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Off topic: Literal translation
Thread poster: Christine Lam

Christine Lam  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:00
Member (2004)
German to English
+ ...
Oct 29, 2005

I recently was a bit in a pickle. I had translated a stack of anonymous company surveys of steelworkers who were obviously very unhappy with their employer / management. The text was handwritten, contained a number of spelling errors - and - swear words. I tried to stick with the basic meaning but avoided to translate the worst, such as the f... word etc. Nevertheless, the company who commissioned the survey came back to me, saying that the contents of my translation were embarrassing. I explained to them that I was obligated to translate the source text and that I already omitted the worst. Have you ever come across a similar situation? Should the customer be forewarned before we start translating such a text? Or should I indeed have changed the contents to make it sound "nicer"?
I'm looking forward to your input.


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xxxPFB  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:00
English to French
+ ...
The truth, or not? Oct 29, 2005

I remember being once in a similar situation, when I had to do liaison interpreting during a telephone conversation.

The Frenchman was so angry that he raised his voice and used words that made the f... word pale in comparison. I had to make an instant decision and decided simply to tell the British party that the Frenchman was very angry, to which the Brit replied: " Yes, I could hear that; don't bother telling me what he said."

This is interpreting, and your questions are about translating.I think a possible answer to both your questions is to give your client the choice between the "truth" - however shocking - and an edited version of the truth before you start the translation. They - not you - will have to make a decision. It might also mean you won't have to do the translation twice.

Hope this helps.

[Edited at 2005-10-29 14:12]

[Edited at 2005-10-29 14:14]

[Edited at 2005-10-29 14:15]


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Christine Lam  Identity Verified
Local time: 09:00
Member (2004)
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
not only one case Oct 29, 2005

Philippe, my dilemma was that there were many pages of answers by different angry workers, therefore, the option of simply saying they were all very angry was not good enough in this case.

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xxxPFB  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:00
English to French
+ ...
How about... Oct 29, 2005

... something like: It appears "some" people / pages etc are pretty outspoken (understatement!). Do you want a literal translation for those or do you want me to edit these?

I think my idea is basically to let the client decide, once you've told them what some answers looks like


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Angela Arnone  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:00
Member (2004)
Italian to English
+ ...
Of course you have to translate the actual contents! Oct 29, 2005



A job is a job! I can't imagine how your customer expects you to be responsible for the contents of the source. You are paid to render what was given to you from source to target. You cannot intervene in any other way (I even disagree with you having "edited out" the bad language). If you have translated correctly then the customer's issue is his own problem!!! He didn't hire you to write what you think his shell-like ears would like to hear, did he?
My answer would have been "That's what it says in the source!".
Don't worry about it!
Angela


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Andy Watkinson
Spain
Local time: 15:00
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
Possible reply Oct 29, 2005

"Nevertheless, the company who commissioned the survey came back to me, saying that the contents of my translation were embarrassing"

I would feel tempted to simply respond with:

"No. It's not that the content of my translation is embarrassing. The content of the original was embarrassing.

If you feel embarrassed that's your problem.

If I'm asked to translate a death certificate I don't transform it into a marriage certificate just because the former is depressing.

If you want someone who's going to make it up as they go along, feel free. I don't. I'm a translator. Ever heard of not shooting the piano player?"

Andy


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xxxMichaelRS
Local time: 15:00
Not sure what the dilemma is ... Oct 29, 2005

If it's translation, and not interpreting, I'm not quite sure what the dilemma is. If the customer wants the documents fully translated, then simply translate them. If the customer only wants a rough idea, then give the customer a rough idea.

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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:00
English to Spanish
+ ...
Truth, always! Oct 29, 2005

I agree completely with Angela, you are hired to translate everything and say it like it is. Of course as soon as you see what it is, it would be an excellent idea let the client know what to expect so there are no surprises.

Then just do it.


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Kevin Fulton
United States
Local time: 09:00
German to English
You're not responsible for the content Oct 29, 2005

I don't necessarily disagree with modifying the language somewhat to reduce the number of profanities or obscenities ("the CEO is a [expletive deleted] pinhead"), but your task is to provide a translation that reasonably reflects the content of the survey. It is up to the company performing the survey to summarize/modify the contents of your translation to the end client. If the company comissioning the survey is the end client, then it is apparent that they're not willing to admit that there are morale problems within the corporation. Again, that's their problem, not yours.

A few years back I had a similar job, translating transcriptions of interviews performed at a major auto show. There were dozens of transcriptions, perhaps even hundreds, but the job was cancelled after it became obvious that there was very little marketing information obtainable regarding the product in question, since most of the responses had to do with the quality of American products in general, or were criticisms of US foreign policy. The job was supposed to last 2 weeks, but was cancelled after a few days.


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NancyLynn
Canada
Local time: 09:00
Member (2002)
French to English
+ ...

Moderator of this forum
unprintable Oct 30, 2005

Hey, they don't like what they see and think what... that you added in the expletives????? It's not your translation that's embarrassing, but rather the fact that so many employees feel so strongly about their leaders.

The others are right. The company would actually have an argument in terms of quality if you did not translate everything. You just translate, you don't pass judgement, just as you sometimes have to translate awful writing, or uneducated opinions, etc. After all, what was the point of taking the survey if they don't want to know the actual results?? You can't sugarcoat it; it would be your head to roll later if it came to light that you altered the findings.

In Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, I was constantly amused by the use of the word unprintable - as in, the CEO is an unprintable pinhead. Maybe you could use that as a sanitized option

Nancy


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Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:00
German to English
+ ...
With Henry and Kevin Oct 30, 2005

In principle, your job is to translate what's in the source text. If the source text contains a lot of profanity, IMHO it would be a good idea to point that out the client and ask how they want you to handle it. Conventions such as 'f**k' or '[expletive deleted]' are one way to avoid treading on sensitive toes while still preserving the fact that profanity was used (and in the first case preserving the original profanity for the educated reader). 'Toning down' or omitting the profanity without informing the client bears the risk of falsifying the meaning or impact of the original material, or at least giving a false impression of what was originally said.
As another IMHO (and no doubt lots of words have already been written on the subject), the use and function of profanity are (in part) related to social situation and expressing emotions and/or disrespect. It takes a good ear for the language to discern the function(s) in particular cases, and it takes considerable skill (akin to literary translation) to convey the effect of profanity in a particular situation without uusing profanity.


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teju  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:00
English to Spanish
+ ...
I'm with Angela, Henry and Kevin Oct 31, 2005

Here we go again, having to explain to clients what is it that a translator does. We are not censors. We do not edit, clean, omit, or in any way change what the original document says. Period.
If after the texts have been translated, the client wants to hire a writer to prepare a summary of the survey that makes them look better, by deleting the expletives, that's a whole different matter.
Accuracy means that we translate exactly what was said preserving the register of the language used, whether it was slang, curse words or jibberish!


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