| An appreciative note for an entertaining and instructive article, plus a few kindred observations || May 5, 2008 |
It was fascinating to read the experiences of a practitioner from the mother continent of the Indo-European languages.
Your remarks on mistranslation make me think of an example embarrassingly close to home: I had a legal translation to do for a high-ranking academic, summarising some work on administrative law. For reference, I was provided the translation of the document that had been summarised, to be submitted to a Council of Europe working party. Disconcertingly, I discovered it to contain a number of slips, but one salient error I felt to be disqualifying: "le droit commun" had been rendered as "the common law". Embarrassed that my client had been so ill done by, I first thought of quickly tidying my predecessor's work and returning it with my assignment, but this was ruled out by the limited time allowed and, more to the point, the sheer volume of inadequacies the reference translation contained. As you rightly point out, our profession is not organised, and this is one of the side-effects.
Another point you make is that the novice should consult the dictionary, to which I would reply by saying that an experienced practitioner will treat dictionaries as what they actually are, not a definitive instrument, but rather a source of ideas. Moreover, a sound practitioner will readily identify what I call "holes" in the dictionaries, weaknesses marring their usefulness, that can sometimes conceal pitfalls - such as the one I described earlier. It is important to avoid "traduction à coups de dictionnaires", the blow-by-blow translation of terms instead of the mature rendering afforded by a well-rounded grasp of the knowledge domain involved.
A further and final point concerns revision - which some people insist on calling "proof-reading". Proper revision takes over from the mainly one-dimensional act of translation, getting the text turned round, and takes a top-down, two-or-more-dimensional view of the document and its context. Unfortunately, a client I regularly work for has on occasions returned work of mine that, after I have painstakingly translated and checked it, has been loutishly picked apart by an inexpert reviser, who has introduced not one, but several material mistranslations, as well as committing unwarrantable "over-revision", namely the mere churning of the text for change's sake, with no improvement. To date, my attempted remedy for this hazard is, when submitting carefully-drafted work of some complexity, to plead with my client to avoid using inexperienced revisers and instruct the colleague checking my work to make only changes that are authoritative and strictly necessary. If the client fails to give me satisfaction on this, I shall await a pliant moment, when I am not over-dependent on that client, and present an ultimatum.
To return to your article, it is of great interest to read a practitioner's comments in language pairs so far removed from my own rather pedestrian one, and to find you airing the same concerns. I am much looking forward to a sequel whenever your time and energy permit!
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