Translating deliberately inaccurate entity names
Thread poster: Samuel Murray
| | Samuel Murray
Local time: 06:55
English to Afrikaans
I'm translating a document that contains references to certain American government entities. I find myself uncertain about what principles one should apply when translating the names of such entities. I'll be placing the official English names in brackets after their translated versions, but they do need to be translated anyway.
In some countries, the state departments have accurate descriptive names, but other countries use doublespeak and long-shot euphemisms that makes it all but impossible to determine a department's purpose by looking at its name. The American government seems to excel in the latter. Here are two (or three) examples:
Office of Foreign Assets Control
This "office" is an agency. And while it does concern itself with control, it is not concerned with foreign assets at all. It makes rules about sanctions against other countries and companies and individuals who are in other countries.
So, how would you translate it? It's real name is a grossly inaccurate description of it. So do you translate the inaccuracy or do you translate the truth? Should I translate it as "agency for control measures on foreign assets" (which retains the inaccuracy, and makes it easier for readers to back-translate it mentally) or as "agency for arranging sanctions against foreign entities" (which is what it really is)?
Bureau of Industry and Security
First, this is not a bureau in the sense of an information service or a help desk. It is a government control agency. And it doesn't really concern itself with security itself, although it does deal with the security of industry, so to speak. And it has nothing to do with industry. The word "industry" here really means "technology". The purpose of this agency is to prevent American technology from becoming available to non-friendly non-American entities.
So, how would you translate it? Should I go for "agency for the security of industry" (which isn't absolutely direct but retains the word "industry") or rather something like "agency for the security of technology" (which is closer to the truth, but doesn't back-translate as cleanly)?
I don't really have a problem here but I was wondering what your opinion about this is. The issue here isn't deliberate ambiguity but simple governmentspeak. All orders are executive. If they're not executive, then they're suggestions, not orders. But in the American governmental context the term "executive order" really means an order from the president.
For someone who is not in the know about the American governmental jargon, having this translated as "executive order" would result in a misunderstanding of the meaning of the text. So my question is: what would you think if "executive order" was translated as "presidential order" -- would you regard it as a mistranslation?
Let me make it clear that I have no objection to translating a euphemism with a euphemism, as long as the euphemism is generally understood. For example, most countries' departments of war are called "defense" departments, so I have no problem using the word "defense" in the target text as well.
What are your thoughts?
| About the Office of Foreign Assets Control || Jan 20, 2010 |
I recently translated a document that involved the Office of Foreign Assets Control. It does indeed arrange sanctions against foreign entities, but that implies rules for U.S.-based businesses to follow when dealing (or rather refusing to deal) with those entities as well. Trade with certain countries is banned, for example, so U.S. companies are not allowed to own property there or sell their products to the bad guys. The way I see it, this can be interpreted as foreign assets control: the agency decides what foreign assets Americans must not own and what foreigners must not own assets made in America. So I think a straightforward translation is the right choice here.
| respect for the original || Jan 20, 2010 |
I can imagine that your problem has a moral edge: being accurate in this case perhaps clashes with your values and I too would be uncomfortable about it. However, IMHO (and even being a beginner in translation), I would choose for accuracy. The US has chosen these terms: they have not asked you to correct them. Most people are quite capable of recognising euphemisms for what they are. You personally are deceiving no-one - should that be an issue.
I guess I am drawing on my past experience as a conservator/restorer where respect for the original object and its authenticity was essential. Authenticity can be difficult to determine as our perception can be biased in so many ways and preconceived ideas of what is beautiful or valuable have to be laid aside. And then there are many different kinds of value apart from monetary.
Having said that, my subversive side is fantasizing about turning them into banana republic versions like The Most Excellent Office for Bossing Trade or The Sneaky Office for Keeping Hands Off Our Clever Stuff. Some venting therapy for you ...
[Edited at 2010-01-20 09:49 GMT]
| | Samuel Murray
Local time: 06:55
English to Afrikaans
Jennifer Barnett wrote:
I can imagine that your problem has a moral edge: being accurate in this case perhaps clashes with your values and I too would be uncomfortable about it.
Actually, I believe that a translation is a bad translation is the translator allowed his own morals to interfere with the translation. I believe that a translator should apply and respect the morals of the source text (and associated parties, such as the author of the source text, or the intended recipient or audience of the source text).
For this reason, I would have no objection to translate lies with lies, if the lie is intended (and if the lie is compatible with the ATA and SATI codes of ethics). So if the translation was made for the US government itself, I would not hesitate to retain the ambiguity if I believed it to be deliberate.
I also have no problem with retaining ambiguity if it is likely that the ambiguity would be understood by the target audience. I would not, for example, fiddle with the names if the target audience consisted largely of American people, because the American people are likely to be quite used to this style of naming and would not be confused by it and would be less likely to misunderstand it.
But my text is not for or by the US government -- it is for an American business that wants to explain its policies to its non-American customers (in a language other than English). And these customers live in a country where there is no tradition of giving government departments names that have little to do with the department.
The US has chosen these terms: they have not asked you to correct them.
It is not the job of a translator to correct the names of entities. My question is not about correcting something that is wrong, but about the accurate translation of something that is confusing for the target text reader. Sometimes something may be obvious to a source text reader but potentially confusing to a target text reader.
Here's another (unrelated) example of how something can be confusing to one culture but not to another. I doubt if many Americans would be confused when reading about pro life people who are in favour of the death penalty. This is because "pro life" is a well-known slogan and everyone (in America and some other countries) knows that it simply means "anti-abortion". But in my country (and in my language) the anti-abortionists don't refer to themselves as "pro life", so translating it directly would be confusing for readers in my country.
You'll notice that I translated "bureau" with "agency". In America there are several "bureaus" that do not give advice but actually enforce something. The FBI is not an advisory service, for example, and I think American people are used to this naming method. In my own country, however, a bureau is almost always an advisory service. So if my client's company writes "we do this because Bureau X says we should", the American reader will know that the company probably had no choice in the matter, whereas the reader of my own country will think that the company voluntarily choose to do so, based on the advice they received from the bureau.
Worse, if the scenario is one of "we decided to stop trading with you because Bureau X says we should", the intended meaning of the source text might be "we're sorry about this, but we have no control over this decision" whereas the meaning implied by the target text would be "we're not sorry, because we believe we are doing the right thing, and you had it coming".
You personally are deceiving no-one - should that be an issue. ... Authenticity can be difficult to determine as our perception can be biased in so many ways and preconceived ideas of what is beautiful or valuable have to be laid aside. And then there are many different kinds of value apart from monetary.
I'm not asking for moral support
My opinion is that translators should not accept work if they feel morally uncomfortable with the work. The translator's responsibility is not to himself but to his client, to the source text and to the target audience.
[Edited at 2010-01-20 11:20 GMT]
| be accurate and add explanation? || Jan 20, 2010 |
Thanks for the extra explanation. Sorry if I came over too motherly: just trying to give a different perspective.
["But my text is not for or by the US government -- it is for an American business that wants to explain its policies to its non-American customers (in a language other than English). And these customers live in a country where there is no tradition of giving government departments names that have little to do with the department."]
In that case, what about giving an accurate translation of the name along with a short description of the true function of the agency/bureau/office? That way the name and its meaning are separated. Wouldn't that add value to the document as a whole? After all, the client wants to explain his business policies.
[Edited at 2010-01-20 12:46 GMT]
| Not quite so || Jan 20, 2010 |
I'm afraid an explanation according to which Executive Order = Presidential Order misses a wide part of Presidential Orders. An American President issues Executive and Administrative Orders as well as Directives. Presidential Determinations, Memoranda and Notices are classified as Administrative Orders, while Directives are regarded as a sub-group of Executive Orders as they usually have a narrow, sectoral orientation
[Edited at 2010-01-20 13:36 GMT]
Local time: 00:55
Russian to English
| Stick to the source text--usually || Jan 20, 2010 |
I agree with those who've said to stay faithful to the source text. For one thing, what may seem like a euphemism or a lie or just something incomprehensible to you, may be either 1) a matter of historical development in the country concerned, such that it once meant something and now means something else, but the proper noun remains the same, or 2) is just as incomprehensible to natives of the country, but that's still what they call it, and if you want to write the institution a letter or call them on the phone, that's what you have to look for in the directory, or 3) there may be aspects of the activities of said bureaucracy that you simply aren't familiar with.
I generally try to avoid translating proper nouns, so Bundesbank remains Bundesbank, and Credit Suisse remains Credit Suisse [with accents]. If something is really well known in the target language by another name, I might put that in brackets--e.g., Rote Armee Fraktion [Baader-Meinhof Gang] or Sendero Luminoso [Shining Path]. Or if it's useful and necessary, I might put an explanatory word or two in brackets or a footnote--Bundesverfassungsschutz [German equivalent of the FBI, for an American audience]. I would not translate the latter as Federal Department for Protection of the Constitution, which really doesn't mean anything to anybody. If the proper noun is of no significance at all, in itself, I might translate it and leave it generic, in lower case: Statistisches Bundesamt would just be federal statistical office. One tough case is the German Grundgesetz, which functions as a constitution, but is really not--hence "Grundgesetz," or Basic Law, rather than "Verfassung," which means constitution. The Grundgesetz was specifically formulated in the immediate post-war period as an interim document, since the country was divided and under occupation. Now that Germany is reunified, they sort of kept it, adjusting it a bit here and there. Do Germans think of it as a constitution now? I'm not sure, but would be interested to know. I usually go with Grundgesetz [Basic Law, or constitution], leaving constitution lower case.
On another example you gave, pro-life: that's a completely different matter. It's not a proper noun, but rather jargon of the source text country, and therefore should simply be translated in a way that is comprehensible to the reader of the target text: anti-abortion. Or put "pro-life" in quotes, and [anti-abortion] in brackets or parentheses.
I don't think there's one rule here; you take them as they come.
| | Alex Eames
Local time: 05:55
English to Polish
| What about a three pronged approach? || Feb 16, 2010 |
Perhaps overly rigorous, depending on use of the work, but what about...
1) leaving the name as is in the source language
2) adding a footnote explaining what it means in the target language
3) explaining in the footnote that what it means isn't what it does?
...which is all very well as long as you are paid in target text
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Translating deliberately inaccurate entity names
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