Is that Accuracy is not possible is back translation?!
Thread poster: Ramesh Kulandaivelu

Ramesh Kulandaivelu  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 07:29
Member
English to Tamil
+ ...
Mar 26, 2013

I recently done a BT job. The client has complained that the content is similar, chances are there for copying and pasting from the source. I have not done the forward translation and I have no access to the source, then how can it be possible for me to copy and paste.

 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 03:59
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
In some languages Mar 26, 2013

Ramesh Kulandaivelu wrote:
I recently done a BT job. The client has complained that the content is similar, chances are there for copying and pasting from the source. I have not done the forward translation and I have no access to the source, then how can it be possible for me to copy and paste.


In some languages, the forward translations tend to be very literal, or contains standard phrases, which then lead to a very close back-translation. My own language combination is one example. In some industries, it is possible to translate from English to Afrikaans in a very literal way, which would then be back-translated very closely to the English even if the back-translator didn't see the English source text.


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:59
Russian to English
+ ...
Back translation is not possible, in my opinion, between languages which are not close enough Mar 26, 2013

No matter how accurate your translation may be, in most cases, a proper back translation is not possible -- the kind that would retain the right style, register and all the elements that a well translated piece should have.

 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 03:59
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
That would be a sign of success in some back translations Mar 26, 2013

I do not do back translations often, but I have one client that sends questionnaires for medical surveys.

They are often multiple choice questions, and it is important that the choices should correspond exactly, or as closely as possible. Otherwise the results of the survey will be skewed.

Questions like how often... ? where the choices are phrases like
once a day / daily
2-3 times a week
2-3 times a month
irregularly
... will often come back exactly the same as the source in the back translation.

It is more difficult with questions about severity of symptoms and more subjective factors, but ideally, the back translation should be identical to the original source. It never is 100%, but if it is not very close, the client may have to re-formulate the question!

Normally, in the kinds of text that are back translated, there is no scope for a lot of variation. There are standard expressions and terminology in both languages.

If the structure of the language means that some variations would not be idiomatic, or maybe ambiguous, these will also be eliminated - and the chances are even higher that the result will look like a 'cut and paste' from the source.
There are more chances of variation in English, but as Samuel says, standard phrases will be translated by standard phrases, and in many contexts these should be the same.

It is a matter of trust, but it is up to the client to prove it, if they think you HAVE seen the source. If you say you have not, then they must believe you.
Was the source kept confidential? Who could have given it to you anyway?

There are a few arguments in your favour!


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 02:59
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
What happens with marketing translations? Mar 26, 2013

I've never really understood back translations. I can see why it's a good idea in theory - it would be nice to have a way to check that the translation was accurate, aside from normal proofreading. And I can imagine that it might work well for some technical texts, but where's the point in areas like marketing? The last thing I try to do is keep as close to the original as possible. Even when you look at it at the word level, how many times do we have a source word that has x number of synonyms, and that has y number of possible translations into the target language. Doesn't that mean there are x*y chances of a mismatch? Maybe the maths is wrongicon_wink.gif, but I know the answer is going to be quite big.

Other topics I've read relating to back translation have talked about the client being unhappy because the translation didn't match the original source. But this client seems to be complaining that it DID match the source. A truly no-win process for the translators involved, it would appear.icon_mad.gif


 

Alison Sabedoria  Identity Verified
France
Member (2009)
French to English
+ ...
In marketing: information / explanation Mar 26, 2013

In response to Sheila's question:

When a marketing text needs to be adapted for the target culture, a back translation might be useful to explain the new idea, whether provided by the original translator or someone else. At the very least, the client should be aware if the angle is significantly different.

Although I've never done this kind of work for an agency, for my direct clients, I often supply a fairly literal source-language translation and/or an explanation of any marketing straplines that are way off the original, as a matter of course and courtesy. This is important for clients who understand some English, but who might not be familiar with the word-play or references (or, more usually, don't understand that their own may be meaningless or have no equivalent in the target language or culture).

So, in marketing, back translation can show the level of transcreation (and appropriate difference), where "accuracy" might not be measured in the same way as for a technical manual. Useful? Perhaps, but only if it arrives on the desk of someone who knows how to interpret it!


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 02:59
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Explanation: yes, that's certainly valid Mar 26, 2013

Wordeffect wrote:
I often supply a fairly literal source-language translation and/or an explanation of any marketing straplines that are way off the original, as a matter of course and courtesy.

Thanks for your reply. Yes, I sometimes do that, but only of short expressions. They do have the right to know that this wording has some logic and hasn't just been plucked out of the ether at random!
So, in marketing, back translation can show the level of transcreation (and appropriate difference), where "accuracy" might not be measured in the same way as for a technical manual. Useful? Perhaps, but only if it arrives on the desk of someone who knows how to interpret it!

That's always the problem!icon_smile.gif I think I'd always fight the use of the term "back translation" for marketing to avoid any preconceived ideas about reproducing the original words.


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 03:59
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Could be important in relay translation, to keep track of how the message is localised... Mar 26, 2013

I am sometimes faced with producing a translation to serve as a source text for other translators who do not read Danish or Swedish.

Things like instructions for use and allergy tests (for cosmetics) and the standard hazard warning sentences have to match exactly, in the official versions for the RS sentences, but marketing can be tricky.

It is quite a balancing act to produce a text that is close enough to the source, but will also sell the products to English speakers. In fact I only do it where the blurb is more or less standard - the hottest colours this spring and so on... for packs and folders.

I have occasionally submitted two texts!

The 'real' marketing texts are done by advertising agencies, I expect.


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 09:59
Chinese to English
But in other languages Mar 26, 2013

Samuel Murray wrote:

In some languages, the forward translations tend to be very literal, or contains standard phrases, which then lead to a very close back-translation. My own language combination is one example. In some industries, it is possible to translate from English to Afrikaans in a very literal way, which would then be back-translated very closely to the English even if the back-translator didn't see the English source text.


But in some pairs, that is a characteristic of poor translation. Sometimes I'm reading a sentence in Chinese, and I think, this feels oddly comfortable, but it doesn't really seem to make sense... It's usually because the sentence has been translated too literally from English. Sometimes you read Chinese with an English rhythm, which I really enjoy, but Chinese people say is horrible.

Often, you can read "through" that kind of Chinese to the original English, and so you might create a back-translation that came very close to the original. But I'd take that as a sign of poor translation.


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 03:59
English to Polish
+ ...
Back translation May 26, 2013

I understand the idea of back translation. Translation is a subjective process, and there are multiple schools of translations. It is possible to disagree profoundly with another translator without being able to claim that his way of practicing constitutes malpractice.

The way I see it, many translators or perhaps many linguists in general do the following things:

- fail to keep the register (this includes a bunch of assertive non-lawyer experts in legal translation)
- fail to process formal register and formal syntax properly
- fail to process advanced, difficult grammatical, syntactical or even logical structures
- employ unrealistic syntax or distribution of emphasis, which reduces the text to the most standard and bland indicatives possible, straight from a primary school textbook, which convey none of the message the source author wanted to put across
- simplify, sacrificing accuracy in favour of brevity, by omitting something that is similar but not identical, even where the almost-repetition is intentional
- supply additional information such as they believe to match or help the context
- fantasise in some other ways
- localise, which means there are substitutions that are subjective and may be controversial
- rearrange sentences or choose less accurate translations of words simply for the sake of change or in order to avoid accusations of being too literal.

There is no guarantee that a translator won't do any of the above. And if he does, he and his fellow linguists are likely to defend his ways. Therefore, clients need a way to make sure nothing of the sort is going on.

This said, it takes an intelligent and thoughtful person to use back translations properly. It would probably be a good idea to:

- pick a good translator
- being one that has a perfect command of the grammar and syntax, as well as a good overall feel of the language (i.e. not most of us)
- and confident enough not to shy away from literal translations where those are better than less literal ones (i.e. not all of us)
- warn the translator that the job is a back translation and ask the translator to be as literal and editing-free as possible (if that is the type you want) or stay quiet but realise you are doing so on purpose with a specific goal in mind (that goal being to see how an editing and localising translator of the opposite pair would interpret the translation).

Also, what Samuel says is true. Writing can be essentially uniform among multiple different writers if they are determined to sacrifice naturalcy and any sort of free-form in the name of prescriptive rules and some normative idea of style. With enough of the latter, idiolects are brought down to a minimum.

(Also, often bad translators will translate similarly – because they commit similar errors and fall into the same traps – and good translators will also translate similarly – because there is a certain optimal way of expressing the desired communication, while the in-between translators will differ from each other with plenty of idiolect. Some people believe that perfect writing is one that's not noticeable; just like some others believe about translation. Aquinas was praised for how his Latin was basically invisible, so it didn't come in the way of his content.)


 


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