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poorly written source text - negative effects on target text
Thread poster: xxxLia Fail
xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:17
Spanish to English
+ ...
May 19, 2005

A bit obvious, isn't it?

Yet it's something that's been preying on my mind recently. And just came across an example now:

CAT
L’estratègia pretén conscienciar ambientalment el client i la població, i incidir així en hàbits de compra més sostenibles.

EN - Literal
The strategy is to make customers and the public in general more environmentally aware and to thus encourage more sustainable shopping habits.

Surely 'shopping habits' aren't 'sustainable'? Surely they mean 'shopping habits that constribute to sustainable economic development'.

That's just an example, and it's clear what they are trying to say. But I have translated a number of texts in recent weeks of a commercial nature (e.g. decribing cosmetic products, describing machines for aesthetics, websites about companies, etc) that to my mind were very poorly written.

It's very demoralising to be trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear as one works through a text, but also it's just yet another factor that interferes with the production of decently written texts.

WEll, got that one off my chest! Would like to hear comments:-)


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Kevin Fulton
United States
Local time: 10:17
German to English
My pet peeve too! May 19, 2005

I see a lot of poorly-written texts. Some are written by non-native speakers, some use shop slang, others have never seen any sort of review or editing ("Press F2 to continue. Press F2 to cancel").

Sometimes the sentence structure takes several readings before I understand what the author intended; this of course slows me down. More than a few times I've had to include a translator's note stating that due to the sentence structure and choice of vocabulary, several different interpretations of the sentence are possible (2 subjects, no direct object, or 2 direct objects without a clearly-defined subject [this is possible due to the use of case in German]).

Does it affect the quality of the translation? In many cases it does, since the text itself is a puzzle. Certainly poorly-written documents have an effect upon my attitude toward the job.

On the other hand, I have a series of documents right now that are, for the most part, very clearly written and sensibly structured. I like working on them so much that I completely lose track of time.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:17
French to English
Rubbish in, rubbish out May 20, 2005

That tends to be my maxim, up to a point.

I would certainly not correct a text as much as your suggestion (not that you said you had), I think it's tantamount to putting words in the author's mouth (but that is just an opinion).

I do use translator's notes a fair bit:
a) when something just looks wrong - a recent example was a pricing structure for a set of services which, the way it was written, seemed to imply that 'top of the range' was cheaper than 'bog standard'. I *thought* I knew what was meant, but left it, and added a note, in order that the source could be clarified/corrected.
b) when there are contradictions
c) when the text says something like "as mentioned above" when there is no mention above
d) inconsistencies in general - I do a lot of IT texts, and they love to use out of date screen images so that the specification of the processing doesn't match the image, for example
e) use of what appears to be the wrong word - I had a recent example of disinterested vs uninterested.

But in all cases my aim to draw attention to something "odd" and allow either both or neither text(s) to be changed, so that they remain in step. My approach may be wrong, but otherwise I wonder where you draw the line - just look at English monolingual kudoz to see debates on how best to express relatively simple ideas. I just do my best to replicate the meaning of the source, while pointing out apparent anomalies.

[Edited at 2005-05-20 00:58]


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xxxtazdog
Spain
Local time: 16:17
Spanish to English
+ ...
the bane of my existence! May 20, 2005

Agree 100%, Ailish, I've had many, many "sows' ears" as source texts (ES > EN). The worst ones seem to be written by people who SHOULD be able to write well and who are probably even convinced that they do (e.g., PR people). These texts tend to be the arty-farty type, with the writer trying to wax eloquent and only succeeding in putting together words that don't quite fit. Some of the worst ones I've had have been written by architects describing their designs and how they came up with them (I can still remember one expression in particular used in describing a building: "vocación pétrea," literally a "stone/stony vocation"). Having to wade through pretentious nonsense to try to get to the real meaning can really be frustrating.

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PAS  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:17
English to Polish
+ ...
There is another layer to all this May 20, 2005

Not only are some texts poorly written, they are written about, well, uh... nothing.

I recently translated a document interpreting one of the articles in the habitat directive. In addition to all the faults mentioned above, the text (to my simple mind, anyway) failed to explain anything.
More than 100 pages written about 10 lines of the original article.
I usually learn something from texts I translate. That's part of the appeal of our work. This text - I don't even remember what it was about - one week after having handed it in!

gripe gripe gripe back to work

Have a nice weekend

Pawel Skalinski


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 16:17
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
I agree May 20, 2005

Ailish Maher wrote:
Surely 'shopping habits' aren't 'sustainable'? Surely they mean 'shopping habits that constribute to sustainable economic development'.


I don't know the source language, but "sustainable shopping habits" make perfect sense to me. It means that the strategy will cause shoppers to shop more, without having to continuously reinforce the prompt to shop. But I agree that you can say it better... much better. The text above is typical blurb presented by young marketing executives to chiefs of department about the latest new idea they've had to make more money for the company.


It's very demoralising to be trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear as one works through a text, but also it's just yet another factor that interferes with the production of decently written texts.


I agree. If I'm in a hurry, I simply try to make the best of it. Sometimes the text is obviously a first draft, or obviously just some ideas thrown together with no regard for proper writing principles because of "artistic licence". Yeah right. Artistic laziness is more likely.

In much cases I determine what the purpose of the text is, and then I try to create a target text that suits that purpose.


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Nikki Graham  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:17
Partial member (2003)
Spanish to English
Get the scissors out May 20, 2005

Cindy Chadd wrote:

These texts tend to be the arty-farty type, with the writer trying to wax eloquent and only succeeding in putting together words that don't quite fit... Having to wade through pretentious nonsense to try to get to the real meaning can really be frustrating.


Ah, and as Pawel said, what if you wade through and find it means nothing at all!

I seem to have been inundated with these arty-farty texts recently (ES-EN), where the writer could certainly have said whatever he had to say in about a fifth of the number of words. I have had to get the agency to ask clients what on earth they were going on about sometimes as there have been sentences I couldn't fathom for the life of me because they were so ungrammatical. My motto recently has been "cut the c**p" and I imagine myself as a pair of scissors just snipping away the vast majority of the flowery bits that make no sense and which are just a repetition of the first half of the sentence anyway...


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Sheila Hardie  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:17
Member
Catalan to English
+ ...
I agree May 20, 2005

Hi Ailish,

I completely agree with everything said above. Like Charlie, I make full use of translator's notes to the client. Very often, it's the only way to make sense of something that is totally ungrammatical - or simply wrong - in the original. Like Nikki, I think it is necessary to cut a lot of the flowery bits out. This may not be the case for all language combinations, but it certainly does appear to be for Catalan/Spanish/French -> English (my usual combinations).

In the end, you cannot make a beautiful text out of a horrendous original. It is not our job, in my opinion. Could you make a beautiful jacket out of a piece of wet newspaper??? We have to translate what is being said correctly and in a way that can be understood by the reader. That's how I see it anyway.

Time to get the scissors out now!


Sheila


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Jerónimo Fernández  Identity Verified
English to Spanish
+ ...
If in doubt, I ask May 20, 2005

Hi there,

I must say that I've found that well-written texts are pretty uncommon. Also, I've noticed that the fact that the autor is a native speaker doesn't necessarily mean that the text is well-written.

My approach is (unless my client tells me otherwise and depending on the project, of course) to convey what the text means, and not necessarily what it says: if I find a obvious mistake, I translate the correct meaning and let my client note that mistake. (The "Press F2 to continue. Press F2 to cancel" would be an example of this).

Granted, sometimes the "correct meaning" is not crystal clear, and in this case, I create queries such as "Does [sentence here] mean [possible interpretation a] or [possible interpretation b]?", followed by "(Translated as if it meant [possible interpretation x])".

Sure, this "queries approach" can take some time, and requires being tactful, but this way I make sure I translate what the author meant.

HTH.

Jerónimo


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John Bowden  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:17
German to English
I agree.... May 20, 2005

Most source texts are never going to win any literary prizes.
In the case in question, the term "sustainable shopping" gets a lot of google hits, so maybe it's a back-translation into spanish - maybe missing out "habits" would make it a bit more natural-sounding - "encouraging sustainable shopping"?


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Ana Naglić  Identity Verified
Croatia
Local time: 16:17
Member (2005)
English to Croatian
+ ...
Agree - what about the bad source text and complaining/"proofreading" of the text they translated? May 20, 2005

I recently had a text in English which had to be translated into Croatian. But the source text was a bad translation from Korean, and it took a lot of effort to make something out of it.
I also used to have problems with the badly written texts with regionalisms, broken sentences, etc. especially from the small- to medium Croatian companies ((through the agencies) - "my secretary used to translate this, and she had no problems with such stuff - unfortunatelly, she's busy, so, translate this 25+ p. tender by tomorrow, as it's the last day for submission...").
The additional problem is that some (not all) agencies that I used to work with (domestic ones) always stood on the client's side, regardless of the faults, impossible text, impossible deadline, lack of cooperation, often giving discounts for the terrible texts (because they were 10.000 words+ documents; and then complaining about the money to the translator), "just to keep those clients", and then put an additional pressure on translators when the clients who "learnt some English from the films" try to lower the price by complaining about the quality (which is not an issue) or maaking the translator to do the DTP at no additional charge, as the client said (just before the job was due) that he wouldn't pay for the translation otherwise.
Did you have problems with people who complained about translation (although they had only elementary knowledge of the language concerned), just in order to get a lower price? Or when they "translate" the text themselves ant then send it to you for proofreading?


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Edward Potter  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:17
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
I have no idea what you all are talking about May 20, 2005

All source texts that I have ever seen, depending on the context, style author and medium, have been written in the most grammatical, fluent, and intelligible prose, notwithstanding those who may have had some scarcity of verbal acumen, be the sector in question that of science, economics, education or semi-conductors, and quinilly speaking, whatever that which there under of in some more and more unitelligible as you go along in the sentence, which, depending on your particular point of view may actually be a paragraph, page, book, etc. and rather assuredly commence, as it were, producing a certain negative happiness in that individual who may so be attempting complex cognitive processes in rendering such texual object into an alternative linguistic context (see figure 5).

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Charlotte Blank  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:17
Czech to German
+ ...
Edward, that was great! May 20, 2005

rarely laughed so much these days

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NataliaElo  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:17
Member (2004)
English to Russian
+ ...
Bravo Edward! May 20, 2005

Edward Potter wrote:

All source texts that I have ever seen, depending on the context, style author and medium, have been written in the most grammatical, fluent, and intelligible prose, notwithstanding those who may have had some scarcity of verbal acumen, be the sector in question that of science, economics, education or semi-conductors, and quinilly speaking, whatever that which there under of in some more and more unitelligible as you go along in the sentence, which, depending on your particular point of view may actually be a paragraph, page, book, etc. and rather assuredly commence, as it were, producing a certain negative happiness in that individual who may so be attempting complex cognitive processes in rendering such texual object into an alternative linguistic context (see figure 5).



Really, really great! I had a very good laugh, thank you for making my day!


Just an example: a KudoZ question, I've tried to answer.

http://www.proz.com/kudoz/1035105?float=1


Anybody, please give any idea, what on earth the writer had in mind?

Natalia


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Monika Coulson  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:17
Member (2001)
English to Albanian
+ ...
Edward, contact me ASAP, pretty please :) May 20, 2005

You must be the author of the material that I am translating now.
I need to translate it with you on the phone. I am even willing to pay for the long distance phone bill.
Monika



Edward Potter wrote:

All source texts that I have ever seen, depending on the context, style author and medium, have been written in the most grammatical, fluent, and intelligible prose, notwithstanding those who may have had some scarcity of verbal acumen, be the sector in question that of science, economics, education or semi-conductors, and quinilly speaking, whatever that which there under of in some more and more unitelligible as you go along in the sentence, which, depending on your particular point of view may actually be a paragraph, page, book, etc. and rather assuredly commence, as it were, producing a certain negative happiness in that individual who may so be attempting complex cognitive processes in rendering such texual object into an alternative linguistic context (see figure 5).


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