Q: How do you approach poorly written source texts?
Thread poster: Artaxiad
Artaxiad
Norwegian to English
+ ...
May 12, 2004

I guess this is mainly a problem with fiction texts, where the integrity and flair of the author should be taken into consideration.

I'm a student with the University of Oslo in Norway, and am currently taking a course called 'Translation II'. During the run of the course, we've been given several homework assignments, some of which have been extracts of fictional literature. Often poor fictional literature.

'Poor' here (maybe not so) obviously refers to the linguistic parts of the text. I'm not suggesting changing the plot or pace of a text. But when the source text is so poorly written that you feel very able (and tempted, might I add) to give the translation a superior level of linguistic quality; how do you deal with that?

Is it somehow unfaithful not to reproduce, say, repetitive language (when it's clearly not there for stylistic effect), poorly worded sentences or redundant and superfluous writing?`Or is it okay to improve on these in your translation, to raise the standard of the target text?

I feel strongly compelled to do the latter when working with a translation, so I'm wondering if there's any conventional rules or approaches regarding this problem.

Dixi
Artaxiad


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Marcus Malabad  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 10:08
Member (2002)
German to English
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ethics May 12, 2004

http://www.proz.com/topic/21088

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Terry Gilman  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 10:08
Member (2003)
German to English
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You might consider taking the opposite approach May 12, 2004

.. as an exercise to develop your range. Of course you don't want to produce bad writing for real, but you might try writing a worse, "equivalent," and better translation of the same source text(a page or two).

PS: Just want to add my agreement with Norbert and Tina.

[Edited at 2004-05-12 16:52]


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Artaxiad
Norwegian to English
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TOPIC STARTER
I understand there are other views regarding this issue May 12, 2004

Marcus: Thanks for your reply and the link. I read the post, but I must admit it did not leave me all that wiser. And I will be so bold as to say that I disagree that the distinctions are as clear cut as you seem to believe.

If our curriculum (Baker:1992, Hatim:2001) is to be taken seriously, several approaches and ideologies exist on how to view a source text and/or a translator's role.

The issue here is really what the most important objective of translations are: Do you aim for the same kind of response/reaction for the target text audience as you predict/believe/know it elicited with the source text audience (compare Nida 1969)? Or is the most important thing to translate the source text as literally and faithfully as possible (formal equivalence)? Or do you view the act of translating as a re-writing of the text, totally independent of the source texts?

In short, do my loyalties lie with the author or the target audience, or with both? Or with the employer? I'm inclined to say that it is definitely not only the first.

Dixi
Artaxiad


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ntext  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:08
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German to English
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Tricky, tricky May 12, 2004

Artaxiad wrote:

If our curriculum (Baker:1992, Hatim:2001) is to be taken seriously, several approaches and ideologies exist on how to view a source text and/or a translator's role.


Well ... there's your answer, right?

The issue here is really what the most important objective of translations are: Do you aim for the same kind of response/reaction for the target text audience as you predict/believe/know it elicited with the source text audience (compare Nida 1969)? Or is the most important thing to translate the source text as literally and faithfully as possible (formal equivalence)? Or do you view the act of translating as a re-writing of the text, totally independent of the source texts?


Which approach to take really depends on the type of text (including literary genre), the target reader, the purpose of the translation as well as your preference and the client's preference.

I would not say that as translators we are per se obligated (or even entitled) to "improve" on what we consider poorly written texts. But whether or not we should do so anyway can only be determined on a case by case basis.

BTW, I disagree that this is only an issue with literary translations — there are poorly written manuals and contracts and advertisements just as there are poorly written novels, and the best way to approach the challenge will differ for each of these categories. It may be appropriate to improve on a poorly written manual but not on a poorly written contract. On top of that, we would also need to discuss exactly what type of improvement we're talking about.

This is a complex issue and IMO best discussed on the basis of a specific translation project. There are simply too many variables to make meaningful generalizing statements.


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Mathew Robinson
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:08
English
Authors Style May 12, 2004

In a live translation situation through an agency or directly via the author, it should be something that would be identified, discussed and agreed before starting the translation.

Grammar and spelling mistakes would obviously not be reproduced in the target language, but repetative passages and seemingly irrelevent text may be there for reasons of padding out the volume, or just because it\'s the authors style of writing.

People buy novels because they like the authors style just as much as they do becuase they are interested in the subject/genre.


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 02:08
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
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Meaning May 12, 2004

I like to think that as a translator, my first task is to convert the MEANING of the source text into the target language. That leaves me a certain amount of room to improve on a poorly written text. The question is: what did the writer INTEND to say and how will this be understood by the reader?

It also depends on the type of document and the target audience. For example, when translating correspondence, contracts, and legal documents, I would stick more closely to the source text but still make sure it is understandable. For manuals or instructions, I would take a little more liberty and aim for maximum clarity.

In any case, it is always best to get the client's perspective: does the client want a literal translation that reads poorly or does he/she want a text that reads well. So far, my clients have always opted for the latter and that is what I feel most comfortable with.


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Artaxiad
Norwegian to English
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TOPIC STARTER
Let's specify May 13, 2004

Thanks for all the replies!

Norbert Gunther Kramer wrote:

BTW, I disagree that this is only an issue with literary translations — there are poorly written manuals and contracts and advertisements just as there are poorly written novels, and the best way to approach the challenge will differ for each of these categories.


Norbert: I never meant to imply that this was only an issue with fictional texts. My sentiment is rather that, a text that serves a pragmatic purpose, like a manual, is only validated by the usefulness for the reader. It\\\'s not like the author of the manual had something important to say about society, moral or philosophy.

Ads is more of a borderline issue, I think. There\\\'s also a difference between poster ads, brochures etc.

To comply with your wishes, let\\\'s take the text I\\\'m translating right now, to eliminate the generic aspect of the discussion.

It\\\'s a sort of a \\\"picture book\\\" from WWII, with extensive comments about daily life for Norwegians during the occupation. It\\\'s written in a prosaic and impersonal style. The extract I\\\'m supposed to translate is filled with bad grammar, repetitive language, redundancies and ambiguities/inaccuracies.

My initial thoughts are that the English-speaking readers won\\\'t miss those flaws, and the text doesn\\\'t lose anything integral if these were improved/eliminated. Is there any obvious reason I should not try to improve this text in the translation?


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Alex Jones
United Kingdom
Local time: 09:08
Japanese to English
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it's in your interest to write well May 13, 2004

If someone thinks the translation is written badly, a portion of that blame (whether justified or not) falls on the translator. And it never hurts to be associated with a successful work of fiction.

Now, I'm not saying stay up all night and write a totally new best-selling novel, but certainly you should try to 'fix' the most obvious mistakes, such as confusingly ordered or overlong sentences. I mean it's not as if you are adding in a new character or something. I would think twice about duplicate words, as that would be obvious to the writer too so it might be intentional.


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Richard Lawson
Local time: 10:08
Norwegian to English
Faithful translation May 13, 2004

One of the most important skills of the translator is the ability to write well in the target language. Unfortunately, the people who write the original texts often do not write particularly well. We are rarely privileged to translate a text that is exceptionally well written.

Of course, the way we deal with this must vary according to the type of text we are translating. Legal texts must often be translated "warts and all", although I see no excuse for reproducing bad grammar.

It is hardly "unethical" to help the writer to succeed in saying in the target language what he/she intended to say in the original text, even when he/she failed miserably in doing so. Of course, our interpretations are not necessarily correct, and we may not be so fortunate as to have access to the author so that we can confirm them. However, a translation always involves an interpretation of the original text.

Where literary texts are concerned, we may be required to reproduce several layers of meaning, cultural references, allusions, literary devices, etc. This requires a much freer approach to the text. Indeed, it is possible to produce several translations of the same text that are all very different and all equally valid.


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ntext  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:08
Member
German to English
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Agreed May 13, 2004

Artaxiad wrote:

let\'s take the text I\'m translating right now, to eliminate the generic aspect of the discussion.

It\'s a sort of a \"picture book\" from WWII, with extensive comments about daily life for Norwegians during the occupation. It\'s written in a prosaic and impersonal style. The extract I\'m supposed to translate is filled with bad grammar, repetitive language, redundancies and ambiguities/inaccuracies.

My initial thoughts are that the English-speaking readers won\'t miss those flaws, and the text doesn\'t lose anything integral if these were improved/eliminated. Is there any obvious reason I should not try to improve this text in the translation?


This sounds like a case where improvements by the translator are warranted.

Of course, this is apparently a school assignment. In "real life" you would most likely be doing this for a client, probably a publishing house. In this case, there are two considerations:

- If at all possible, the issue should be discussed and hopefully agreed on with the client. (Hopefully, your client wouldn't be the author himself, in which case superhuman diplomatic skills would be called for.)

- Your fee. It is comparatively easy to translate a well-written text. It is harder to translate a badly written text by producing a badly written translation. But the hardest and, more importantly, most time-consuming task is to take a badly written text and turn it into a well-written translation. In real life, an important consideration would be the fee you're getting for your assignment: is it high enough to compensate you for not only translating a text but, essentially, rewriting it? If not, you may be inclined to limit your improvements to a bare minimum.


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Artaxiad
Norwegian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks May 13, 2004

Yes, it is a school assignment, so unfortunately no fee to discuss.

Thanks for all your help. It has made me feel more confident about my choices and their "justification", if you will.

Dixi
Artaxiad


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