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Seen the damning article about German literary translation in this week's edition of 'Der Spiegel'?
Thread poster: Glyn Haggett
Glyn Haggett  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:46
German to English
Feb 20, 2004

Has anyone else caught up with the rather damning article about German literary translation in this week's edition of "Der Spiegel"?
I'm not a literary translator, but I think this article shows how difficult it is to make people understand the particular difficulties associated with translating creative works. What do others think?


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:46
German to English
+ ...
Article in the Times Feb 20, 2004

Seems to be a bad week for translation and interpreting in the press. I hear there was an article in the Times on Wednesday about Arabic undergraduates being recruited for interpreting duties in Iraq, and living the good life there on GBP 200 a day. Haven't seen the article myself (nor the Spiegel one, for that matter).

Marc


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Charlotte Blank  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:46
Czech to German
+ ...
Sad, but true Feb 20, 2004

Glyn Haggett wrote:
Has anyone else caught up with the rather damning article about German literary translation in this week's edition of "Der Spiegel"?


"Bei dem Versuch, sie im Licht von Kerzen und Taschenlampen wieder anzubringen, brannte der Mechaniker mit seiner Lötlampe ein Loch in die Hauptinduktionsspule, und da es, wegen der politischen Instabilität im Vorfeld der Wahlen, in ganz Vilnius keine anderen gasgetriebenen Wechselstromgeneratoren zu kaufen gab (und erst recht keine altmodischen Dreiphasengeneratoren, auf die man die Schaltzentrale umgerüstet hatte, bloß weil ein solcher Dreiphasengenerator aus der Breschnew-Ära damals billig zu haben gewesen war) und polnische und finnische Lieferfirmen sich, wegen nämlicher politischer Instabilität, inzwischen sträubten, irgendetwas nach Litauen zu verschiffen, ohne im Voraus harte westliche Währung dafür zu sehen, fiel das ganze Land, dessen Bürger, wie etliche ihrer westlichen Zeitgenossen, im Zuge der Verbilligung und immer universaleren Nutzung des Handys ihre Kupferdrahttelefone kurzerhand abgemeldet hatten, in puncto Kommunikation auf den Stand des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts zurück: Es herrschte tiefes Schweigen."

I did not read this article before but now am quite shocked by these examples of translated phrases which I had to read at least twice to understand them. They reminded me of an article by Mark Twain about the "awful German language" - but this is more than awful. The question is, whether it is the author who is to blame for this horrible style or the translator - probably both have their share. And probably it also due to the increasing competition in the field of English-German translation that translators are not paid well and have no time for proof-reading their work.
I found interesting this hint to "a certain feeling that something is wrong" which seems to be common among translators after some time of work with a bad source text. I don't translate literature but I did have such bad texts in other fields and was already thinking I forgot my German, living abroad - now this point finally reassured me that I'm not alone:)

Charlotte

I forgot to add the URL:

http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/0,1518,287292,00.html

[Edited at 2004-02-20 19:25]


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 07:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
Sounds interesting Feb 20, 2004

Do you know if the article is on-line? If it is, could you give some keywords--from the headline perhaps--to help locate it in a search of the Der Spiegel site?

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Terry Gilman  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:46
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Couldn't find it online with or without the link Feb 20, 2004

Could one of you confirm that the article is in the issue from Monday, Feb. 16 and provide the title?

The only item I found was about Mirjam Pressler, dated Feb. 5.

[Edited at 2004-02-20 22:37]


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Harry Bornemann  Identity Verified
Mexico
English to German
+ ...
Mark Twain would have loved it.. Feb 21, 2004

Here is the correctly formatted link:
www.spiegel.de/spiegel/0,1518,287292,00.html

GoodWords - interesting? You don't have German in your profile, not even in your KudoZ, but nevertheless you are interested in this linguistic crime investigation?

[Edited at 2004-02-21 00:13]


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 15:46
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Na und? Feb 21, 2004

Der zitierte Satz ist schon beim ersten Lesen zu verstehen. Er ist bedeutend leichter als vieles, was in Patentschriften steht.
Was soll daran gegen den Übersetzer sprechen? Wenn der Autor einen Satz baut, der viele Beobachtungen ironig vereinigt, darf der Übersetzer nicht versuchen, es dem Leser leichter zu machen, als es der Leser des Originals haben würde. Der Satz belohnt den Leser am Schluss, das ist seine Aufgabe.
Der Spiegel würde sicher einen ganzen Artikel mit vielen Absätzen brauchen, um dasselbe auszusagen, was der zitierte Satz tut. Der Spiegel würde sicher auch Namen und Alter des Mechanikers erwähnen und das Ganze in Form eines Interviews mit verschiedenen Personen fassen, außer mit dem Mechaniker zumindest mit einem Experten über Litauens Außenhandelsbeziehungen.
Doch in dem Spiegel-Artikel gibt es auch wirklich Beispiele für schwer nachzuvollziehbare Übersetzerische Lösungen aus dem Englischen. Allerdings wird auf US-Englisch heutzutage (und nicht nur heutzutage) vieles publiziert, was sich auch auf Englisch unverständlich liest, ehe man in den Jargon eingelesen ist. Man muss schon das Original kennen, ehe man die Arbeit des Übersetzers beurteilen kann.


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Gilda Manara  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 14:46
German to Italian
+ ...
As for the article on The Times Feb 21, 2004

MarcPrior wrote:

Seems to be a bad week for translation and interpreting in the press. I hear there was an article in the Times on Wednesday about Arabic undergraduates being recruited for interpreting duties in Iraq, and living the good life there on GBP 200 a day. Haven't seen the article myself (nor the Spiegel one, for that matter).

Marc


this is the URL, if you are interested:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,172-1005832,00.html

[Edited at 2004-02-21 05:18]

[Edited at 2004-02-21 05:24]


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Marie SERRA  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:46
German to French
Thanks for the link. Something more to read now! Feb 23, 2004

Harry_B wrote:

Here is the correctly formatted link:
www.spiegel.de/spiegel/0,1518,287292,00.html

GoodWords - interesting? You don't have German in your profile, not even in your KudoZ, but nevertheless you are interested in this linguistic crime investigation?

[Edited at 2004-02-21 00:13]


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:16
English to Tamil
+ ...
And how about the Spiegel write up itself? Feb 23, 2004

Heinrich Pesch wrote: Der zitierte Satz ist schon beim ersten Lesen zu verstehen. Er ist bedeutend leichter als vieles, was in Patentschriften steht.
Was soll daran gegen den Übersetzer sprechen? Wenn der Autor einen Satz baut, der viele Beobachtungen ironig vereinigt, darf der Übersetzer nicht versuchen, es dem Leser leichter zu machen, als es der Leser des Originals haben würde. Der Satz belohnt den Leser am Schluss, das ist seine Aufgabe.
Der Spiegel würde sicher einen ganzen Artikel mit vielen Absätzen brauchen, um dasselbe auszusagen, was der zitierte Satz tut. Der Spiegel würde sicher auch Namen und Alter des Mechanikers erwähnen und das Ganze in Form eines Interviews mit verschiedenen Personen fassen, außer mit dem Mechaniker zumindest mit einem Experten über Litauens Außenhandelsbeziehungen.
Doch in dem Spiegel-Artikel gibt es auch wirklich Beispiele für schwer nachzuvollziehbare Übersetzerische Lösungen aus dem Englischen.

Quite right sir. I too was able to understand the translation. By the way see these two consecutive and contradictory sentences in the cited Spiegel aricle. "Es handelt sich um einen Einzelfall. Es handelt sich um keinen Einzelfall." Does it make any sense? And this was supposed to have been written by a German in his mother tongue. Perhaps the typist has jumped some lines while typing from the handwritten manuscript. Show the original English sentence too and let the readers be the judge.
Regards,
N.Raghavan

[Edited at 2004-02-23 16:23]


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:16
English to Tamil
+ ...
What good life can there be under the circumstances? Feb 23, 2004

MarcPrior wrote:
Seems to be a bad week for translation and interpreting in the press. I hear there was an article in the Times on Wednesday about Arabic undergraduates being recruited for interpreting duties in Iraq, and living the good life there on GBP 200 a day. Haven't seen the article myself (nor the Spiegel one, for that matter).


And what good time can there be? There was another report where a translator got killed. With the present ugly mood of the Irakis against anything American, these poor translators have it really hard and definitely no good life. No American or British translators will even consider the offer much less accept it.
By the way the concerned article in the Times is no longer to be had for viewing.
Regards,
N.Raghavan

[Edited at 2004-02-23 16:33]


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Dr Andrew Read  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:46
Member (2004)
German to English
+ ...
Link to Times article still works! Feb 27, 2004

Narasimhan Raghavan wrote:

By the way the concerned article in the Times is no longer to be had for viewing.
Regards,
N.Raghavan

[Edited at 2004-02-23 16:33]


Hi

The article is still available: you just need to cut and paste the full URL if the click-through doesn't work:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,172-1005832,00.html


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Dr Andrew Read  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 13:46
Member (2004)
German to English
+ ...
More articles about British translators going to Iraq... Feb 27, 2004

Hi N,

Although I agree with you about the situation, it does seem that some undergraduates are going over. See these links (cut and paste the whole URL if necessary):

http://education.guardian.co.uk/students/gapyear/story/0,12763,1150809,00.html

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/3498307.stm

Andrew



Narasimhan Raghavan wrote:

And what good time can there be? There was another report where a translator got killed. With the present ugly mood of the Irakis against anything American, these poor translators have it really hard and definitely no good life. No American or British translators will even consider the offer much less accept it.
Regards,
N.Raghavan

[Edited at 2004-02-23 16:33]


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:16
English to Tamil
+ ...
Link works but the article is not there Mar 1, 2004

Of course the link works but you get the following statement, just as I experienced it the last time:
The area you wish to access is behind registration.
If you are an existing user of Times Online please enter you Username and Password on the spaces provided below on the right.
If you are new to Times Online please click on the Register Here button below on the left and follow the steps indicated.
And registration costs money.
Regards,
N.Raghavan

Andrew Read wrote:
The article is still available: you just need to cut and paste the full URL if the click-through doesn't work:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/newspaper/0,,172-1005832,00.html[/quote]

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Steffen Walter  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 14:46
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
Understandable vs stylistically adequate target versions Mar 3, 2004

Narasimhan Raghavan wrote:
Quite right sir. I too was able to understand the translation. By the way see these two consecutive and contradictory sentences in the cited Spiegel aricle. "Es handelt sich um einen Einzelfall. Es handelt sich um keinen Einzelfall." ...


Hello Narasimhan,

While I agree that it would be useful to consult the original to come to a better judgment, I'd say that the German translation - even if seen on its own - reveals stylistic blunders and is hard to read, not least because of some "strange" collocations used in the sentence. That said, I'm certainly not of the opinion that the quoted sentence can't be understood at all but it seems that, in a desperate attempt to stick as close as possible to the original, the translator has thrown a major part of his native competence overboard. This is not exactly proof of the translator's courage and freedom to create an adequate, satisfactory German version in its own right. (As it stands, the German sentence just doesn't "flow".)

Also, the sentences "Es handelt sich um einen Einzelfall. Es handelt sich um keinen Einzelfall." have been consciously put one after another (in a somewhat irritating way, I admit, but this was exactly the intention of the author): At first glance, this (mis)translation seems to be an isolated case - after a more thorough look at the circumstances, there are many more examples of the same kind.

Best,
Steffen

[Edited at 2004-03-03 09:54]


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