How One Translator Refused to Be Taken Advantage Of
Thread poster: LegalTransform

LegalTransform  Identity Verified
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Feb 13, 2014

This is the story of a client's attempt to justify non-payment and breach of contract by trying to get the publishing company to believe that there were errors in the translation. Congratulations Jonathan for standing up and not backing down!

Here's the story:
http://jnthnwrght.blogspot.com/2013/10/why-translators-should-give-dr-alaa-al.html

Here are the notes made by the author and the author's assistant (see bottom of above article for explanation regarding these "corrections"):
https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7QAmgFnZurXekVaRWp1ampsRVE/edit?pli=1

Here's the outcome:
Arabic translator Jonathan Wright settles with Alaa al-Aswany, and why I’m glad Wright spoke up:
http://www.mhpbooks.com/arabic-translator-jonathan-wright-settles-with-alaa-al-aswany-and-why-im-glad-wright-spoke-up/

[Edited at 2014-02-13 18:41 GMT]

[Edited at 2014-02-14 14:15 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
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It's really outrageous-- everything, but Feb 13, 2014

especially the editor's notes. What kind of editor is that-- elementary school-- teacher's assistant. The name of the main character was transliterated wrongly--give me a break. There was "and" instead of"with"-- this is what a serious book editor-- not a proofreader deals with? Kindergarten. A real kindergarten. Are they insane. This person has no idea what book editing is about. Good for the translator-- such stupidity should not go unnoticed, and such abuse.

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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
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The labourer is worthy of his hire Feb 14, 2014

Thanks for this. It's sobering how many otherwise reputable people seem to feel that translators' work, being an intellectual and relatively intangible product, doesn't have the same claim to payment as something more tangible, say a product off a store shelf. Try and get your mechanic to fix your car and then decide you've changed your mind when he's half way through the job, and see how far you get with not paying for his work! Yet somehow there are some clients who seem to think it's acceptable to act this way with translators' work!

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urbom
United Kingdom
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an ounce of prevention... Feb 14, 2014

I have to disagree with the OP's subject line. Professional organisations advise translators against signing "work-for-hire" contracts, which assign all their rights in the translation to the publisher. Everything I've read about this case indicates that the translator signed a work-for-hire contract without seeking legal advice first. He actually posted a scan of his signed contract online -- there's a link in the blog post.

But I do think it was very brave of Mr Wright to publicise this case. It serves as a valuable cautionary tale for the rest of us.

[Edited at 2014-02-14 07:34 GMT]


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urbom
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notes from author, not from editor Feb 14, 2014

Jeff Whittaker wrote:
Here are the editor's notes (see bottom of above article for explanation regarding these "corrections"):
https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B7QAmgFnZurXekVaRWp1ampsRVE/edit?pli=1


If you read that doc all the way to the end, you'll see that those notes were written by the author (and his assistant), not the US editor. As Mr Wright put it in his blog post:

Dr Aswany and his assistant had spent several hours overnight poring over the sample text, trying to identify aspects that they thought they might plausibly present as 'mistakes', apparently to justify retoractively their decision to withdraw from the contract. They were a little overenthusiastic and their efforts are risible.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
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I believe you can change your mind at any point Feb 14, 2014

if you don't like the translation of your book-- liking and not liking literary translation may sometimes not have that much to do with the quality, mistakes, or even lack of them, but something more subtle, often unexplainable. You still have to pay the translator, if you commissioned them to do the translation. You should read more of the person's writing, or ask them to translate various excerpts-- from different parts of the book first (for remuneration of course) before you ask them to translate your book. Otherwise, you have to pay, but you don't have to use the translation.

Based on the editors' notes, I see that the editor is a total amateur who does not know anything about book translation and editing. There might have been different reasons (not the few silly, minor mistakes, if they can even be called mistakes) why the author did not want the translation to be continued, but still he had to pay.

Never sign any "work for hire" agreements if you are a literary translator--it is like selling your soul. I don't think the translator signed any agreements in this case-- he was waiting for one for quite a long time and the publisher had some excuses that they were backed up. They only had an oral agreement which serves as a contract --in the US at least, if there is no written contract.

Especially never agree that your name should not be put on the cover, and it is better to agree to a lump sum plus some small, even very small royalties than to give up all your rights. Then, they feel like they can do almost anything with your text-- even change it, especially simplify it, and make it sound like some cheap kind of c..p.

[Edited at 2014-02-14 10:19 GMT]


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John Fossey  Identity Verified
Canada
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Non-native authors Feb 14, 2014

urbom wrote:

If you read that doc all the way to the end, you'll see that those notes were written by the author (and his assistant), not the US editor.


It's something I see from time to time - authors of the original work, not native speakers of the target language, who think they know better than a translator who is a native of the target language how the translation should be put. Their results are always wrong.


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
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Thanks! Feb 14, 2014

I amended my post.

urbom wrote:


If you read that doc all the way to the end, you'll see that those notes were written by the author (and his assistant),


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
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Native from where? Feb 14, 2014

John Fossey wrote:

urbom wrote:

If you read that doc all the way to the end, you'll see that those notes were written by the author (and his assistant), not the US editor.


It's something I see from time to time - authors of the original work, not native speakers of the target language, who think they know better than a translator who is a native of the target language how the translation should be put. Their results are always wrong.


How many people born in England, with a good wirting style, translate form Arabic? Do you know many of them? They would have to know Arabic almost to perfction to translate literature from that language, not just Arabic 101. If am not mistaken English is also the official language of some Middle Eastern countries, or at leatt the language of instruction at many universities, so what exactly did you mean by a native speaker--someone born in England translating from Arabic or someone born in Saudi Arabia, let's say, and speaking both English and Arabic? The English from the Middle East may not be exactly the same as the variety of English from England (even from London, not to mention Geordie), or American English.


[Edited at 2014-02-14 18:17 GMT]


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John Fossey  Identity Verified
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Mother tongue Feb 14, 2014

LilianBNekipelo wrote:

John Fossey wrote:

urbom wrote:

If you read that doc all the way to the end, you'll see that those notes were written by the author (and his assistant), not the US editor.


It's something I see from time to time - authors of the original work, not native speakers of the target language, who think they know better than a translator who is a native of the target language how the translation should be put. Their results are always wrong.


How many people born in England, with a good wirting style, translate form Arabic? Do you know many of them? They would have to know Arabic almost to perfction to translate literature from that language, not just Arabic 101. If am not mistaken English is also the official language of some Middle Eastern countries, or at leatt the language of instruction at many universities, so what exactly did you mean by a native speaker--someone born in England translating from Arabic or someone born in Saudi Arabia, let's say, and speaking both English and Arabic? The English from the Middle East may not be exactly the same as the variety of English from England (even from London, not to mention Geordie), or American English.


By native I meant mother-tongue. Perhaps native was a poor choice of word.

But the point is that the author almost never has the target language as mother-tongue, yet many profess to know better than the translator how the target should be rendered.


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
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It should also be noted... Feb 14, 2014

that this translator has translated numerous articles and at least one other book for this author with no complaints about quality.

I think they just decided (for whatever reason - perhaps the new translator wanted the job and decided to discredit the original translator) to use someone else and did not want to pay for the work that had already been done - even though the "new" translator will probably use his translation as a basis.

A case like this was on the TV show "The People's Court" several years ago in which a client commissioned the translation of a book from Russian. The client claimed that the translation was so poor that it had to be completely re-translated. The translator took the client to court with the published book and a copy of her original translation to show that the "new" translator did not start from scratch, but instead used her translation as a a template and over 90% of the published work was identical to what she had written. She won the case.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
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Not unheard of in business translation, either Feb 14, 2014

Do we have an Arabic translator onboard? I wonder about the stood still/bowed. That doesn't look to me like something open to (mis-)interpretation, rather one of the parties must be in the wrong tout court.

John Fossey wrote:
But the point is that the author almost never has the target language as mother-tongue, yet many profess to know better than the translator how the target should be rendered.


The greatest fun lies in people assessing the quality of your correction or revision of translations done by their inhouse staff. They may also be assessing the translation in the light of the perfect original they wish they'd written as opposed to the real source the translator had to work with. The way I see it modern linguistics is somewhat to blame here, for allowing clients to have become final arbiters of translation notwithstanding their proficiency level.


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LegalTransform  Identity Verified
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Bowed/Stood Still Feb 14, 2014

Well, it's hard to tell without the context of the sentence.

The word "bow" does not just mean "To incline the body or head or bend the knee", it can also mean to cause to acquiesce, to defer to, to submit, to withdraw.

I'm sure you've heard the expression "he bowed to peer pressure".

So, in a certain situation, I can see someone acquiescing by doing nothing or standing still.

And if we just say "she bowed" in English, the meaning would be ambiguous.

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/make%20bow

That's one of the things I hate is that they never come to you and ask "what was your thought process in translating that sentence, why did you ultimately decide to translate x as y". Instead, it's "you obviously don't understand the original document, you made a big mistake there...." We are human and we sometimes make mistakes or have knowledge gaps, but there usually is a reason and a thought process behind why we translated something the way we did.

[quote]Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

Do we have an Arabic translator onboard? I wonder about the stood still/bowed. That doesn't look to me like something open to (mis-)interpretation, rather one of the parties must be in the wrong tout court.




[Edited at 2014-02-14 20:15 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
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Yes, I agree with you. Feb 15, 2014

John Fossey wrote:

By native I meant mother-tongue. Perhaps native was a poor choice of word.

But the point is that the author almost never has the target language as mother-tongue, yet many profess to know better than the translator how the target should be rendered.


Many authors do not speak the languages into which they want the books translated and they often rely on some questionable editors, or they think that they know the target language, but they might actually have no clue about translation. As a consequence, they may sometimes think that each word they used in the original will be translated, or that the word order will be the same. This is definitely the case we have've been discussing, judging by the author's notes--I originally thought they were the editor's notes. Totally insane--no one who knows anything abut literature would judge the quality of a literary translation by some silly kindergarten type of mistakes--this is the proofreader's job to fix such minor mistakes and typos, if any--there may not be anything of that type sometimes, but just a mere lack of them is not a proof that the translation is good--it might be horrible.

It is much easier to translate literature the copyright of which has expired. So much more fun and freedom.

It is also a mistake on the part of the author, in my opinion, to let the publisher take care of the translation and choose the right translator. Some publishers may have a different agenda--such as trying to make the book sell, even at the expense of the quality.

Going back to the mistakes "the voice emitted"-- apparently the way something was supposed to be translated, instead of the correct translation by Mr. Wright, just made my day. Let our voices be "emitted" against this kind of treatment of qualified literary translators, and others of course as well.

I think whoever proposed the new translation terms should have "strictly checked" (to use his own wrong term) whatever he wrote. I don't speak any Arabic but you could tell it right away that the terms sound wrong in English.

Also, if someone could explain to me the difference between the radiance and the glow for purposes other than a philosophical dissertation, I would appreciate it greatly. It was apparently one of the main mistakes.

[Edited at 2014-02-15 16:40 GMT]


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