What to do when a source text word is used wrongly?
Thread poster: adrienneiii

adrienneiii
United States
Local time: 03:53
Spanish to English
+ ...
May 2, 2013

Hello there, I'm currently doing a translation exam which involves an academic source text. In it, a latin-based word (virtually the same in the source text and in English) is used slightly wrongly (sorry for not giving the example, but it's an exam you know..). It's quite a subtle thing - anyone would know what this person means, it's just not the right word.

What is good translation practice here? Should I use the same, slightly wrong latin word? Or should I use a correct word in English? (I could, of course, included a translator's comment).

Thanks so much!


 

Russell Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:53
Italian to English
Words of Latin origin May 2, 2013

In translating from Italian, I face a similar problem in almost every text. There is invariably a word in the English dictionary with the same Latin root; it is just never used - or only very rarely, in academic or scientific documents - and the majority of native English speakers will never have heard of it.

If the register of your document is appropriate, I would simply translate it using a term of Anglo-Saxon origin.



[Edited at 2013-05-02 15:26 GMT]


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 18:53
Chinese to English
Translate as is and put in a note May 2, 2013

In real life, it would depend on the client. In an exam, I'd say follow the "rule": the translator changes nothing. But a (humbly worded) note to the client is always the courteous thing to do, and it's the right thing to do in an exam, as well.

 

adrienneiii
United States
Local time: 03:53
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Golden rules? May 2, 2013

Thanks so much, Russell and Phil. In this case, it is a word that an (academic) English-speaker might easily use in the same, slightly incorrect way. I will take your advice, Phil, and include a note.

Much appreciated!

This leads me to wonder - is there an easily-accessed "handbook of golden translation rules"? I have a lot of experience in both editing and in my professional field of economics. So I can translate very well. But I frequently encounter dilemmas where the editor in me wants to take over and produce a translation that is better than the source text. I am never quite sure how far to go with this, and some golden rules might come in handy. Any advice on this?

Thanks!


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 18:53
Chinese to English
Input from the client needed May 3, 2013

There are rules of professional ethics available from the ATA:
http://www.atanet.org/membership/code_of_ethics_commentary.pdf

and from NAATI (scroll down for English):
http://www.proz.com/forum/chinese/228712-ausit_code_of_ethics_diy中文翻译仅供参考交流).html

I'm usually happy to do minor editing work on texts. I think the NAATI rule ("not alter, add to or omit anything from the assigned work") is too absolute. But you do need some input from the client in advance. Sometimes the input can be very general: we want this translated so that our American partners can use it. If I had that instruction, I'd edit on a cultural level. Sometimes the input can be very specific: please make sure the numbers add up. Sometimes it's tacit - with longstanding clients I don't need them to say it any more. It's just part of what I do for them.

Either way, I would generally include a note to make sure they know what's happened to their text - and because if I catch errors, they will probably want to edit the source text as well.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 12:53
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
golden rules May 3, 2013

adrienneiii wrote:

Thanks so much, Russell and Phil. In this case, it is a word that an (academic) English-speaker might easily use in the same, slightly incorrect way. I will take your advice, Phil, and include a note.

Much appreciated!

This leads me to wonder - is there an easily-accessed "handbook of golden translation rules"? I have a lot of experience in both editing and in my professional field of economics. So I can translate very well. But I frequently encounter dilemmas where the editor in me wants to take over and produce a translation that is better than the source text. I am never quite sure how far to go with this, and some golden rules might come in handy. Any advice on this?

Thanks!


I don't think any hard and fast rules can apply. The choices you make can depend on the use your client makes of your translation.

If you're translating a witness account for a court case, then you need to keep errors. You never know what might be important, whether a Freudian slip that reveals the person's true intentions beneath a pack of lies, or a spelling mistake in a person's name might reveal that they don't actually know this person as well as they make out.

I once had to translate "lorsque j'étais enceint" ("when I was pregnant", spoken by a man). Obviously this was an error, the guy's *wife* was pregnant, he was merely expecting a baby, but the expression was proof of a higher degree of involvement in the pregnancy than for the average father-to-be. This was a core theme in the entire text, so I translated it exactly like that. Since it was a rather surprising turn of phrase, I added a translator's note to confirm that it was not an error.

If you're translating a document to be published in both languages, like a corporate newsletter, the best thing is, as Phil says, to translate correctly and flag the mistake in the source text so that it can be corrected before going to press.

It's mostly best to check before delivery. You might assume that the client has made a mistake whereas in fact they haven't. I recently had to translate a lexicon at the end of a text on architecture. There was a term in the lexicon that didn't feature in the text. I flagged it as being in there for no reason, even though I did translate the entry. After pointing it out to the client, they then turned around and sent me another text that should have been in with the rest of it, and lo and behold, the famous term was in there. And of course the lexicon entry needed tweaking in that the definition didn't quite match up with the way the term was used in the text... But it was great that I pointed out that the word was missing, the client may otherwise have discovered the extra page was missing only when it was too late.


 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 12:53
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
My school of thought May 3, 2013

adrienneiii wrote:
I'm currently doing a translation exam which involves an academic source text. In it, a Latin-based word ... is used slightly [incorrectly]. It's quite a subtle thing -- anyone would know what this person means, it's just not the right word. ... In this case, it is a word that an (academic) English-speaker might easily use in the same, slightly incorrect way.


In my target language, academic terminology often sounds "wrong" to non-academic people. Academians use terminology in a very specific way that is not often appreciated by common folks, and the way they use Latin-based words often come across as too direct, too literal, or even incorrect. So the first thing you have to ask yourself if whether it may be possible that the author of your text is right, and you are wrong. If so, then your next question to yourself is whether the same Latin-based word in your target language may also be a highly technical term that should be used like that. If don't know (and you can't ask), then my approach would be to translate the meaning that was likely intended with a word that would be understood by common people. If you can ask, you may discover that the same incorrect-looking Latin-based word is used by academians in your target language.


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 12:53
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
I'm with Samuel May 3, 2013

Having had more training in Latin than many colleagues, I have sometimes caught errors of just the type you describe. Or so I think, at least.

But again, medical and legal Latin do not always mean what one expects from classical school Latin (as my teacher actually warned us).

Humility and double checking are never a bad idea: you do not see your own mistakes!

However, as this is an exam, it may have been included deliberately to see how you handle it, and here, I would add a note of some kind.

There may be no single correct answer in the exam situation, but you will very probably be given credit for a good explanation of how you dealt with the problem and why you chose to do it the way you did.
So something like ' I would have asked the client, and have assumed that the answer was ... ' willl probably get you a better grade than ignoring the problem.

I would not risk 'correcting' the mistake without explaining why I had chosen to do so. Depending on how sure you are that it IS a mistake and not special academic usage, explaining that could also be the correct way to tackle it.


 

adrienneiii
United States
Local time: 03:53
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I think I'll go with the Latin word and include a comment.... May 3, 2013

Thank you very much, recent responders!

Above all, it's good to get feedback on how translators should handle these issues in principle - as I say, the editor in me often struggles against the translator. In this particular case, as I have an academic background in the area concerned I'm pretty sure that the word used is slightly inaccurate. I think it's best to stick with the Latin and hopefully head off any possible black marks by including a comment. Ultimately, as some of you have indicated, this kind of thing comes down to the preferences of each individual client, and in an exam context of course I can't be expected to know what these are.

Fingers crossed I will do well enough to find out!

Many, many thanks for all your kind advice.


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 12:53
English to Polish
+ ...
Disclaimer May 4, 2013

Whatever you do this time, remember to put an appropriate disclaimer in any terms of service or general terms and conditions you use, or client contracts. Generally, you want to disclaim any sort of liability arising out of deficiencies of any sort whatsoever in the original document, which you may want to combine with a reminder that documents should be prepared professionally by their authors, on their own responsibility, which it is. Courts sometimes come up with really disturbing rulings on liability.

 


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