Translations and original text - responsabilities of the translators
Thread poster: Ruxi

Ruxi
German to Romanian
+ ...
May 10, 2004

Yesterday on Kudoz there was a question about a sentence in English with 3 different possible opinions. All of them could have been correct, because the text was not really clear build.
It reminded me of my experience with in house translations.
I want to discuss this matter here, because I consider it important.
Translators must understand and also interpret a text the way the writer would have wanted, the way a conductor does with a concert.
Sometimes the original text is difficult, because the writer does not know it will be translated. In every language there are more translations for a word and it is difficult to choose the right one as long as you don't know what the writer meant. Sometimes you know him and you can ask him, but many times you don't know him, you just have the text.
Text is built different depending on the field and on the level where it is written. An officer in an unit writes a document in a more simple way, another one, at the UE writes it more complicated, using a sofisticated language, more related to law.
Law language is so difficult, that even for people in the same country laws may be interpretated in different ways, more or less correct.
Another problem is that for one object, in every country there is another name. For instance in transport field they have found out that discuissing at meetings, or in documents about notions in English or French, they mean different objects or transport documents in every country. It was decided to work together common glossaries, with common definitions for every term, so that everybody should understand the same thing when using a specific term.
I thought many times what to do when you simply do not understand what exactly a person meant in a document and you do not now how to translate it.
What would you do?
I will give you two examples.
1. "We forsee that Technical Surveys will start early in the commission and will be completed in 6 month"
Now which sense do you choose for "commission" - the noun, the verb with the meaning - asign a group, or somebody to do something, or the verb meaning to execute?
All the 3 alternatives could make sense here.
How would you understand the sentence?
2. There was a discussion about sinonims for a word. Sometimes one understands and translates correctly the idea, but does not use the proper sinonim of a word, which is common used in a field.
Dictionaries also show two sinonims for the same notion in the same field. E.g engine and motor.
Which to choose? Both mean the same thing, both are correct and technical.
It is also a matter of choosing a "neologism" or a word specific to the language.
Motor is used in more languages ,it is some kind of neologism. Engine is only English.
Finally I will tell you that another difficulty of the translation work is wether and when to translate nouns and even proper names.
Some must be used in the original state, that is not translated. Some clients do want it like this, some other only want the translation of the words in the specific language.
Should we translate Geographical names (names of cities, rivers, lakes a.s.o), names of persons, specific food (e.g paella, or all the specific Italian pasta types).
How far do we have to go with translations?
How far goes the responsability of a translator for a text, a document which is not clear written?
Two questions which must be answered, because translators and translations must also have and put their limits and why not, sometimes refuse doing works which are impossible.

Ruxi


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ntext  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:02
German to English
+ ...
You're asking many questions here ... May 10, 2004

... and my answer to all of them is: It depends.

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Marcus Malabad  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 03:02
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
ethics May 10, 2004

Ruxi wrote:
How far goes the responsability [sic] of a translator for a text, a document which is not clear [sic] written?
Ruxi


The translator is ethically bound not to express his/her opinion in the translation. Therefore, a text that is not clearly written should be translated in the same register, with the corresonding lack of clarity in the target language. We are not hired to improve the text but to convey meaning. Improvements in the source language are done by source-language editors.

I may have been mistaken in transferring your post from Linguistics to Techniques (should be "Getting Established") since most of your questions are what every professional translator should already know.

M

[Edited at 2004-05-10 14:37]


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ntext  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:02
German to English
+ ...
Marcus — May 10, 2004

Marcus Malabad wrote:

Therefore, a text that is not clearly written should be translated in the same register, with the corresonding lack of clarity in the target language.


While I agree in principle, the reality may not always be this clear-cut.

For example, if you're translating a technical manual and the source text contains an imprecise use of pronouns (i.e. it is grammatically not clear what the pronoun stands for), but from the context it's safe to assume that the pronoun stands for XYZ, wouldn't you be inclined to produce a sentence that does away with the ambiguity?

In some cases, a source text's lack of clarity may be intended by the writer; it may reflect an objective lack of clarity of the matter at hand; or it may be a lack of clarity that the translator merely perceives because s/he lacks understanding of the source language or subject matter.

Often, however, lack of clarity is simply another term for bad writing. How to deal with bad writing is constant challenge for many of us. Sometimes, the correct thing may be to produce equally bad writing in the target language — but many other times, this may not be the correct thing to do. As I said above: it depends ... on the type of text, its purpose, the framework within which the translator works, and many other factors.

[Edited at 2004-05-10 16:08]


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Marcus Malabad  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 03:02
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
improving vs. status quo May 11, 2004

Norbert,

Agree with your 'it depends'. I basically wrote my answer above sort of as an Introduction to Translation Ethics 101 since the question was so basic it needed a basic answer.

The gray areas you describe are infinite and pervasive. The quick solution is to notify your client about the imprecise or wrong statements and ask for a revision. If none comes, you're left to translating what you have and perhaps writing 'sic' after each wrong information.

M


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Klaus Herrmann  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:02
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
It depends May 11, 2004

Marcus Malabad wrote:
The quick solution is to notify your client about the imprecise or wrong statements and ask for a revision. If none comes, you're left to translating what you have and perhaps writing 'sic' after each wrong information.
M


I'm getting paid to deliver an accurate German text. About 80% of my work is technical, i.e. manuals, spec sheets and the like. My clients expect me to deliver a correct German manual. They prefer a text which may not be faithful to the original but saves them from service calls. On the other hand, this approach is inacceptable when translating a quote from the CEO in the company news letter.


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invguy  Identity Verified
Bulgaria
Local time: 04:02
English to Bulgarian
Completely second that May 11, 2004

Klaus Herrmann wrote:

Marcus Malabad wrote:
The quick solution is to notify your client about the imprecise or wrong statements and ask for a revision. If none comes, you're left to translating what you have and perhaps writing 'sic' after each wrong information.
M


I'm getting paid to deliver an accurate German text. About 80% of my work is technical, i.e. manuals, spec sheets and the like. My clients expect me to deliver a correct German manual. They prefer a text which may not be faithful to the original but saves them from service calls. On the other hand, this approach is inacceptable when translating a quote from the CEO in the company news letter.



Truth is, a technical source text is often full of mistakes, or at least of inconsistencies. In many cases no one bothers to hire a technical writer. Instead, the boss assigns the job to the in-house technical staff - as a rule, in the very last moment. What they typically do is simply compile from documents they already have, copying as-is, all mistakes intact.

Obviously, with such an approach you don't even discuss style consistency - there is none by default. It is a common belief among tech personnel that, in technical writing, bothering about style is an unnecessary luxury.

I alert the client only if the meaning is indeed unclear or if my knowledge in the respective field is not sufficient to judge on my own. Else, I have no prejudice to correct mistakes, omissions and inconsistencies on the fly. BTW I always insist on having the full set of diagrams, drawings etc. for my own reference, even if they don't need to be translated.

If the flaws are such that the source text is of definitely poor quality, I certainly inform the client, so they could take steps to improve it. But I usually do that when submitting the ready translation. I might also point out some of the more critical mistakes, to convince the client that they have a good reason to worry.


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Stuart Allsop  Identity Verified
Chile
Local time: 21:02
Spanish to English
+ ...
But don't forget your own rep! May 13, 2004

Therefore, a text that is not clearly written should be translated in the same register, with the corresponding lack of clarity in the target language.


I agree in principle, but there is also the nuts-and-bolts issue of the translator's own reputation being at stake. If I produce a translation that is an accurate representation of a poor original, and therefore reads poorly, the client may well decide that I'm just a poor translator (especially if he doesn't speak the source language), and decide not use my services again. Or even worse, decide not to pay for what I just did!

So, even though I agree that there is no ethical obligation to improve on a poor original, there is still the minor little issue of my needing to eat occasionally!

Therefore, my own policy is to at least make some effort to get the translation to read smoothly, to leave it as unambiguous as possible, and to let the client know that the original was poor (unless, of course, the client himself wrote the original....J ). So if I get one of your typical assembly manuals that says something like "Please is to being placed bolt ‘A’ in throuiogh whole objeted side ‘L’ by wright hand screwing tighten ", I'm not going to render it word for word in the target language! I'll at least try to do something like "Insert bolt "A" through the hole on the side of object "L", and tighten it to the right". That may not be what the original author intended to say, but it reads more clearly, carries the same meaning as the original, and most certainly does not detract from the original! I think this is another important point. If you ARE going to try to improve on it, then at least make sure that you don't do any harm!

So, in summary, when I get a "this sentence no verb" original, I do add the obviously missing verb in the target language, and I do correct obvious grammatical, spelling, punctuation, and plain old silly errors. Then if it still looks lousy, I just tell the client that it's not my fault if the original was garbage.

As they say in the computer industry "garbage in, garbage out". But I do think that, in our own best interests, translators should at least perfume the garbage and bag it neatly before giving it to the client.


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:32
English to Tamil
+ ...
Poison is a venomous substance May 13, 2004

In one of our translation seminars, a delegate gave the above sentence with an open chalenge to translate it into Hindi. I stood up and said: "Vish ek zahreeli vasthu hai". When the delegate politely pointed out that vish and zahar were just synonyms, I pointed out with equal politeness that poison and venom too were nothing but that. I elaborated saying that if the original is resorting such trivial play of words just to impress the readers, the translator has no other go but to follow suit.
Regards,
N.Raghavan


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