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How to translate untranslatable text?
Thread poster: xxxWouthan
xxxWouthan  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 01:45
English to Norwegian
+ ...
Feb 12, 2015

Hi
I translate technial English to Norwegian, and I often find impossible to keep the sentence structure.
What I sometimes do, is to rewritten the text in order to make a good Norwegian sentence. This involves the use of different words, not included in the source text. But I do keep the content of meaning.

Is this a good or bad practice?
How do you deal with it?


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DLyons  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 00:45
Spanish to English
+ ...
I cheerfully rewrite. Feb 12, 2015

In technical material, one is trying to convey the meaning. I've never had a complaint.

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Sergei Leshchinsky  Identity Verified
Ukraine
Local time: 02:45
Member (2008)
English to Russian
+ ...
this is Feb 12, 2015

a normal practice

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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
It is Feb 12, 2015

Wouthan wrote:

Hi
I translate technial English to Norwegian, and I often find impossible to keep the sentence structure.
What I sometimes do, is to rewritten the text in order to make a good Norwegian sentence. This involves the use of different words, not included in the source text. But I do keep the content of meaning.

Is this a good or bad practice?
How do you deal with it?


May I say that this means you are a good translator?

After all, why should we try to bring the two languages any closer to each other than they actually are (were)?

Moreover, keeping the same/similar word order/words is just plain easier. Ours, though, isn't (and shouldn't be) an easy job, is it?


[Edited at 2015-02-12 12:11 GMT]


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:45
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Not only technical Feb 12, 2015

I think the need to convey the meaning of whole sentences, rather than the individual words, is even more important in literary translations. I have only once had a client who would not let me do this, so I turned down the job and refunded what she had paid me, even though I had already done a good translation for her, for the sake of not having to be involved with her any more.

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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:45
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Everything is untranslatable Feb 12, 2015

If you think of it, communication and therefore translation are impossible. We translators do that bit of magic required to get as close as humanly possible to the source meaning, and that always involves rewording or rewriting so that the target reader understands all the possible implications. Normal practice!

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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:45
German to English
All in a day's work Feb 12, 2015

Add words for clarity, remove redundant words (e.g., the clinical approach to a clinical problem by clinicians), join, break up sentences.

That's how it's done.


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xxxWouthan  Identity Verified
Norway
Local time: 01:45
English to Norwegian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
How freely should I translate? Feb 12, 2015

Kevin Fulton wrote:

Add words for clarity, remove redundant words (e.g., the clinical approach to a clinical problem by clinicians), join, break up sentences.

That's how it's done.


What I allways want to do when translating, is to first fully understand the meaning of an segment, then remember the meaning, but forget about the words, then write down the target segment, using a good language. And also, as you suggest, add and remove words for better clarity

Am I allowed to do that?
Where does the limit goes in how freely a translation could be done, yet to be acceptable?


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Jean-Pierre Artigau
Canada
Local time: 19:45
English to French
+ ...
Convey meaning and forget the words Feb 12, 2015

Of course you should forget the words and express a meaning. This is all the essence of translation.

You can't always keep the same structure as in the original, first of all because different languages have different structures and syntaxes, secondly because sometimes the original text is poorly written anyway, and thirdly because you can have your own perception of how this should be expressed in the target language, and this can be a matter of personal preference. Sometimes I find much more clarity and elegance if my French sentence is an upside-down version of the English sentence. Also you may translate two short sentences as one sentence, or one long sentence as two sentences, with a link word connecting them (for instance, however, but, accordingly, moreover, etc.), as long as the meaning is conveyed.

Jean-Pierre


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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Target audience/proofreader Feb 12, 2015

Wouthan wrote:

Kevin Fulton wrote:

Add words for clarity, remove redundant words (e.g., the clinical approach to a clinical problem by clinicians), join, break up sentences.

That's how it's done.


Am I allowed to do that?
Where does the limit goes in how freely a translation could be done, yet to be acceptable?


Ideally, it will depend on the target audience of your translation. There will be concepts in your source language that do not necessarily exist in your target one. Take the English word "barrister" and try to translate it into Spanish. There is no such thing in Spanish. "Abogado" is not exactly a "barrister". "Jurista" will be too generic. "Letrado", pretty miuch the same. Do we just not translate it and rather leave it in italic?

Well, again, it will depend on who is going to read your translation. If it is going to be read by a Spanish lawyer who has thorough knowledge of the UK legal system, you will probably have to leave it (do not translate). If your target audience is a group of monolingual students who are just starting the course, you can probably go with "abogado/letrado". If it is a public document that you are translating, you will have to come up with a creative solution (probably a note/explanation).

To answer your question, I would say the limit is the target audience. Now, oftentimes, we do not have clear idea who that is (especially, if you work with agencies). In reality, unfortunately, the limit is set by your editor/proofreader. And you will have many of them during your career (i.e. many "limits").

[Edited at 2015-02-12 18:39 GMT]


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 08:45
Chinese to English
Ideal vs non-ideal Feb 13, 2015

Wouthan wrote:

...remember the meaning, but forget about the words, then write down the target segment, using a good language...
Am I allowed to do that?

Merab Dekano wrote:

Ideally, it will depend on the target audience of your translation.

Sorry, Merab, I'm taking your quote a bit out of context here to make a point.

I would say that *ideally*, what Wouthan has written is always correct, no matter who the client is. But in our imperfect world, often clients like to see "the same words as in the original". It's a somewhat unreasonable demand, but some clients make it, and we just have to decide how much we're willing to compromise or negotiate.

Incidentally, to Wouthan: this is one of the things that will get easier with more experience. You will find and develop ways to write sentences which mirror the original more exactly, and you'll become more confident about the cases when you really, really have to write a target sentence that looks very different to the source.

One of the interesting things that I've found is that often when I do my monolingual editing (reading and adjusting my target text without looking at the source) I end up changing the text so that it is *closer* in structure to the source text. But some things are always going to be different.


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Jacek Sierakowski
Belgium
Local time: 01:45
English to French
+ ...
Machine QM Feb 13, 2015

“In reality, unfortunately, the limit is set by your editor/proofreader. And you will have many of them during your career (i.e. many "limits").”

In my opinion, the worst are the non-linguists, not knowing the source nor the target language, machine-QM-ing and comparing the number of words, commas, semi-colons, and asking you 300 silly questions 3 weeks after delivery.

Jacek


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Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 01:45
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
+ ...
Of course Feb 13, 2015

Wouthan wrote:

… I often find impossible to keep the sentence structure.
What I sometimes do, is to rewritten the text in order to make a good Norwegian sentence.


In my humble opinion, this is one of the main factors distinguishing a professional translator from the ubiquitious wannabes.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:45
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Normal Feb 13, 2015

?? isn't this everyone's normal way of working?

Just yesterday - to take a typical example, one tiny snippet from a much bigger translation job, was:

ITALIAN

Senza impiego ma "senza angosce", dice adesso con tranquillità

ENGLISH

But although she was between jobs, she "wasn't agonising about it" as she calmly says now

__________________


This is what my clients expect me to do: use my discretion and deliver a translation that doesn't seem like a translation.

__________________

My "Bible" in the field of translation is Walter Benjamin's magisterial essay, written in 1923, which I periodically re-read (translated into English as "The Task of the Translator").

Translating means "echoing". Benjamin puts it like this: "The task of the translator consists in finding that intended effect upon the language into which he is translating which produces in it the echo of the original"

The whole essay is here:

http://tinyurl.com/ls6ngz6

[Edited at 2015-02-13 10:59 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:45
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Can you justify your work? Feb 14, 2015

Wouthan wrote:
I often find impossible to keep the sentence structure. What I sometimes do, is to rewritten the text in order to make a good Norwegian sentence. This involves the use of different words, not included in the source text. But I do keep the content of meaning.

First off, that isn't the definition of untranslatable. As a basic example (maybe not entirely relevant) think of "yours sincerely", "yours faithfully", "best regards"... Are they translatable literally into other languages? Probably. But that literal translation is unlikely to be the correct phrasing at the end of a letter.

It can be difficult to justify your choices to clients when you're just beginning as a translator but that's what you have to be prepared to do. If you get queries (or worse, complaints), then you may have to explain exactly why this verb is in the target when that noun was in the source. You're the "expert" and clients sometimes just need reassurance.

I believe that back translations are more common in technical subject areas than in my specialisation of marketing. Is that true, technical translators? I can't imagine what would be gained by doing one on my translations - I'd actually be mortified if the same words came out as went in. But maybe a technical translation should be a little more faithful in the choice of terminology, I don't know. However, the structure of the target language always has to be respected.


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