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How to translate when context is short
Thread poster: Masoud Kakoli

Masoud Kakoli
Iran
Local time: 07:25
English to Persian (Farsi)
+ ...
Jul 20, 2013

Context is probably the most important issue in translation. Translating within the context is of utmost importance for every translator but there are times that we do not have enough context especially when we want to translate slogans. Slogans are usually short and they might have rythym and sound effect to influence its audience. Imagine that you are going to translate a slogan that has a short context from English into your native tongue. Imagine further this slogan is Aston Martin's slogan , a British car manufacture. Aston Martin's slogan is " beauty, power, soul". Probably, you can easily translate the first two words but what about the last one? You cannot easily link the last word to car, at least for me.
I'm not going to find a solution to how to translate Aston Martin's slogan but I want to find a solution to how to translate such slogans in general. What is your translating method for these slogans? Do you choose the first definition of each word?

[Edited at 2013-07-20 09:45 GMT]


 

Srini Venkataraman
United States
Local time: 21:55
Member (2012)
Tamil to English
+ ...
Translation Jul 20, 2013

I will translate as the words mean, assuming the copywriter has put just three words. The same slogan may hold good for a bottle of chivas regal!!!(beauty, power, soul)

 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 04:55
English to Polish
+ ...
Translation, not copywriting Jul 20, 2013

I'm not a copywriter when I translate. If I'm hired to be a marketing writer, I will create things from scratch. As a translator, I can translate languages and perhaps culture, but it's not my job to do substantive marketing for the client.

Moreover, some translators and some of the audience pathologically fear anything close to a literal translation, no matter how apt a translation it is. That's a weakness in those which must be addressed and resolved, not something to be reinforced by those who are capable of breaking free of it, such as I consider myself as being. Therefore, I generally capitalise on any opportunity to defend a viable translation which is also a literal equivalent of the source phrase.

I think it's pretty obvious – or should be – that the use of 'soul' with reference to a car is metaphorical. Native speakers of English don't believe cars to have souls in the literal sense, and neither did Aston Martin's PR engineers. Therefore, as long as the metaphor makes sense in the target language, I would keep it, as a translator. Thus, I'd definitely keep the 'soul' when translating into Polish, Latin or French. On the other hand, I don't know enough about the nuances of the notion of soul in the Muslim religion and in the Persian culture to know whether the metaphor continues to make sense in Farsi, so I can't comment on the subject. I would only venture as far as saying that if parallels between horses and sports cars are acceptable (which I have no way of knowing), then it should be vaguely acceptable to equip an Aston Martin with a metaphorical soul (as I believe a metaphorical soul or even a real soul should be okay for a horse).


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:55
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
You need to discuss it with the client Jul 20, 2013

I like to talk it over with the end client first. I try to understand exactly what is important for them, and why, what each word is supposed to represent.

I also discuss just how important the pun is when there is one, and if you can't do the same pun in the translation, exactly which meaning is to be kept, and whether they'd be interested in a slightly different pun. Like the breastfeeding advocacy slogan "breast is best", which has been translated as "le sein, c'est plus sain" in French. There's a catchiness to both but in French it's more focussed on health, whereas breastfeeding very clearly transcends that aspect.


Beauty: the design
power: the engine
soul: this is more than a means of getting from A to B, it's a statement that reflects you, it's something that you can have a meaningful relationship with (if the beauty and power are not enough to help you attract your perfect partner)

It could just as easily be used for a perfume. It may have been knocking about at the advertising agency for a while before anyone picked it up!
I would play around with the thesaurus until I found three words that would hang together well

I often tell the client I will provide at least two solutions. I used to provide three, and one was often an almost word-for-word translation, then another making more of an attempt to translate the idea not the words, then an even more daring one, possibly introducing some alliteration or metaphorical idea. The client invariably chose the word-for-word one, they felt more comfortable with it. So now I produce all three but only send the two more daring ones.

I don't just send the slogans, I provide a literal back-translation and I provide a bit of background to explain why I chose this or that word, giving examples of usage so they realise that English people will get the meaning even if they didn't before reading my explanations.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:55
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
translating copy = transcreation Jul 20, 2013

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

I'm not a copywriter when I translate. If I'm hired to be a marketing writer, I will create things from scratch. As a translator, I can translate languages and perhaps culture, but it's not my job to do substantive marketing for the client.

Moreover, some translators and some of the audience pathologically fear anything close to a literal translation, no matter how apt a translation it is. That's a weakness in those which must be addressed and resolved, not something to be reinforced by those who are capable of breaking free of it, such as I consider myself as being. Therefore, I generally capitalise on any opportunity to defend a viable translation which is also a literal equivalent of the source phrase.


I charge a lot for this type of work and I consider the "substantive marketing" to be part of what my hefty bill covers. I work hard to find something that rings well, that will appeal to the English mindset. This may include creative input, especially if the literal translation doesn't fulfil my criteria. We call it transcreation.

Literal equivalents can sometimes work, but usually lose a fair amount of impact. A slogan without impact... can it still call itself a slogan? ... only with a derogatory qualifier in front. "useless" springs to mind.

I'd be curious as to how you would translate "soul" here into French.
"De la beauté, de la puissance, une âme"?
"elle est belle, elle est puissante, elle a une âme"?
"beauté, puissance, âme"?
"belle, puissante,... euh"


 

Masoud Kakoli
Iran
Local time: 07:25
English to Persian (Farsi)
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
How to translate Jul 20, 2013

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

I'm not a copywriter when I translate. If I'm hired to be a marketing writer, I will create things from scratch. As a translator, I can translate languages and perhaps culture, but it's not my job to do substantive marketing for the client.

Moreover, some translators and some of the audience pathologically fear anything close to a literal translation, no matter how apt a translation it is. That's a weakness in those which must be addressed and resolved, not something to be reinforced by those who are capable of breaking free of it, such as I consider myself as being. Therefore, I generally capitalise on any opportunity to defend a viable translation which is also a literal equivalent of the source phrase.

I think it's pretty obvious – or should be – that the use of 'soul' with reference to a car is metaphorical. Native speakers of English don't believe cars to have souls in the literal sense, and neither did Aston Martin's PR engineers. Therefore, as long as the metaphor makes sense in the target language, I would keep it, as a translator. Thus, I'd definitely keep the 'soul' when translating into Polish, Latin or French. On the other hand, I don't know enough about the nuances of the notion of soul in the Muslim religion and in the Persian culture to know whether the metaphor continues to make sense in Farsi, so I can't comment on the subject. I would only venture as far as saying that if parallels between horses and sports cars are acceptable (which I have no way of knowing), then it should be vaguely acceptable to equip an Aston Martin with a metaphorical soul (as I believe a metaphorical soul or even a real soul should be okay for a horse).


Based on your post, I figured out that you employ a literal translation. Am I right? As I said, I'm not going to find out a solution to how to translate Aston Martin's slogan. Indeed, I'm trying to find a general solution to how to translate such text that has short context.

So is literal translation the GENERAL METHOD that you use to translate texts that have short context?
Of course I know that what literal translation is but by literal translation do you mean the choice of first meaning of each word?

[Edited at 2013-07-20 16:18 GMT]


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:55
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Salaam Masoud Jul 21, 2013

I think going for a literal translation given the absence of context is like deciding that everyone wants black because you haven't conducted a survey to see whether anyone would prefer blue or yellow.

If you don't have enough context you have to ask for some and refuse to deliver until you've been given it, or at least highlight anything you're not sure of with question marks all over the place, but that is not a finished translation...

I recently had to translate the description of some paintings for an art exhibition. It was a wonderful text, but sometimes not altogether clear. When I first accepted the job, it was on the condition that they sent pictures of the paintings. On delivery day, I still hadn't seen them, so I didn't deliver. They ended up sending them an hour before I was due to go out and of course they couldn't wait till the next day. I only had time to quickly check the things I had marked as obscure and send it off. I would have preferred to read each description with the picture on my screen. You never know whether there might be something translated wrong without you realising there were other possibilities. One painting actually had a different title and I couldn't find any traces of either on Internet. I just had to guess, and went for the version in the text file rather than the picture file simply because I wouldn't have to change anything (of course I pointed all this out to the client). This soured the entire experience for me, because you can be sure that if ever there are discrepancies between my translation and the picture, nobody will remember the circumstances in which I had to do the translation.


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 04:55
English to Polish
+ ...
beauté, puissance, âme Jul 21, 2013

Texte Style wrote:

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

I'm not a copywriter when I translate. If I'm hired to be a marketing writer, I will create things from scratch. As a translator, I can translate languages and perhaps culture, but it's not my job to do substantive marketing for the client.

Moreover, some translators and some of the audience pathologically fear anything close to a literal translation, no matter how apt a translation it is. That's a weakness in those which must be addressed and resolved, not something to be reinforced by those who are capable of breaking free of it, such as I consider myself as being. Therefore, I generally capitalise on any opportunity to defend a viable translation which is also a literal equivalent of the source phrase.


I charge a lot for this type of work and I consider the "substantive marketing" to be part of what my hefty bill covers. I work hard to find something that rings well, that will appeal to the English mindset. This may include creative input, especially if the literal translation doesn't fulfil my criteria. We call it transcreation.

Literal equivalents can sometimes work, but usually lose a fair amount of impact. A slogan without impact... can it still call itself a slogan? ... only with a derogatory qualifier in front. "useless" springs to mind.

I'd be curious as to how you would translate "soul" here into French.
"De la beauté, de la puissance, une âme"?
"elle est belle, elle est puissante, elle a une âme"?
"beauté, puissance, âme"?
"belle, puissante,... euh"


Probably beauté, puissance, âme, though I might replace the last with 'esprit'. Please note, however, that my French has never been above B2 level, and my knowledge of the culture does not extend as far as to give me a reliable feel of the appropriateness of words. My choice here is dictated by my reluctance to change the grammatical form unless either 1) necessary or 2) clearly superior than otherwise. Barring special circumstances, I will usually even err on the side of foreignisation, which connects with my idea that we all live in an extended post-Roman at least culturally Christian civilisation (with individual differences between countries and nations being smaller than internal differences in eastern populaces that we commonly regard as uniform), demanding at least a bit of a cosmopolitan attitude within a loosely understood Romanitas. Sorry for being a bore.icon_wink.gif

Masoud Kakoli wrote:

Based on your post, I figured out that you employ a literal translation. Am I right?


Yes, usually. I know how to do transcreation, and I don't shy away from it when necessary, but as far as translation goes, I will usually stick with (enlightened) literal translation as the default way unless there's a clear benefit in diverging from it. Basically, I believe a good reason is necessary for deviating from a literal translation rather than for embracing it, which means that quite a few modern linguists have got it backwards. I tend to regard unwarranted liberality in translation as a lack of discpline, perhaps even as a sort of laziness, and as a wasted opportunity to exercise one's linguistic and logical competence by finding good equivalents.

As I said, I'm not going to find out a solution to how to translate Aston Martin's slogan. Indeed, I'm trying to find a general solution to how to translate such text that has short context.


Yeah, I know the slogan was just an example.

So is literal translation the GENERAL METHOD that you use to translate texts that have short context?


Yes, unless perhaps my knowledge allows me to override that general method with confidence. But I am a determined adversary of guesswork in translation, and it pains me how often translators fail to decode the meaning conveyed by the specific choice of grammar and syntax made by original authors. (As much as I realise that sometimes there is no meaning therein, in which case, for specific applications, I sometimes translate in a way that looks nothing like a literal translation.) I believe that it is the discipline that I follow which allows me to be a good translator — paradoxically, also in those situations when I write afresh, even though I was employed to translate (usually when the utility of the text is its paramount function).

Of course I know that what literal translation is but by literal translation do you mean the choice of first meaning of each word?


I always want to determine the appropriate meaning. I rely heavily and conscientiously on logic and etymology, and, consequently, my literal translation is not actually a word-for-word translation. I only take words in isolation when they come isolated beyond recovery, in which case I likely resort to footnotes but first of all question the client.

Texte Style wrote:

I like to talk it over with the end client first. I try to understand exactly what is important for them, and why, what each word is supposed to represent.


Yup.

I also discuss just how important the pun is when there is one,


Yup.

and if you can't do the same pun in the translation, exactly which meaning is to be kept,


Yeah, because the pun may be more important than the individual words which compose it (and thus be the main carrier of the author's message).

and whether they'd be interested in a slightly different pun.


Most of my solutions would probably come in that 'slightly different category' due to the small nativisations I make, since, after all, I tend to go for what I've just called 'enlightened literal translation' or at least remain within appropriately loosened bounds of the same discipline.

Like the breastfeeding advocacy slogan "breast is best", which has been translated as "le sein, c'est plus sain" in French. There's a catchiness to both but in French it's more focussed on health, whereas breastfeeding very clearly transcends that aspect.


It does?

Beauty: the design


Depending on the language, that could be a 'look' or 'style' or something.

power: the engine


Even in literal translation, power would sometimes become force or strength.

soul: this is more than a means of getting from A to B, it's a statement that reflects you, it's something that you can have a meaningful relationship with (if the beauty and power are not enough to help you attract your perfect partner)


That sounds like anima, but I guess it could also be animus, and at any rate soul could become spirit depending on the language or context. In French, I'd probably also think about 'elan' (which does carry a cavalry-like saber-rattling moustachious association but anyway).

I would play around with the thesaurus until I found three words that would hang together well


I pay visits to thesaurus.com. For Polish words, I usually look into myself (with space inside or not, I guess).

I often tell the client I will provide at least two solutions. I used to provide three, and one was often an almost word-for-word translation, then another making more of an attempt to translate the idea not the words, then an even more daring one, possibly introducing some alliteration or metaphorical idea. The client invariably chose the word-for-word one, they felt more comfortable with it. So now I produce all three but only send the two more daring ones.

I don't just send the slogans, I provide a literal back-translation and I provide a bit of background to explain why I chose this or that word, giving examples of usage so they realise that English people will get the meaning even if they didn't before reading my explanations.


I used to have a similar approach. At any rate, I do explain non-literal translations using back-translations to show the absurdity of the alternative I chose not to follow. A swift solution.

[Edited at 2013-07-21 17:25 GMT]


 

Anna Sylvia Villegas Carvallo
Mexico
Local time: 21:55
English to Spanish
This is your context: Jul 21, 2013

"With nearly a century of history, Aston Martin has developed into an automotive icon, a marque synonymous with luxury, heritage and authentic craftsmanship. Alongside these core values comes passion, passion about the cars we produce and a passion shared by our enthusiastic owners. All of our models are, and will continue to be hand-built and bespoke, using high technology processes within a very modern environment."

The slogan: "Beauty, Power, Soul".

So, "soul" can be "passion" in your language.

Just a suggestion.

icon_smile.gif


 

polyglot45
English to French
+ ...
As one who teaches translation... Jul 21, 2013

... I can tell you there is no "one size fits all" answer to your question.
Slogans are always a challenge. I translate them but then I do not consider myself "just a translator" and my charges reflect this.
When faced with a slogan, my best advice is that you should think deeply about what it means. Maybe it is not a phrase that carries deep implications but just words that sound nice together and suggest the type of product the manufacture wants to promote.

Taking your example of "beauty, power, soul", what is AM trying to say? The product is, by nature luxurious and expensive, so the potential client needs to know what he/she will be getting for his/her money.

"Beauty" - an object of beauty, something that looks good, is a pleasure to look at, fulfils the current canons with regard to appearance. I don't know how you would translate "beauty" into Farsi but I would tend to stick to a literal translation in the languages that I know. That said, in a language such as German, I might be tempted to transform the nouns into adjectives "schön" rather than "Schönheit", after all another aspect of the 3 original words is that they are short and not multi-syllabic.

"Power"- the potential purchaser would be buying a powerful beast, a car capable of top notch performance. Again, you could stick to "power" or "powerful" in your language.

'"Soul" is basically trying to suggest that the vehicle is not just an unanimate object. It has a soul, a heart that beats with its owner's. A little fanciful but that's the whole point of slogans: they suggest more than they actually say and how one person interprets them may not be the same as his neighbour. You could look for synonyms of 'soul", perhaps "character" or something of that nature that may more be easily translatable into your language.

In French I think I would say: beauté, puissance, caractère
In German: Seele, Schönheit und Macht/Kraft (which contradicts what I said before, but then your thoughts will evolve as you work your way through) - I have also changed the word order as a matter of personal preference.

I took your example because there is no one answer to your question but to give you an idea of the way I would address the issue.
HTH


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:55
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Of course this is slightly off topic Jul 21, 2013

[quote]Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

Texte Style wrote:

Like the breastfeeding advocacy slogan "breast is best", which has been translated as "le sein, c'est plus sain" in French. There's a catchiness to both but in French it's more focussed on health, whereas breastfeeding very clearly transcends that aspect.


It does?



yes, you can breastfeed a baby to wake it up in the morning, to send it to sleep in the evening, to comfort it when it's frightened, to quench its thirst when it's thirsty. It's a primary bonding tool that helps mother and baby to attach to each other. Goslings simply attach to the first living being they see, and so much the better because the mother goose couldn't possibly watch out for all 16 goslings at a time. Humans attach primarily through care (caring and being cared for), and breastfeeding is a way of caring for your baby that meets practically every need apart from a soiled nappyicon_smile.gif

Polyglot45 I agree there is no one size fits all.

I do rather like "caractère" for "soul". It's not the literal translation at all but I'm sure native French speakers can relate better to "caractère" than to "âme". This is a splendid example of why you need a native speaker for this type of translation. I could feel that "âme" would not appeal, yet didn't get beyond rejecting "esprit" out of hand. Of course had I needed to translate it for a client I would have got on to a synonyms website but I don't know whether I'd have found "caractère".
I often have to translate "caractère" when describing food and of course wine, and I often put "personality", but "soul" could well fit the bill occasionally.


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 04:55
English to Polish
+ ...
You don't need a native speaker Jul 21, 2013

[quote]Texte Style wrote:

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

Texte Style wrote:

Like the breastfeeding advocacy slogan "breast is best", which has been translated as "le sein, c'est plus sain" in French. There's a catchiness to both but in French it's more focussed on health, whereas breastfeeding very clearly transcends that aspect.


It does?



yes, you can breastfeed a baby to wake it up in the morning, to send it to sleep in the evening, to comfort it when it's frightened, to quench its thirst when it's thirsty. It's a primary bonding tool that helps mother and baby to attach to each other. Goslings simply attach to the first living being they see, and so much the better because the mother goose couldn't possibly watch out for all 16 goslings at a time. Humans attach primarily through care (caring and being cared for), and breastfeeding is a way of caring for your baby that meets practically every need apart from a soiled nappyicon_smile.gif

Polyglot45 I agree there is no one size fits all.

I do rather like "caractère" for "soul". It's not the literal translation at all but I'm sure native French speakers can relate better to "caractère" than to "âme". This is a splendid example of why you need a native speaker for this type of translation. I could feel that "âme" would not appeal, yet didn't get beyond rejecting "esprit" out of hand. Of course had I needed to translate it for a client I would have got on to a synonyms website but I don't know whether I'd have found "caractère".
I often have to translate "caractère" when describing food and of course wine, and I often put "personality", but "soul" could well fit the bill occasionally.


You don't necessarily need a native speaker, you just need someone with more than 4 years of 3 hours a week with French, 11 years ago.icon_wink.gif These days my French is barely sufficient to allow me to apologise in passable style for how bad it is.icon_razz.gif You can't complain, though, since I'd given you fair warning.icon_wink.gif

I do agree, though, that character or personality might be a good replacement for soul when facing some differences between languages. I've recently done something like that when translating a marketing text involving luxurious sports cars.


 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:55
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Not complaining! Jul 21, 2013

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

You don't necessarily need a native speaker, you just need someone with more than 4 years of 3 hours a week with French, 11 years ago.icon_wink.gif These days my French is barely sufficient to allow me to apologise in passable style for how bad it is.icon_razz.gif You can't complain, though, since I'd given you fair warning.icon_wink.gif



Not complaining about your French. My French, however, is excellenticon_wink.gif (even if I say so myself -but plenty of French people have said so including translators). Of course I could excuse myself for not finding something good in French by saying that I'm not used to translating in that direction. I'm not, but then when I'm conversing in French I sometimes try to translate a proverb or something (I mostly don't have to think at all in English while speaking in French.).

But the fact is that in English I usually come up with a great idea within minutes of seeing the slogan to be translated from French, and then I might just polish it up a bit, whereas that just doesn't happen for me the other way. I might hit on a great way to translate the proverb a couple of days later - like you think of a good answer to a nasty question when it's too late (unless you're Will Smith, in which case the screenplay writers have done it for you).

Ok I am not saying anything more on this subject, please can we agree to disagree? We need to stick to slogans and translating without context rather than pollute yet another thread with the native/non-native issueicon_wink.gif

I also like the idea of "anima" that you mentioned before, partly because it occurs in a Paolo Conte song I love, the only Italian song I can sing by heart and even understand, ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_BxRb9OLcg if you're interested, just thinking of it made me go and look for it) but also because it's Latin, so it takes us back to our cultural roots, from which we can then spring forth in a new élan to find the right word in whatever Latin language we are translating into.

Masoud, this might sound like I'm just chunnering on here, but this is often how I talk to myself when I'm thinking out slogans. Like Sherlock and "Hound Dog" in the recent BBC series if you've seen it.


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:55
Russian to English
+ ...
I don't think you can translate anything literally Jul 22, 2013

It is sometimes a pure coincidence that a literal translation happens to be the best in a particular context. As a rule though -- literal translation is not the way to go. Avoiding it is not a sign of fear but rather of craftsmanship. It also depends on the language -- in one language a literal translation of a phrase may work, whereas it may not in another.

 

Kay Denney  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:55
Member (Apr 2018)
French to English
Wow Jul 22, 2013

I agree with Lilianicon_wink.gif

 
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