English translation vs Rest of World
Thread poster: John Rawlins

John Rawlins  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:14
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jul 5, 2009

Interesting - if controversial - article in New York Times about merits of English translations when compared to others. See: http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/02/how-the-market-influences-what-language-you-read-in/

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Stanislaw Czech, MCIL  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Member (2006)
English to Polish
+ ...
Interesting but Jul 5, 2009

and possibly true in case of Dutch and many other not so popular languages, but I am sure that at least in case of other major languages small demand should not be an issue when it comes to demand for good translation and pecuniary incentives for translators.

Thank you for sharing this article with us


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John Fenz  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:14
German to English
+ ...
Economies of scale Jul 6, 2009

Why would someone (say a Dutch native speaker) prefer to read an English translation of a Swedish mystery rather than a Dutch translation?

The author of the NY Times article argues that the English translations are better: given the large market for English language books, a publisher enjoys a commensurately larger production budget, and can pay more for the English language translation. This, supposedly, means that the publisher will be able to hire a relatively better translator to translate the English language version, than a French or Dutch publisher could hire to translate the French or Dutch version.


I actually don't see that the author's assumption are at all automatic:

1. Is it true that the best translators translating from Swedish into English are paid more than the best translators translating from Swedish into German or French.

2. Is it true that there are more translators translating from Swedish into English than there are translating from Swedish into French or Dutch or what have you?


My point is the author is reaching conclusions that are based on claims that should (and could) be backed up by empirical evidence. Instead of doing that basic ground work, he bases his conclusions on one reader's assertion that "English translations are better than Dutch translations".

I'm offended as a translator (even though I happen to translate into English).

The article seems another example to me of people in the wider public, in this case an academic, who don't seem to have a clue about our profession, and can't be bothered to find out. Yet, they feel completely comfortable making incredible claims (i.e. English translations are better than translations into other languages).


Incidentally, I'm not an economist, but since the author of the piece is an economist who feels free to reach conclusions regarding quality and the reasons for it in our profession, allow me the following conclusion about the real economic reasons underlying why someone might prefer to read an English translation of a Swedish or other mystery rather than a translation of that same Swedish book into their own native language:

I'm going to guess that economies of scale have a lot to do with this counter-intuitive effect, and not the relative quality of the rival translations. The market for English language books is much larger (it is the current lingua franca), and books can consequently be purchased for 1/2 the price.

If you already speak English well, who wouldn't take the 50% discount.

One last point: the book being discussed in the NY Times article is Stieg Larrson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". I have read this book - in German translation! I thought the German translation was much better than the English.

[Edited at 2009-07-06 04:23 GMT]

[Edited at 2009-07-06 04:54 GMT]


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Taija Hyvönen
Finland
Local time: 22:14
Member (2008)
English to Finnish
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This makes sense, but... Jul 6, 2009

... only when it comes to certain kind of books.

Popular literature is problematic. A typical example is Stephen King: truly terrible translations exist. I have looked at translations of Stephen King into Russian and they were just as terrible. In this category caution should be exercised and the translation carefully examined when buying a book. Stieg Larsson would definitely fall into this category - though I can't say about the Finnish translation.

Then, take something like... Nobel writers or Russian classics translated into Finnish... a narrow audience, extremely high-quality translations. Reading the original may not be any more enjoyable than reading the translation, actually it is probably less so if you don't know the source language extremely well.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:14
Flemish to English
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Niche language Jul 6, 2009

A study shows that Dutch takes up 20% of the total translation volume. The demand of translation>supply of translators. Hence, unless a few ignorant people bid on 0.05 jobs, rates for translation into Dutch remain pretty stable.

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Lawyer-Linguist  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 20:14
Dutch to English
+ ...
Link Jul 6, 2009

Williamson wrote:

A study shows that Dutch takes up 20% of the total translation volume. The demand of translation>supply of translators.


Would you mind supplying a link / other reference to this study?

Thanks
Debs


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ICL  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:14
English to Spanish
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@ John Fenz (about rates according to the value of the target language) Jul 6, 2009

John Fenz wrote:

My point is the author is reaching conclusions that are based on claims that should (and could) be backed up by empirical evidence. Instead of doing that basic ground work, he bases his conclusions on one reader's assertion that "English translations are better than Dutch translations".


Incidentally, I'm not an economist, but since the author of the piece is an economist who feels free to reach conclusions regarding quality and the reasons for it in our profession, allow me the following conclusion about the real economic reasons underlying why someone might prefer to read an English translation of a Swedish or other mystery rather than a translation of that same Swedish book into their own native language:

I'm going to guess that economies of scale have a lot to do with this counter-intuitive effect, and not the relative quality of the rival translations. The market for English language books is much larger (it is the current lingua franca), and books can consequently be purchased for 1/2 the price. [/quote]


Hello John,

I completely agree with your above comments, because I think the comment from this NYT journalist is completely subjective and not based on any empirical, or at least economic, data.

This is going to sound like self-promotion, but it is just a coincidence that I happen to have published yesterday (in my blog) an interview of a translation market expert who incidentally mentions that, actually, translation prices are basically dependent on the value your product (your language) has in the market (see, towards the end, the question about "prices and globalization", at http://lapsustranslinguae.wordpress.com/2009/07/05/inter-professional-dialogue-renato-beninatto-from-common-sense-advisory-dialogo-interprofesional-renato-beninatto-de-common-sense-advisory/ ).

That is, if English is currently the "lingua franca" and, furthermore, there are many countries whose official language is English, the logical thing is that there may be a lot of above average English translation candidates available in the market, just like it will happen in Spanish or Chinese. So there is no economic logic to think that price is actually going to determine that only English translations will automatically be better.

What I have always read in language or translation-related forums or blogs is that multilingual people actually tend to prefer to read a book in its original language, if they have enough knowledge of this language.

Cheers,

Ivette


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 00:44
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
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People have opinions, we should not be bothered about them Jul 6, 2009

Earlier we had the case an Indian writer in English (Salman Rushdie) claiming that all good literature coming out of India was in English!

People hold such opinion for the sake of publicity or out of ignorance.

We needn't be bothered about them at all.

Just read, smirk, and get on with your life!


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 21:14
Member (2003)
Danish to English
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Where do the good translators go then? Jul 6, 2009

Just because a language is understood by comparatively few speakers, it is a fallacy to assume that the translators are not so good. There will be a full spectrum from good through mediocre to hopeless just like anywhere else. So what are the good translators doing? Some of them will be producing first-class literary translations.

I would even maintain that a higher proportion of the population will be good at languages than in the major English speaking countries, and there are probably more good translators as a percentage of the whole. Being truly monolingual is barely an option in Denmark, with a population of about 5 million. The best professional linguists and many natural talents are very good indeed at English.

I have heard from a bookseller that Danes often buy the English version while they are travelling, struggle with it, and then buy the translation when they come home, to pick up the subtle details. Many Danes are also very good at English - they hear it daily on TV and read it at work, if not in their spare time as well. But they still prefer their own language!

There are plenty of bad translations too, and there must be bad translations into English... Life is just too short to bother with them!




[Edited at 2009-07-06 22:37 GMT]


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English translation vs Rest of World

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