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To what degree should a translator be true to the source?
Thread poster: sfbluestar
sfbluestar
English to Chinese
Aug 5, 2008

I had a recent debate with a colleague about being true to the source. Our profession's ethic standard says we must be true to the source. But is that concept absolute, or is there a degree?

If you see a clear mistake, will you fix it in the translation? For example:

If the source says "US President George E Bush", apparently a typo, will you put "W" instead of "E" in the translation?

If the source says "the following two items 1) abc 2) def 3) xyz", will you change "two items" to "three items"?


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Daniel Šebesta  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 16:08
Member (2007)
English to Czech
+ ...
Correct and point out Aug 5, 2008

I will correct the obvious mistakes and point them out to my client, so that they can make the same corrections in the source language.

Daniel


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Buck
Netherlands
Local time: 16:08
Member (2007)
Dutch to English
How true Aug 5, 2008

Hi. I reckon it depends on the "mistake". There are many types of mistakes. The ones you mentioned are mistakes that the client would have to correct anyway at some point because they are so glaring someone will notice. They will probably appreciate it. More serious mistakes, such as mistakes in amounts or figures, I would change and mark the correction with asterisks and let the client know. It works for me. I think it's part of a translator's job to correct evident mistakes and some are worth mentioning to the client and some are not, imo.

On a lighter note: I had a client call today, because the translation contained "a" when it should have been "an" and "involved" instead of "involve".


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SilviuM
Romania
Local time: 17:08
Romanian to English
+ ...
A everlasting dilemma... Aug 5, 2008

Bluestar, you should remain true to the source up to the point when syntagms and jargon expressions come into play. And, of course, you can't alter person and/or places names nor book, play, movie titles etc.
Now, for a pro, the time when you have to stay or not true to the source is very easy to spot. However, if you work in judicial, you'll have to translate word-for-word those documents. This doesn't apply, of course, in literature (of any kind!).

P.S. My advice, when (e.g., eventually) doing subtitles, is to... enrich your phrases as much as possible. Don't be a minimalistic, as the trend nowadays is.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:08
English to Spanish
+ ...
Of course Aug 5, 2008

But being "true to the source" depends on what kind of work is being done. If it is client-generated, then obvious mistakes and inconsistencies must be pointed out to the client so the appropriate corrections can be made in the original. If it is not client-generated material, then all you can put is (sic) and a note explaining the problem. That means "if it looks funny, it's not the translator's mistake".

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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:08
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Absolutely Aug 5, 2008

Henry Hinds wrote:

But being "true to the source" depends on what kind of work is being done. If it is client-generated, then obvious mistakes and inconsistencies must be pointed out to the client so the appropriate corrections can be made in the original. If it is not client-generated material, then all you can put is (sic) and a note explaining the problem. That means "if it looks funny, it's not the translator's mistake".


Absolutely. With inconsistencies of the kind you mention (mistakes in numbering, figures, dates, and so on), I point them out in footnotes called "Translator's notes".
Jenny.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 08:08
English to Spanish
+ ...
Poetic license Aug 5, 2008

Above I was mainly referring to documents of a technical or legal nature where literal precision is of utmost importance. Now if we are working in the areas of literature, advertising and even items such as reports, grant proposals, etc. where part of the job includes creating a good impression, "poetic license" can come into play.

In using poetic license we do not slavishly translate the text literally. Often we have to modify things a fair bit to arrive at a good "cultural" translation. Or at other times we need to remedy the original writer's poor writing skills. This always involves client-generated material, and in either case it is a matter to be agreed beforehand with the client.

It also involves added value for the client at little or no extra cost, so they will normally agree.


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Martin Wenzel
Germany
Local time: 16:08
English to German
+ ...
Poor rates...and moral obligation Aug 6, 2008

I work a lot for an agency that pays poor rates, admittedly, (but they do pay punctually and send work regularly), and I often find mistakes in the original language (German).

Initially, I corrected these mistakes in the originals and drew the agency's attention to what I had found.

Since the pay is already so atrocious, I don't see why it is my obligation to improve their originals.

Also, I have asked twice for a reference since I have worked for nearly 3 years for them. They don't even reply to my request.

I do understand that project managers are pressed for time these days and most likely have to follow their office rules, but so am I and I am doing them enough favours already.

Just this line for free...our client has added another line or two....can you do it?

I am a practical person and try to avoid additional, unnecessary work. Now, if I was mean I would put [sic] in my translations wherever I find a mistake, but I am sure they would come back to me asking me to change it.

I had to draw the line somewhere...but perhaps I am still too linient?




Martin


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Tarif Hawari
Local time: 17:08
English to Arabic
+ ...
depends Aug 6, 2008

i bleieve it depends on the nature and context u r workin within.
in case it was a debatable matter then u may discuss it with ur client. if it was in a piece of litter, it can be delebrate, that the author intended to place it for u "as an audience" to spot it out. so, as a translator u gotta introduce the same effect the original text has.
this second point is a very critical one in my opinion.
hope been helpful


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sfbluestar
English to Chinese
TOPIC STARTER
Here is the case that triggered this discussion Aug 6, 2008

I had a source text that says:

"plans to triple its investments to $48 million, by investing $15 to $16 million"

The math, as written, is clearly wrong. Using algebra we can figure out the base number is $32 million, so it will not be tripling, not even doubling. It's a 50% increase.

Now there are several possible causes for this problem. Maybe the numbers are wrong, maybe the meaning of those numbers are mixed up. I don't have access to client due to the way things are set up with my agency, so the choice is either send back translation with the mistake -- whatever it is -- or make the most reasonable guess with a note. I chose th latter because at least it has a chance of being correct.

It seemed to me the remedy with the least impact to source is just to skip that word "triple", so I did that, and wrote a note with my translation.

My PM was not happy! PM says I should NEVER change anything in the source, and gave me a whole lecture about translator's ethics. I feel PMs generally want to play it safe and be able to defend themselves in case of client objection, so they would rather send client something that's obvious wrong, than making a correction and risk client not appreciating it.

But, that's just my best guess.


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Erik Hansson  Identity Verified
Germany
Member (2002)
Swedish
+ ...
Always ask/inform client Aug 6, 2008

sfbluestar wrote:

If you see a clear mistake, will you fix it in the translation?




If I find an obvious mistake, I always contact client and ask for his/her opinion, i.e. a) should I translate true to the source and make a remark, or b) fix the mistake. There have been cases with bad source textes of technical matter where the area of a cable was stated as 1,5 square metre - but it should have been 1,5 square millimetre. I informed client about this and he appreciated my comments.

But it's also important to explain to our clients that our job as a matter of fact is to do the translation - and not the proofreading of the source text or whatever extra work. Only if I happen to see some mistake, I inform client about this, but client should never be able to come back after a finished job and complain about "bad translation" because the source text was of low quality.

Erik


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xxxBrandis
Local time: 16:08
English to German
+ ...
@sbluestar.. Aug 6, 2008

Hi! normally numbers, nouns, names or the similar and or the math conversions are never changed unless the client specifies such changes as needed, even for abbreviations there are not always equivalents available in the target language, so why ask of being truthful to the source.

As Henry was pointing out - " If it is client-generated, then obvious mistakes and inconsistencies must be pointed out to the client so the appropriate corrections can be made in the original. " is very true in regular practise. BR Brandis


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Roxanna Delgado  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:08
Member (2006)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Am I missing something? Aug 6, 2008

I know I'm not a mathematician. Actually I'm just a doctor-translator, but when you triple a number, you are in fact multiplying it by 3. So if you invest 15 or 16 million, then if you triple it, you'll get 45-48 million. Isn't it? So what part of it is wrong?
Or am I so lost in my math skills?

Well, in any case I limit myself to medical translations as much as possible.

Regarding your original question, I basically do as Henry says, either point it out to the client if possible, or put [sic].

Regards,
Roxanna


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liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:08
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
Be true to the source text as much as possible Aug 7, 2008

I endorse what other translators say about obvious errors...

As for me, well as I do mostly medical/pharmaceutical/scientific translations the answer is pretty easy - be true to the source text as much as possible; there is not a lot of room for manoeuvre. And if you make a mistake it is blindingly obvious to the expert who is going to read your translation, hopefully.....I mean the scientific/medical community. I am sure I have given them something to laugh about now and again, but believe you me I research until I am blue in the face, to ensure it is as accurate as possible After all, we are human!

Kind Regards
Liz Askew

[Edited at 2008-08-07 19:50]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:08
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Start with Steiner Aug 9, 2008

Your question relates to a major philosophical area, widely discussed and written about in Translation Theory circles.

I suggest you begin with George Steiner's seminal book on this subject "After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation" and take it from there.


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