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To which extent do you think we are expected to re-write a source text through its translation?
Thread poster: Alvaro Morales

Alvaro Morales  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:57
Member (2006)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Jan 4, 2010

I based this question on a mediocre-bad quality source text. No much more to explain... I just want to gather a few opinions.

[Edited at 2010-01-04 13:44 GMT]


 

David Wright  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 08:57
German to English
+ ...
Not sure what you mean Jan 4, 2010

Do you mean produce a good text out of a mediocre source (yes I always do) or rewrite the source (I don't cos I don't think I can write (in my case) German that well, but I would always point out the crappy nature of the text to the client - if it was relevant (sometimes of course the original serves no other purpose than to be translated so its quality is not an issue).

[Edited at 2010-01-04 16:45 GMT]


 

david young  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 08:57
Member (2009)
French to English
If Jan 4, 2010

you reproduce the poor prose in your translation, it's likely you who will be blamed, not the author of the source text. How far you can go in improving the text through your translation will depend on your client's confidence in your work.

 

Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:57
German to English
Your concern is the target text Jan 4, 2010

Sometimes I get very complex, and in many cases, poorly constructed sentences. In extreme cases I copy them to Notepad and rearrange the sentence elements to come up with 1-2 intelligible source sentences. I don't change the words themselves, but I do make sure the modifiers point to the proper elements in the sentence. If this is what you're referring to, then this is probably not an uncommon practice.

Although you may have to rearrange the source text to make it more understandable -- to you -- your primary concern is whether the target text is understandable to the reader.


 

Gianni Pastore  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 08:57
Member (2007)
English to Italian
To the extent... Jan 4, 2010

...of explaining in the simplest way (target) what's the real meaning of source text. At least it's what I do in order not to get complains once I have delivered. Bad source text happens now and then. As I usually notice that almost immediately, I always warn the client (agency) beforehand and always get the green light to whatever I suggest them.

 

Alvaro Morales  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:57
Member (2006)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Yes, I should also comment what I actually do... Jan 4, 2010

Ok, it wouldn't be fair to throw this topic away without saying what do I actually do when I have to deal with such situations.

I will always strive to get the best target text, no matter how bad is the source (unless it is not comprehensible at all, in that case I would ask the customer to solve my doubts or, if possible, get an improved version).

I decided to post this topic while wondering if it was really fair to make a translator work over a bad source text and blame him (as David clearly explained) if the target text is not excellent (or good enough).

Certainly, I can say I have never been blamed for that, although I never gave reasons to, neither.


 

Monika Elisabeth Sieger  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 07:57
Member (2009)
English to German
+ ...
I try to do my very best Jan 4, 2010

Recently, I had to translate some African legal documents into German.
They were drafted in a very sloppy and misleading way. I tried to do my very best and commented on this fact to my client. He was very happy and found out that the drafting was actually contrary to the legal facts which had been discussed and the parties had agreed upon.
I was quite happy to have shown my own knowledge and legal expertise in this case otherwiese my clients would have been unknowingly defrauded by one of the third parties. I wouldn't have done this if I wouldn't have known my client for a long time and knew what his aims were. No comment would have been unprofessional in any way!
(The drafting notary public should have been shot behind the moon.)
Overall, I am very reluctant in redrafting the original document as this is not my job I was hired for. Any change could make me liable for occuring diffiulties or misinterpretation at a later stage. But nonetheless a commentary in a professional way is always possible. This is especially the case with legal documents. The re-drafting on the other hand shouldn't alter the meaning and the register after all. Misinterpretation is a dangerous thing in court cases!
As I am a specialized translator for legal and sometimes medical documents I am unable to talk about experiences on poetry or advertisement. I think 'garbage in garbage out' is still in many cases the wisest decision. And a badly drafted text should still show this lack of knowledge or linguistic ability.


 

philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
Don't agree, Sivara Jan 4, 2010

sivara wrote:

As I am a specialized translator for legal and sometimes medical documents I am unable to talk about experiences on poetry or advertisement. I think 'garbage in garbage out' is still in many cases the wisest decision. And a badly drafted text should still show this lack of knowledge or linguistic ability.


There can never be any justification for "garbage in, garbage out". That's like being paid to paint someone's house and saying: "The last guy did a crappy job, so I will too".

Some of the people we work for are experts in their own fields, but hopeless at expressing themselves. They're paying us for our writing skills as much as for our ability to understand foreign languages.


 

Alvaro Morales  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:57
Member (2006)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
However... Jan 5, 2010

They're paying us for our writing skills as much as for our ability to understand foreign languages.


The truth is that we're not always paid as Shakespeares... Some times, more than other ones, I feel like being paid exclusively for my ability to understand a foreing language.

Time to review my fees?icon_smile.gif


 

xxxGrayson Morr  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 08:57
Dutch to English
Sivara has a good point, IMHO. Jan 5, 2010

philgoddard wrote:

sivara wrote:
I think 'garbage in garbage out' is still in many cases the wisest decision.


There can never be any justification for "garbage in, garbage out". That's like being paid to paint someone's house and saying: "The last guy did a crappy job, so I will too".

It really depends on what the client is asking you to do. To continue your example, Phil, if the homeowner says, "I want this house painted just like it was before! I loved that streaky, blotchy effect!" then, hey, crappy paint job it is. If a translation client wants his text just the way he wrote it, only in (say) English instead of Dutch, then that's the job at hand.

I now always ask my clients what it is they want: exactly what they wrote exactly the way they wrote it, or the essence of what they wrote, largely the way they wrote it, but altered for clarity and readability where applicable? Most of my clients want a target text that gets their idea across as eloquently as possible, even if that means (for example) combining two sentences, leaving out a string of redundant adjectives, splitting one paragraph into three, and so on.

I draw the line at larger changes to the flow of the text, though; I won't move a paragraph or significantly omit or insert text. That's an editor's job. My job is to reproduce the text I was given, not write a bigger-and-better version. Unless that's what the client asks for, of course.

I think we also have to be careful not to insert our own voices into the text at the expense of the author's voice. Just because the author's voice is illogical, chaotic, and boring doesn't mean we can erase it.

[Edited at 2010-01-05 13:56 GMT]


 

John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:57
Spanish to English
+ ...
Meaning before the words Jan 5, 2010

philgoddard wrote:


There can never be any justification for "garbage in, garbage out". That's like being paid to paint someone's house and saying: "The last guy did a crappy job, so I will too".

Some of the people we work for are experts in their own fields, but hopeless at expressing themselves. They're paying us for our writing skills as much as for our ability to understand foreign languages.


I agree with Phil here.

I usually just concentrate on the intended meaning and see the source words on a secondary level.


 

KSL Berlin  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 07:57
Member (2003)
German to English
+ ...
Silly question without context Jan 5, 2010

Every job is different. Sometimes GIGO is exactly what is called for. In certain legal work, for example. Sure, I'll comment the heck out of a patent full of flaws, but fix them? No way. That would get me in huge trouble in most cases.

Marketing is another story. Or personal correspondence. Or anything else. If you understand the requirements of a project clearly, then a question like this is redundant. If you think you understand the requirements and still have to ask, then "something" is missing.


 

Alvaro Morales  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:57
Member (2006)
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Exactly... Jan 5, 2010

Kevin Lossner wrote:

Every job is different. Sometimes GIGO is exactly what is called for. If you think you understand the requirements and still have to ask, then "something" is missing.


I think Kevin switched on the light on this.


 

Jaqueline Barbosa
Brazil
Local time: 03:57
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Poorly written texts Jan 5, 2010

It is always important to bear in mind that the quality of the source material will be reflected in the translated document. If the original text is poorly written, it is difficult and may be impossible to create a translation that does not appear to be poorly written in the target language.

 

John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:57
Spanish to English
+ ...
Errors are sometimes right Jan 5, 2010

Kevin Lossner wrote:

Every job is different. Sometimes GIGO is exactly what is called for. In certain legal work, for example....


Yes, good point, Kevin. As we know, it is difficult to generalise in this business.


 
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