How lenient should one be?
Thread poster: Ledja

Ledja  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:16
Member (2008)
English to Albanian
+ ...
Nov 21, 2016

Apologies for the generic title, but I hope I got your attention.

I am writing an extensive report on a known novel's quality of translation. My evaluation makes the difference between the publishing house or translator receiving, or not, funding from the organisation I work with. This would be my sixth “expert reader report” over the last couple of years for this organisation, but I have yet to recommend a translation to be published.

The other five samples I have reviewed range from amateurish work, rife with typos and misspellings or showing little understanding of the phraseology in English (or lacking the skill to find equivalents in Albanian), to grave alterations and omissions - either getting the wrong end of the stick or leaving both ends out altogether, so to speak.

Here’s the dilemma:

This last one seems to be carried out with the expected professionalism. The author’s style is well reflected in the translation, with figurative language sitting in place and prose flowing mostly natural. Mostly. Scrutiny, which is what I am supposed to carry out, reveals some straying from the original, a couple of missed inferences, an item name thrown in out of its historical setting, some colloquialisms misunderstood (but made to fit in the dialogue so the reader wouldn’t know any better) and so on. Almost forgivable so far. But then comes the tense switch, past to present, which is a key element in this narrative. The translator has had quite a few slips of past tense uses within paragraphs meant to be in present. I cannot know how the rest of the novel is laid out, but there are enough instances of this type of error within this sample to make me mull my decision over.

I was really keen on giving this one a thumbs-up, but now that I am listing the mistakes in my report, it seems that I might not sound objective at all with a positive recommendation in the end.

So my question is – to those with experience in the literary field – how much allowance do you make for errors in a generally well written translation?

Thankful for you two cents,
Ledja


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Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 21:16
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
Commercial translators Nov 21, 2016

Dear Ledja,

A generic answer. For what it's worth, good commercial translators proofreading eachother are very lenient about a few errors in a good translation. The result would be a very good translation. Sorry to state the obvious.

Cheers,
Gerard


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:16
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Was there no revision at all? Nov 21, 2016

Ledja wrote:
This last one seems to be carried out with the expected professionalism. The author’s style is well reflected in the translation, with figurative language sitting in place and prose flowing mostly natural. Mostly. Scrutiny, which is what I am supposed to carry out, reveals some straying from the original, a couple of missed inferences, an item name thrown in out of its historical setting, some colloquialisms misunderstood (but made to fit in the dialogue so the reader wouldn’t know any better) and so on. Almost forgivable so far. But then comes the tense switch, past to present, which is a key element in this narrative. The translator has had quite a few slips of past tense uses within paragraphs meant to be in present.

Those seem to me to be exactly the sort of thing that a proofreader/copy-editor would be bound to pick up on. It sounds as though the slips are few and far between. The tense change is a problem, yes, but it's the sort of thing that can happen at the slow speed of translation, while it should be easy to spot with the faster pace of revision. Of course, one could say that the translator should have picked up on all of them when checking his or her work, but that's easier said than done and precisely why a second pair of eyes is invaluable. Unfortunately, spell-checkers seem to be taking their place, even though they are all but blind and quite stupid.

But that's just an observation and doesn't help you make your decision .


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:16
Member (2000)
Russian to English
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I think you probably should recommend it Nov 21, 2016

A translator of some languages into English (including Russian, which is my target language – I know nothing about Albanian) often has to change tenses from present to past, usually because of English rules about reported speech. It is possible that you do not have a complete grasp of this yourself, though you write such excellent English that I doubt it. But if the translator has rightly made several such changes, and then a case comes along in which it is important not to make one, the translator may not be aware of this and will change it to past when it is wrong to do so.
Judging from the rest of what you say about this translation, I would say you should recommend it for publication, subject to the changes you consider essential being made. But you are the only one who can see the whole picture.


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Ledja  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:16
Member (2008)
English to Albanian
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TOPIC STARTER
Thank you all Nov 21, 2016

It does help to have some sort of confirmation that I'm not being too forgiving.

Gerard and Sheila, I am under the impression that this has been presented as the finished version and no further proofreading would be carried out if I gave the go-ahead in my report - which is what makes me cautious.

Jack, not that I know any Russian, but I am well aware of what you're talking about because Albanian works in far more complicated ways than English does where grammar is concerned. This is not the case though. It is something along the lines of (if I may offer a backtranslation) "he threw a quick glance... she stops as if". There is no other reason here for the past tense but an overlooked lapse on the part of the translator.

Having seen the poor quality of published literature, whether original or translations, in the last decade or so in Albania, I do not want to end up endorsing the kind of work featuring what I have openly criticised so often among colleagues. And then again, I am finding it hard to trust my judgement: have I worked so often with poor translations that now this one seems desperately exceptional?

I have the option, in any case, to recommend publication with revision - which, of course, I intend to do - but am still not convinced that the errors I've flagged and elaborated on in my report will be ironed out in the rest of the novel.

[Edited at 2016-11-21 23:44 GMT]


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Kelly Neudorfer  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:16
German to English
Can you recommend further revision? Nov 22, 2016

Instead of just accept/reject, can you talk to your contact and say you'd love to recommend it but there are a few problems (x, y, z) that need to be addressed and revised before publication? It would be a shame to reject a good translation of a book if just a few days of revising would fix the problems.

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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:16
German to English
context Nov 22, 2016

Like others here, I would say that the positive qualities of a literary translation are more important than the negative qualities - unless those shortcomings are so troubling that they ruin or severely distort the overall effect. And every literary translation includes instances of illegitimate straying from the original and missed inferences and outright errors: You can't win a war without losing some battles, make an omlette without breaking eggs, etc. Perfect correctness is not a legitimate standard for a novel's translation: That is not meant as an endorsement of sloppy work, and it is important to strive for perfection, but perfection is both impossible and not nearly enough.

Ledja wrote:

Having seen the poor quality of published literature, whether original or translations, in the last decade or so in Albania, I do not want to end up endorsing the kind of work featuring what I have openly criticised so often among colleagues. And then again, I am finding it hard to trust my judgement: have I worked so often with poor translations that now this one seems desperately exceptional?



I think that this is the key. You are an "expert reader" with extensive knowledge of both languages and, above all, the current state of translation in Albania. I think that you should be assessing this book relative to real alternatives and not abstract standards. Is it enough better than the average that it definitely deserves to be published (instead of other proposed books)? Is it enough better than the average that it deserves to receive assistance through grant money (instead of other proposed books)? What books are going to lose out if this book is given funding? What book would gain by this book being rejected?


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Ledja  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:16
Member (2008)
English to Albanian
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TOPIC STARTER
I am to do more than accept/reject Nov 22, 2016

Kelly Neudorfer wrote:

Instead of just accept/reject, can you talk to your contact and say you'd love to recommend it but there are a few problems (x, y, z) that need to be addressed and revised before publication? It would be a shame to reject a good translation of a book if just a few days of revising would fix the problems.


Hi Kelly,

That is my exact feeling on this translation: it would be a shame to reject it. My job is to give a full two-page evaluation, discussing where it succeeds and fails to deliver on a number of aspects. I have now formulated my conclusive paragraph starting with: "It is reasonable to say that the mentioned errors do not mar the overall quality of work,..." and finishing with a recommendation to publish after it has undergone revision.

Anything after that will be out of my hands - or my further scrutiny


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Ledja  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:16
Member (2008)
English to Albanian
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TOPIC STARTER
Those are the two decisions I am torn between Nov 22, 2016

Michael Wetzel wrote:

Is it enough better than the average that it definitely deserves to be published (instead of other proposed books)? Is it enough better than the average that it deserves to receive assistance through grant money (instead of other proposed books)?


Definitely better than the average - but the average, as I mentioned previously, has been pretty mediocre in my book - but certainly short of perfect, which is what is considered worthy for this particular grant. And that is why I will be recommending that it is sent back for revision.

Thanks again to all for helping me be more at ease with my decision.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 21:16
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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@Ledja Nov 23, 2016

Ledja wrote:
I was really keen on giving this one a thumbs-up, but now that I am listing the mistakes in my report, it seems that I might not sound objective at all with a positive recommendation in the end.


The reason why reports such as the one that you're making contains a section at the end for a "recommendation" is because recommendations are often subjective. If the list of mistakes was intended to speak for itself, then a "recommendation" at the end of the report would not be necessary. Or: do you think that the "recommendation" section is actually meant merely las a summary of the mistakes?

BTW, I have no experience in the literary field.

Samuel


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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
FWIW Nov 23, 2016

I think you're being too lenient. A test translation should be flawless. Otherwise, how bad will their real-world translations be?

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Ledja  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:16
Member (2008)
English to Albanian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I like that perspective Nov 23, 2016

Samuel Murray wrote:

If the list of mistakes was intended to speak for itself, then a "recommendation" at the end of the report would not be necessary.

Samuel


Thanks for the input, Samuel.


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Ledja  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:16
Member (2008)
English to Albanian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
@Chris Nov 23, 2016

Chris S wrote:

I think you're being too lenient. A test translation should be flawless. Otherwise, how bad will their real-world translations be?


That was my original worry. I find I'm picky and not easily impressed (that is not to say that I am unfair). But then again, in all fairness, the question to grapple with is: how perfectly accurate do you expect a whole novel to be translated? Can it still be an impressive piece of literature, despite an omission here and there, a small errancy, or the occasional phrase adaptation that makes you think: "I've got a better one for that!"? After all, a creative piece of writing can evolve every time you have another go at it, and so does translation.

This particular sample can benefit from a further proofreading, but it already bears the marks of a professional translation, which is why I'd feel guilty if I dismissed it altogether.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 04:16
Chinese to English
Lenient in your attitudes and tone, but not in your standards Nov 24, 2016

[quote]Ledja wrote:

Chris S wrote:

...it already bears the marks of a professional translation, which is why I'd feel guilty if I dismissed it altogether.

I'm kinda with Chris on this. I'm all for solidarity and supporting our fellow translators. I'm all for pointing out that one translation is much better than another. But I'm also very much in favour of standards which are high, and as objective as possible. If you've found clear errors in a sample... that's not good. One of the best favours you can do for a professional, committed translator is to show them that their work is good - but not quite good enough for this purpose. So I wouldn't be shy about saying exactly what you've told us here. And remember that the client will make their own decision based on your report. It's not like you have to take full responsibility on yourself.
It sounds like you did exactly that in the end, so take this post as a thumbs up!


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Ledja  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:16
Member (2008)
English to Albanian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Done! Nov 24, 2016

Phil Hand wrote:

So I wouldn't be shy about saying exactly what you've told us here. And remember that the client will make their own decision based on your report. It's not like you have to take full responsibility on yourself.
It sounds like you did exactly that in the end, so take this post as a thumbs up!


Having now sent the report off, I can only hope the examples I've highlighted and explained will provide sufficient urge to the translator to have a thorough look at his/her work. The novel will, at the very least, not be published in the current state.

Thanks for sharing your thought. Much appreciated.


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