have considered that you could be of their interest know the the detail the reference of the Spanish of tissues industrial, of the that they are facilitated the reasons, the addresses and the description of the activity productive for the averages of the reports journalistic complete social.”
To start off, let’s tidy this up a bit, so that it’s a bit easier to follow even if we might not really expect the final product to reflect the intended message (I thought it best to replace a few expressions – I am aware that “tissu”, for example, can mean “tissue” or it can mean “fabric” or “material”, and “material” is quite far from “tissue” as a general concept):
“50% of the declarations of the press publish and distribute free sector publications of the most greatly represented Spanish industry areas in order to promote collaboration of exporters of happiness-causing products and goods in the expansion companies, regarding the one which we have considered that you could be of their interest pending knowledge of the details of the reference of the fabric industry Spaniard, whereas they are facilitated for company-related reasons, along with complete addresses and descriptions of productive activity for media (i.e. taken from journalistic reports).”
Or maybe the “medium” is supposed to signify like “on average” / “typically” and has nothing to do with media simply because it’s next to “journalistic reports”? It was a taxing task at points, as you have probably guessed, and sometimes I felt like I had to, in theory at least, do what I could to “get in touch with” and invoke a sense and cleverness that someone other than me would have had in a case like this even if it felt like it would go against / impede my own – “miraculously”, of course, like through prayer – in order to write a comprehensible version of this piece of utter gobbledygook as a demonstration of how good I am at translation. Of course it’s nonsense, but clever nonsense exists. Look at some of the things that Michel Lauzière has done (e.g. that horn suit, and when he plays music by going past loads of glass bottles in succession which are filled with varying levels of liquid while wearing roller skates with little firm cords sticking out the side of them). Then you get stuff like backmasking on Youtube, brought to us by everyday people who otherwise would not be known by many people throughout the world, which brings a lot of amusement time and time again. And it’s true in translation, as well; for example: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I invented “Je de dû” as the French translation – or rather, equivalent – of “I should of”, while “neppas” is the French version of “innit” in English. Now let’s try a better translation (which, to a certain extent, is but a rewriting where this approach was deemed more convenient) of this; one which is actually supposed to be authoritative in some way:
“Half of what is said in the press includes the publication and distribution of free sector publications of the greatest-represented Spanish industry domains, which seeks to promote and enhance collaboration of exporters of pleasing products and manufactured goods in expanding companies; if you will bear in mind the one which we have considered could have an interest in you subject to knowledge of details of reference information of Spaniard fabrics / material industry figures, in light of the fact that they have facilitated company aims; not to forget complete addresses and descriptions of production activity for the media (taken from journalistic reports).”
Ideally this would be a successful case of being “found in translation”, if that makes sense.
Now, I think it would be premature of me to label myself as anything like a Master of Understanding or a Master of Reality at this point. But recognised standardised methodical and logical approaches can only be so helpful when you’re doing translation work. But I’m sure that the better I become at not always taking exclusively the words in front of me as my starting point, the more likely I am to get there. At this stage, I at least know that there are very evident reasons to back up my claim that I am articulate enough to be a translator worth the name – and this does include awareness of things like non sequiturs, metaphors and allegories.
When did YOU, in your efforts to master something, last find yourself saying “I have no idea what I’m talking about here… yet”?
1st May 2016
TAKING THE RISK OUT OF TRANSLATION
As a professional translator who wants to go far in the industry, I cannot over-emphasise how much I care about taking the risk out of translation wherever possible.
I admit it: I don’t always know exactly what to do (at the start, anyway) to find the best way to write a good translation of any given sentence. Still, I do know that the need for independent thought never dies – but then I have the good sense to realise that it never really does; not just in translation, but in anything. (And isn’t it usually relished anyway?) Even so, in my work, there are occasions where I am just forced to take risks, whether I like it or not – in the worst case scenarios, the best I can do is highlight what I’ve written in a comment which states “please verify” i.e. please verify this attempted appropriation compared to the corresponding place in the original. And if I do make a bad decision and actually write something that deserves to be defined as stupid… well, I don’t think I have the option of not accepting responsibility for it. It’s always a good sign if you can identify independently the very reason why you made a bad choice in anything, whether you deserve to be berated for it in some way or not. In the case of translation, this most likely means being in touch with the very way you think, and your mindset and attitudes in and to things in general, on a whole new level. (You know, there is a song called “Over-conscious” – the first time I learned of it, it was on the Alex Parks CD called “Introduction”.) That said, it’s not always easy to shun the tendencies of your mind – certainly if you are a proud and confident person for the right reasons. Whether or not you consciously think as much doesn’t really change anything. But I stopped having imaginary friends when I realised that they agree with everything I say (LOL).
Now, everyone knows that translation is not just about replacing words with words – indeed, a translation of a message is by no means likely to be proper or “real” if it’s not put into the right context through careful choice of words. It was Arle Richard Lommel who said, “Machine translation will displace only those humans who translate like machines.” However good machine translation tools get, I agree with him!
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that it’s unwise to look at the subject of translation – and translation-related judgement, for that matter – always in a “typical” way. I can still remember one translation project I did years ago where what I translated was a letter from French to English, which ended “Agréez l’expression de mes sentiments les plus distingués”. Now, “Agree the expression of my feelings the most distinguished” would definitely have been too literal a translation, and there’s no way I wrote that. But, if we’re talking about viewing translation in a strictly “typical” way, we might write a revision of that as something like “Agree the most distinguished expression of my feelings”, but that doesn’t really work either. In “typical” attempts to write revisions of it which are progressively less literal-sounding and awkward, we may say e.g. “Acknowledge the most distinguished expression of my feelings”, followed by “Please acknowledge the most sincere expression of my feelings” etc. etc. …all while overlooking the fact that letters written in English do not usually end anything like this, but rather something like “Yours sincerely” or “Yours faithfully” on its own in a new paragraph, just before the signature of the sender.
I once saw this advert of two simultaneous messages discouraging the use of a mobile phone while driving (this is now illegal in Britain). Basically, it was one line of the first message written in red, then one line of the second message written in blue, then another line of the first message written in red, then another line of the second message written in blue, and so on. You can only read one thing at once, right? I agree – just because the messages were written in different colours didn’t make things any easier. But translation can be like trying to read two things at once. You just want to be sure that what you’re writing is as correct as you’ve been led to believe by… well, something. Something in your mind. Or, consider jokes which are supposed to originally plant one idea in your head to “mislead” you, before you’re then left to realise that it’s something else that’s being talked about, at the end. It’s a common format in the jokes you hear in “Scenes We’d Like To See” in Mock The Week, for example.
Now, as a professional translator, I’m as concerned with the truth in my work as any judge presiding over a legal case (both establishing it and sustaining it through carefully considered actions). At the end of the day, you just have to know how to show the truth in a reliable and credible way, unfalteringly.
When we agree that something has “gone to someone’s head”, as the saying goes, we usually immediately start to prepare for a rough ride in connection with it and might be afraid as we consider the possible results of the situation. If we see someone behaving erratically, and agree that they have “lost it”, it usually triggers feelings of discomfort and alarm. Just for a moment, bear with me as I state a couple of lines of rather erratic nonsense:
“I’ve shown a considerably greater interest in Madonna these days ever since I learned that she was allergic to peanuts, because for years I thought that the printing press was invented by the Indians, not the Chinese.”
Now, of course that’s nonsense by anyone’s standards, but there’s no reason to label it as something which is capable of causing a disturbance. There’s nothing in it capable of misleading or obfuscating any kind of truth. And I’m sure I wouldn’t have to worry about being hunted down for saying it if I didn’t live in a free country.
But that doesn’t mean that there’s never any reason to care about something which clearly isn’t true (or even existent at all) even if it initially seems to violate the ways of sense. (I’m sure psychiatrists will understand and agree.) In this animated song video we see a man who clearly has a problem with donkeys which is just, well, demented; although I guess that no-one should take it seriously really, on the basis of the argument that it’s nothing but a piece of comical nonsense. Still, thank God it’s just all made up. But I personally do wonder what he would think if he saw a donkey, say, killing someone with malice aforethought. Would he really feel confirmation / validation at what he (supposedly) thought, or would it more likely be terrorised surprise? And just how would he feel about himself? Anyway, the thing is, I do my best to consider that someone I do a translation for may not be quite right in the head in their assessment of it – no offence. All I’m saying is that judgement and forethought are everything in a lot of jobs, and translation is certainly one of them. I suppose it could be said that they are “anything” in translation. Being “clever” is just the tip of the iceberg, but then I would say that because professional translators will always be the first to be recruited to translate difficult material and I’m a professional translator. Apparitions born of one’s own mind (and indisputably nothing else; and whether they are surreal or actually somewhat realistic) simply must never be allowed to have a greater presence than appreciation (or simply consideration) of what is actually there, and what the truth actually is.
But you see, nothing – NOTHING – can pass as a substitute for one’s own mind when it comes to translation work. And if you think that everything I’ve been saying here sounds a bit absurd in its own right (certainly the donkey video bit), then maybe – just maybe – the shocking truth is that taking a risk of becoming a bit insane can actually be an essential prelude to learning, or learning how to realise, something of fundamental importance; however long it may take you to put it into your own words – this coming from someone who makes a living putting things into his own words while fully expecting it to be judged by others, and in a way which does not necessarily make sense in real terms. And if it does make sense, it’s a question of how (and when) I will actually understand the reasoning behind it. Maybe I would indeed be kidding myself if I ever suggested that I would always know what to do if listening – proper listening – weren’t enough when it came to writing a translation of something guaranteed to be passable. Whether or not I could actually acquire an ability to find out what in any given scenario, I can at least see that the status of my way of thinking is in no “official” way any “higher” than that of anyone else.
I just think it’s good that I continue to be successful in my job, and that I’m hardly ever starved of translation assignments, which are, of course, my lifeblood. Ultimately, it would seem like me taking the risk out of translation is a case of knowing what to do when confronted with a need to challenge my very mind…
Let the adventure begin / continue!
19th May 2016
I now include the link to my new site here: www.georgetrailtranslator.co.uk
21st May 2016
The video linked to at the end of this comment seems to be an indication of how the masses - not just small groups / demographics of people - like foreign languages to a certain extent and making use of them if they can, even if it tends to be just for one-off pleasure purposes. But it's best to hire a fully-fledged professional translator if you want a translation of material that is more formal and challenging in nature than this...
23rd May 2016
A QUICK RAMBLE ON A POINT ON LANGUAGE FOR THE SAKE OF SELF-PROMOTION
The well-known mistake of writing “your” when it should be “you’re” is exemplified in this video.
Although, I have also seen “you’re” when it should be “your”, “interestingly” enough. I’m a professional linguist and I just thought that I’d post my take on the whole thing.
Now, to his credit, the person who made this video makes a clear (proper) case as to why it’s “you’re” and not “your”. By that I mean I think anyone would agree that it sounds like it actually has a decent level of credibility and authority to it. True, what he says is correct; but it is tempting to say that he doesn’t need to say or do anything to back it up. I fully disagree with that, and insist that he does it well, hence the aforementioned decent level of credibility and authority attached to his very true point that “you’re gay” is correct and “your gay” isn’t. What I mean to say is that he doesn’t just enter into anything like a load of subjective rambling in which he leans on his own life incidents and recalled opinions or whatever from his own life which even he may not recall all that easily, in an attempt to bolster what he thinks he wants to say. In other words, wholly personal paraphernalia which he clings to for reasons which are not constructive (at best) and which others usually couldn’t hope to identify without him explaining it to them however intelligent they were (and even then there’s a fair chance of them ending up bewildered), even if they were qualified psychologists or psychiatrists or whatever. There are no unhelpful claims of would-be insightful reasoning with the statement of anything which can’t be understood by others as readily examinable or verifiable in some way. For example, yes, he makes the point that “gay” is indeed an adjective (at least in this case), and no-one can dispute that. Look it up if you don’t believe me, or if you don’t know what I’m talking about. And looking up a word in a dictionary is of course just the same for me as it is for you or anyone else, although everyone knows that – you could say it’s too easy to say.
As far as I’m concerned, though, it’s also too easy simply to say that “ ‘Your gay’ is wrong” at all, as true as it is. But on some level, it also seems too easy for me to point out that “Your” is a possessive pronoun when it’s one of the most commonly used words in English. To me it’s too easy to say that “You’re” is the abbreviation of “You are”, especially when you’re expected to choose which it is between “You’re” and “Your”. When I was studying this video for the purpose of writing this comment: there’s no sense to be gleaned from when the “hater” guy says “My gay! My gay! My gay!” and seems to cheer it; I don’t know why that bit was included – but it’s too easy for me to say that. I just believe that to point out that the “’re” bit in “you’re” stands for “are” is enough reason – self-explanatory reason – to show why it’s “you’re” that’s correct. The guy does actually say “I AM gay; you ARE gay” in his pointing out why it’s “you’re gay” that’s correct, as well as the sign bit; but the fact that “’re” is specifically supposed to be short for “are”, as conjugated from the verb “to be”, and nothing else is in my eyes a point that counts as a nec plus ultra point here. Think of it as me making that point constituting self-explanatory reasoning in connection with this matter on a level that I am happy with; a point constituting self-explanatory reasoning which definitely invalidates the need for further discussion.
That said, I challenge anyone to make a valid point about the content of this video which I don’t already know / haven’t already figured out and which it is not too easy to say when you think about it. Still, if I ever became a perfect linguist or translator, how would I know it? I don’t even believe in God, so it’s not like, under the right circumstances, I could ever expect a supernatural voice in my head to go, “George, you are now a perfect translator! Round of applause for George!” and look forward to my work life being like walk-on-the-beach easy for the rest of my life as a result. Oh well.
26th May 2016
HOW DO I KNOW…
Dealing with the limitations of translation work capability / options is not necessarily easy or straightforward on any given occasion by any means, not least because they tend to be subtle and / or elusive. Lots of people say that translation is not just about replacing words with words, and of course that’s very true. Would you translate the ungrammatical English sentence “I wood of bin there” into French as “Je bois de poubelle là”? If not that, then what? Whatever the case, such people, when they talk about this, mostly allude to writing as an art and aspects of the same which simply have to be recognised in some way when it comes to linguistic aspects which may apply in one language but not another, and – and I appreciate that this sounds vague – are “just different”. Less commonly, it may be supposed to be a reference to cultural and societal factors that a writer intends to reflect. Knowledge of translation as an art and not just as a plain practice, helps one to understand certain things independently, or maybe predict them… but one’s own knowledge that they take for granted can only assist them so much, isn’t that right? It’s enough to compel most of us to crave for a mind so open that it’s distracting, if that makes sense.
But at the end of the day, writing – communicating – is expression in itself – mind you, I can understand people thinking that things like the notes I made in the writing of this comment, do not count. And people don’t like forfeiting the right to speak, certainly if the subject is of importance to them. And, sure as death and taxes, this would include the right to speak what is probably a load of nonsense if there’s a possibility that it could – just maybe – be a prelude to realising what one actually is talking about at a later stage. You see, when you look at the subject of “interpretations” of things like religious texts, along with arguing whether this thing or that thing was translated “properly” or “badly” (WHATEVER THAT’S SUPPOSED TO MEAN – just thought I’d make it clear that I specifically never wanted to say that indiscreetly), it’s easy to get to thinking that translators have a far greater responsibility in that the very solidarity of society, at least in part, hinges on them doing translation work which is not only “correct” (by whatever justifications which are logical or otherwise provable) but… quite simply reliable and trustworthy. And I don’t think too many people can discuss the meaning of that with any sort of confidence, let alone eloquently and with passion. You really don’t have to be all that willing to engage in intelligent debate to realise something like that; it struck me while I was having a shave.
Hopefully the following example will provide some sort of enlightenment on that score. You can say I’m stating the obvious here, but there’s no hope of one being a translator worth the name if they can’t or won’t show ongoing linguistic inventiveness that is both clear and reliable, or else… something will just not function or develop as desired; and the consequences of that can be so bothersome or, depending on the circumstances, worrying. And I’m very well educated so believe me, I know what I’m talking about. Anyway, here’s the example: anyone who’s ever felt patronised before they had a word for it, will surely be soothed a bit once they learn of the verb “to patronise”. What I mean: the fact of knowing this word should help them to feel a bit less angry whenever they do get patronised, as they are, now, then able to discuss the details of their grievance more confidently, even if it’s only to themselves, in their head (after all, isn’t that what independent judgement is all about?). Whatever the case, we now realise how grateful we are for the existence of the verb “to patronise”, aren’t we? Oh, I’m such a witness of my own…
Now, I know that people have deliberately written certain sentences in English which may not look grammatical at all but, when they’re looked at in the right way, you see that they are. Maybe the best known example is “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.” The only definitive way to explain how it works is to explain certain aspects of English grammar – like what a parsed sentence is, in this case – to the listener, who will NOT NECESSARILY HAVE HEARD TERMS LIKE THIS BEFORE. There is actually a Wikipedia page dedicated solely to that sentence (they have pages for everything, don’t they!?). Not that you have to be a professional linguist like me to do this, of course; but at the end of the day, the explanation required will essentially be (end up) the same for anyone who wants to put it forward. Think about it. But, getting back to the topic of me and my translation work – for this is a blog as I wrote as part of my translation career – I don’t solely discuss things like grammar as grammar in plain yet indisputably objective terms for the purpose of making clear what I claim to know about translation. I think this is clear in other blogs I have already written, and I’ll basically be “going beyond” in the rest of this comment as well. Want to read on?
Yes, when it comes to translation work, one may get to thinking how they could be sure of answering certain hypothetical questions which some people, hypothetically, find it only too easy to ask. Questions like, “How do I convey the author’s ‘true’ intent (assuming that I actually do / could ‘get’ it)?” “How do I convey the author’s ‘authenticity’ (assuming that I actually do / could ‘get’ it)?” Or their state of mind? There’s a lot to be said about the state of mind of the character who sings this song (played by a comedian actor): Call him a “hopeless case”, call what he says “weird”, but on some level you feel sorry for him (certainly if his family died), and he must subconsciously want to be indulged and treated with a distinct level of favour which is hardly aggrandising in nature. But I find it only too easy to believe that the reason he… well, pretends to play a trick on us by telling us not to wear mittens with the result that this makes our hands cold, is wanting to compensate for powerlessness and all the fear that goes with it – but that doesn’t mean others should feel concerned about his intentions, right? If we imagine, just for a moment, that this is a real person: he must know that he doesn’t actually victimise anyone with this non-trick (or try to), but, whether you want to hear it or not, he simply wouldn’t be smart or competent enough to victimise anyone, would he? Do you think he would agree? But just how would he expect himself to be remembered, and how would he feel about others being expected to consign his bizarre song to memory (and why not, if it really is “the best Christmas song that ever existed”)? What would be the things most likely to make sense to him on that score? Now, the lyrics may be easy to translate into another language when you think about it, but you just know that I’m just not talking about the linguistic structure of the song here, don’t you? Myself, I like it when I’m sure that people will remember my samples of translation work for the same reason I will remember them, or when I’m sure that they will be consigned to memory in the same way that I would consign them to memory.
Please don’t presuppose that I am in any way usually bad at overcoming translation barriers and understanding complex issues in individual instances, but maybe it’s just too much for me to believe that I could always make what is hard easy – certainly when it’s so easy to want to disprove the adage “good questions require good answers” in translation – coherence can be anything but straightforward here. It’s not like I’m not used to obeying rules purely for the sake of doing translation work and correctly; rules which, in all candour, may have an importance to someone else that I have underestimated. That said, I continue to do what I can to identify any and all other rules that should be followed… but that doesn’t mean I never wonder when it’s better to break the rules.
It’s one thing to follow rules. Of course, being self-employed, I have certainly felt the need to set my own rules for myself from time to time. And while I’m as interested as improving my status and reputation as the next entrepreneur, there are probably people in this world who will knowingly judge me more readily by the rules I break rather than by the rules I make – whether it’s good, bad or neither. Sound familiar?
It makes me irate when I pay attention and still fail to arrive at the normal expected conclusion, or solution for something, which is (effectively, at least) the only one that is accepted as correct. And that only supports my belief that I’m the person capable of making myself most angry in connection with my job, given my actual situation. Still, I am pleased that I’ve got plenty of work in the pipeline right now, and I remain fairly confident that I am capable of finding at least as much satisfaction in it as in a world of sunshine and rainbows forever.
2nd June 2016
DOING WHAT I CAN TO ENFORCE THE CORRECTNESS OF MY TRANSLATION WORK
As a professional translator, I long ago got used to the expectation of occasionally justifying the correctness of my work to my clients. I want to discuss this here – and I believe that it will require reference to certain things for which a consensus normally cannot really exist no matter how fervent people may be about it.
Now, every so often one comes across a piece of written material which they consciously agree would require no real thought to translate it into another language, and a confident translation at that (depending on who they are and where their interests lie, I suppose). Personally, I think that if we wanted a translation of Tom Green’s Bum Bum Song into another language
(his work, not mine)
…most people would probably write exactly, or damn near almost exactly, the same thing, when you think about it. But the arguments on the “best” solution would always revolve around logic, not around anything more emotionally charged, like the content of conviction or hope or faith. Verily I suggest that so much of that revolves around any and all abstract things / stuff / paraphernalia that you can only arrive at with thinking that is anything but typical. And so, in the matter of translation of this song, there’s little to no fear that you may be required to back up anything with reference to anything that you might end up realising that you don’t remember as well as you wish you did. It may be defined as the realm of argument which depends on conviction for its existence, never mind its credibility.
But, as implied at the beginning, good translations tend to require “real thinking” – define that however you want, if you can. Now, from where I’m standing, it’s probably not worth aiming to define “real thinking” in universal and generic terms (and certainly not casual terms) here, but there’s no better place for me to discuss it than right here. Maybe, just maybe, I will end up looking up a dictionary definition of a word even though I already have a very clear idea of when I’d use it based on my own experiences in life. Like the word “tolerant”, which I found myself Googling recently (6th June 2016). And it can indeed be an annoyance when you look up a (or, according to some people, whom I pity for this reason, “the”) translation of a foreign language word in your mother tongue and the word you get is one you’ve never heard of before, or a word which you actually have heard but have little to no real grasp of its meaning if you’re honest. Then there’s the few occasions when I’ve had mistaken beliefs about the meaning of a word I’ve used in my English translations.
Like “privy”, for example, as in “the features privy to a good solution” (sic). I have mistakenly used “privy” like that before when, according to its Google definition, this word is used properly in the sense of a person “being privy to important information” (i.e. a person who would know such important information) or something like that.
Then there’s that French to English translation project comprised of five files I did in which I saw the word “amélioration” in two separate files in the original. I chose the word “improvement” for one but not for the other in the translation. In one file I translated “Amélioration de la performance opérationnelle” as “Improvement of operational performance” but in another file I translated “Amélioration du chiffre d’affaires” as “Increasing turnover”, for reasons which, I believe, require no clarification, all things considered.
This example is not actually taken from a translation, but I’m going to put it forward anyway. For a long time I thought that defying someone meant setting out to do what it takes to “beat” them after they have imposed something unwelcome on you where it looks like they hold all the cards… and then you’re the one who emerges victorious. But apparently not. Go and Google “defy definition” and the definitions of this word offered are “openly resist or refuse to obey” and “appear to be challenging (someone) to do or prove something.” Things like that.
Some may view the concept of learning a new language as something where you can feel free to succumb to tendencies to be gullible and dismissive of phenomena you would rather reject for reasons best known to yourself (…or maybe not) and it won’t have a negative impact – it may even be conducive in certain circumstances. But, at the end of the day, you simply can’t always hope to translate properly if you’re not awake (in a manner similar to the Buddha sense) and “switched on”. Certainly when research needs to be done, it’s futile to treat it as a “push a button and something will be done to resolve the matter soon enough” solution. I don’t regard translation as a sleepworking job, and never did. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, there really does exist “Things you should never say to a translator” videos on Youtube; watch one and two for yourself and you will see. If you can speak a foreign language, good for you, but if that’s the case then what’s the most challenging material YOU have ever translated (at least, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t most people taught at least one foreign language at school these days?)? In any case, I think we all agree that the lyrics of the Bum Bum Song are very easy to translate, but I think that personal correspondence letters / emails and non-text-heavy menus are examples of texts which are on the same level.
You see, if someone wants a translation of something which is formal and elaborate – in that you can be SURE that it delves into the subject it covers comprehensively without letting any and all subjective views get in the way of things; and not necessarily just from the author’s point of view – by default, their best hope would be to turn to a fully-fledged professional translator, rather than just someone who speaks enough of a given foreign language to “get by” in it and accomplish simplistic tasks in it (without wishing to sound belittling: see how they delight in ordering things in a restaurant or bar abroad in that language. I remember doing that sort of thing when I was very young.). Google defines the word “treatise” as “a written work dealing formally and systematically with a subject.” It’s not necessarily a book that’s supposed to be read from start to finish and that’s the end of the matter; one who writes a treatise may fully expect readers of it to come back to it later for future reference after they’ve read it to their heart’s content the first time round – and why it not, if it pertains to a subject whose details are by no means going to be static / set in stone? Hence my claim that even professional translators would agree that taking on translation of something like a treatise is a bold thing to do, even after one is given all the opportunity they want to put forth all the language / translation qualifications that they have, in all the detail they want (even if the content of it would, in whole or in part, only come to them on the spot i.e. they consciously think that no-one would be particularly likely to guess that the definitions in question had been established beforehand. No PBAs – see my comment dated 14th June 2015).
I think that provides an idea of the true extent of the challenges of my work. In view of how much I care about accuracy, reliability and just plain appropriate register / “feel” in the translation material that I write, I could probably start a social media phenomenon with the simple question “What have you only learned pending a mistake (a mistake which has not necessarily been identified, let alone defined, heretofore)?”
For the time being, I have indeed put forward examples of the challenges I have encountered in my translation work to date – “work-related anecdotes”, as I have referred to them in previous comments. In recognition of how people want to be confident about my translation work and agree that it’s reliable: I want it to be articulate, I want it to be to the point, and… I want it to feel like it was done by a translator worth the name.
So tell me, do you agree that every bit of this looks like the work of a translator worth the name (it’s a French translation of a certain song)?
“Mon cul est sur le rail
Cul est sur le rail
Passe regarde à moi
Mon cul est sur le rail
Mon cul est sur l’homme
Cul est sur l’homme
Il fait beaucoup d’amusement
Quand on se met le cul sur un homme
Mon cul est sur le seuil
Cul est sur le seuil
Ne tombe pas du seuil
Tu pourrais te blesser le cul
Et cela n’est pas très amusant
Si tu tombes et te blesses le cul
J’aime me mettre le cul sur des trucs
Il fait de l’amusement pour tous
Mon cul est sur le fromage
Cul est sur le fromage
Si je suis chanceux
J’attraperai une maladie
Mon cul est sur le suédois, suédois, suédois, suédois
Mon cul est sur le gum
Mon cul est sur le gum
Je peux souffler une bulle
Avec mon cul cul cul
Mon cul est sur le navire
Le navire cuirassé
J'espère qu’ils ne tireront pas le canon en mon cul
Avec un jaillissement de caca partout
Et cela n’est pas très amusant
Quand ils tirent un canon en ton cul
J’aime me mettre le cul sur des trucs
Il fait de l’amusement pour tous
Mon cul est sur le chien
Mon cul est sur le chat
Mon cul est sur le phone
Mon cul est tout seul
Le rail est tout seul
L’homme est tout seul
Le suédois est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
1, 2, 3, 4
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Mon cul est tout seul
Que quelqu’un enlève le caca de mon cul
(Enlève le caca…)
Il faut que le caca soit enlevée du cul
Je dois enlever le caca de mon cul
Je veux entendre le canon
Je veux entendre le canon
Non, non, non, non, pas l’idiot
(Cul est tout, cul est tout…) Je veux entendre le canon, je veux entendre le canon (pas l’idiot)!
And that’s the end of this comment.
11th June 2016
TRANSLATION: THE CONTEXT GAME
Foreword: “context” is a thoroughly abstract concept, I agree. But linguistic context and subject matter context are of equal importance in language matters, whether or not there’s any translation involved. Think about that one.
To the average person capable of doing translation, there are many, many subjects that they may be able to do translation work in only without feeling some sort of cosy / nice / endearing / appealing (“personal”) attachment to them (especially if it’s a subject close to them in their own personal comfort zone), where this means that any sort of liberal approach to getting the job done is instantly dismissed as less than advisable. In practice – to define it properly – it surely requires “thinking outside the box” (comfort zone, indeed), and the need for educated guessing is probably never made completely redundant. It’s for all the times when a “workable” translation just isn’t good enough. Indeed, different viewpoints related to any given “non-simple stuff” (i.e. any broad subject with an emphasised role in society in the real world) are by no means unlikely to play a role in anyone understanding them more deeply. I think of the Will Rogers quote “It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so”. In other words, it’s all about context.
But this blog, for its purpose of promoting me as a professional translator, is supposed to be about languages and translation. And I’ve seen plenty of foreigners speak and / or write English. Now, from my experience, some foreign people seem to get a bit annoyed when you comment on their English out of the blue, even if you’re commending it (as if it’s only too easy a thing to do) – they would rather treat it as an awkward matter (certainly if you can’t resist imitating their accent because you claim that it appeals to you. Chinese accents in particular can sound comical to British ears, if I may say so). But seriously, I do find it pleasing to see a foreigner speak or write English well – they may say a few odd-sounding things which are only semi-correct linguistically but are otherwise entirely understandable, but they usually do manage it well if they do it confidently. But you can’t truly master a language (at fluency level) merely by the kind of obdurately logical thinking that is conducive to understanding things like scientific fields or algorithms. Hence, one should be prepared to play the context game when doing translation work, or even just cementing their understanding of some aspect of a foreign language as correct.
Here’s a linguistic context case study. I was doing a German to English translation project fairly recently in which I saw the word “Abnahme” in the original, whereupon I proceeded to look it up just to be SURE of using the most optimal word in the English translation and not just the first word that came to mind. I was then reminded that it can mean both “acceptance” and “decline”, even though “accept” and “decline” are only too easy to regard (correctly) as antonyms! And that’s not even it. There were more English words in the list of English suggestions that this word can be translated into, including “purchase”, “inspection”, “slackening” and “amputation” (no doubt a kind of “removal”, which was yet another word on the list) – just ask anyone whose mother tongue is German and can also speak good English. You could say that I was playing “the context game” back then.
To me, taking a word out of a context indeed isn’t limited to momentarily isolating it from whatever individual text in which it is found – whether or not such a text should be recognised as categorised in any way, shape or form, and whether or not the purpose behind it all is clear from the start or you fully agree that it would actually take some time to define it properly. If you are serious about good translation, it’s a good idea to ponder the other words in the sentence / entire text in which you saw it, and ask yourself if that sentence / entire text includes any other words whose existence (use) in it can be the only sensible explanation for seeing a given word (hypothetically) “taken out of context” in the text at all. That’s what I think. It’s only one argument to support my case, anyway.
But what is context anyway? I don’t agree that a dictionary definition is enough; I would insist on elaborating on known existing examples for the sake of a solid and confident grasp / understanding. An arena for concepts, specific or vague, definite or abstract, in connection with any given interest or subject? At any rate, in professional translation you may be expected to deal with material with a legal context, or a technical context, or a medical context and so on. By contrast, there is no context worth the name to speak of in, say, an offhand game I once played while I was waiting for my plane to land when I was on holiday once, where I decided to make the longest sentence I could where I could use every letter of the alphabet but no more than once. I remember once asking at university what was the longest word anyone could think of in which you could use every letter of the alphabet but no more than once – someone said “uncopyrightable”, which is even better than “ambidextrously” – and so I decided to take it to the level of whole sentences (with no concern as to whether or not they make sense – it’s like backmasking, and there are definitely videos of that on Youtube). I thought of “Quartz flew by his dog” and “Why do brazen pigs fuck?” (if you will pardon my language there) among other things; but what I’m saying is that there is no truly engaging CONTEXT to speak of in connection with the game because, however much of an interest one may show in it, at the end of the day the only thing that matters is the sole rule of not being allowed to use any letter in the alphabet more than once (and what you can come up with when you play it, of course).
Rather, I’ve been translating for seven and a half years now and I still feel put at ease against what I do and the challenges I have to face in it every time I see a case of a note included alongside what is a translation of something done by someone else – a note which might read something like, “This is a rather literal translation – think of word X in the sense of whatever and word Y in the sense of whatever”, or “This translation may seem a little odd but it’s very likely that, in the original, the speaker wanted to imply sarcasm (or whatever) at point X.” […] I certainly don’t need reminding that languages function differently, or that there are certain words in certain languages for which there simply isn’t a ready equivalent in English, or anything else like that – but, frankly speaking, a lot of people don’t have the insight or inquisitiveness (or the patience) to go into too much depth in such topics. At any rate, being able to swiftly come up with a good, optimally fitting translation of something then forget the matter forever can be but a forlorn hope in my eyes sometimes – or is that too easy for me to say considering how much of my life I have spent translating “non-simple” stuff from French and German into English these days?
I suppose the big question is: what do you do when you’re translating and there’s no context that you can determine (assuming that there is any specific one which can / is just waiting to be determined)? Do you agree that there are times when translating with confidence specifically hinges on you assigning a context to this or that word or phrase? And if you can’t, invent one, so to speak? For I believe that there are occasions when it’s best to make an attempt to assign a self-formulated – and always (indisputably) honest! – context to a translation if it will help it to work as well as it should, or to validate / reinforce its overall quality, if that makes sense. Would you endeavour to play the context game as a first step to trying to make sense of a bad translation?
I’ve never watched The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I know enough that vogon poetry (widely accepted as “the third worst in the universe”, apparently) is associated with it, in particular the following poem:
Oh freddled gruntbuggly,
Thy micturations are to me
As plurdled gabbleblotchits
On a lurgid bee
That mordiously hath blurted out
Its earted jurtles
Into a rancid festering confectious organ squealer.
Now the jurpling slayjid agrocrustules
Are slurping hagrilly up the axlegrurts
And living glupules frart and slipulate
Like jowling meated liverslime.
Groop, I implore thee, my foonting turling dromes,
And hooptiously drangle me
With crinkly bindlewurdles,
Or else I shall rend thee in the gobberwurts with my blurglecruncheon.
See if I don't.
Of course, it leaves us scratching our heads and guessing at every turn. Then again – of course, indeed! – this is just a nonsensical concoction in a piece of fiction, so who’s going to dismiss the idea that such guessing would be in vain and pointless? And why not? What would be the point of trying to get anyone to “take it seriously”? There’s certainly no context to work with if we are seriously considering (supposedly) deciphering it in any way, shape or form. Still, that never stopped the human race from translating The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into foreign languages, this including vogon poetry:
Good for whoever did that – I’m assuming they were Czech. But that said, here I have decided to set myself the goal of delivering a good French translation of the piece of vogon poetry above, knowing that I have no context to work with. I cannot put too many words into any sort of context (verifiable or not) because I don’t know what so many of them mean (but then they are made up and are not supposed to mean anything in the realm of what is real, of course). In any case, bear this claim in mind: no-one will be able to suggest that I have leant entirely on a machine translator! Anyway, here we go:
Oh gruntbuggly freddli
Tes micturations sont pour moi
Comme de gabbleblotchites plurduits
Sur une abeille lurgide
Qui a mordieusement blarassé
Ses jurtes eartées
En un organe-squealer rance, purulent et confectieux.
Et maintenant, les agrocrustules jurplantes et slaijides
Slurpent hagrillement en leur montée des axegrurtes
Et de vivantes glupules frartent et slipulent
Comme de jouillante, viandisée foieboue.
Groop, je vous implore, mes drômes fountinants et turlants,
Et dranglisez-moi huptieusement
Avec de bindewoudes crépus,
Ou sinon je vous fendrai en les gobbre-wouittes avec ma blourguecronction.
Observez si je ne le ferai pas.
I admit that there are many words there which I purely made up (and I will point out here that I don’t need anyone to suggest that I don’t know what they mean because I already know as such; or else I wouldn’t have been able to say that, you know?). But what do people think?
“Context” isn’t really a teachable subject, if you know what I mean. But I don’t really think context is all that hard to imagine in practice. Consider this example: if someone were to make the statement “Even Gandhi probably drew the line somewhere”… well, who’s going to think that that sentence doesn’t make sense rather than accept it, without any questioning or investigation, as a reflection of the point that, even when it’s weighed against the point that “Violence is not the answer”, there are indeed some dire scenarios of marked seriousness beyond parody where violence can be justified, as easy as it is to want to avoid talking about the… context? (Well, seeing as this is supposed to be a translation blog, Gandhi did say that anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.)
But… I talked about “linguistic context” “in language matters” earlier; now I want to talk about “subject matter context” in the same. If you agree that I should be doing more to discuss the context game specifically in connection with multilingual / translation matters I do remember being specifically taught that the German sentences “Sie dürfen nicht rauchen hier” and “Sie müssen nicht rauchen hier” really don’t mean the same thing in that, despite what you can see at surface level, only “Sie dürfen nicht rauchen” is “proper” because that does actually mean “You are not allowed to smoke here.” The second sentence, while grammatical, is odd because the verb “müssen” connotes the idea “You do not have to smoke here (i.e. but feel free to if you want; you’re under no obligation to do so)”, effectively on principle. And “Die Tür wurde geschlossen” and “Die Tür war geschlossen” both mean “The door was closed”, but… you could say it depends. The former is to imply specifically that a person went and closed the door thus leaving it no longer open; the latter is to imply that the door was simply standing there closed (in a state of being closed). Both concepts are quite easy to understand – and in no way peculiar the way “You do not have to smoke here (i.e. but feel free to if you want; you’re under no obligation to do so)” is.
But let’s take an example that’s actually from my own recent translation work. The original was in German language and I saw this in it: “Der Laden ist sehr eng, die Produkte sind schwer durchschaubar und wegen des engen Raumes gibt es nur wenige Produkte im Produktbereich.” I translated it into English as something like, “The store is very narrow, the products are difficult to grasp, and with the narrow space there are only a few products in the product range.” My concern here is on the first five words: I originally was confident that “Der Laden ist sehr eng” should be translated as “The shop is very limited” (i.e. limited product range), before I read the rest of the sentence with the right level of attentiveness and realised that it really should be translated as “The store is very narrow” (its corridors, anyway). You can only imagine how surprised as I was when I discovered that a literal translation was the better option here.
Context issues can also become apparent in the scope of one’s own knowledge of but a single language – is there a difference between “continuously” and “continually”, such as I wondered in a recent project (I was wondering how best to translate German “kontinuierlich”)? It’s just that I got to thinking that maybe – maybe – “continuously” is strictly “supposed” to mean “on and on” while “continually” is strictly “supposed” to mean “something carrying on from what it has been in the past.”
If something has what is agreed as a context, then it is something that one can get engrossed in like it’s an adventure. One may gain opinions as to its content (which are not necessarily wholly based on that content) which may be incorrect but not unintelligent or biased – as if they were destined to gain such opinions. And even incorrect opinions may prove enlightening in the long run. For the time being, I can only agree that the existence of context is indeed likely to be accepted by any individual whether their imagination patterns are more likely to be helpful or more likely to be hindering when they are doing translation.
Is it just me or does the average person but wait to have their average opinion or viewpoint in connection with a context validated by someone or something else somehow / by chance (which is by no means unlikely indefinite)? But for the time being, it’s a realm of conversation which I fully believe can only be discussed with an inner fortitude kind of confidence, and we all know how elusive that can be. And that’s the context game.
7th July 2016
THE PROSPECT OF ME WRITING A TRANSLATION TREATISE AND MY DESIRE FOR MORE POWER IN MY JOB
Well, I recently got back from a holiday in Greece. I spent it on my now-retired parents’ yacht, with my brother (just like Malta, really) – for me personally, putting aside all the indulgent beer drinking and bargain price shopping for things I didn’t need, we visited a couple of sites of interest. But I spent a surprising amount of it trying to find a reasonably cool space in the shade in such persistently and mercilessly hot weather (without being in anyone’s way), merely so I could be sure of being able to check my emails or play on my Gameboy in peace (and we didn’t always have Internet access – we spent nights in multiple locations over the two weeks I was there). But I still went for walks on my own in the local area (enjoying plenty of indulgent beer drinking and bargain price shopping for things I didn’t need along the way) – and yet, embarrassingly enough, I never took the time to learn any Greek beforehand, even if it might be a little broken. True, all the locals spoke good English and there were so many signs in both Greek and English – some of which looked very much like they were created by local authority, and there were some which were only in English – and Corfu definitely gets plenty of tourists from mainland Europe who, it is tacitly assumed, speak English as their first foreign language, but I’m guessing that it is harder for me to justify something like that when I am supposed to be a professional linguist, no less. Indeed, you don’t even necessarily need to go out and find and purchase a language learning package these days – just go to Youtube and learn it watching videos for free. In all candour, there’s probably never been a better time for me to write a new translation blog. So I put in the time and effort, and what you’re reading now is the result.
Over in Greece, my parents could only offer me (i.e. for my holiday) what was there, as they put it, but I couldn’t complain. I guess that in this blog I will be focussing a lot more on me “offering what is ‘NOT’ there” when I do translation work as nothing less than a professional translator; but of course, I guess I’m supposed to be accountable when my work “provides readers with things that are non-existent and which probably ‘shouldn’t’ be there.” But I don’t just translate things that can be simplistically illustrated, like “my car is white” or “I went to a concert yesterday” – I understand that people (in essence, at least) fully expect me to provide properly functioning unbiased verbal accounts of what a situation is or represents (there’s no “should” or “should not”). And I know that everyone does that all the time – I think I have done well to consider that it can sometimes be based only too much on past personal experience or what one “just expects” (probably because it only exists as a result of them being lost in a labyrinth of confusion and delusion which breeded on their personal experiences and nothing but; not that they necessarily have anything wrong to answer for in terms of being selfish or irresponsible or anything like that).
Now, although I’m an atheist, I am tempted to become religious just so I could challenge God to a translation treatise writing contest. Does being “fluent” in a foreign language i.e. having an excellent knowledge of its grammar and a wide vocabulary and whatnot really amount to being “confident” in it? You see, I can still remember being forced to learn, often in vain, how to discuss issues and opinions when studying foreign languages at A-levels and at higher level education. This is merely discussion of what makes a truly proper and reliable translator, and why you should accept that I am one. It’s why I write these blogs, after all. That said, however, I’m not about to write a comprehensive translation treatise here for the world to read for free, thus risking giving only too much succour to my competitors and basically committing professional suicide. But it’s certainly a broad-based subject (how’s this for a double entendre: …God! LOL). Not least because it is as much about knowing what comes to be / has come to be in language application as much as what is (“supposedly”) “supposed” to be in it.
Discussion of the structure / methodology for the writing of a translation treatise is not out of the question in this blog. But where to begin the formulation of something like that? Recently on the radio I heard a report that some people had done research on the best biscuit to dunk in one’s tea. (Why? You tell me. But that’s another subject.) They mentioned various brand names of biscuit (and probably a few different brands of tea, as well – I don’t remember) but I couldn’t help feeling that it would have had more weight (so to speak – what a bad joke) if they specifically mentioned the full list of which criteria of the biscuits they had used from the outset (whether highly scientific criteria which only “true biscuit experts” understand or just simple concepts everyone can familiarise themselves with e.g. what is the thickness or size of the biscuit? What is its sugar content? How easily does the biscuit crumble? What kind of grain is it?) But I don’t buy at all the idea that, in translation work, you could weigh anything and everything in any sample against a certain set of uniformly applicable criteria (however large), and nothing but, and expect complete and perfect results every time. It’s a language thing. Sorry if I’ve caused any frustrations by saying that, but I just think that that is the case.
Hopefully the following four points will provide some clarification of what is meant by this:
Explain why you may read “I should of” when “of” should be “have” (and I know that’s obvious) but you will never read “Of you had a nice day?” or indeed “No, I ofn’t had one” (or “No, I oin’t [i.e. “ain’t” from “have”] had one.” (Much as I know that “I should have” tends to be pronounced similar to “I should of” and ignorant, less-educated people end up writing it as the latter because of this.)
To think that there is an actual expression in the old language of Canaanite / Phoenician (which is the native language of the leader Dido of Carthage in the computer game Civ 5) which translates literally as “It is” where it really means is “agreed” i.e. “I agree / consent to that” (they translated it as “agreed”, anyway).
Maybe “don’t” and “do not” can lead to different results when they are translated into whatever other language by a machine translator. It’s all to do with the presence / non-presence of the word “do” in particular.
We all know what “I’m back” means in English but I foresee the possibility that a machine translator may (not necessarily, but it is only speculation anyway) translate it as “I am back” in whatever foreign language where the word “back” is taken as the noun, i.e. like a person’s back (a person has a backbone) and not as the adjective where back means “returned”. But of course, you don’t say “I am returned” in English (even if that might actually be the exact word-for-word literal translation of “I’m back” in any given other language – at least, it wouldn’t surprise me); it is “I have returned”.
This is the irony of it all: when I was on holiday, I saw some guy wearing a T-shirt which said, “Be a voice, not an echo.” The irony lies in this: I know that I can “be a voice” (certainly if my self-expression in this blog is anything to go by); however, in a way, the opposite applies in translation i.e. I’m supposed to put aside my preconceptions etc. Don’t forget that I invented the term PBA (precedent-based assertion – see blog dated 14th June 2015). After all, it’s somebody else’s stuff, not my own, that I’m supposed to say. You could say that I wonder what my clients take for granted about me when they put their trust in me even though they just won’t take the liberty of elaborating it in their own terms (should they actually even think of that).
So what would a good translation treatise touch on? I personally would pursue a study in which progress depends on acquaintance with (purely reality-based) hypotheticals as much as with flat fact in the domain of language as both a concept and as a basis for whatever other concept. Check this: not all intelligence is the same, if you get my drift (e.g. Google specifically defines “guile” as “sly cunning or intelligence”, while those who are sly are often regarded negatively e.g. if they are deceptive).
Basically, as far as I’m concerned, there is a strong case for arguing that I am one of the great translators / translation writers of my time and that, as such, I should be among the first to write a translation treatise if one should be written at all (even if I am still concerned about negative, non-transient ramifications for me as a result of me personally doing it) – after all, I’ve written 150,000 words of blogs on the whole translation / multi-languages thing, just like what you’re reading now.
When people get in touch with me to talk about translation work I have done for them, I try to be prepared for discussion about it that is not necessarily “really” informed or substantiated by these people (not that I want to mock them for anything, and even though translation is my work, my doing, my lifeblood); so who could blame me for wanting more power – some might say an absurdly high level of power… like that of God? Yes, being self-employed means I can “do whatever I want, whenever I want”, but I have come to believe that you can be given all you’ve ever wanted or envied others for, and more, and still be angry at your circumstances. I actually go into that a bit more in the next paragraph. Then again, if it were possible to do 100% correct translation by magic means then it would surely be only a matter of time before I would no longer have this job. Who knows what I would get up to if I acquired some truly otherworldly magic powers – not a huge amount, just enough to turn a cockroach into a chimpanzee which proceeds to make a bungee cord all by itself and climb up a crane before jumping off the top of it while wearing it – wheeeeeee! – or swing through the streets of London on web like Spiderman – “hey, look, it’s Spiderchimp!” – or drive a bicycle that’s moving downhill handstanding upside down on the handlebars – bell ring, wave hello… actually no, he would then lose his balance and crash… or WOULD HE? It was only after I’d finished writing that bit in the draft of this blog that I remembered the old PG Tips adverts with chimps wearing human clothes that were trained to do all kinds of stuff – maybe that’s actually the very thing that led to me to coming up with those ideas, maybe not. Wouldn’t surprise me. Until then, I can’t do a whole lot more than refer to bilingual dictionaries to show how much I care for my clients (apart from making a point of listening to them, of course).
I believe that people are capable of achieving great things without knowing what they’re doing, but it depends. But reliable translation does demand an admittedly relatively elusive special kind of skill, sustained by a special kind of attention. By all means say I’m splitting hairs in my extensive writings about it, but it’s my job, you know?
If you are still reading, that would indicate that you have faith in continuing to read my writings to learn more about what I’m talking about, at least as much as closing your eyes (presumably going somewhere that is spuriously “special” in the process, whether you like it or not) as you pray to The Almighty One for the same purpose.
I intended to end this blog in spectacular fashion from the start:
Who art in Berkshire,
George be my name,
Thy language barriers be appreciated without ridicule (whether immediately recognisable or subconscious),
Thy desired message be conveyed
In English as it is in French or German.
Give me this day my daily translation assignments (email attachments are generally most convenient, and you can always scan it if it’s not a Word, Excel, PowerPoint or PDF file email@example.com),
And forgive me my verbal imagination limitations,
As I forgive those who can’t wait to give me a load of usually completely abstract and probably overreacting argument carry-on as a result of their own verbal imagination limitations,
And lead me not into literal translation,
But deliver me from complacent reliance on Google Translate,
For mine be professionalism, cleverness and initiative,
Until I retire from this line of work.
28th July 2016