Does your technical translation reflect the author's style?
Thread poster: Heinrich Pesch

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:24
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Mar 28, 2008

Or, if you translate from more than one languages, does the translation reflect the source language?

We all know that a technical translation should just deliver the message. So if I translate first the manual for a machine from language A into C and later a manual for the same kind of machine from language B into language C, both translations should be more or less the same. Ideally the style should be same an author of language C would use, if the original manual were written in the country of language C.
But that does not seem to be the case. We easily let slip through the style of the author for various reasons. After all every author has his/her own style, so two manuals for the same kind of machine in any language will be stylistically differ, if the authors are different persons.

But the same translator should really produce the same text every time. Or what do you think?



Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:24
English to Norwegian
+ ...
difficult question Mar 28, 2008

I translate mostly technical/medical stuff.
Of course the main point is to convey the message. Sometimes the source text is convoluted or difficult to understand. In those cases, I am tempted to simplify or clarify a bit. However, most of the time I try to be the translator, and not the author.


Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:24
Italian to English
+ ...
I try not to let the author's style get in the way Mar 28, 2008

I try to translate in the straightforward style used in good technical English. However, it can be hard to avoid reflecting the original style, especially where it's very wordy or convoluted. I do try to clarify it though - some sentences that I find particularly contorted in Italian, my (Italian) partner considers perfectly acceptable. In these cases I feel I have a duty to convey the message so that a native English reader will understand it as easily as an Italian would the original.


Gianni Pastore  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:24
Member (2007)
English to Italian
There is hardly a style... Mar 28, 2008

... in a technical document. Most of the stuff I translate only care to deliver the message in a very aseptic way ("push this, pull that"). Also depends from the client: if it's the final one (i.e.: not an agency) I might try to smart it up a little just to ease the readability.



John Cutler  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:24
Spanish to English
+ ...
It depends... Mar 28, 2008

This is one of those “it depends” situations. I agree with both Hilde and Marie-Hélène: if the text is difficult to understand (not because it’s technical but simply because it’s poorly written) I don’t have any qualms about doing a little ghost writing. An example of this happened to me yesterday. The source text writer was explaining how only whole numbers (not decimals) should be used when counting oocysts. All that was really needed was a simple explanation of when to round numbers up or down. It was explained in such a roundabout foggy way that I completely re-worded it, so it would be easily understandable in English. My theory is that I’m responsible to my end readers and because they’re not translators, they’re only going to have my work as a point of reference. If I follow the GIGO (garbage in garbage out) philosophy, my readers are only going to see that I’ve produced garbage but will probably have no idea that it was all I had to work with in the first place. In cases like that, it’s best not to try to copy the author’s style.
On the other hand, if the text is well written but just simply technical, I just “follow the lines”. Technical writing isn’t meant to be flowery and there’s no point to trying to create some sort of literary text that isn’t there. I think in these cases that the equation A=B=C could very well be true.


Ranjit Padda
Local time: 16:54
English to Panjabi
+ ...
to convey message truly is the main motto Mar 28, 2008

it is the matter of the fact that to translate some matter in other laguage i s to convey the message in its true spirit.
the technical matter should must reflect the state of art the true definitions
some the style of author could not be in the way of the translation so that it may hinder the true meaning of the matter.
all the same the message should convey its true sense in such a way that the people which are target to read that material could easily under stand what the author want to say


~Ania~  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:24
Polish to English
+ ...
I agree but... Mar 28, 2008

Hi John

I agree with you. So often the translator or interpreter is made to look like s/he can't use English (or another language) properly when the original text is to blame. I once had a nightmare job when I had to interpret live for about 20 people something someone very senior (member of the EU parliament) was saying. The trouble was he spoke VERY poor English and his sentences were all broken, not just the structure but the meaning. It was very difficult to understand what he wanted to convey. I felt as if I couldn't show him up in front of all those people so pretended that it was me who was struggling which made me look bad. Now I regret that.

However... I have always been taught that a translator or interpreter is only a mouthpiece, not a whole personicon_wink.gif That means translating everything faithfully. So if the structure or use of English is poor then so be it.


Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:24
English to Spanish
+ ...
What style? Mar 28, 2008

Engineers do good engineering, but writing is just not their style.


Mario Cerutti  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:24
Italian to Japanese
+ ...
Non native source language Mar 29, 2008

Over 90% of the manuals I translate from English to Italian are written by translators who are not native in English. Let apart the correctness of the words they chose and the clarity of the text as a whole, you cannot call their writing style a "proper style". In most cases they are Japanese or even Chinese translators (I think) who seem to have specializez in word-by-word translations, i.e. in their translations you can easily spot what the original source language was (Japanese in my case).

It goes without saying that the Japanese language is structurally very different from the English language, which in turn is different from the Italian language. In the Japanese language, in particular, repeating several times the same word in a single sentence is normal. As a matter of fact, however, Japanese agencies or end clients often get crazy if they don't see the original writing style reflected in my Italian translation (A word that appears three times in the source text MUST be repeated three times in the target text as well). At times my explanations fail to get through, and in cases like this the client requests a proofread to "restyle" my translation so everybody is happy, except me of course. This is perhaps the most frustrating thing I have been facing in this business.

Mario Cerutti


Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:24
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
No author-bashing intended Mar 29, 2008

I was of course referring to jobs, where the original is proper and accepted national technical writing.
But as I see it, there are many stylistic features that are characteristic for technical writing in different countries.
American and British technical manuals tend to be very careful not to offend the reader. Instead of "Don't stick your hand in there!" they use lots of words to explain why it is not advisable to stick your hand in that particular spot, please please.
German manuals tend to address the reader personally: Your device, your product, Producer XXX's machine. And of course always Bitte! when the reader must do something.
A Finnish technical writer would avoid all these stylistic measures. In Finland it is not considered rude to just say: Keep your hand out of that spot! And instead of personal addressing they would write "Producer's machine, the device".
Just a few features to mention.

Perhaps I should have taken this thread to the Finnish forum. But I believe this issue applies to all languages.


ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:24
English to French
+ ...
I do Mar 29, 2008

I actually do improve, but only if the original style is problematic and only if it really is necessary. For example:

To save the new password value, press Enter.


To save the new password, press Enter.

In this case, the first, original sentence can really be confusing once you translate it, because in French, it would sound awkward and if the user speaks French better than English, but isn't perfectly proficient in French (a recent landed immigrant living in Quebec, for example), then they can misunderstand. This correction also makes the text more readable.

Another example:

XYZ brand's Thingamajig can turn on automatically; unplug XYZ brand's Thingamajig from its power source before doing maintenance on XYZ brand's Thingamajig.


XYZ brand's Thingamajig can turn on automatically; unplug it from its power source before doing maintenance on it.

I also often replace words like should by words like must. Obviously, if you are giving instructions, there should be no ambiguity or any grey zones. Imperative (active voice) should also be used consistently, so that is also something I improve.

Of course, such corrections need to be done carefully. My golden rule is that the text should be readable, for natives and non natives alike, and it should always focus on the technical information, not on classy wording and such. Unfortunately, some technical writers take so much pride in their work that they use elegant expressions that simply don't have their place in technical texts and which distract from the main message. It's OK and I can understand, but this makes the translator's work more difficult. Seeing how often technical documents are not written with translation in mind, this problem occurs regularly.

I find that with the imrpovements I make, the text is still pretty much as it was before, but clearer and more readable. Otherwise, I don't think the difference is noticeable.


Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:24
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Partially Mar 30, 2008

Heinrich Pesch wrote:
Or, if you translate from more than one languages, does the translation reflect the source language?

Well, I only translate one language, but I can tell you that unless the client has specific instructions that I should follow the original's style, I usually superimpose the style I think is best for the situation, unless it is a rush job. Some things just work better/different in the target language, right?

But if you got two translators to translate the same document into English for me, and I wouldn't know it is the same original, my translation would probably have tell-tale elements of each intermezzo translator in it.


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