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Swear words or verbal assaults in texts - how to cope with it?
Thread poster: Veronika Hansova

Veronika Hansova  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 16:50
Member (2006)
English to Czech
+ ...
Sep 26, 2005

Hello everybody,

Recently I received a business letter written by (probably) a manager of company, that was to be distributed among associates of the company. The tone of the letter was very aggressive, blaming them for incompetence and laziness etc while using distinctive curses! I was not sure what to do with it, I even felt ashamed to translate it. I tended to soften the tone of the letter and almost omitted some of the swearwords. Then I thought that it is not my problem and I stuck to the original, i.e. I applied some pithy English swearings as I was given them in the original Czech text.
Have you ever come across some swear words, bad language or any other indication of verbal assault in original texts? How "faithful" was your translation then?


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Monika Coulson  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:50
Member (2001)
English to Albanian
+ ...
Not much to do in this case, Sep 26, 2005

beside being faithful to the original. You do not exist in this case; you are just a translator, changing one language to the other one.

Personally, I have not experienced such a situation in translation, but I experience this often with interpretation and I try to interpret as faithful as I can.

Monika

Monika K. Coulson
http://www.albaniantranslators.com


Veranna wrote:

Hello everybody,

Recently I received a business letter written by (probably) a manager of company, that was to be distributed among associates of the company. The tone of the letter was very aggressive, blaming them for incompetence and laziness etc while using distinctive curses! I was not sure what to do with it, I even felt ashamed to translate it. I tended to soften the tone of the letter and almost omitted some of the swearwords. Then I thought that it is not my problem and I stuck to the original, i.e. I applied some pithy English swearings as I was given them in the original Czech text.
Have you ever come across some swear words, bad language or any other indication of verbal assault in original texts? How "faithful" was your translation then?


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:50
Spanish to English
+ ...
A difficult one. Sep 26, 2005

I have come across two items in particular recently, in a single text (a website), one was blatant sexism, another was a nostalgic but unfortunate reference to the national hymn of a fascist country in the aftermath of WWII that would have fallen very oddly on English ears

In both cases, bearing in mind the effect on an English speaking reader, I adapted the text BUT also notified the client of my changes and the reasons. Noone complained:-)

In your case, I might possibly have adapted the text to the kind of stinging but restrained language that might be typical of English understatement... abuse in letters is NOT normal or even acceptable behaviour in English, whatever about face-to-face or on the telephone:-) Or I might have refused to do the job...I don't think i would have translated as is....:-)


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Tina Vonhof  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 08:50
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
You can always refuse Sep 26, 2005

You can always refuse the job, just as when you feel the material is outside your field of expertise - in fact if you're not an expert in swear words, maybe it is!

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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:50
French to English
Equivalence Sep 26, 2005

In my opinion, swearing is one of those areas where you are looking to convey the equivalent impact, and not the 'information' as such. Therefore, if dealing with insults, for example, it is immaterial which member of his/her immediate family a person is being accused of enjoying carnal relations with, or which particular body part the insultee is reputed to reminder the insulter of. The question is - is this term a 2/10 insult(mild), or a 10/10 insult(top of the range)? How offensive is the person being? You are duty bound to convey the same level of offensiveness/agression/shock value, culturally and in the equivalent vernacular.

Of course, it would be a good idea to mention the tone of the text when delivering it, in case the client is unaware of the content. If you've had to pepper the text with effing and blinding to convey the equivalent message, you wouldn't want the client to open it and fall off their chair in shock And, indeed, it's only fair to give the client the chance to censor it, if they see fit. But you should not be the censor, IMO.


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Ruth Martinez  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2004)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Ask the client Sep 26, 2005

That's a tricky situation.

Tell your client about your concerns and see with them if they mean what they mean and how they want you to convey it in the target text.

That's what I would...

Good luck!


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Stephen Rifkind  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 17:50
Member (2004)
French to English
+ ...
See Eco Sep 27, 2005

Umberto Eco (Name of Rose, et. al.)has a wonderful discussion of blasphamies, curses, and their translation in his book (English title)"Mouse or Rat?"

I suppose it won't help you immediately, but for future situations.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 16:50
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
Stick to the text, unless the client is somehow mistaken Sep 27, 2005

Veranna wrote:
Recently I received a business letter written by (probably) a manager of company, that was to be distributed among associates of the company. The tone of the letter was very aggressive, blaming them for incompetence and laziness etc while using distinctive curses!


I'd say, stick to the text, but warn the client. The client may not be aware that his letter may not have the desired effect... he may even think that he's being "tongue in the cheek" when in fact he is being very insulting. So double-check with the client.

There is also the cultural aspect. Swearing may be more acceptable in one culture than in another. If my boss were to e-mail me telling me (in English) that I'm a f*cking moron, I'd have my feelings hurt, but he were to tell me the exact words in Afrikaans, that I'm a "f*kken moroon", I'd feel more insulted than hurt, because the function of swearing is just so different in the two languages. For this reason it may not always be a good idea to simply translate swearwords with equivalent swearwords.

Ask [yourself] what is the function of the letter, and see if you create a letter that performs the same function in the target language without materially removing or adding any information or materially altering the logical and semantic structure of the letter.


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PAS  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:50
English to Polish
+ ...
Must keep to the original Sep 27, 2005

If you "smooth out" the expressions, the addressee will get the wrong message and further misunderstandings may arise. It's up to the recipient of the letter to deal with its content.

If you feel uncomfortable with translating a text, I believe it is better to refuse it, rather than change the register.

Such is our work...

HTH,
Pawel Skalinski


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Kevin Kelly  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:50
Member (2005)
Russian to English
+ ...
It is unethical for a translator to deliberately soften, change, or omit any content. Period. Sep 27, 2005

Pavel is absolutely right. Keep to the original as closely as possible. It is not the translator's prerogative to make judgements about the appropriateness of content.

Would you change or delete a mathematical formula in a translation because you think the reader might be frustrated or upset with its complexity?

To my mind, it is perfectly acceptable to point out the situation to the client/outsourcer, but it is not acceptable for a translator to tailor a translation to his/her moral sensibilities. If the temptation to do so is too strong, then do not accept the work.

Kevin


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Peter Bouillon  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:50
French to German
+ ...
This is not that easy IMO... Sep 27, 2005

Kevin Kelly wrote:
It is unethical for a translator to deliberately soften, change, or omit any content. Period.


I'm afraid that this issue is murkier than it might seem at face value. When translating a letter from French, for example, you can certainly write, "Allow me, Mr. Foo, to assure you of my most distinguished feelings," or some such, but this would sound very strange to American ears. So you'd probably rather change that to the phrase an American would typically use to close a business letter, namely, "Yours sincerely".

You can't always avoid any change of content whatsoever.

So the question is IMO, is it typical and usual for Czech business people to use swear words when addressing their subordinates? In other words, are the Czech a vulgar people as a whole? Or are they more or less cultured, and addresses at this language level are most unusual?

After all, the translation might have been requested to prove to English speaking readers just why the manager in question just had to be fired as soon as possible.

P.

[Edited at 2005-09-27 09:02]


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Özden Arıkan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 16:50
Member
English to Turkish
IMO, these are two different things Sep 27, 2005

What matters here, in the example you give below, is putting the appropriate expression to close a letter, keeping to the standards acceptable in the target language for the nature of correspondence in question: business, friendship, legal, etc.

Peter wrote:
I'm afraid that this issue is murkier than it might seem at face value. When translating a letter from French, for example, you can certainly write, "Allow me, Mr. Foo, to assure you of my most distinguished feelings," or some such, but this would sound very strange to American ears. So you'd probably rather change that to the phrase an American would typically use to close a business letter, namely, "Yours sincerely".


For instance, if you provided a literal translation of "Yours sincerely" in Turkish -or any other standard English closing expression beginning with "Yours", for that matter- it would sound "amorous", and would probably cause a laughing fit in a business correspondence.

But the issue here is swearing, and I don't think it would be accepted as a pleasant and desired thing in any culture, and in a business correspondence! Swearing is swearing everywhere in the world. The point is to adjust the appropriate degree in the target language, as Samuel points out above. The F** word, for instance, sometimes so casually used in English, might well sound horrible in another language. But if the writer of the source letter is swearing to their addressee, then the translator cannot have a right to conceal or suppress it. The right that the translators do have, however, is turn down the assignment in case they don't want to deal with such language under any circumstances.


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Orestes Robledo  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:50
English to Spanish
+ ...
Back to Translation 101 Sep 27, 2005

How many times must it be explained? Our role is to convey the meaning from one language to another. Period.

That means translating the typical long, elaborate closing sentence in a letter in French or Spanish as "Yours" in English, because that is how the idea is express in this language; but it also means finding the equivalent swear word in the target language that most closely mirrors the intention of the swear word in the source language.

As translators, we must never avoid any word or expression because it sounds shocking to us. You did not write that letter and you are not expressing your thoughts in the translation!

As a Christian, I do my best to avoid swear words in my own speech and writing, but I do not hesitate to use the most horrendous dirty words when they are required to express the intended meaning of the people I am translating or interpreting for. They are the ones using dirty language, not me!

A translator's note should accompany our translation as a disclaimer, but the translation must always be as faithful as possible to the original, no matter what we may think of it.

Any attempt to improve the style or soften the tone in translation and interpretation is as unethical and unprofessional as tampering with numbers in accounting or altering a prescribed dose in medicine.


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Veronika Hansova  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 16:50
Member (2006)
English to Czech
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Disagree - though my point slightly moves away from the topic. Sep 27, 2005

the translation must always be as faithful as possible to the original, no matter what we may think of it.

Any attempt to improve the style or soften the tone in translation and interpretation is as unethical and unprofessional as tampering with numbers in accounting or altering a prescribed dose in medicine.[/quote]


I must disagree with you. In MOST cases we truly must keep the meaning of the original. But what if the meaning is lost in the original. What if you get the original text so much screwed up that you cannot find your way in it? What if it is full of mistakes - grammatical, stylistic, in meaning etc? What if the author in one sentence speaks of - let's say - Barka Holding, and later on he misprints it or uses the name of another company that has nothing to do with it? Would you still feel like sticking to the original and copy the factual mistakes?


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Monika Coulson  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:50
Member (2001)
English to Albanian
+ ...
That is a different situation Sep 27, 2005

Veranna wrote: What if it is full of mistakes - grammatical, stylistic, in meaning etc? What if the author in one sentence speaks of - let's say - Barka Holding, and later on he misprints it or uses the name of another company that has nothing to do with it? Would you still feel like sticking to the original and copy the factual mistakes?


Hello Veranna,
The situation you describe above is a total different situation. If the material you are translating is full of mistakes, then you notify the client immediately.

However, the translation must "mirror" the original: it should not be clearer, nor should it be less clear than the original. It should reflect the original faithfully. For example, if a letter is written by a confused individual, who uses a poor grammar, then the translation should follow the same pattern, so the reader will know who is standing behind the letter who wrote it. As far as the words you use, you can play with them and use them for your purpose of conveying the exact meaning.


Monika






[Edited at 2005-09-27 16:23]


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