Translating: Is there method in the madness?

How do translators work? How do I work? Are the two the same? Earlier today, I got on to thinking about these exact questions and almost instantly decided to write a post looking at how I actually translate.

However, rather than getting into discussions over personal preferences for certain terminology resources or how to set up an ideal translation workspace, I want to look at the more general process of gradually transforming a source text into a target text that is common to all translators.

With this in mind, it struck me that I’ve developed something of a ‘stock’ procedure over the years and I thought I’d try to break it down here.

Beyond providing a brief exploration of the inner workings of my own translation universe, meanwhile, I also want this post to act as a call for other translators out there to share their methods, which will no doubt vary considerably based on language pairs, specialist areas, clients, CAT tools used and so much more.

I’m genuinely interested to find out if there’s a general path that most translators follow or whether each individual niche brings about a unique method (the reality, I imagine, will lie somewhere between the two).


For me, this purely text-oriented analysis of my translation method can be loosely outlined by three different sections. These sections overlap and vary considerably according to the text/deadline etc. but I think that they offer a reasonable reflection of the way that I gradually go about handling the transformation from source to target text while also keeping this post relatively brief.

  • Drafting

First of all, as I usually work with fairly short texts, I like to produce a rough draft as soon as possible after receiving a new job. This draft follows the sentence structure and paragraphing of the source text closely and allows me to spot any unfamiliar terminology or tricky phrases nice and early, giving my brain something of a head start (no pun intended…) on coming up with suitable renderings.

During this stage, I focus on capturing all of the source text information while flowing English remains a side concern. Although the translation is a long way from completion, I find that having a complete target language template to build upon smooths the transition to that final text.

  • Reworking

After initially running through the text, this section involves moulding the draft into something resembling a coherent piece of English writing. Rather than seeing each phrase as an isolated unit where style gives way to substance, this is where the bigger picture has to come into focus and sentences and paragraphs can be reworked to find a fitting target language balance.

I still refer heavily to the source text during this stage, often double-checking certain renderings or trying to conjure up more economical phrasings, but my attention is firmly shifted towards that final text.

With so much going on in terms of accurately relaying the source text message and developing the readability of the target text output, this section is probably where you’d say the ‘real’ translation takes place and tends to take the most time and effort.

  • Polishing

Now comes the time to turn that emerging text into the highly-polished final product. While I will still refer back to the source text occasionally if I need to double-check any facts, figures or phrasings, the focus now lies squarely on refining the target text.

Time permitting, this process usually goes on until fairly close to the deadline as I like to allow as much time as possible to elapse before my final check to help me spot any unnatural phrases or grammatical mishaps that eluded me during earlier read-throughs.

As a further aid to overcoming the kind of ‘immunity’ that you develop to your own writing style, where mistakes can slip by unnoticed, I also find that reading through the text out loud is a great help.

Finally, as a general rule of thumb, I like to have three error-free read-throughs before submitting a text. The number of times through is almost arbitrary but I feel that it’s important to set a limit to avoid endless agonising over mistakes that aren’t there.


Of course, despite the concrete stages that this post suggests, the actual process of translation is a more natural, fluid activity (apart from those instances where the deadline is so tight that it turns into a frenzy of stress, swearing and fleeting inspiration).

Indeed, as I’ve gained experience, I’ve found that an increasing proportion of the initial ‘draft’ is perfectly in-tact by the time the text is delivered, particularly when faced with stock phrases that have cropped up many times before.

That said, however, there will always be certain linguistic conundrums that keep you switching things up until the very last minute.

Now it’s over to you. How do you work? Do you draft or look for a ‘final’ translation from the outset? Is proofing a major part of your work or do things naturally fall into place? Let me know!

Key Translation Skills: Write Right

Translators as professional writers

When it comes to improving your translation skills, the natural reaction is often to devote additional hours to that all-important source language savvy.

However, despite the undoubted centrality of this skill set, there remains another area that is often inexplicably relegated to an afterthought in translator training in spite of its overwhelming importance: the ability to write well in your target language.

Indeed, given the widespread nature of the misguided assumption that bilingualism equates to good translation, newcomers to the industry could almost be forgiven for thinking that foreign language skills are the Holy Grail of translation excellence. But it’s not that simple.

Translation is a product-oriented activity and, as such, your hours of hard work take the form of a target language text that is often used as the sole indicator of your ability. Quite simply, it doesn’t matter if you understood the source text perfectly if you can’t convey that mastery into your target language.

Of course, the unfortunate stereotypes work both ways: just as somebody who can speak two languages isn’t automatically a good translator, simply being able to write doesn’t make you a good writer.

With that in mind, here are a few quick tips drawn from my own continuous efforts to improve that will (hopefully) help you up the level of your writing . If you have any further suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below!


 

Read ABOUT WRITING

An obvious place to start is by tackling texts that directly address the issue. There are millions of words out there devoted to the subject and we all need a few tips on grammar, punctuation, spelling and the like from time to time. Newspaper articles, blogs, infographics and even style guides are all valuable sources of information that can give you a quick boost.

Write a blog

How could I leave this little gem out? One of the main reasons for starting my blog was to provide myself with a space to hone my writing skills, focusing on my ability to share information with a specific audience in mind. Reading early posts, it is striking how much my writing has changed over the years (hopefully for the better) and this body of texts is both a sign of my ongoing commitment to improvement and a useful way of gauging progress. Give it a try.

Write for friends/FAMILY

For those of you who don’t fancy writing a blog, whether due to the hassle of committing to a regular output, shyness about sharing your posts or a desire to experiment with a new style of writing in private, why not write for friends, colleagues or family members who are willing to cast a critical eye over your efforts instead?

Of course, it’s important to find somebody with the necessary expertise and a willingness to openly offer criticism and alternative solutions rather than unconditionally praising everything you write, but feedback from a trusted source can be an excellent way to progress.

Write for websites/Publications

One thing that I’ve found to be extremely helpful over the years is writing for various websites. This provides you with the opportunity to write in a different context to the comfortable surroundings of a blog post or personal practice run, for which you can set your own flexible style guide, and also allows you to get honest feedback from experienced editors.

There are hundreds of sites out there looking for contributors and, best of all, you can target subject areas that correspond to your translation specialisms. In order to focus on my specialist area of sports translation, for instance, I worked with a number of sites writing about Italian or French football in English. Subsequently, I made several new contacts in the field who have introduced me to clients on the back of my translation and writing work for their sites.

Read Your work aloud

While feedback from a professional editor is the ideal, critically assessing your own writing remains an important skill. Self-proofing can be a tricky business as it is all too easy to become immune to the peculiarities of your own style, but I’ve always found that reading aloud makes a big difference (check out this article for some more excellent tips on self-proofreading).

If you find yourself tripping over a particular phrase when you read your writing, chances are that it is not merely a slip of the tongue but rather something in the text that is restricting the flow. Furthermore, while more elusive elements such as excessively long sentences are easily glossed over when reading your work silently, you’ll soon spot them when you’re gasping for breath after struggling past the umpteenth clause of a never-ending phrase.

READ ACTUAL WRITING

My final tip is an important one. Beyond simply writing, read texts by famous authors or professionals in your specialist area that were written in your target language. Examine their language usage, question what it is that is unique to that particular style of writing and try to pinpoint what it is that makes one text more engaging than another.


 

Ultimately, developing your writing skills is an ongoing process that will never reach a final destination. Perfection is not required but be sure to avoid complacency, there is always room for improvement.

One final caveat: please bear in mind that while the tips above will help your writing skills, it is important that they are considered with the practical application of translation in mind. Writing as a translator is a different beast to producing original texts as, rather than having an infinite selection of words and phrases at your beck and call, you are tied to the message in front of you. As such, it is more than just a case of writing well, it is about writing well within the strictest of confines.

One excellent way to hone in on writing as a translation-specific activity is to analyse existing translations alongside the source text. Beyond buying two versions of the same book, many sites/articles etc. are published in several languages, allowing you to examine what it is that the translator has done:

  • Where is the line between fidelity to the source text and the importance of conveying the core message to the target audience?
  • What is it that you like or dislike and why?
  • How does the target language version read?

Remember, there are a lot of bad translations out there so don’t blindly assume that because somebody else has opted for one rendering you must do the same, think critically and offer your own solutions.

The 12 Days of Christmas (for language lovers everywhere)

With the holidays almost upon us, I thought I’d get into the festive spirit and have a little fun with today’s post.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I can’t resist a silly translation/language/grammar-related pun and, in what is fast becoming a JALTranslation tradition, here are 12 of my favourite punny images from the last year to (hopefully) help you bring in the New Year with a smile.

All that remains is for me to thank you all for making 2014 such an enjoyable year, fingers crossed that 2015 brings more of the same. Whatever you’re doing, enjoy the holidays! 😀

(Click any image to open slideshow)

Book Review: Experiences in Translation – Umberto Eco

Having recently picked up a copy of Umberto Eco’s Experiences in Translation during one of my all-too-frequent book buying sessions, today I thought I’d share a quick review with you lovely people.

For those of you who have never come across Eco before, he is an Italian semiotician, essayist, philosopher, literary critic, novelist and (most importantly for us) translator. While he is perhaps best known for his 1980 work Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose), his list of publications includes many academic texts, essays and even children’s books.

Experiences in Translation is a short book in two halves based on a series of lectures on translation given by Eco in 1998. The first half sees Eco reflect on translation by referring to his own personal experiences (including both him doing the translating and others translating his works) while the second looks at the more theoretical side of things, using Roman Jakobson’s three different types of translation to spark a discussion into what constitutes translation proper.

You would expect any text by such a distinguished writer to read well (I must admit that I haven’t read the Italian original) and Alastair McEwen’s translation into English certainly follows along the expected path. The text is a joy to read, it is witty and concise and provides a welcome change of pace for anyone used to trawling through academic papers where style can often fall a distant second to substance or translators in need of a break after repairing one too many error-strewn source texts.

In addition to this sense of style, the text uses a number of fascinating examples: Eco’s exploration of the French and Portuguese translations of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’ was a personal favourite in a second half that is weaker than the first, often meandering along and flitting from subject to subject, including fanciful (albeit interesting) discussions such as the possibility of translating Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony into words.

By towing the line between getting too bogged down in theory and remaining purely anecdotal, the book works as something of a bridge between the lighter discussions found in general works on translation and the serious, often heavy-going business of translation scholarship in a manner reminiscent of David Bellos’ excellent Is That a Fish in Your Ear?

Beyond the fascinating examples from Eco’s own work, however, problems are found deeper within the text. While the structure of the book (1st half practice, 2nd half theory) initially suggests that the text will seek to address the divide that exists between theory and practice in the world of translation (something that I wrote about recently on my blog), this impression quickly subsides as Eco outlines his true intentions.

Despite insisting at the outset that theory and practice must be united, stating that all translation scholars should have translated and been translated at some point in their careers, Eco goes on to explain that his ‘practice’ half was placed ahead of the ‘theory’ half in order to demonstrate how translation still goes on unimpeded in a world where only ‘naive’ views of translation are on offer, forwarding a ‘common sense’ approach to the task of translation.

In reality, however, if this common sense approach were a universal asset, it would contradict not only the need for the second half of the book (it seems a bit pointless to dismiss theory’s worth before going on to spend 60 pages discussing that theory) but potentially the text’s very existence. As Anthony Pym puts it: ‘if common sense were really common, no one would have to read Eco to know about translation.’

Furthermore, this show of intent quickly transforms Eco’s text from a laudable attempt to forge a relationship between theory and practice into a veiled attack on translation studies based on the author’s somewhat skewed version of what theory has to offer.

The fact that Eco’s theoretical discussions are founded on ideas from the 1950s/60s and involve an inconsistent use of various strands of thought calls the author’s methodologies and conclusions into question. While translation theory may still be unable to fully guide us through the translation process, Eco’s exploration of the topic does a slight disservice to the amount of helpful material out there.

Instead of attempting to use theory to inform practice or vice-versa, practice takes place in isolation before Eco occasionally tips his hat to various scholars like Lawrence Venuti by labelling certain passages as ‘domesticated’ or ‘foreignized’, for example, wherever it seems vaguely applicable and without adequately justifying whether or why this is the correct choice.

In truth, the method is irrelevant as Eco’s solution has already been fixed as the correct solution (quite easily too, since most of the discussions are argued with reference to translations of Eco’s novels). Eco frequently refers to ideas such as ‘deep meaning’, ‘the intention of the text’ or ‘the guiding spirit of the text’, unfairly ignoring more recent advances in translation theory questioning such notions and simultaneously making his ideas impossible to disprove.

Ultimately, while Eco’s overview of the development of thought upon translation using his own work brings with it some fascinating examples, his theoretical explorations remain unrefined in places. Experiences in Translation represents a worthwhile addition to any bookshelf but will never bring about any profound advances in thought on translation.

Etymology and a Universal Translation

Hello everyone, after a great guest post last time out, it’s time to get back to some of my own content! While I’ve asked ‘What’s in a word?‘ before on this blog, today I thought I’d strike up the discussion again from a slightly different perspective by looking at what is contained within the most important word in our profession: translation.

Beyond (hopefully) uncovering a few interesting little tidbits about the term by looking at the roots of the word ‘translation’ in several different languages, I also want to explore the various shades of meaning that each one offers us and question whether or not there exists a universal conception of ‘translation’.

An obvious starting point for this discussion is Andrew Chesterman’s 2005 paper ‘Interpreting the Meaning of Translation’, in which he sets out to tackle the very same question and argues that etymological variations signal different approaches to and understandings of translation across the world. As such, I’d like to analyse and expand upon his paper here by looking at several examples from different languages before discussing their overall relevance to one-another.

Starting with the fairly well-known roots of the English term, the word ‘translation’ comes from the Latin translatus, the past participle of the verb transferre. Meaning ‘to carry across’, this term is itself a translation from the Classical Greek metapherein (meta- [over, across] + pherein [to carry, bear]), from which we also get the term ‘metaphor‘.

For Chesterman, a Standard Average European ‘translation’ derived from these roots is therefore ‘etymologically a metaphor, whereby something is, in some sense, something that it literally is not.’

While these Latin/Greek roots are also shared by many modern usages of the term in Romance languages, these languages still display subtle departures from the connotations contained within the English ‘translation’.

The French term traduction, Spanish traducción, Italian traduzione and others all come from the Latin transducere (trans [across] + ducere [to lead]) and therefore see us making the slight shift from ‘carrying across’ to ‘leading across‘ – something that will be discussed further below.

Elsewhere in Europe, despite the fact that many languages of the Germanic and Slavic branches simply calqued their terms for the concept of translation from the Latin/Greek model mentioned above, this process still allowed for several subtly different nuances to emerge as the word moved into new territories. The German übersetzen [literally: to set across] and Swedish översättning, for example, contain suggestions of ‘passing over’.

Beyond this pattern of calquing, meanwhile, the Dutch term vertaling is literally a ‘re-language-ing’, combining the prefix ver- [meaning a ‘change’ or ‘move’ or ‘re-‘ in English] and taal [language] while the Finnish käännös literally means ‘a turn, a turning’, noticeably deviating from the standard European trends.

For Chesterman, the Finnish term ‘highlights difference, a new direction, entering a new context; what is not highlighted is any sense of preserving an identity, maintaining sameness’.

Curiously, käännös also means ‘to steal’ in Finnish slang, adding yet another dimension to the many possible interpretations of what it means to translate.

Even further afield, the Mandarin Chinese word for ‘translate’ is or fānyi with the verb fan having the basic meaning ‘flutter’ – suggesting unstable movement and changes of state.

Finally, in an interesting example from Maurizio Bettini, Igbo – a language spoken in Nigeria – uses the words tapia and kowa to signify ‘translation’. Both words are made up of an element that means ‘narrate‘ or ‘tell‘ and another that means ‘break, decompose‘. For Bettini ‘[i]n native conception, translation thus consists in a practice that “breaks” a certain series of utterances and then “re-tells” them’.

Anyway, enough examples. According to Chesterman, these various etymologies suggest differences in the way that translation is perceived within those cultures and unmasks different approaches to the activity at hand.

Using three separate etymological sources (all included in the examples above – 1. The English term from Latin/Greek roots, 2. The German or Swedish calques and 3. The Romance language ‘leading across’) he explores the way in which the act of transferring the content to be translated (labelled X) is framed differently within each of these usages:

  1. In English: ‘the underlying cognitive schema is of carrying X across; here, the agent is conceived of as moving over together with X, like a messenger.’
  2. In German and Swedish: ‘the agent stands on the source side, putting or setting X across; X is transferred in a direction away from the agent.’
  3. In Romance languages: ‘the agent etymologically leads X across; this suggests that the agent moves in advance of X, and the direction of movement is thus towards the agent.’

Despite conceding that more work is required in the area, Chesterman finishes by hesitantly suggesting that these different paths indicate that perhaps there is no universal conception of translation:

‘At the very least, the present preliminary study illustrates how the notion of translation has been interpreted in different ways in a number of different languages. It shows that not all these interpretations give the same priority to the preservation of sameness which characterizes the words denoting “translation” in many modern Indo-European languages.’

However, while these etymologies and developing meanings are fascinating, any implication that the roots of a word delimit the extent of our understanding of its significance in any way is an obvious oversimplification.

The English notion of translation is not tied to a rudimentary idea of ‘carrying across’ but rather entails everything that translation has come to stand for in the ensuing centuries.

Though the Latin origins of the modern English word perhaps demonstrate how translation was once viewed, our current understanding encompasses nearly all of the various meanings borne out of other languages’ etymologies of translation.

In other words, no matter what path we have taken to reach our current understanding of the term, translation/traduction/übersetzen etc. cannot be reduced to historical appraisals of what they once signified. For me, translation is not about ‘carrying across’, ‘leading across’ or whatever else, but rather all of these and so much more. This is the ‘universal translation’ of today.

Indeed, in my opinion, the ‘universal translation’ is best seen when we consider the many metaphors that exist for the activity, something I’ve explored previously on this blog, as these demonstrate the multiple interpretations in action.

In English alone we see translation as transformation, building, turning, conquering, theft, cannibalism and so much more beyond the conception its etymological roots initially provided.

Ultimately, just as etymology suggests that translation is metaphor, metaphors for translation show that it is so much more than mere etymology.

Guest Post: Ten common French-English false friends

Today we have a real treat in the form of a guest post courtesy of the team at Textualis, a linguistic services company based in Montreal. So, without further ado, let’s get into the post!


False friends, or “faux amis”, are an obstacle that many of us encounter when we negotiate the vagaries of another language. We may think we are confident of the meaning of a word but often we are sadly mistaken.

So what exactly is a false friend, and what vocabulary dangers do they present? Despite being a Germanic language, English nonetheless has many words in common with French, a Romance language. While words like “intelligence” and “accident” present no issues as they are extremely similar in both languages (minus the nuances in pronunciation of course), this simplicity invites us down a dangerous path as it can lead us to believe that we understand more than we actually do. Indeed, not all words that appear to be the same in French and English actually are and, in many cases, the meanings are miles apart.

How does the false friend phenomenon occur?

The Oxford English Dictionary refers to three types of false friend, two of which are true false friends and one of which is a partial false friend.

True false friends occur either when words have the same root but have taken different paths to adopt non-congruent meanings over the years, or when words have no root in common but look alike by coincidence.

Partial false friends can potentially be even more confusing as they have a common root and some common meaning but other areas of their meaning differ.

What sort of words can present a difficulty?

While there are so many false friends out there just waiting to trip us up, a good place to start is getting to know ten of the most common ones between French and English. Of course, hiring a professional translation company or freelancer can help you avoid any confusion.

Demander – In French this means “to ask for” but in English has very different connotations. If you demand a meeting with someone it suggests a sense of urgency, determination, and possibly a certain amount of ire or concern.

Bribes – This could definitely be a source of some embarrassment as in French bribes means “fragments” while it has very different connotations in English, being something that is given to extort an action or favor. The root of the word actually comes from the French for small amounts of bread that were given as alms.

Fabrique – An English person looking at this word may assume that it means fabric, as in a material from which items such as clothing can be made but in French it’s actually the building within which such creation takes place i.e. une fabrique is a factory.

Chair – You would not be sitting on this in France, unless you want to sit on “flesh” of course. The actual French translation of the English chair is chaise, which is not a million miles away.

Librairie – In summoning up the English word “library” you are not that far away as this means “bookshop” in France. However, you may not fare too well if you try to borrow a book from a librairie without paying… If you want to borrow a book without engaging in criminal activity, you need to find yourself a bibliothèque.

Patron – If you are a patron in France then you are the boss, whereas in England you are a client or customer; completely different ends of the spectrum.

Chauffeur – This word is a partial false friend as it can have the same meaning in both French and English but in French can also mean any driver, whether employed to do so or not.

Porc – If you like your meat then you will recognize the relation between this word and the English version, pork. In France it also means the pig itself and pigskin. Another partial false friend.

Actuel – A very common false friend which in French means current or present, not real or authentic as in the English word “actual”.

Préservatif – The final false friend in this list is one that you definitely wouldn’t want to get confused. If you’re looking at the word and thinking of the English “preservative” then think again. In French if you’re asking for a préservatif you are asking for a condom.

From these examples alone you can see how easy it is for confusion to occur, so always be aware of false friends. Any other common false friends (or more interesting, funny ones!) you’ve come across in French/English translation? Feel free to leave a comment!

Theory and Practice: Forever Alone?

Wow, how time flies. La rentrée has been and gone, International Translation Day has left us for another year and the tepid English summer has given way to the six months of wind and rain that we call winter (a sudden transition that, for me at least, always coincides with the arrival of Hull Fair, hence the picture above).

One thing that never changes, however, is my ongoing love affair with all things translation and recently that relationship has taken on something of a different shape.

A few weeks ago, I officially started a PhD in Translation Studies here at the University of Hull and, as such, my engagement has shifted from working as a full-time freelance translator to burying myself in research – reading, writing and thinking about the academic side of things.

Even in my busiest of busy times as a translation professional I’ve always been a big reader of translation studies literature but this sudden switch from one side to the other has provided me with some real perspective on the interplay between the theory and practice of translation.

While the vacuum between the two is well-known and has always seemed rather pronounced in our discipline/profession (it is fairly common for translation professionals to completely dismiss the worth of translation theory due to its lack of relevance to the profession – many freelance translators have very little or no knowledge of theory yet still manage to do their job to exceptionally high standards), after a few years of dedicating myself completely to freelance translation work the divide currently feels more prominent than ever.

Even as a fully fledged translation geek who loves reading the most abstract of theoretical meanderings, it is hard to deny that some translation scholarship has allowed itself to get drawn away from what really matters.

No matter how fascinating we may find contemporary explorations in translation studies, are recontextualisations of philosophical theses and reinterpretations of ancient literary works alone really enough to justify yet another publication to add to the pile?

For me, there is a nagging sense that researchers have a responsibility to provide real, valuable and, above all, practical insight into the task at the heart of our professional and academic worlds where possible or what’s the point?

This is not to say that there isn’t plenty of scholarship out there already that does provide practical insight but the question that I occasionally find myself asking after reading a paper is “So what?”. When I sit down in front of a text to be translated, I want to be able to draw upon the theoretical work I read and not simply fall back on professional experience and instinct.

Translation training, meanwhile, plays something of an intermediary role in this divide. I picked up a huge amount of practical insight during my MA, but most of it was aside from – and not a part of – the theoretical focus.

Courses are forced to push you in two different directions as there is not a single route that unites the discipline and the profession. Many MA courses even specify that they teach both ‘The Theory and Practice of Translation’, explicitly attesting to the distinction that exists between two such supposedly intertwined domains.

Unfortunately, theorizing is all too often about showing off your deep understanding of complex ideas and less about making that small, yet meaningful, difference. While discussing abstract principles may shed some light on translation as a whole, it usually offers little value in the vast majority of ‘real world’ contexts. Indeed, even the extent to which translation studies’ apparent obsession with literary translation is actually useful to the few literary translators out there is up for debate.

Quotation-Albert-Einstein-practice-theory-Meetville-Quotes-109864

Whether this is a genuine quote or not, and no matter what context it was originally uttered in, it neatly sums up the situation within translation

Potential solutions to this problem are far from clear-cut but it is not all doom and gloom. The world of academia has attempted to address the dilemma at various points in the last few years alone. In Andrew Chesterman and Emma Wagner’s ‘Can Theory Help Translators?’ in particular we find a specific focus on this profound divide as a scholar and a professional team up in an attempt to uncover potential links between theory and practice and ascertain whether or not one can help the other. While the book ultimately poses more questions than it answers, it is surely a good sign that there is at least some curiosity into the link between the two.

Furthermore, I know of plenty of researchers who share my belief that we have a responsibility to provide insight into the actual task of translation and who realise that simply talking about translation is not enough.

Ultimately, while this discussion is partly a reminder and a challenge to myself to frame my research in practical terms, I hope that it also provides a reassuring word to the theory skeptics out there in suggesting that there does exist a belief within translation scholarship that such practical value is of utmost importance.

Thoughts? Agree, disagree? Let me know.

For now, I’ll leave you with a nice (if slightly unrelated) poem on the act of translation that I came across recently in the course of my reading. It is by the Earl of Roscommon and provides an interesting take on the translator’s role. Enjoy!

‘Tis True, Composing is the nobler Part,
But good Translation is no Easie Art,
For the materials have long since been found,
Yet both your Fancy and your Hands are bound,
And by improving what was writ before,
Invention labours less, but Judgement more.

Each poet with a different talent writes,
One praises, one instructions, another bites.
Horace did ne’er aspire to Epick Bays,
Nor lofty Maro stoop to Lyrick Lays.
Examine how your Humour is inclin’d,
And which the Ruling Passion of your Mind;

Then seek a Poet who your ways does bend,
And choose an Author as you choose a Friend;
United by this sympathetick Bond,
Your grow familiar, intimate and fond.
Your Thoughts, your Words, your Stiles, your Souls agree,
Nor longer his Interpreter, but He.

P.S. Be sure to check out my recent interview on Olga Arakelyan’s ‘Your professional translator’ blog. It’s part of the excellent ‘Meet the Linguist’ series and is perfect if you want to find out a little bit more about the man behind JALTranslation: http://www.yourprofessionaltranslator.com/2014/10/meet-linguist-joseph-lambert.html

Bass Solos and Job Satisfaction

Before getting into today’s post, I want to quickly share a link. A short while back, one of my posts (Translation’s Identity Crisis) was translated into Spanish and posted on the Júramelo blog as ‘La crisis de identidad de la traducción‘.

It’s brilliant to be able to read yourself in another language and it’s a great initiative – using translation to share articles about translation should be the norm. So, if you fancy reading a bit of JALTraducción for a change, head on over!

Anyway, as for today, I have something that probably counts as slightly off-topic but I still feel it is well worth sharing.

The story starts last week when I travelled down to Birmingham to attend a clinic with Mr Big bassist Billy Sheehan. Chances are that the majority of you have never heard of Billy but he is widely regarded as one of the greatest rock bassists of all time having played for and with a number of legendary acts over the course of a career spanning more than 40 years.

That night, Billy was giving a kind of bass masterclass and, even though I don’t play bass, the opportunity to meet and listen to one of my musical heroes talk about his extraordinary career was too good to turn down (essentially, clinics like this are a bit like a small-scale conference for music geeks – you get to listen to an expert in their field demonstrate some of their skills and share their experiences before launching into questions about their industry and generally talking about geeky things with other like-minded individuals).

As impressive as the playing was and as entertaining as Billy’s anecdotes were, however, the thing that really stood out for me was the fact that Billy is clearly still deeply in love with what he does. He spoke with such enthusiasm for all things music and, when fielding a question about how he passes his spare time, he was honest in saying that music is pretty much his entire life – when he’s not on the road or recording, he enjoys nothing more than to listen to music and discover new tracks and artists.

Speaking about endorsements, he explained how he is never paid to endorse gear but rather lends his support to the instruments, amps etc. that he genuinely enjoys using. Ultimately, beyond money, success and recognition, an overwhelming love for music has defined his career path.

While Billy also had the talent and good fortune to turn his passion into a hugely successful career, after around 6,000 gigs this is a man who clearly still loves what he does.

Job Satisfaction - Victoria Stanway

Job Satisfaction – Victoria Stanway

Beyond the world of music, meanwhile, there are indications that more and more people are looking to take control of their careers and follow their passion in the workplace in general.

In the UK, self-employment is higher than at any point over the past 40 years, with this rise predominately down to fewer people leaving self-employment than in the past, and talk of ‘monetising your passion‘ crops up with increasing regularity these days.

And for me, it seems that this desire to work in an area that you love is something that is strongly reflected within translation. Judging by the translators I know and interact with on social media, the vast majority genuinely enjoy what they do. Despite the gripes of long hours and potentially low pay that regularly crop up in discussion, people love the task at the heart of our profession to the point of rendering these drawbacks almost irrelevant.

I consider myself lucky to do something that I genuinely enjoy and I believe that’s the way it should be. Reading and writing about translation (and translating itself, of course) dominate my daily life and I can’t imagine it being any other way.

Ultimately, if Billy’s example is anything to go by, then beyond the obvious requirement of a considerable dose of talent, an overwhelming passion for what you do has a fundamental role to play in the longevity and success of your career.

Agree? Disagree? Do you love what you do or try to keep work separate from your own, private interests? Leave a comment and let me know.

What’s in a word? La rentrée in translation

If there’s one word that stands out for me as a French translator when September comes around, it has to be la rentrée.  Literally meaning the return, there’s a surprising amount of depth hidden in this little word and several reasons for its current relevance.

At this time of year, the French term la rentrée is basically used to mark the end of the summer holidays. More importantly, however, it marks the period when the rhythm of day-to-day life in France resumes after a few months of rest and recuperation over the summer.

Indeed, beyond indicating the start of the new school year and people returning to work from their summer holidays, la rentrée also sees the government getting back to business, the much-anticipated literary season getting underway, clothing shops putting new collections in the shop windows and all the restaurants, bars and other shops that were closed for August finally reopening their doors in a dramatic renaissance that comes close to representing a second opportunity to shout ‘Happy New Year’.

While we experience a vaguely similar phenomenon in England with schools being closed and workers in general taking holidays over the summer months, in France they take it to another level entirely and the Anglo-Saxon world doesn’t have anything quite like la rentrée.

For a freelance translator, the relevance of this period of almost total inactivity for many French companies is immediately obvious from an economic perspective as work tends to be a bit quieter over the course of the summer.

However, aside from its economic impact, looking a little more closely at the word’s linguistic presence provides a fruitful topic of discussion for translators in general as the increased usage of the word ‘rentrée‘ in so many French texts at this time of the year presents an interesting challenge.

While the translation of the term isn’t particularly noteworthy within the context of children starting the new academic year – the phrase ‘back-to-school’ is extremely common in the UK and encapsulates this big return – it is in other contexts (I encounter it primarily in a business context e.g. companies welcoming back customers in their press releases, launching new products or offering deals to coincide with la rentrée) that the term’s cultural associations start to pose a few problems.

Initially, it has to be said that la rentrée is an undeniably elegant way to label the period: the word encapsulates so many associations that simply do not exist in English – we don’t experience the same thing so we don’t need a special word for it.

This leaves the translator having to make do with various paraphrases such as ‘after the summer break’, ‘heading into the autumn’, ‘when we reconvene in September’ etc. but none of these selections quite capture the richness of the French source, as discussed below:

‘The back-to-school period’ – While la rentrée can be viewed in a business context as something of a ‘back-to-school for adults’, adopting this solution in a context unrelated to education or the school year can lead to confusion e.g. ‘what is the relevance of children going back to school to this new online product that my business is considering using?’

‘The period after the summer holidays’ – For me, this translation is a slight move in the right direction as it retains something of the sense of renewal contained within ‘back-to-school’ without being overly explicit (the term ‘summer holidays’ is subtly reminiscent of the 6-week school holidays taken by children in the UK). However, this rendering still fails to capture any of the significance of the event beyond alluding to the return to school and work as there is no indication of the increased relevance of the time off or the impact of the return.

‘In the autumn/fall’ or ‘in September’ – Moving even further from the associations with school holidays, this third solution seems slightly preferable to the previous two as the use of ‘autumn’ or ‘September’ neatly rounds off the summer and indicates the start of something new. However, there just isn’t that same sense of impetus contained within a changing of season or month. With la rentrée there’s a feeling of anticipation in the air, a sense of renewal and a recharging of batteries that once again escapes the translator’s grasp…

Ultimately, these few example demonstrate that the most common solutions all leave something to be desired and coerce the translator into conjuring up other (usually equally problematic) potential directions to move in. The temptation to simply retain the French word untouched (accompanied by a translator’s note or a brief explanation) is always appealing but rarely practical while a more literal and inventive rendering such as ‘the big return’ or something similar leaves readers asking ‘the big return of what?’ or ‘who’s returning?’

Thankfully for us French translators, the concept of la rentrée is rarely central to a text and any loss is usually minimal even when employing the solutions mentioned above. However, this example just goes to show that there is a lot more going on in translation than the simple linguistic transposition of text on a page.

The process is so often an act of negotiation and compromise encompassing entire cultures and, while we often necessarily have to leave something behind in reproducing a text in a new language, it is the translator’s job to replicate as many meaningful associations as possible.

Vive la rentrée!