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Defining "passive"
Thread poster: transparx
transparx  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:46
English to Italian
+ ...
Jan 29, 2007

A few days ago, someone raised an interesting set of questions:
(i) Why should translating into passive language be "unprofessional full stop"?
(ii) Who says so?
(iii) Is there a resolution to that effect by a competent body?
The thread was then locked –for good reasons, it seems, as posters had begun to stray too far afield from the original topic. One of the results was that the questions above remained without answers.

I would like to resume that discussion, propose answers to two of the questions –(ii) & (iii), and ask one further question, (iv).
(ii) Many people do, but it is a mere stipulation.
(iii) No.

(iv) How should we define “passive”? Does a language someone uses every day remain “passive” only because it is not his or her native language? If so, to what extent?

I am independently interested in this question because it is something I am planning to discuss in one of my classes –Introduction to Linguistics.

It'd be interesting to know what others think.


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
It's not an absolute, but your question is evidence of the problem Jan 29, 2007

As a native speaker of English, I initially read your question as referring to the use of the passive voice in translations. Only toward the end of your post did I realize you were referring to translations into languages other than one's native language.

I attribute this ambiguity to your not being a native speaker of English. In a sense, you have answered your own question about why some people consider it unprofessional to translate into anything other than your native language. Your English is absolutely excellent, and almost your entire message appears to have been written by a native speaker of English. But "into passive language" is not what a native speaker would have written, and this word choice made your message difficult to understand.

To answer your first question: The distaste for inverse translation is far from official, no matter how many people scream that they personally consider it a form of fraud. Certainly here in the States, the certifying bodies such as the ATA are perfectly willing to certify people for work into languages other than their first one, as long as they can prove proficiency. Increasingly, the EU asks people to translate into languages other than their own in particular circumstances (often involving the less widely known EU languages).

I know people who do excellent translation work into their second and even third language. These people are relatively rare, and even they have a native speaker edit or proofread their work.

[Edited at 2007-01-29 04:42]


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:46
English to German
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Good question Jan 29, 2007

According to Wikipedia and AIIC, active language is considered: The language or languages into which the interpreter is capable of providing professional interpretation, whereas passive language is defined as follows: For interpreters, passive languages are the languages out of which the interpreter is capable of interpreting professionally.

Question: I am a German native speaker and I have been living in the US for about 10 years and haven't spoken German, other than during occasional phone calls, in ten years. Which is my active language?



[Edited at 2007-01-29 04:37]


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transparx  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:46
English to Italian
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TOPIC STARTER
thank you for responding! Jan 29, 2007

Steven Capsuto wrote:

As a native speaker of English, I initially read your question as referring to the use of the passive voice in translations. Only toward the end of your post did I realize you were referring to translations into languages other than one's native language.

I attribute the ambiguity of your sentence to the fact that you are not a native speaker of English, and I assume that a native speaker would have worded it more clearly. In a sense, you have answered your own question: your English is absolutely excellent, 99% native-looking. But "into passive language" is not what a native speaker would write.



First of all, my question is not ambiguous. Of course, "passive" can be used in several contexts, but, as far as I know, it does not give rise to lexical ambiguity --structural ambiguity would be out of the question here.

Perhaps, you meant to use "vague." Yes, you are correct: it is a bit vague at the beginning. I did that on purpose. Given that the thread is in the linguistics section, I thought that would be a good "hook," as such things are sometimes called.

I believe your point is an excellent one, but it really raises a different question, that is, what is the role of the reader in deciphering a text?






[Edited at 2007-01-29 04:46]


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:46
Spanish to English
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Neither ambiguous nor vague Jan 29, 2007

transparx wrote:

First of all, my question is not ambiguous.



True, it was not ambiguous. "Into passive language" can *only* mean "into the passive voice." To put across the meaning you wanted, you need to add something before the word "passive": "into his or her passive language" for instance.

You and I are in the same boat on this. I translate into Spanish, and I'd say that 95% of my English-Spanish translation work looks native. I'm even ATA certified for English-Spanish work. I've spoken and written Spanish since around age seven. However, I occasionally make a mistake because it's not my first language, and it's usually exactly the sort of subtlety I pointed out in your message. This is why I'd never take money for such a job unless a native speaker of Spanish reviewed it before delivery. The only time I'd deliver without such a review is if the document were something straightforward such as a marriage certificate.

[Edited at 2007-01-29 04:55]


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Nicole Schnell  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:46
English to German
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Native vs. active Jan 29, 2007

This is what this post is about, I assume: the mix-up of two different terms. Please correct me if I got this wrong.

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transparx  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:46
English to Italian
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I see! Jan 29, 2007

Steven Capsuto wrote:

transparx wrote:

First of all, my question is not ambiguous.



True, it was not ambiguous. "Into passive language" can *only* mean "into the passive voice." The put across the meaning you wanted, you need to add something before the word "passive": "into their passive language" for instance.

Don't take this as an attack. I translate into Spanish, and I'd say 95% of my Spanish translation work looks native. I'm even ATA certified for English-Spanish work. However, I occasionally make a mistake, and it's usually exactly the sort of subtlety I pointed out in your message.


That's not me. I was quoting someone else. Sorry if that wasn't clear enough!


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:46
Spanish to English
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Okay, I get it now Jan 29, 2007

Sorry for the confusion over whose words were in the initial question.

Defining "how passive is passive" (or perhaps more usefully "how active is active") is very tricky.

In any case, I think you'll find that many official bodies allow for certification into languages that the candidate does not use on an everyday basis.

[Edited at 2007-01-29 04:58]


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transparx  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:46
English to Italian
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TOPIC STARTER
well, yes, but... Jan 29, 2007

Nicole Schnell wrote:

This is what this post is about, I assume: the mix-up of two different terms. Please correct me if I got this wrong.


I know this question has been asked and debated many times before, and people have invariably focused on defining native vs. active. Since the outcome of each and every discussion so far has been less than satisfactory, I thought that trying to define "passive" might yield better results.


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transparx  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:46
English to Italian
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TOPIC STARTER
no problem! Jan 29, 2007

Steven Capsuto wrote:

Sorry for the confusion over whose words were in the initial question.

Defining "how passive is passive" (or perhaps more usefully "how active is active") is very tricky.



I read your first response kind of fast and thought you were referring to the title of my initial post.

So much for miscommunication!!


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Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:46
German to English
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my two bits Jan 29, 2007

IMO the definition of the term speaks volumes: as I understand 'passive' in the linguistic sense, it means a language that the person in question understands but does not use actively.

The ramifications of translating into a passive language should be obvious IMO: there is a more or less real risk (depending on the person, subject, etc.) that the result will not correspond to native usage. The significance of this depends a lot on the intended use and audience. For instance, it may be tolerable in technical fields where the content is more important than the form and the intended meaning can usually be deduced by a knowledgeable reader (and it is de facto quite common in engineering and scientific texts written in English), but it can easily be fatal with advertising copy.


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Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:46
French to English
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quick answer Jan 29, 2007

I would have thought that the best translations into language X would come from translators who are *active* users of language X - whether native or non-native. A 'passive' language, to me, is one for which a person's understanding is greater than his/her production skills.

If I have the wrong definition of 'passive', please do clarify what you mean by it - I agree with Steven's view that the original question is hard to understand.


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:46
English to Italian
it was me... Jan 29, 2007

I just meant out of your mother tongue. I hope this clears the misunderstanding.

Giovanni


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Fan Gao
Australia
Local time: 21:46
Member (2006)
English to Chinese
+ ...
Looking for approval Jan 29, 2007

This whole issue comes up so often. It's always asked and probed to death by people who translate into a language that isn't their mother tongue and it's like they're seeking approval that it's ok for them to do it.

At the end of the day, if you can translate into a language that:
a) you are confident in
b) you are confident in the knowledge that you have translated the source language faithfully without losing any of the original meaning
c) the grammar/spelling/punctuation is perfect in the target language
d) idioms etc. have been translated/adapted to fit the target culture
e) the end result reads fluently and fluidly as if written by a native of the target language

...then go ahead.

If you can do all of these things into a language, be it native/non-native/active/passive then you don't need the approval from an official body or a certificate from wherever or the opinions of your peers, you should just do it.......for you are truly gifted:)


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Giovanni Guarnieri MITI, MIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:46
English to Italian
Not 'passive' anymore Jan 29, 2007

Chinese Concept wrote:


If you can do all of these things into a language, be it native/non-native/active/passive then you don't need the approval from an official body or a certificate from wherever or the opinions of your peers, you should just do it.......for you are truly gifted:)


yes, because you are bilingual...

G


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