translator queries and poorly written originals
Thread poster: Kathryn Litherland

Kathryn Litherland  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:02
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Mar 27, 2006

The nature of my job is such that I occasionall work with academic articles that have been translated professionally, as well as articles that have been translated by amateurs or else composed directly in English by non-native speakers. Right now I'm copyediting a lengthy article that was professionally translated from Spanish to English (by someone who came highly recommended to my boss) , and I'm disappointed by the quality of the translation.

I do feel some sympathy for the translator, because the Spanish-language original is not all that well-written to begin with (both outright structural problems such as run-on sentences, and the more vague affliction of "academese"). What I find somewhat surprising is that the translator did not flag or query anything that was obviously problematic.

However, I'm coming at this from the perspective of a professional (bilingual) copyeditor-if anything is unclear or ambiguous in the original, I simply query the author.

Obviously, not every translation job has the luxury of being handled in subsequent phases by the author and/or a copyeditor. I see many instances on the translation boards where the translator is trying to figure out what the heck the author meant in the first place, and various responses offer their best guess--any of which may be plausible! I wonder how often the translator has to guess, and guesses wrong.

However, I would think that when preparing a translation that is to be published by a major press, including various additional stages of editing, author review, proofreading, and so on, I'd think translators would query, just as do copyeditors and proofreaders.

Is it just not the custom of translators to flag or query the author/editor? How do you handle it when the original is not very well written? I guess my philosophy is that--as with the wilderness--the goal is to leave it cleaner than you found it. It seems like a waste to translate mediocre Spanish into mediocre English. But I imagine this is easier said that done.


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Trevor Butcher
Local time: 05:02
English
Who's managing the project? Mar 30, 2006

It sounds like that you are wondering whether to take on the responsibility your boss/project manager should be shouldering.

If there are problems with the text that you feel the translator should have flagged, then will you get paid to resolve them? This is something you obviously need to check.

I seem to spend my life flagging problems with the text that I cannot resolve at the proofing/editing stage. As I am on a salary then I feel it is well withion my interest to try and resolve what I can, and highlight and return what I can't.


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Kathryn Litherland  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:02
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
follow-up Mar 30, 2006

Trevor Butcher wrote:

It sounds like that you are wondering whether to take on the responsibility your boss/project manager should be shouldering.


I'm the managing editor, copyeditor, and proofreader of the publication it will appear in. I do have people over me whom I've made aware of the problem, but it's my responsibility to get it fixed, and largely my choice of how to go about that.

If there are problems with the text that you feel the translator should have flagged, then will you get paid to resolve them? This is something you obviously need to check.


I'm salaried, so I get paid for my time, yes...it mostly means less time to do other things, but since I'm not excessively overworked, it's alright as far as that goes.

[/quote]I seem to spend my life flagging problems with the text that I cannot resolve at the proofing/editing stage. As I am on a salary then I feel it is well withion my interest to try and resolve what I can, and highlight and return what I can't. [/quote]

I talked with the senior editor who recommended this translator in the first place--she was really apologetic, for one thing. She even offered to go through and fix it her self, but since she's also full-time senior faculty and isn't paid for her "figurehead" editorial position, I just don't think she has a week to set aside to cleaning it up like I do. She said they'd hired this same translator to translate 3 articles for a book she is editing for another Press, and the translator did a botch job on those as well.

I did go read another thread on what the best course of action is when the original is badly written, and it was interesting to read what other translators suggested doing in such a situation. People's views on this are probably colored by the branch of translation they work in--technical, academic, literature, etc...


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Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:02
Italian to English
+ ...
I would always correct and/or query with the client Mar 31, 2006

I translate a lot of medical articles, mostly with direct clients, and my policy here is correct and query - I don't hesitate to get rid of tautologies (there are a lot in most Italian articles, but it's not appropriate in English), correct any obvious errors (and flag them to the client), change sentence structure and so on as necessary, querying only if I make major changes along these lines.

With indirect clients, I would never do this without referring the query back to the agency. And if the original is in the form of a scanned pdf or the like, again I would query before correcting - you don't know why the client wants it translated. I had a case where I queried an erroneous press release (in scanned pdf format) on a new pharmaceutical compound - they'd given a concentration in g/l instead of mg/l. The client thanked me for pointing it out but told me to translate exactly what the original said.


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