Improve writing in translation or be faithful to text?
Thread poster: Marita La Palm

Marita La Palm
United States
Local time: 06:23
Spanish to English
+ ...
Aug 21, 2009

Hi All,
I am translating an architectural book for use by tourists (Spanish to English.) The source text has many incomplete sentences, and although they don't sound too bad in English, they are still incorrect. There are also many long, drawn-out sentences that my English writing education tells me to break apart. So I am torn between correcting the grammar and being faithful to the text. I am trying to be as faithful to the source text as possible and only changing the sentence structure when it is extremely grating. What would you do?


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Tetyana Dytyna  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 13:23
English to Ukrainian
+ ...
Requirements of the source and target text Aug 21, 2009

What exactly do you mean by being faithful to the original? Every professional translator should first of all preserve the meaning of the original and the author's style (that is his/her particular choice of words and their usage).

However, the translator is even more obliged to follow the basic grammar rules of the target language, and to follow the accepted form of the genre. If a trourist brochure in English has to read smothly and be attarctive, than do that - you won't be unfaithful to the original.


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Carla Selyer  Identity Verified
Local time: 13:23
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Consult with the client Aug 21, 2009

I think you need to consult with the client and see what their requirements are.
At the same time, making sense of the text is important and the translation shouold, if anything, make sense, even though there may be changes. Perhaps you could give the client a sample translated text with two options - a literal translation and a translation which is closer to proper English.
Good luck!
Carla


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:23
Spanish to English
+ ...
misguided? Aug 21, 2009

Lia792 wrote:

I am trying to be as faithful to the source text as possible and only changing the sentence structure when it is extremely grating. What would you do?


You are possibly very misguided (based on the info you've given here). Forget about the "sacred" author (especially when you have concrete evidence that she/he can't write for peanuts)! Think about teh poor reader! And your reputation! And read a bit of translation theory: a good start becuase it covers lots of basic issues is Peter Newmark.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:23
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
The best translation, the one that does not sound as a translation Aug 21, 2009

In my opinion your main goal is to convey the meaning, style, and tone of the translation, not the commas and dots. Your finished translation should sound as if written by a native speaker of English with the same education, style, and intention as the original writer. As long as you do that, it is completely irrelevant how many sentences, commas, parentheses, or dots you use in the translated material.

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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 12:23
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Change meaning versus change form Aug 21, 2009

Lia792 wrote:
The source text has many incomplete sentences, and although they don't sound too bad in English, they are still incorrect. There are also many long, drawn-out sentences that my English writing education tells me to break apart.


The debate is usually about to what degree one may change the meaning of the text. In your case, however, all you want to change is the form. The meaning won't be affected (in fact, failing to use a form that is more suitable for the target audience may actually cause the meaning to become less clear).

Translating partial sentences as full sentences or translating two sentences as one (or vice versa) isn't generally a problem. In some languages, partial sentences sound cool and they are instantly understood -- in others, partial sentences sound abrupt and may be harder to understand.

If the message is clear in the source text, it should be made clear in the target text.


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Andrew Levine  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:23
Member (2007)
French to English
+ ...
Think of this Aug 21, 2009

Imagine you are visiting historic London or Washington and you get an architectural brochure that's exactly like the target text you're translating, only with all the Spanish building names changed to English ones as appropriate. Does the target text sound like something the U.S. Department of the Interior (or British Ministry of Whoever Does Such Things) would produce in English and hand out to millions of visitors? Or does it sound like a translation from a different language? You want it to be the former and not the latter!

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Marita La Palm
United States
Local time: 06:23
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Interesting Points Aug 21, 2009

Thanks for the encouragement to make the writing sound good.

Andrew, I like your image, because it allows me to get out of my literary frame of mind and into a more practical reflection.

Samuel, Tomas, Tetyana, that is exactly the advice I needed clarified, if I could do that or not and still be accurate.

Lia, thanks for the translation theory reference...my point is exactly that the writing is quite fluid in Spanish and I could make it sound nice in English while retaining the same structure, yet that would technically be incorrect in English.

And Carla, I think I will follow your advice and contact the client because I have a feeling they like the Spanish style.


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GoodWords  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 05:23
Spanish to English
+ ...
Literalness is not faithfulness Aug 21, 2009

False friends are not only vocabulary items, but also can exist in the form of sentence structure. Spanish style is more tolerant of, and even embraces long convoluted sentences. You can reproduce these long sentences in correct English, but it doesn't result in an equivalent style. The same long sentences that are normal and readable in Spanish transfer to a high-falutin’, complex style in English that may not be readily understood (e.g. by the average tourist). If the client is Spanish-speaking, they may prefer a Spanish style, but are not the right person to judge what is proper English style, nor what is the equivalent English style to the original. It is an English-speaker who knows Spanish (like you) who can make that judgment.

You demonstrate faithfulness to the original by translating it to the equivalent—not identical—target-language version of the same style.


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Travelin Ann  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:23
French to English
+ ...
I think you have an obligation to help your client Aug 24, 2009

I am a native speaker of English, translating most often from French or Spanish into English. I am, however, sometimes asked to translate from English to French, which I will undertake for certain projects for certain clients.

I am also trained as an editor and proofreader in my native tongue.
When I am working into French, the first thing I do is make a corrected version of the English. For one thing, that makes my work translating into French MUCH easier. I have read the document through for content and flow, and I am not having to work around errors.

My regular clients are well-informed about my methods and now ask me to be the first in the localization process, and it is my English correction that goes to the other translators in the team.

Hope this helps!


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MariusV  Identity Verified
Lithuania
Local time: 13:23
English to Lithuanian
+ ...
The level of the source is NOT your problem... Aug 26, 2009

I'd recommend to translate what is "translateable" and after you finish, prepare a "question list" to the client listing all bizzare places. If you receive their explanation and "updates/corrections" to these bizzare places (if tey really do care about the source and its translation), translate these places on the basis of their explanation. If they don't respond, translate "as you understand" and attach a followup file with your remarks/comments. In such a way you will save a lot of time instead of asking several times per day "what is that? what does it mean?" and annoying the client. In case something bad happens, the client will not be able to accuse you.

[Edited at 2009-08-26 22:37 GMT]


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