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Language of translations proven better than untranslated texts
Thread poster: Heinrich Pesch

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 22:07
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Jul 7, 2006

The most recent number of the Finnish Association for Translators and Interpreters (Kääntäjä) publishes an article by Jarmo Jantunen.
Jarmo is a researcher at the University of Oulu. He first interviewed about 150 average people and asked their opinion about the quality of translated Finnish texts in relation to originally Finnish texts. As one would expect, most people thought, that the quality of translations is lower than that of comparable, not translated texts.
Jarmo then analysed a vast collection of scientific texts of both groups for some common critearia of linguistic quality.
As a result he found, that translated texts are significantly better written than texts, which were originally written in Finnish.
The article mentions as criteria the frequency of fashionable expressions, missing commas, frequency of use of foreign linguistic constructions etc.
All together a third of the mistakes came from the translated corpus and two thirds from the not-translated corpus.

The explanation seems to be, that translators know more about language than scientific authors, who concentrate on the content and have mostly no special writing skills.

This seems quite reasonable and expectable, but somehow people keep up the image of the poor quality of translations.
What can we do to spread the message?

Regards
Heinrich

[Bearbeitet am 2006-07-07 08:37]


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Maja Gerasimova
Local time: 21:07
English to Macedonian
+ ...
spread the word! Jul 7, 2006

Well, a possible solution would be to vanquish the third of the translators!)))
I am just kidding!
In Macedonia, the most obvious examples of translation that everyday people see, are the sub-titles of the movies or soap - operas on TV. Now, here we have some really hillarious phrases that do not come even close to the original meaning - completely way out both as idioms or as style...
On the other hand, on many conferences and seminars, the interpreters are hired regardless of their specialisation, and the specific technical vocabulary comes down to pure guesswork and improvisation, sometimes incomprehensible in part to the attending audience, specialised in the field.
And you would know that once the damage is done, there is no way to regain the esteem of the scientific community.
"Esteem costs nothing to buy, but just a few possess it" is a saying in my country. When a translator makes an error, it will be remembered, and the blemish will remain for the whole translation community...
That is why, translators should accept only jobs they can do and are prepared for, and in a professional manner - not in a rush just to get it over with, in order to preserve the image of their profession.
A possible solution re. translated texts vs. original ones, would be to spread the word by running similar polls in scientific journals where translated texts are published, and, why not, dedicating some space and energy to market it on the web!
Finally, I would like to congratulate the Finnish translators on my behalf for the excellent job, and hope that some day similar thing will be said for the Macedonian pros!



[Edited at 2006-07-07 10:31]


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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:07
Member
English to Turkish
Writing as a professional skill Jul 7, 2006

I think the problem is that writing is not respected enough, nor even taken seriously as a highly skilled professional pursuit. Scientists may not have developed the necessary skills, after all they are not language professionals. But they don't seem to care about collaborating with professional editors in the publishing process, either. Think of it this way: now we all know and laugh at the anecdotes about the fiasco faced by the people trying to market a car named Nova ("won't go") in a Spanish-speaking country (was it Mexico)? I am not sure how many years ago this happened exactly, but right now, no decent manufacturer would ever imagine marketing a new product without having a cultural assessment made. So, we may hope, if the scientific realm experiences a couple of similar fiascos due to the below par quality of their written communication, they might as well realize that everyone should perform their own trade and every trade has its own master, and they might well start seeking the collaboration of language professionals before publishing their essays


The explanation seems to be, that translators know more about language than scientific authors, who concentrate on the content and have mostly no special writing skills.

This seems quite reasonable and expectable, but somehow people keep up the image of the poor quality of translations.
What can we do to spread the message?


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 21:07
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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That does not surprise me... Jul 7, 2006

Heinrich Pesch wrote:
As a result he found, that translated texts are significantly better written than texts, which were originally written in Finnish.

The explanation seems to be, that translators know more about language than scientific authors, who concentrate on the content and have mostly no special writing skills.


The discovery does not surprise me, but I disagree with the explanation given. A more likely reason might be that translators "edit" the source text in their minds before transmuting it into the target language, and then edit it a second time, on paper, before saying "translation completed".

But perhaps Finnish scientific authors really do not know as much about good writing skills... who knows?

[Edited at 2006-07-07 11:02]


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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:07
Member
English to Turkish
I don't think this is specific to Finnish Jul 7, 2006

While I agree with your point about editing and writing skills, Samuel, I can confidently say that the picture Heinrich describes holds true for Turkish, as well.

Samuel Murray wrote:
But perhaps Finnish scientific authors really do not know as much about good writing skills... who knows?


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Maja Gerasimova
Local time: 21:07
English to Macedonian
+ ...
Translator reputation Jul 7, 2006

I agree with all of you but bear in mind that while translators are better at syntax and punctuation, when the non language professionals speak about "quality of translation" being poor or good, I believe they refer to very translation of thoughts, whether the meaning is conveyed exactly, or the text has lost part of its strength or nuance in the translation. I really do not think that they actually do not even consider, or are bothered with the language rules.

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juvera  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:07
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Linquistic quality Jul 12, 2006

It doesn't surprise me either.

I frequently come accross badly written original documents in Hungarian. I had requests by an English parent company to translate Hungarian company instructions into English to check their contents, and although the facts were correct, the quality of writing was full of the type of mistakes you quoted. In particular the mindless use of fashionable words and incorrect use of hyphen with suffixes when using foreign words or names gets me. It was a wise idea of this company to ask for a translation and I think they asked to have the original re-written.

There are some translators who aren't producing better writing either, but I would think the majority are good.

Maja, Heinrich's point is not about the quality of translation, but the quality of writing. When the quality of the original text is not very good, it detracts from the clarity of meaning, no matter how keenly the scientist is trying to put it accross. Of course, if the translator doesn't understand or unable to conway the original text, then it is a bad translation, useless as translation, but not necessarily badly written. The quality of translation merits an independent thread.

Özden Arıkan wrote:

I think the problem is that writing is not respected enough, nor even taken seriously as a highly skilled professional pursuit. Scientists may not have developed the necessary skills, after all they are not language professionals. But they don't seem to care about collaborating with professional editors in the publishing process, either. Think of it this way: now we all know and laugh at the anecdotes about the fiasco faced by the people trying to market a car named Nova ("won't go") in a Spanish-speaking country (was it Mexico)? I am not sure how many years ago this happened exactly, but right now, no decent manufacturer would ever imagine marketing a new product without having a cultural assessment made. So, we may hope, if the scientific realm experiences a couple of similar fiascos due to the below par quality of their written communication, they might as well realize that everyone should perform their own trade and every trade has its own master, and they might well start seeking the collaboration of language professionals before publishing their essays.


I agree with all what you say, but there are still companies who don't think that a cultural assessment is necessary, when they are only working in their own country.
In the UK one of the supermarket chains started a home delivery service some years ago. When you pronounce the name of the service, it means something quite disgusting in Hungarian (in connection with food) and as they mainly deliver food products, to this day I couldn't bring myself to order anything through them.

We can ensure the quality of work going through our hands and try to improve the writing skills of newer translators if necessary when checking their work.

Once I had to write an information leaflet for a company to explain the common pitfalls and mistakes of style and grammar translators are prone to. I was very happy to do so in the hope that by providing this guidance the standards will improve.

What I find an uphill struggle is to make undemanding agencies and clients raise the level of expectation about quality. Quite frankly some couldn't care less, and that's bad. It also means that if they don't have the translations proof-read, a translator may make the same stylistic or grammar mistakes for years, because nobody made him/her aware of them.

[Edited at 2006-07-12 14:51]

[Edited at 2006-07-12 14:52]

[Edited at 2006-07-12 21:52]


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