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Does translation make one a language conservative?
Thread poster: KSL Berlin

KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 22:24
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Oct 30, 2008

In my "youth" (before I started a second... or is it a fifth... career as a translator), I gleefully scribbled and typed text for correspondence, personal journals, reports and other purposes, never giving a thought to the "purity" of my language variant. I drew liberally from the OED, using terms that probably hadn't been used since before my great-grandfather's great-grandfather was born, taking what I liked from the British or Australians, mining "experimental" literature, borrowing liberally from the languages I knew and making up my own words whenever it suited me.

All that changed when I became a professional translator. Sometimes I feel a bit like Ebeneezer Scrooge, hunched over his desk and carefully sorting words into the piles of "good US English" and "not fit for commercial use" and berating my office mate (another American) for using such British verb perversions as "must do". I monitor my child's speech carefully, ready to correct any hint of German or British influence in her grammar or choice of words (thank God I bite my tongue and say nothing most of the time). All in all, I seem to have become the sort of language conservative that I used to ridicule. Maybe it's old age. Maybe it's a reaction to living in a country where another language is generally spoken and mine is abused in horrible ways by people who think they know it but often haven't a clue. I really don't know, but it makes me want to take a quiet week and overdose on Dylan Thomas and the like and put some chaos and fun back in my English.

My native tongue has become a "product" to be maintained for its marketing value. What a pain in the a** at times!

Has anyone had similar experiences? How do you cope with this phenomenon?


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:24
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Quite the contrary, I would say Oct 30, 2008

I'm almost a born code-switcher and I love experimental language. I had to be fined in the interests of purism. (10 cents to charity for anyone who can't finish a sentence in the same language he started it in - the nuns made a killing).

I made three attempts to study translation, once in an English- and another in a French-speaking institution, but I finally finished the degree in Spain. There I observed (Spanish is my main source language) that loan words may be circumvented by drawing on the older mechanisms of a language (Latin was a handy resort in the case of Spanish as a receiving [OK, call it "target] language. It's possible we may not feel this as much in English because of other resources). We were advised to look up ancient dictionaries - an approach I also met with in France - in order to understand the older and more specialized meanings of words (dictionaries of authorities were useful).

The "plain speaking" standard does not have to come into conflict with this approach. I believe it becomes even more effective when it stands on all these subliminal underpinnings, meaning every bit of what it says in a watertight way. But I'd also like to hear other opinions.


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 23:24
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
I feel the presence of the linguistic Big Brother Oct 30, 2008

Has anyone had similar experiences? How do you cope with this phenomenon?


I have the linguistic Big Brother behind my back pretty much all the time. He for sure does not like synonyms (at least those that are not in his MultiTerm file) and is ready to hit me over the head with The dictionary of Slovenian language (2,5 kg - http://www.zrc-sazu.si/pravopis) anytime I dare to use a word with a star, asterisk or (gasp) x.


Four words good, two words better ...

Regards

Vito


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:24
Italian to English
+ ...
Certainly has with me Oct 30, 2008

It's had a similar effect on me, Kevin - certain things like split infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions caused me no concern at all before I started translating for a living, whereas now there's always that niggling worry that some over-zealous, semi-educated editor is going to rip them out and bad-mouth my language skills.

As a translator I feel I have a duty to use language in a way that will be considered acceptable by the vast majority of its native speakers. This means my language use is necessarily conservative - to take a specific example, in British English (and for all I know, other forms too) the term "less than" is gradually coming to take the place of "fewer than" for countable items - take the oft-quoted "less than 10 items" at supermarket tills. This has caused a great outpour of wrath and scorn among prescriptivists, who bewail the ignorance of the younger generations and declining standards and so on ad nauseum. Personally, I couldn't care less - "less than 10 items" is perfectly understandable and I see no point in fighting against a mutation which does not detract from the richness of the English language (compare and contrast with refute and deny - but best not to get me started on that!)
However, as a translator I think it is currently unacceptable to go with "less than 10 items". Give it another 10 or 20 years and no one will bat an eyelid, but I don't think my job is to reflect the language in the throes of development, but rather the language in the form accepted by most (of the most conservative) speakers today.

BTW, what on earth is wrong with "must do"?

[Edited at 2008-10-30 11:14]


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Luisa Ramos, CT  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:24
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
Now and always (but worse now) Oct 30, 2008

I have always been very language conscious. Incorrect language has always been one of my favorite pet peeves. I have to admit, however, that the longer I stay in this profession the more aggravated I get whenever I read or hear language abhorrences. Nowadays, I cannot even finish reading one page of my local newspaper (the most important Spanish language paper in the U.S., El Nuevo Herald, counterpart of The Miami Herald) without my blood pressure rocketing. It is the same with TV dubbing, subtitling, and advertisements; and I won't even mention that what I hear around me all the time can really send me straight to the Emergency room. For my sake, I need to take it easy... but I can't!!!!!!!!

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Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:24
French to English
+ ...
Agree Oct 30, 2008

Marie-Hélène Hayles wrote:

It's had a similar effect on me, Kevin - certain things like split infinitives and ending sentences with prepositions caused me no concern at all before I started translating for a living, whereas now there's always that niggling worry that some over-zealous, semi-educated editor is going to rip them out and bad-mouth my language skills.


I feel the same as Marie-Hélène - in fact I think split infinitives have a useful part to play in English, but because a certain section of the population doesn't like them (not necessarily a section I agree with or even like very much...), I try to avoid them.

I feel the same as you, Kevin, in that I feel a need to stick to my language variant (UK English) perhaps a little too slavishly. I probably need a bit more Dylan Thomas in my life, just like you do!

As for seeing incorrect language everywhere, it doesn't bother me as it used to - poor spelling and punctuation are so ubiquitous I have developed a kind of 'switch' which means I can operate in the real world without exploding.


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Kathryn Litherland  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:24
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
depends on context Oct 30, 2008

My experience as an editor more than my experience as a translator has made me more attuned to the really nit-picky side of the rules of proper English. But it's also given me a certain holier-than-thou attitude that allows me to feel comfortable tossing out those rules that aren't really rules in the first place, like that/which, split infinitives, and prepositions as something to end a sentence with.

But I often write (and almost always speak) in more informal contexts, and while I try not to misspell things, I'm much more colloquial and colorful in those contexts. I've no problem telling m kids "don't be leaving your wet towels on the bathroom floor!" In fact, one thing I think I'm pretty good at as a writer is reproducing natural colloquial speech. And I am fascinated by dialects, including newly evolving ones.

People who play grammar or spelling police on Internet forums bug me far more than people who make the grammar or spelling mistakes in the first place.

I think some of this may come from my training in anthropology. In its linguistic branch, there are many, many Englishes, and they all have their own sets of ever-evolving rules--none of which is more right, or better in general--just more suitable in a given context.


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 18:24
English to French
+ ...
Yup Oct 30, 2008

I am actually known for being a linguistic pain in the butt.

When people around me speak and make really obvious mistakes (wrong word usage, wrong pronunciation, unwarranted anglicisms), depending on my relationship with them, I just might point out that they made a mistake and tell them what the correct way of saying the same thing is. I repeat: this is based on my relationship with them. This means I will not correct a cashier that says Q-pon, even though it hurts my ears pretty bad, but I will constantly correct my sister, who is used to it and it makes her laugh more than anything. However, I also correct myself. I do use unwarranted anglicisms, slang, etc., myself, and I find it healthy to do so - to a certain extent. That is also why I don't systematically correct all the mistakes people make, and only concentrate on the worst.

When I do correct mistakes people make when speaking, I try to do it in a respectful manner and privately (I don't want to make them feel bad in front of a crowd). I also emphasize the positive - I focus on the right way of saying things rather than on the mistake. Some people have a great reaction to this, and sometimes they even ask for explanations because after they realize they have been making the same mistake all their lives, they also realize they want to say things the right way and they ensure they understand their mistakes (and the correction) so they don't make them again. Some people laugh at me and reuse the mistake after a while to make fun of my suggesting an alternative - but it's all in good fun, usually. If I am not convinced that I will not hurt a person's feelings or that they will not have adverse reactions, I refrain from mentioning any mistakes, even if I really feel the urge to.

Some people find that I come off as a mean school teacher. However, I find that in these parts, both English and French are spoken rather poorly. In general, in the local society, nobody cares about speaking and writing correctly (there are very blatant mistakes made on TV and in the paper every day as well - when even the media sort of encourage pseudo-language, that's saying a lot). If nobody reminds people to use language correctly, things will just decay even more (I already feel that some people don't understand what I'm saying and I feel pressured into lowering the quality of my speech to merely be understood).

Having said that, I was already more or less like this before I became interested in translation, so maybe it was the other way around for me. Maybe the mediocrity of language usage motivated me to work in this field, and not the other way around. But I have learned a lot since then and I find that being a translator has sharpened my school teacher side. There's no way to tell for sure...

In any case, I sure am a mean reviewer!


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ICL  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 23:24
English to Spanish
+ ...
Multiple language personality and poetry Oct 30, 2008

Hallo Kevin,

Writing as a translator obviously implies some linguistic preferences usually imposed by the paying end-clients, in general of a rather "conservative" nature, so maybe there is no other way around this besides the few obvious "incorrections" you sometimes manage to prove unacceptable to those end-clients.

In my case, like you, having a mixed background of American (meaning, all the "American" continent) and European (meaning Spain) native language, when translating I have often found myself "balancing" words like a juggler, since I always somehow aim at "neutral/international" Spanish, though I normally have to choose between one version or the other, depending on the end-client.

Which means that I have come to the conclusion that being a translator is actually about having a bit of a "multiple language personality" syndrome problem. I have often read that this gets worst (worse?) for full-time working interpreters, who mentally and by means of speech switch in a matter of milliseconds (oh, OK, seconds) from one language to the other on a regular basis.

About Dylan Thomas and poetry, the linguist fairy that all really good translators should keep alive in their hearts only likes poetry, which is obviously the most sublime expression of written (and spoken) language.



Ivette


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 22:24
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Drawing the line Oct 30, 2008

Kathryn Litherland wrote:
... there are many, many Englishes, and they all have their own sets of ever-evolving rules--none of which is more right, or better in general--just more suitable in a given context.


Understanding the context and its implications is the key. Miss that and you end up with idiocy like teaching "ebonics" to certain schoolchildren in the US and sabotage their educational future social mobility.

Marie-Hélène: "must do" simply isn't used by US English speakers the way the Brits do. It's understandable to most I think (unlike a lot of UK English - my parents were often baffled by the local language when they visited Monique and me in England several years ago), but it is a little irritating if said with a Californian accent.

The more I see my language used badly for advertising or even well-intended communication, the more conservative I seem to get in my choice of expression. Part of it too may be nagging fears of the influence of my host country's language. At home we speak a real Babel at times, switching back and forth between languages so much that we often don't know what language the conversation took place in. That's not bad in itself and often rather convenient, but it also opens the door to English with German syntax and other horrors.


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Anne Gillard-Groddeck  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:24
German to English
Dylan bach Oct 31, 2008

Dylan Thomas was not an American. Nor was he a "Brit".

Hwyl fawr

Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard


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Joan Berglund  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:24
Member (2008)
French to English
sometimes Oct 31, 2008

I have my grammar police days, but also my bad grammar days. The only things I really can't stand are asinine corporate neology and non-parallel construction in bulleted lists, i.e.:
- don't X
- Y should really be done.
- to do Z
etc.
I think business schools worldwise actually offer courses in asinine neology coinage and non-parallel construction, since the small amount of corporate materials I get always contain truly annoying examples.


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KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 22:24
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Yes, and that's a big part of what I enjoyed about his work... Oct 31, 2008

Anne Gillard-Groddeck wrote:
Dylan Thomas was not an American. Nor was he a "Brit".


... or that of Joyce and many others. Sometimes it's quite refreshing to read such authors and break out of the horrible monotony of "proper" standard English variants. I'm not sure letting such work influence my translations of business reports and chemical procedures would do much for my reputation, but it would be fun at least

KSL


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JaneTranslates  Identity Verified
Puerto Rico
Local time: 18:24
Member (2005)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Teaching Translation Oct 31, 2008

If you think being a translator makes you a language conservative, try teaching translation.

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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:24
French to English
No choice, sometimes Oct 31, 2008

In terms of grammar, even the invented rules M-H mentioned, I tend to play by the book as much as poss, simply because, as has been said, there are people out there who genuinely believe that English has an infinitive and that it is possible to split one, or that conjunctions are things you shouldn't end clauses with, and it is best to try to keep the customer sweet, within the bounds of reason.

In terms of vocabulary, I was seen to dance a jig around the room when I had just cause to use "discombobulated" recently.
But sadly, I often find that translations into English are not necessarily intended only for native, or even very good, speakers, and that you need to keep it relatively simple. There is also the factor of the non-native client reviewer, who takes a dim view of outlandish vocab choices.
All of which means I sometimes get the impression I only use about 30 different words, and that half of them are the same as the French ones with the accents taken off.
Not true, of course, heaven forfend, but it feels like it some days.


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