When the original is ambiguous
Thread poster: Mairi Jane
Mairi Jane
Local time: 16:31
Jul 19, 2011

I'm translating contracts from English into French, and I'm finding that quite often the English leaves a lot to be desired.

Spelling mistakes in the original text don't matter, nor does the mixture of US and UK vocabulary, but what do you do when it's just plain old ambiguous?

I've settled on the use of footnotes to highlight problems like this, and in my current context this works, because the people using my translation can come and ask me about it any time.

Is there a standard, professional way to deal with text that you don't understand?

Thank you


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B D Finch  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:31
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Who is your client? Jul 20, 2011

Sounds like the client needs to change solicitors! The usual excuse for legalese is that it is a means of avoiding ambiguity. If the client is the firm of solicitors, then there is a problem.

I would indicate any ambiguity to my client and, if possible, get them to clarify the source text before I translated that section. I would also be very wary of mixtures of UK and US English in legal documents as this could in itself cause ambiguity or error; where the same word or expression has a different meaning in UK and US English, how do you decide which is meant? I would point this problem out to the client and ask them to rule on which version of English should take precedence in such a situation.

[Edited at 2011-07-20 15:42 GMT]

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Mairi Jane
Local time: 16:31
Who is the client? Jul 21, 2011

I think I'm working a different way round from normal.

I work for a French company who offer facilities management services, in this case to an American company with a presence in France.

The contract (in English) has come from the American company. I have no contact whatsoever with them, so I have no way of discussing the source. My job is to translate it into French, so that people here know what they're agreeing to.

It feels like a baptism by fire.

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When the original is ambiguous

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