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Transliterating a transliteration (or not)
Thread poster: Michael Sloggett
Michael Sloggett  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 21:30
Thai to English
Mar 3, 2009

I often translate police reports and other documents which are written entirely in a non-Latin script (in my case, Thai). All 'foreign' words are shown transliterated into my source language, including names of people and places. When encountering such words during a translation, various situations might arise, as follows:

1. It is possible to tell exactly what the original word must have been.
2. It is possible to recognise a word, but not possible to decide between alternate spellings such as Catherine/Kathryn or Shaun/Sean. End clients may be able and willing to supply correct spellings in some cases.
3. It is possible to find correct spellings only via external research, for example by consulting a directory of suburb and street names.
4. The original 'foreign' language word is not identifiable at all.

Questions arise for the last three situations:

2. If one simply chooses the most likely spelling, one runs a risk of being wrong and appearing unprofessional. If one accepts the spelling given by the end client, they will be happy. However, what if the transliteration in the text differs greatly from the spelling proposed by the end client, for example if the client says "Gruel" and the text says "Gry-oh"? It seems legally risky to put something in one's translation that does not actually appear in the text.
3. Same as latter part of point 2 above.
4. Here it seems that the only option is to retransliterate the transliteration into the target language. At this point, unless the reader of the text is familiar with the system of transliteration being used and the phonetics of the source language (very unlikely), information is being lost in the translation process. On the practical side, how would you mark such a transliteration?

Although these theoretical issues have never caused any headaches for me in practice, I do wonder about the most professional and defensible approach. I would appreciate any input from other translators.

Best regards,

Michael


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Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:30
English to Arabic
+ ...
Case by case Mar 3, 2009

Hi Michael,

It's a problem I've encountered a few times in translating Arabic documents. Most of the times, if it was a marriage or birth certificate, the end client was able to supply the proper spelling of names.
If the client was clueless, very often it meant that the client wasn't particularly concerned with whether it's Catherine or Kathryn. If he was, then the best I could do (after extensive searches on the internet for clues) was to re-transliterate it the best I could, along with a translator's note explaining the situation.

[Edited at 2009-03-03 10:29 GMT]


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Nesrin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:30
English to Arabic
+ ...
In other cases: Not the translator's responsibility Mar 3, 2009

... I think.

Sorry just wanted to add to my posting above: if it's a legal document and it was of utmost importance to get the name right, and if the translator has consulted the end client, the internet and any relevant background documents available to him/ her and was STILL not able to come up with the right spelling, then there's really not much the translator should be expected to do! There's got to be a limit somewhere, and the internet has already placed a bigger burden on the translator to get things right that are beyond the scope of translation. I think it's the end client's responsibility to do whatever's necessary here.


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Michael Sloggett  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 21:30
Thai to English
TOPIC STARTER
Lingering concern Mar 4, 2009

Thank you, Nesrin, for your thoughtful responses. I agree with the points you make, and have had similar experiences with regards to clients supplying details.

The lingering concern I have relates to the scenario you describe: "a legal document [in which it is] of utmost importance to get the name right". My concern is that, as a translator who takes assignments from agencies, I don't necessarily know whether the name of any particular person or place is going to turn out to be of critical importance. Perhaps the name of a third party in a police report or love letter could turn out to be crucial in a court case, for example.

I feel that in order to give all parties a true picture it would be best to do something to reflect the uncertainty inherent in words derived from transliterations. Your suggestion of a translator's note is one possibility. In cases where there are a number of such words, perhaps a mark could be used, with a footnote to the following effect: "This word has been recreated from a transliteration in the source text. Other phonetically close renderings may also be possible."

Does anyone use such an approach (or something equivalent) on a regular basis?

Michael

[Edited at 2009-03-04 09:28 GMT]


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