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Your approach to translating problematic sentences
Thread poster: ViktoriaG

ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 10:45
English to French
+ ...
May 20, 2009

I have been wondering for a while what approach other translators use to translate problematic sentences. In particular, I am interested in the type of sentence whose combination of structure and wording cannot be rendered faithfully in the target language without sounding awkward or losing meaning.

Let's say there is a word or a string of words that don't have an equivalent in the target language, but the rest of the sentence is easy to translate. These are often very common words that are used in a variety of contexts and that have multiple meanings that are mere nuances of the same meaning - a good example is the word 'further'.

In my mind, there are two approaches for this. Either the translator takes stabs at the target sentence, "trying on" different words and word strings until the sentence sounds right (thesauri and other reference works are typically used for this purpose) or the translator replaces the problematic word or word string in the source text until the source text can be translated.

I use both approaches - I take stabs at the target sentence, and if that doesn't work, then I try altering the source until it becomes translatable. I wonder if other translators use the second approach. I have used it a few times today, and I find that it works better (I find this faster, too). Is it just me and my logic, or it really is a better approach?

What is your approach?


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 10:45
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
An example May 20, 2009

Here is an example of a sentence. I know, it is bad writing and I'd rather have the client rewrite the whole thing, but here goes all the same:
This prediction provides further evidence suggesting the environmental effects of the Project on acid deposition are not expected to be substantive.

I don't like the "provides further evidence suggesting" at all, especially since said evidence is of something that is only expected and not a fact.

How would you approach this sentence?

[Edited at 2009-05-20 15:44 GMT]


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polyglot45
English to French
+ ...
Bizarrely I have no quarrel with the beginning... May 20, 2009

....but deeply dislike the verb mood/tense at the end.

"This prediction provides further evidence suggesting the environmental effects of the Project on acid deposition cannot be expected to be substantive."

Consciously or unconsciously, the first thing I would do, on reading the sentence (in context because I will have seen what comes before and be able to read on for greater clarity if in doubt), would be to weigh up what the author is trying to say.

After that, I would just translate and then play around with my translation till I was satisfied with the end result, to the extent of even making further changes at the re-reading stage.

I find things have a way of emerging as you go along - 5 pages later there may be a passage that sheds light on your darkness. Or maybe something you translated 5 pages before.....

The final re-read should sort those things out.... As to the actual mental process, no idea - it just happens !


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Sergei Leshchinsky  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 17:45
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
call the author May 20, 2009

ViktoriaG wrote:
How would you approach this sentence?


and ask him to explain. record the talk and translate the plain-language sentence (my mobile records everything, so I never find myself looking for a pen and paper in a rush).

OR

break the sentence into pieces and translate as separate sentences

put aside and return to it in a while


[Редактировалось 2009-05-20 16:40 GMT]


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 10:45
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Theory, not practice May 20, 2009

Thanks, Sergei, for your reply. However, I am rather interested in how you would approach the translation of a sentence that makes sense but that is written in a way that makes it hard to translate (because of the terms used and/or because of the sentence structure). In the example above, I wouldn't need to contact the client as I understand perfectly what the sentence means, so the client would be of little help. It is not with the understanding of the source sentence that there is an issue but rather with its proper rendering into the target language. While 'further evidence' sounds just fine in English, it would sound awkward once translated into French, especially when combined with the notions of suggesting and expecting.

I am sure all of us are confronted with this situation from time to time. I would like to know how others deal with it. I am especially interested in the mental process of rendering a source sentence in the target language when a straightforward translation is impossible.


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Susan Welsh  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 10:45
Member (2008)
Russian to English
+ ...
Two issues here May 20, 2009

I think there are two issues here, which merge in the example you chose: how to translate a source text when there is no direct way to translate it into the target language; and how to translate a badly written source text. For the first, I think the translator's obligation is to produce a text that is idiomatic and fluent in the target language, even if that means coming up with a new metaphor or idiom, when the one in the source text doesn't work in the target. Not always easy, but it's the most fun part about translating. But for stuff that's badly written, I would translate in clear language, to the best of my understanding of the source text, adding a note to the client that I have done so.

Susan


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liz askew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:45
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
Simplify the sentence May 20, 2009

Well,

The example you give is indeed horrendous.

I would try to simplify the sentence to start with.

"This prediction provides further evidence suggesting the environmental effects of the Project on acid deposition are not expected to be substantive".

For a start I don't think "suggesting" is necessary.

so.

This prediction provides further evidence that the environmental effects of the Project on acid deposition are not expected to be substantive.

Not great maybe but a bit more succinct.

Would this relay a different meaning?

I don't think so.

Also, I have to say it...what does "environmental effects ....on acid deposition actually mean?? It would make more sense were it to read "environmental effects OF acid deposition". This person doesn't get his/her message across very clearly at all, IMHO.

Liz



[Edited at 2009-05-20 17:34 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-05-20 17:37 GMT]


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John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
I use my grandmother for these sentences May 20, 2009

When I am unable to find a good translation by looking at the target sentence it is usually because the source has been poorly written and/or the exact meaning is somehow unclear to me.

After a few moments of struggle, I usually scrap the source sentence as a possible basis and focus only the meaning. When I am able to finally grasp the exact meaning, I summon my grandmother to my side and write the translated text in simple words that she will understand. Only when I get a nod of approval do I move on.

Needless to say, I manage this without disturbing my grandmother.


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Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 16:45
English to Croatian
+ ...
Meaning comes first, structure next May 20, 2009

In such cases, I try to render the original meaning ( which is the imperative) perhaps at the expense of an appropriate structure. It usually involves either a too long target structure or a stylistically different one. In Serbian, it will mostly be a much longer phrase than the original English phrase, e.g. one English word not having an equivalent in Serbian will be rendered as a four-word phrase, or similar.

Briefly, the key point: render the original meaning, never mind how. If you have time left, which we usually don't with tight deadlines, you may additionally think it up and restyle it later.


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 16:45
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Hey, Victoria, you can play this game yourself quite well May 20, 2009

... I am rather interested in how you would approach the translation of a sentence that makes sense but that is written in a way that makes it hard to translate (because of the terms used and/or because of the sentence structure). I

I understand the sentence as an example of a typical CYA/political/100%deniability statement. It's not what is being said, but HOW it is said. Means of course, being blunt and saying it upfront in the translation, means trouble (given the fact that whatever kind of IT has eventually been culled out of the original by the perspiring tranalator, is probably immaterial)




[Edited at 2009-05-20 18:30 GMT]


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conejo  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:45
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
It varies May 20, 2009

What kind of hard-to-translate sentences you get kind of depends on your language pair. In patents in my language pair (Japanese to English), I am often faced with extremely long sentences (for example, a 15-line paragraph that is all one sentence), and it is hard to tell what is what. In those cases I break the sentence up into parts that go with each other, until I can see the smaller units, and deal with it that way.

In cases when the wording is something that looks fine in the source language but would sound odd in the target and there is no good standard translation, I do one or more of the following things:

1. If it is idiomatic or descriptive phrasing, sometimes I try to come up with something in English that may not be what an English speaker would say, but that would convey the meaning, albeit in a somewhat quirky way. This would usually work in some kind of essay or article, where the material is not purely technical.

2. If #1 either won't work because of the type of document it is or because it just wouldn't make sense no matter what, I sit down and say, what is the intended meaning of this sentence, at its most basic level? And then I come up with a sentence in English that conveys that meaning as closely as possible, without sounding weird. Sometimes it won't match exactly or it won't match completely. All we can do is do our best. But my general policy is that the translation needs to sound natural in the target language, so that whatever translation is used, it doesn't make the reader stop and go ???

I hope this helps.


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conejo  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 09:45
Member (2003)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Your specific sentence May 20, 2009

"This prediction provides further evidence suggesting the environmental effects of the Project on acid deposition are not expected to be substantive."

If I had this sentence, I would say to myself, What is this saying? Which would lead me to:

"This prediction provides further evidence suggesting that the Project is not expected to have substantive environmental effects on acid deposition."

OR

"This prediction provides further evidence suggesting that the environmental effects the Project has on acid deposition are not expected to be substantive."

Then I would work from that. I agree with Susan Welsh's comments also.


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 08:45
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Ask what they are trying say May 21, 2009

I would indeed modify the source by asking 'what are they really trying to say?'

This was the original sentence: "This prediction provides further evidence suggesting the environmental effects of the Project on acid deposition are not expected to be substantive."

A prediction (it would be helpful to know what prediction) cannot provide evidence of anything, so the evidence has to go. Suggesting that something is not expected makes no sense (it either is or is not expected), so 'are not expected to be' also has to go.

Then you are left with: "This prediction further suggests that the environmental effects of the Project on acid deposition will not be substantial."

Now you have a sentence that still says the same thing but can be more easily translated.


[Edited at 2009-05-21 00:14 GMT]


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
You're not the only one who checks with a hypothetical grandma:-) May 21, 2009

John Rawlins wrote:

When I am unable to find a good translation by looking at the target sentence it is usually because the source has been poorly written and/or the exact meaning is somehow unclear to me.

After a few moments of struggle, I usually scrap the source sentence as a possible basis and focus only the meaning. When I am able to finally grasp the exact meaning, I summon my grandmother to my side and write the translated text in simple words that she will understand. Only when I get a nod of approval do I move on.

Needless to say, I manage this without disturbing my grandmother.






http://dbem.ws/WritingArticle.pdf

Me too:-)


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 10:45
English to French
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
It means... May 21, 2009

liz askew wrote:

Also, I have to say it...what does "environmental effects ....on acid deposition actually mean?? It would make more sense were it to read "environmental effects OF acid deposition". This person doesn't get his/her message across very clearly at all, IMHO.


Aha! But therein lies the beauty of specialization. The effect of the Project on acid deposition makes perfect sense, although I must admit it hasn't always made sense to me. The Project is actually comprised of a bunch of buildings which together form a petroleum refinery (yet to be built). This sentence is referring to the environmental effect that the future refinery will have on acid deposition, i.e., the refinery's contribution to the already existing acid deposition.


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