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Consistency - a good thing or a bad thing?
Thread poster: Astrid Elke Witte

Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 12:40
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
May 4, 2006

Supposing you do a translation into English, a language that likes variety, and try to make the English as natural as possible, therefore deliberately do not translate the same word or phrase identically each time (in other words, do the translation in a human way and not a mechanical way), and then the customer comes along and complains that you have not been "consistent" in your translation, how would you react?

In other words, has the so-called "consistency" in translation (once applied mainly to documents of a technical nature) become so fashionable that people have become allergic to variety in language?


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 13:40
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
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If source is consistent, why not the target May 4, 2006

In German it is the habit to vary expressions and to avoid repetitions. This often has the result known as Spiegel-Deutsch, when a text about Hamburg contains those synonyms as Alstermetropole, Hansestadt, Waterkant-Zentrum etc.
I don't know if its good or bad. verY often it sounds silly.
In literal translation I would avoid deviation from a consistent source. In Technical texts the problem is often the other way round, different people wright different parts of a manual using different terminology.
In German we have the possibility to address items using "er, sie, es, dieser, jener etc.". avoiding repetition of terms, but I believe the English language is more limited in this respect. But I haven't studied English, so you may correct me.


Regards
Heinrich


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Alison Schwitzgebel
France
Local time: 12:40
Member (2002)
German to English
+ ...
It depends.... May 4, 2006

If we're talking technical terminology, it's best to call a spade a spade all the time. That goes for financial and legal translation too.

In marketing translations, consistency can be a good thing - or a bad thing depending on how your customer sees it.

At the end of the day, the customer is generally right, so if they want consistency, then that's what they should get

HTH

Alison


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 12:40
Member (2002)
German to English
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TOPIC STARTER
A marketing translation May 4, 2006

Let's assume the translation concerned is not a technical, financial or legal translation, but a marketing translation that you are trying to make sound as natural as possible in the target language...

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Marijke Singer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:40
Dutch to English
+ ...
I would go for consistency but then I am a technical translator May 4, 2006

Alison Riddell-Kachur wrote:

If we're talking technical terminology, it's best to call a spade a spade all the time. That goes for financial and legal translation too.

In marketing translations, consistency can be a good thing - or a bad thing depending on how your customer sees it.

At the end of the day, the customer is generally right, so if they want consistency, then that's what they should get

HTH

Alison


Yes, I would do the same thing and I do not translate marketing stuff.


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Derek Gill Franßen  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 12:40
German to English
+ ...
Consistency... May 4, 2006

Consistency is not a religion.

I may be going against the majority here, but I think that, while consistency is definitely important, the style of the finished document may not be disregarded - especially in marketing texts (my nightmares), but also in legal documents.

In the latter case, it is of utmost importance that the "defined terms" be translated consistently, i.e. those terms that are defined in a contract (usually capitalized in English).

Otherwise, I see nothing wrong with varying the language to avoid repetition. In fact, that is exactly what was taught in my university writing classes.

This must be especially true for marketing texts, which are more about style than content. As long as the terms are correct, i.e. synonyms, there should be no problem.

That is, of course, only my opinion - rebuttals are more than welcome.


Alison does, however, make a good point: Customer is (often unfortunately) king.


[Edited at 2006-05-04 16:37]


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Ford Prefect  Identity Verified
Burkina Faso
Local time: 10:40
German to English
+ ...
... May 4, 2006

Obviously the approach has to differ with the nature of the text and audience. Consistency is of course essential in technical translation as Alison says, but we all know that there is a scale of requirements from precise translation of a technical message to reproducing the beauty of an artistic one. I am not so sure these are mutually exclusive goals but often there will be a trade off between the two for practical reasons, and the side on which you err depends on what the client wants. Of course whether end clients know this is another matter.

Heinrich, your example about various euphemisms for Hamburg illustrates this well - how are you supposed to translate all of these into English? Yes it's tedious in German so ideally you want it to be tedious in English too - but you are faced with a choice between transcription/literal translation on the one hand, which will probably result in a text that is meaningless to all but the most ardent Germanophile, or some other work around (perhaps glossing - which amounts to an admission of defeat - or most obviously just saying "Hamburg" a lot), which while deficient in not conveying the overwrought tedium of the original will at least be understood.

If your client is complaining that you translated some beautiful adjective in a piece of literary prose one way the first time and another way the second time, you should ask them why they employed a professional translator, rather than doing it themselves.

[Edited at 2006-05-04 16:38]


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Astrid Elke Witte  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 12:40
Member (2002)
German to English
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TOPIC STARTER
Consistency in general May 4, 2006

What I really asked is whether the idea of consistency is overdone these days.

Concerning the example of a customer who asks for consistency a week after the translation has already been done, I don't think it is really possible to take a customer's wishes into account at that stage if they were not mentioned by the customer beforehand - regardless of whether what they like is right or wrong. As Alison says, obviously a customer should have what they wish - but only if they mention it before the translation is done.

To me, however, it was more interesting that the customer expected such rigid consistency for that type of translation, and so I wondered if it has become the norm to always be "consistent", to the point of being rigid. I am sure that, even a few years ago, such terribly rigid consistency would not be expected by a customer "as a matter of course", without the necessity of mentioning it in advance. Things change over time, however, and I get the impression that customers' expectations of what they want from a translation are changing, in accordance with "fashions" which they unconsciously absorb. I am of the opinion that "consistency" is one of these fashions. What do others think?


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lalabelle  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:40
English to French
Consistency, style and repetitions... May 4, 2006

Hi Astrid,

It seems true to say that consistency is paramount for technical subject, to respect the terminology. I remember myself doing my first translation in-house, and getting remarks from the proofreader for not being consistent.
But this seems often to go against a good writing style. This is why I believe that client should provide their own instruction if they want a document to be specifically "creative", eg marketing or fiction type, or purely technical. Sometimes, in my experience, they do. So maybe , in doubt, when dealing with text which are borderline, asking the translation coordinator if they have specific requirements from the client would be a good option.

I think this consistency "fashion" might have be brought up by the use of CAT tools, (I do not know if you used one for this translation), if translators are supposed to follow a TM given by a client.

Finally, I would like to say that an English text might seem more consistent to a client because there is usually more repetitions, but translated in French, it would probably be unacceptable if we kept the same number of repetitions. So some language might be "less consistent" than others...

Anna


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Rosa Maria Duenas Rios  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:40
I was going to write about the same... May 4, 2006

annabelle boussault wrote:

I think this consistency "fashion" might have be brought up by the use of CAT tools, (I do not know if you used one for this translation), if translators are supposed to follow a TM given by a client.

Finally, I would like to say that an English text might seem more consistent to a client because there is usually more repetitions, but translated in French, it would probably be unacceptable if we kept the same number of repetitions. So some language might be "less consistent" than others...

Anna


To answer Astrid's question, yes, I think the idea of consistency might be overdone, partly due to CAT tools and a flood of technical literature these days.

As in French, in Spanish we are also taught to avoid being repetitive and find different alternatives. A good example is the verb "develop" which can be literally translated into Spanish as "desarrollar". However, depending on the context, more than 10 correct alternatives can be used: concebir, idear, formular, crear, diseñar, formar, descubrir, encontrar, obtener, elaborar, establecer, organizar, realizar, llevar a cabo, redactar, preparar...

Nevertheless, I would not be surprised if a client who is not familiar with the Spanish language questions the use of so many and so different alternatives to one verb. My impression is that they do it out of insecurity: how can one word have so many different meanings in another language?

Well, it can and that is why you trust your translator, don't you?


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:40
English to Spanish
+ ...
Style May 4, 2006

Each translation, depending on the subject and area, should be natural and reflect the style used in the target language. English and Spanish (my pair) both love variety, although in some areas (legal, for example), Spanish loves variety much more than English, which loves consistency there.

If you are using a natural style in your translations that is appropriate to the context, then you are doing your job professionally. If your client does not like that, then tell your client to hire a hack, maybe one who will work for US 0.02 a word. Better yet, tell them to use computer translation, it's even cheaper!


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Cecilia Vela Segovia-Frund, CT  Identity Verified
Argentina
Local time: 07:40
Member (2003)
English to Spanish
Sometimes consistency is a bad thing... May 4, 2006

I have the same feeling than you, and I agree with Rosa that the goodness of consistency is totally overdone because of CAT's ads: 'Even if you are working with a non-repetitive text and CAT tools are almost useless... you'll at least achieve consistency.' Hence, if consistency justifies expending some hundred dollars or euros in a CAT tool, then it should be something VERY good.

The fact is that keeping strictly to consistency will not only be a way to obtain dull, unidiomatic texts in some cases, it may also lead to mistakes. Sometimes a word that appears repeatedly in the source text is a polysemantic word which has in fact two or more totally different lexical meanings that the translator must reflect in the target text.

For instance, in Spanish you have two possible translations for 'you': the informal 'tú' or the formal 'usted'. Surely, you are supposed to stick to the translation you have decided to use whenever you address a certain person in a certain text.

Then, let's suppose you are to subtitle a romance movie, where the protagonists are perfect strangers at the beginning and a married couple at the end. Even if the English version will use 'you' all the way long when they address each other, you'll have to move from 'usted' to 'tú' at some point when intimacy begins.

I think that faithfulness to the intentions of the text is far more important than consistency. But then, faithfulness is a volatile non-measurable concept, hence it is not so popular in our time... I've noticed that most QA processes in translation are based on measurable items...

Saludos,

Cecilia



[Edited at 2006-05-04 22:47]


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Textklick  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:40
German to English
+ ...
Ask up front May 4, 2006

As has been said above, terminological consistency is of course vital in technical documentation.

Otherwise, I (usually) tend to ask how much poetic licence I am allowed, so that this is clarified up front.

It generally works well, but on occasion you'll still have someone who says: "Can you really say that in English? Surely you can also say...".

The answer should be be: "Yes, if you would like to redraft the translation in accordance with your personal preference, I don't mind checking it for errors."

But we are only translators...

Another factor we are faced with is how bland and/or consistent the source text is. Sometimes, people expect you to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse, without paying for it...

I habitually work with CAT tools, and sometimes actually use the consistency checker to make sure that I can avoid repetition when I want to.

Bonne chance
Chris







[Edited at 2006-05-04 22:56]


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 06:40
English to French
+ ...
Hello Astrid May 5, 2006

I think it's simple. People seem to put uniformity into the unwritten book of golden rules of translation. This is BAAAD!

While it is important that the terminology stay consistent throughout a technical translation piece, it is quite the opposite in my opinion when it comes to marketing text.

So, the problem is not too much or not enough consistency (both are frequent and rarely is it perfectly calibrated), but rather the fact that most translators seem to think that if consistency is important for, say, a technical translation, then the same goes for other types of translation.

Finally, I think it's best if you tell the client that you do not recommend too much consistency as it will "distort" the text and it will not read nicely, and that this type of text, not being technical or legal, should focus more on sounding natural enough for people to really open up to its message. After all, the text is trying to get a message through. The reader has to be open to that message. If they use a style that doesn't sound natural, I don't think the message will get through.

My 2 cents.


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Anil Gidwani  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 16:10
German to English
+ ...
Style guides and terminology May 5, 2006

I think this is an interesting issue that has been brought up. While legal and technical texts into English lay stress on consistency, I have seen that the same source word (in German, for example) sometimes needs a translation into two different English words at two different locations in the source document (albeit not very often). It is not a question of choice, but need.

Similar to terminology, clients sometimes stress that they want a certain style to be applied to the translation. Several bigger direct clients and agencies have their own style guides, and I have found it useful to ask the agency/direct client whether there is a specific style guide they want the translation to adhere to.

Style guides do not necessarily lay down rules for terminology, of course. In the same vein, therefore, I think that it would be worthwhile to ask the agency/direct client if there is any specific terminology database that should be used. Whether available or not, this serves as good communication on the part of the translator, and the agency/direct client could treat it as a request to lay down some guidelines for the terminology used in the translation, and if no guidelines are communicated, the translator cannot be held responsible for a perfectly natural sounding translation that uses correct though inconsistent terminology.


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