Translation blunders at the highest levels
Thread poster: Kim Metzger

Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 07:03
German to English
May 30, 2005

This afternoon I was reading a review of a new biography of André Malraux and found this little nugget that I thought ProZians would enjoy. Knopf is a prestigious publishing house specializing in literary works.

Malraux: A Life
by Olivier Todd, translated from the French by Joseph West. Knopf, 541 pp. $35.00

Review by Roger Shattuck, in The New York Review of Books, May 26, 2005.

Todd tends to change his tone too abruptly. Often the translation is at fault. Joseph West falls too easily into the arms of a translator's "false friends." 'Procès' yields "process" instead of "trial." 'Devise' yields "device" instead of "epigraph." This sentence about Malraux near the end of his life moving in with an old and intimate friend is almost offensive:

Louise [de Vilmorin] has had a few husbands, and more than a few lovers. Now André Malraux, this grand figure, has shacked up in her life, then moved well and truly in.

West has dug up a slangy, pejorative verb in English that distorts the simplicity of the French verb 'camper.'

[Edited at 2005-05-30 00:09]

[Edited at 2005-05-30 05:47]


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writeaway  Identity Verified
French to English
+ ...
Am I surprised? May 30, 2005

Kim Metzger wrote:

This afternoon I was reading a review of a new biography of André Malraux and found this little nugget that I thought ProZians would enjoy. Knopf is a highly prestigious publishing house specializing in literary works.

Malraux: A Life
by Olivier Todd, translated from the French by Joseph West. Knopf, 541 pp. $35.00

Review by Roger Shattuck, in The New York Review of Books, May 26, 2005.

Todd tends to change his tone too abruptly. Often the translation is at fault. Joseph West falls too easily into the arms of a translator's "false friends." 'Procès' yields "process" instead of "trial." 'Devise' yields "device" instead of "epigraph." This sentence about Malraux near the end of his life moving in with an old and intimate friend is almost offensive:

Louise [de Vilmorin] has had a few husbands, and more than a few lovers. Now André Malraux, this grand figure, has shacked up in her life, then moved well and truly in.

West has dug up a slangy, pejorative verb in English that distorts the simplicity of the French verb 'camper.'

[Edited at 2005-05-30 00:09]


As we've seen on the site, people get jobs one way or the other and are not terribly willing to do the work required. A lot of people are full of illusions about their skills, both as linguists and as writers in their own native language. The mistakes quoted show someone who is lazy (how long does it take to double check in a dictionary), has a less than genuine knowledge of French (procès is a howler) and absolutely no sense of style or register.
The incredible thing is that all this also got past the proofreaders and actually made its way into print.


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Textklick  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:03
German to English
+ ...
You pays your money and you gets your choice May 30, 2005

Interesting point Kim, which probably has its origins in the lower rates that are generally (and sadly paid) for translating literature.

It's something I would look to do during retirement. Major jobs that you do for the sheer joy of it, especially when golf is not your thing.

That doesn't mean I wouldn't fight for a decent rate though - I believe we should all fight to keep this profession on the even keel it deserves.


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Csaba Ban  Identity Verified
Hungary
Local time: 14:03
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
May the force be with you May 30, 2005

Let me quote this example from a posting on the Hungarian forum:

Recently, on one of the German TV channels, the invited guest was George Lucas, on the occasion of the release of Episode III. The host and Lucas spoke with each other through an interpreter in the studio.

When the host asked Lucas as what was a common element in all six episodes of "Star Wars", Lucas just smiled and said:

"May the force be with you".

The interpreter translated this to mean:

"See you on May 4th".

- an obvious lack of expertise in the subject area.



Csaba


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It is sad May 30, 2005

Dear Kim,

The last 2 books I read were German translations. The first "Der Ketzer" M. Delibes has the sun set in the east. Good, perhaps the error is in the original - I doubt it. The second is a book about salt in which the German states that the Egyptians used "Salz und Rosienen" to embalm the dead, clearly the Eng. orginal had to be resin not raisins.

Look at it this way, it's good for a laugh and keeps us on our toes.

Best regards
Linda


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Aurora Humarán  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 09:03
English to Spanish
+ ...
Tradittore.... May 30, 2005

Csaba Ban wrote:

"May the force be with you".

The interpreter translated this to mean:

"See you on May 4th".

- an obvious lack of expertise in the subject area.



Csaba



It certainly has to do with lack of experience as I guess these interpreters (unlike literature translators) do get a good pay.

Au


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Edwal Rospigliosi  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:03
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
+ ...
:) May 30, 2005

Csaba Ban wrote:

Let me quote this example from a posting on the Hungarian forum:

Recently, on one of the German TV channels, the invited guest was George Lucas, on the occasion of the release of Episode III. The host and Lucas spoke with each other through an interpreter in the studio.

When the host asked Lucas as what was a common element in all six episodes of "Star Wars", Lucas just smiled and said:

"May the force be with you".

The interpreter translated this to mean:

"See you on May 4th".

- an obvious lack of expertise in the subject area.



Csaba


I wonder if he wasn't a Sith in disguise.


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 07:03
Spanish to English
+ ...
Look on the bright side May 30, 2005

Translating a book (especially a book so important that is recognized by major reviews like The New York Review of Books) might seem like an unattainable dream. Maybe we should, rather, be encouraged to see that "anyone" can do it.

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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 14:03
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Ouch! May 30, 2005

Edwal Rospigliosi wrote:

I wonder if he wasn't a Sith in disguise.




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Angus Woo
Local time: 20:03
Chinese to English
+ ...
Amazing Nov 13, 2005

Csaba Ban wrote:

Let me quote this example from a posting on the Hungarian forum:

Recently, on one of the German TV channels, the invited guest was George Lucas, on the occasion of the release of Episode III. The host and Lucas spoke with each other through an interpreter in the studio.

When the host asked Lucas as what was a common element in all six episodes of "Star Wars", Lucas just smiled and said:

"May the force be with you".

The interpreter translated this to mean:

"See you on May 4th".

- an obvious lack of expertise in the subject area.



Csaba

Though I don't know exactly how that interpreter came up with this "May 4th be with you" thing, clearly he/she, despite the fact that he/she lacks certain expertise (actually cliche is what I had in mind) on the subject, is trying very hard to do a better job.

It just shows how important homework can be. A quick look at the movie simply would have prevented it from happening.


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JoeW
Local time: 14:03
French to English
In the translator's defence... Dec 16, 2005

I'm the guy who translated Malraux: A Life, and I'd like to have my say.

First of all, just because Roger Shattuck says the translation is at fault for abrupt changes of tone, doesn't mean he's right. The text was considerably re-worked, cut and 'smoothed' during translation. I discussed with the author throughout, and he reviewed the translation several times before publication. 'Shack up' for 'camper', for example, got his OK. (That’s how I got the job, in part: by agreeing to work closely with the author. Why don’t more people do that?) Todd is half English, and bilingual, and actually declared himself happier with the finished translation than the original.

We all face the dilemma of whether to remain faithful to an original text come what may, or to rework it into the 'best' text for the intended readership. I would say that the latter approach can almost always be justified, but of course there are limits to what is appropriate for a translator to do. How far the translator has gone on a work is a very valid area of discussion, but any criticisms should really only be made by someone who has read the original as well.

I would stand behind the two 'howlers' pointed out. 'Device', first of all, is perfectly acceptable as a grandiose literary inscription (a bit archaic, OK, but right for the context). 'Processus', not 'procès', was the word I translated as 'process', I checked. Where 'procès' does occur, I do indeed translate it as 'trial'. I find it particularly ironic to be accused of laziness, as someone who holds accuracy in ridiculously high regard. I'm a fanatical checker of absolutely everything, from language to the factual accuracy of the material. And I'm sure most serious translators feel the same way - we willingly assume responsibility for the authenticity and accuracy of the text we deliver, even if it blasts any consideration of the value of time spent out of the water!

I'd be very grateful for any feedback.

Joe


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Wenjer Leuschel  Identity Verified
Taiwan
Local time: 20:03
English to Chinese
+ ...
Perfect is never good enough. Dec 16, 2005

Hi Joe,

I am glad that you stand up and defend your translation. As translators, we are all too often and too easily accused of laziness while many people don't read both languages or just don't stop to think how a translated book came into "being."

I appreciate especially your remark "That’s how I got the job, in part: by agreeing to work closely with the author. Why don’t more people do that? " Günter Grass holds a seminar for his translators from all over the world every two years, as I hear about it. I am of the same opinion that the translator shall work closely with the author, whenever it is possible.

When a translated book is regarded as being at fault, it is not always the translator or the meager pay to be blamed. It could be just misunderstandings of a reader, say a certain reviewer. Besides, there are several steps to go before a translated book gets published and there are quite a few mistakes that could be made by someone down the way. It is all too easy to blame the translator without looking inside the procedure of the industry.

If a translated book went wrong, I would say, "It's all right. Let's find out what's gone wrong and rectify it. The next edition will be better."

Do we never allow a less-than-perfect translation to leave our desk?* Well, to be honest, I do, because I know that there is no perfect translation, for it can never be like the original. What I can do is to make my translation as close to the original as possible. Perfect is never good enough for some people. We translators know this perfectly.

I wish you furthermore successes in your career.

Wenjer

* cf. http://www.accurapid.com/journal/23prof.htm / Appendix 2

[Edited at 2005-12-23 12:41]


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Ken Cox  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:03
German to English
+ ...
More on the subject Feb 11, 2006

One of my favourite authors is Primo Levi. As I don't read Italian, I read his books in English translation. The first one I read (by chance) was The Periodic Table, which was awarded a prize for the translation. Several years later I read another one of Levi's books, translated after Levi's death by the same person as The Periodic Table. I was astonished to see numerous blatent mistranslations that anyone with a reasonable knowledge of English would spot immediately because they were more or less transliterated Italian words -- in other words, fabrications. After that I took a more critical look at The Periodic Table and discovered that it too had errors, although they were more subtle.

From all that, I conclude that (a) the translator didn't spend any more time than absolutely necessary on the translation of the second book, (b) the proofreader(s) can't have given anything more than cursory attention to the text of the second book, and (c) the prize for the translation probably had more to do with politics (in the broad sense) than the quality of the translation.

As previously remarked, the errors in the second translation in particular probably have a lot to do with how much publishers are willing to pay for translations.

[Edited at 2006-02-11 23:37]


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Roomy Naqvy  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 17:33
English to Hindi
+ ...
Please note the following post in the same context Feb 12, 2006

JoeW wrote:

I'm the guy who translated Malraux: A Life, and I'd like to have my say.

First of all, just because Roger Shattuck says the translation is at fault for abrupt changes of tone, doesn't mean he's right. The text was considerably re-worked, cut and 'smoothed' during translation. I discussed with the author throughout, and he reviewed the translation several times before publication. 'Shack up' for 'camper', for example, got his OK. (That’s how I got the job, in part: by agreeing to work closely with the author. Why don’t more people do that?) Todd is half English, and bilingual, and actually declared himself happier with the finished translation than the original.

We all face the dilemma of whether to remain faithful to an original text come what may, or to rework it into the 'best' text for the intended readership. I would say that the latter approach can almost always be justified, but of course there are limits to what is appropriate for a translator to do. How far the translator has gone on a work is a very valid area of discussion, but any criticisms should really only be made by someone who has read the original as well.

I would stand behind the two 'howlers' pointed out. 'Device', first of all, is perfectly acceptable as a grandiose literary inscription (a bit archaic, OK, but right for the context). 'Processus', not 'procès', was the word I translated as 'process', I checked. Where 'procès' does occur, I do indeed translate it as 'trial'. I find it particularly ironic to be accused of laziness, as someone who holds accuracy in ridiculously high regard. I'm a fanatical checker of absolutely everything, from language to the factual accuracy of the material. And I'm sure most serious translators feel the same way - we willingly assume responsibility for the authenticity and accuracy of the text we deliver, even if it blasts any consideration of the value of time spent out of the water!

I'd be very grateful for any feedback.

Joe


Dear All,
We have the following post by one of our members at the following URL:

http://www.proz.com/topic/42517

Enjoy the controversy.

Mr. J West, it supports you:)

Roomy


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