ProZ.com Community Choice Awards

Just a quick post today to share a recent bit of good news for JALTranslation. Earlier this week I was delighted to be informed that my blog had been included among the nominees for this year’s ProZ.com Community Choice Awards in the category of Best Translation Blog.

The awards allow the ProZ.com community of over 300,000 professional translators and translation companies “to publicly recognize those language professionals who are active, influential, or otherwise extraordinary in various media throughout the industry” and I’m obviously delighted to be a part of the competition. Voting lasts until 22 September and the winners will be announced on 30 September just in time for International Translation Day!

(For more details on the competition, here’s a handy article from the guys and gals at ProZ.com: ‘5 things you should know about the ProZ.com Community Choice Awards’)

Voting categories include everything from Best Translation Conference Speaker to Best Interpreting Podcast and all of the other blogs on the list are excellent (of course!). So, if you have a ProZ.com account then head on over to the voting page (http://www.proz.com/community-choice-awards/nominations), check out all the great blogs, articles, twitterers etc. on offer and vote for your favourites!

Top of the Blogs

In the world of professional translation we’re extremely fortunate to have a whole range of excellent bloggers out there constantly producing innovative, interesting posts to keep us entertained during our down time and today I want to pay tribute to ten of my personal favourites.

With the Top 25 Language Professional Blogs section of bab.la’s annual Top 100 Language Lovers competition already providing a great (and somewhat more objectively ranked) opportunity to discover blogs you weren’t previously familiar with, I decided to add a few constraints to make compiling a list of my own a more valuable exercise:

 – I’ve included no blogs that feature in the 2014 Top 25 Language Professional Blogs: Looking beyond this list not only allows me to include ‘hidden gems’ so to speak but also demonstrates the strength in depth of blogging in the translation industry.

 – The blogs I’ve chosen are written by an individual rather than on behalf of a larger company: As an individual blogger myself I guess this is partly driven by a desire to be a champion of the ‘little guy’ but more importantly it made it a lot easier to narrow my list down to just ten selections!

 – The primary language of all of the blogs is English: Once again, this was purely to make the list a little easier to compile. I regularly read excellent translation blogs written in French, Italian and even Spanish (check out En la luna de Babel and Traducir es descubrir in particular) and it would have been a nightmare to choose between them all.

Ultimately, all of the blogs chosen consistently produce compelling posts that I just can’t resist sharing. As well as including a short overview of what each blog offers, I’ve also added a Recommended post for each entry that is typical of the unique treats provided by that particular blogger.

Of course, it almost goes without saying that there are so many other blogs that I would have loved to feature and I found it extremely tough to stop at just ten (in fact, I think that another post is already on the cards to feature those that I couldn’t squeeze in this time around). As it is, however, the chosen ten have caught my attention in recent weeks and months and I feel that they provide a strong account of what is on offer in the world of translation blogging. (Note: the blogs are in no particular order, this order simply worked well with the formatting of the post)

So go on, read a new blog today, and why not share your favourites in the comments section or on your own blog? Enjoy!

 


 

Balance your words: Taking a close look at the best ways to market yourself as a translator, the ever-increasing importance of social media in our profession, methods of maximising productivity and ultimately how to achieve balance in your career, Sara always produces top quality posts drawn from her wealth of experience in the industry.

Recommended post: 7 social media tips to help the busy translator

 


 

In Touch Translations: Emeline’s blog strikes a perfect balance between a range of topics with posts touching on everything from branding to personal reflections on life as a freelance translator. Be sure to check out her ‘What’s in a brand?’ series in particular (in which a different translation professional discusses their approach to branding in each post).

Recommended post: 4 ways you can reconnect to your business

 


 

Carol’s Adventures in Translation: Blogging in both English and Portuguese, Caroline’s blog offers a range of tips from personal experience as well as an impressive array of guest posts from professionals working throughout all areas of the translation industry. Her tips for newcomers to the industry are particularly handy.

Recommended post: Dear beginner

 


 

Which Translates To…: ‘Translation is embedded into life, art, emotions, actions. For everything we do, there’s a translation.’

With its personal, engaging posts providing you with a glimpse into the inner workings of life as a freelance translator and the world of writing, Magda’s blog is always a source of information and inspiration.

Recommended post: Why are freelance translators so good at branding?

 


 

Tranix Translations: With tips, reviews, resources and recommendations, Nikki’s blog is a veritable treasure trove of goodies! I could spend hours going through the links gathered on her regular ‘Posts of the day’ entries and I recommend that you do just that.

Recommended post: Warning about Google Translate

 


 

Your Professional Translator Blog: Olga puts it better than I ever could: “I blog about translation, marketing for translators, foreign language learning or teaching, Russian culture and traditions, my native city Vladimir and sometimes about my fam or me.” Be sure to keep up to date with her ‘Meet the linguist’ series.

Recommended post: 10 worst mistakes I made as a freelancer

 


 

Translation Wordshop: ‘Shoptalk about language, business and culture’.

The Translation Wordshop represents a recent discovery for me but it is already blog that I count among my favourites. Marie’s incisive explorations of important topics in the industry are packed with valuable, authoritative advice and the fact that I’ve only recently discovered her blog goes to show that there’s always more great content for us to find online.

Recommended post: Rebranding the translation profession

 


 

Patenttranslator’s Blog: Billed as the ‘diary of a mad patent translator’, Steve Vitek’s blog is the place to go if you’re looking for an entertaining read on a whole host of translation-related topics and beyond. Expect everything from neurotic rants to eternal truths and much, much more!

Recommended post: A Gaping Hole in the Curriculum for Translation Studies

 


 

Translation Matters: ‘Life, business, family – a blog about having it all.’

In Marion’s excellent blog you can expect insightful tips and a refreshing take on the translation industry from someone simply sharing their experiences in the profession.

Recommended post: Is Translator a Good Career? You Bet!

 


 

Transgalator: Introduced with the famous George Steiner quote “Every language is a world. Without translation, we would inhabit countries bordering on silence”, Gala’s blog goes about breaking that silence in its own unique way. Unlike the text-based blog’s above, Gala offers up a video blog in which she provides tips, advice, interviews and more. The innovative format only serves to demonstrate the range of options available to translation enthusiasts.

Recommended post: Video blogs for translators and interpreters


 

Translation Troubles: Misquotes, manipulation and more

Having previously explored the curious image that people have of translation and the ways in which the translation act can bring about a lack of trust, I recently came across a perfect example of a fairly common form of manipulation that is used to give rise to these negative ideas about the profession.

As a huge football fan, a football writer and a sports translator, I love reading the masses of transfer rumours that crop up over the summer and one particular story offered an ideal illustration of the kind of issues that I’ve been looking at on my blog.

The story concerns Juventus midfielder Arturo Vidal, a world-renowned player who has repeatedly been linked with a move to English giants Manchester United in recent months. As any move would be of great significance to the footballing world, journalists are constantly on the lookout for the slightest change in his situation and some are willing to go to extreme lengths to get the latest scoop.

On 24 July, popular football site Goal.com published an article entitled “Vidal: I’m not going to Manchester”, quoting the player as almost categorically denying any chance of a move. However, when you take a closer look at the source of the supposed quotes, it all becomes a little less clear-cut.

Context is king

In the short video above (in Italian with English subtitles), the encounter between Vidal and an Italian reporter is filmed in its entirety and this opportunity to contextualise the situation sheds a whole new light on the reports that followed.

One key point to note is the fact that the meeting takes place as Vidal is passing through Turin airport. This has an important impact on the nature and brevity of the player’s answers as he repeatedly tries to cut the ‘interview’ short and, despite remaining jovial, only provides brief, throwaway quips.

At 0:12 when Vidal tries to deflect further questions by stating that he is still on holiday, he signals his next holiday destination by saying “Parto a Alassio” [I’m going to Alassio]* and this phrase has an important link to the journalist’s key question at 0:23 when he asks: “Non vai a Manchester, vero?” [You’re not going to Manchester are you?].

Indeed, given the overall context, when asking this question the reporter is linking back to Vidal’s earlier reference to his holiday destination and produces the present tense meaning of “Are you heading to Manchester right now?” When Vidal laughingly replies “No, no”, there is no implication of his future destination in football, simply the denial that he is heading to the city at that particular moment.

This analysis offers a hugely different conclusion to the one we are provided in the resulting articles which, in addition to leaving out important contextual information, further mould the player’s words into a new meaning by attributing them to an entire phrase. In using “I’m not going to Manchester” rather than the off-hand “No, no”, the articles present a definitive image that is simply not representative of the actual response given.

Tellingly, the story and the misquote were reported on a whole host of sites, including Eurosport, FourFourTwo and those of certain tabloid newspapers. This demonstrates the kind of ‘bending of the truth’ that goes on in even large, well-established media outlets when it comes to making a story more appealing – it is clear that the quotations are entirely misappropriated in order to grab the reader’s attention.

In the comments sections of the articles there are plenty of people (quite rightly, it seems) denying the validity of the source having pieced together the genuine context of the meeting but, for the majority of readers, no issues are immediately apparent.

While the ethics of institutions that knowingly decontextualise and recontextualise information for their own gain should be questioned, the fact that this kind of sensationalism goes on is nothing new. In this instance, however, the clear use of translation as a means of burying information should provide cause for concern.

Contained within this example lies an undeniable link to problems of identity in our profession as the move between languages provides a void within which information can be added (the quote is padded out to fit the purposes of the final article) and taken away (the context of the meeting and the questions is removed).

In this situation, those without the requisite linguistic skills to fully assess the story’s validity are left on the outside feeling powerless to really know what is being offered to them. Though there is a small degree of negative backlash in the comments sections, the sites ultimately get what they want as they continue to be read unquestioned by the vast majority.

As such, the only consistent loser is translation. When doubts of this nature are raised, translation becomes a key accomplice to the apparent deception, and fears that there is something sinister going on in the passage between languages – that something is ‘lost in translation’ – are only compounded…

 

*Interestingly, the quotes were misrepresented in a different way in some sections of the Italian press as Vidal was quoted as saying “I’m going to Lazio” (another big club in Italy) instead of “Alassio”, sparking all sorts of crazy rumours.

Translation’s Identity Crisis

In today’s post I want to take a quick glance at the content and usage of some famous quotes from translation history in an attempt to explore the curious way that translation is viewed and views itself.

For so long now translation has struggled with its identity as a supposedly second-rate activity, with its derivative link to writing, the subservient implications of following someone else’s words and the sense of distrust that the process elicits all feeding into a fairly unflattering stereotype.

This being the case, it is only natural that its practitioners would want to address the way their activity is viewed and, as such, so often in talking about translation we see mentions of artistry and the unfathomable complexity of our task. Unfortunately, it seems to me that this is often done in an attempt to gloss over underlying anxieties related to invisibility and unimportance that remain at the heart of the profession.

Looking through a range of the most frequently cited quotes on translation provides the perfect glimpse into this situation; the majority fall into two distinct categories that neatly characterise the state of our profession from a psychological perspective – ultimately verging on the emergence of a bipolar image of translation and a serious inferiority complex.

The first set of quotations (examples in green below) is filled with a sense of grandeur that ensures that  translation becomes the most important thing in the world, overcompensating for underlying anxieties as a means of justifying career choices and supposedly reinforcing professional standing (echoes of this are found in the title of Lawrence Venuti’s recent release – Translation Changes Everything).

The other set, meanwhile, (examples in red below) directly addresses the underlying worries about unworthiness and inability in our activity and ultimately reverts to the insecurities mentioned above. These quotes reinforce the negative image of copying (e.g. translation as ‘an echo’) and emphasise ideas of failure and loss.

While the true image of translation perhaps lies somewhere in the middle, it is fascinating to see the contrast in viewpoints: the impressions given are either hugely impressive or overwhelmingly disparaging, rarely anything less. (One quote that I do feel finds quite a nice balance and gives a valuable image of translation is this from Edith Grossman: ‘A translation is not made with tracing paper. It is a critical interpretation.’)


 

Translation is one of the few human activities in which the impossible occurs by principle – Mariano Antolín Rato

Writers make national literature, while translators make universal literature – José Saramago

Translators are the shadow heroes of literature, the often forgotten instruments that make it possible for different cultures to talk to one another, who have enabled us to understand that we all, from every part of the world, live in one world – Paul Auster

Without translation, we would be living in provinces bordering on silence – George Steiner

Translation is the circulatory system of the world’s literatures – Susan Sontag

Translation is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes – Grass Günter

Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture – Anthony Burgess

Translation is entirely mysterious. Increasingly I have felt that the art of writing is itself translating, or more like translating than it is like anything else – Ursula K. Le Guin

Poetry is what gets lost in translation – Robert Frost

As far as modern writing is concerned, it is rarely rewarding to translate it, although it might be easy. Translation is very much like copying paintings – Boris Pasternak

Nothing which is harmonized by the bond of the Muse can be changed from its own to another language without destroying its sweetness – Dante

Translation is sin – Grant Showerman

Poetry cannot be translation – Samuel Johnson

Translation is at best an echo – George Borrow

Translation is the art of failure – Umberto Eco

What is lost in the good or excellent translation is precisely the best – Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel

For me, Eco’s lament perfectly sums up the bipolar view of translation that has dominated history: an overall sense of futility is combined with the elegant label of translation as art.


These days, the positive quotes crop up with great regularity in translation circles and are undeniably pleasant to read. They give us a sense of recognition and allow us to convince ourselves that translation is equal to, or even surpasses, writing. We become ‘heroes’, cultural saviours or super-powered readers who do the ‘impossible’ for the good of the universe.

Beyond their extravagance, however, the main problem here lies in the fact that in using these quotes within translation circles (as is so often the case) we are looking inward in an act of patting ourselves on the back, lauding the fact that we achieve this ‘impossible’ goal on a daily basis while the outside world still doesn’t see the significance of our work.

Translation needs to develop its wider image in order to be seen as a truly legitimate profession and what we need to change is the misguided perceptions that exist of what is involved in our task. Outside of translation the most commonly used cliché is that of things being ‘lost in translation’ and this reflects badly on us. In professional terms, meanwhile, translation is all too often viewed as a part-time activity that anyone with some knowledge of a second language can fit into their spare time to earn a bit of extra pocket-money.

In schools (in the UK at least) we are taught from the very outset that translation is merely a means of ensuring comprehension. When faced with the command ‘translate this passage’ in an exam we are to show that we have done our vocabulary homework – notions of entire contexts or cultures are completely ignored.

Nowhere is it mentioned that so much of our literature, so much of the world around us has undergone this process of translation, leaving us with the implication that it is just a case of swapping one word for another.

I’ve often tried to dispel myths such as these in my blog by demonstrating the complexity of the task at hand but claiming that we are producing works of art or changing the world on a daily basis (as seen above) smacks of overcompensation when given the reality of the situation. Indeed, this in turn feeds into a lack of professional credibility as we can’t expect to be taken seriously if we make such outlandish claims beyond our own community.

Ultimately, ideas such as that of good translation going unnoticed may well be deeply engrained (to the extent of being the ideal by which translations are judged in many professional contexts) but we can still increase awareness of what we do. Unfortunately, in offering up exaggerated accounts of our work’s demands to one-another or wallowing in self-pity, we are going about it the wrong way.

It is clear that translation remains misunderstood by so many people and perhaps what is needed is a focus on consistently and clearly explaining what is at stake to communities beyond the confines of the discipline/profession for them to learn to trust and value translation for what it is.

What is certain for now is that translation needs to be more secure in its own identity. Our inability to provide perfection has gradually led to the development of a profession that can seem to be unduly insufficient. We need to be not only sure of our own value, but also realistic about the value we offer as we look to overcome this professional identity dilemma.

The Fun of Nonstandard Lang-diddly-anguage

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m a big fan of looking at the creative methods translators have used to tackle specific problems in popular culture and today’s post is certainly along those same lines.
Today’s example comes from the globally-adored series The Simpsons and provides a particularly curious example emerging from the use of (my take on) nonstandard language.
Nonstandard language is often described as being characterized by idiom or vocabulary that is not regarded as correct and acceptable by educated native speakers of a language and Peter Trudgill’s Introducing Language and Society states that nonstandard dialects in English are considered as differing “most importantly at the level of grammar”.
While I don’t want to spend too much time focusing on definitions here, it is worth noting that I prefer to use a more general, neutral understanding of the term than the prejudiced, sociological view put forward by most scholars. In  Linguistics for Non-Linguists, F. Parker and K. Riley define “a standard dialect as one that draws no negative attention to itself” while “a nonstandard dialect does draw negative attention to itself; that is, educated people might judge the speaker of such a dialect as socially inferior, lacking education, and so on” and this characterises nonstandard language in terms of a sociological judgement rather than a linguistic one.
Rather than using a “negative effect” as the defining attribute of nonstandard language, however, I want to look at it as a deviation from our expectations that produces a specific effect. What is nonstandard to me will be perfectly standard to other individuals while the illusory, mythical ‘standard’ is an ethical nightmare as the very claim that there exists a ‘standard’ form of language asserts an ideology of what is and isn’t acceptable. Ultimately, what is certain is that language alters our reading experience in particular ways and it is these effects that must be appreciated by the translator.
Contentious definitions aside, the focus of this post lies in the language of Ned Flanders, a well-known and much-loved character from The Simpsons whose verbal tics have gained a great degree of fame across the globe without ever being discussed in the context of translation (to my knowledge). The closest thing I’ve seen is speculation over what would happen if Google Translate offered ‘Flanders’ as a language.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Flanders verbal tics in English, Ned has the odd habit of attaching “diddly”, “doodly” and other nonsensical phrases to his sentences. This is the result of sublimated anger caused by his upbringing that has no other outlet. He also has the habit of saying “Okally-Dokally” when replying to someone – representing a distorted form of “Okey-dokey” and similarly meaning OK.
In terms of the definition discussed above, when Flanders adds “diddly” to a word, he deviates from our linguistic expectations in such a way to produce a unique, comical effect and this is what needs to be replicated in the translation.
When assimilating these tics to their respective linguistic systems, several European translators opted to use variations of typical expressions (“salut”, “salve” and “hola” in FR, IT and ES for “hi-diddly-ho”) distorted in such a way as to retain the rhyme, alliteration and assonance that characterises the odd, yet distinctive, effect created in the English.
Furthermore, these variations are often developed (similarly to the English) by using suffixes that were themselves initially derived from Romance languages and this aids the translators in producing a natural-sounding yet equally nonsensical end product.

“Hi-diddly-ho neighborino!”
FR: Salit salut, cher voisinou
IT: Salve salvino, vicino
                                                                                                      ES: Hola holita vecinito

“Okally-dokally!”                                                                                   
FR: D’acodac!
                                                                                                                                IT: Certo certosino!

What adds more interest to the situation, however, is the humorous – if ridiculous – fact that Ned’s relatives from around the globe also share his verbal tics. When Ned introduces Homer Simpson to José Flanders  – a relative from Latin America – and Lord Thistlewick Flanders – a snobbish English Flanders – in the episode Lisa the Vegetarian, José uses a Spanish idiom inflected by the English version of the tics and Thistlewick (pressured by Ned) replicates the tics in his exaggerated English accent.
Here is the section in question in English: (the most interesting phrases are highlighted)

Homer: Ned! You’re having a family reunion and you didn’t invite me!?
Ned: Oh, gosh Homer. This is strictly a Flanders affair. I’ve got family here from around the globe. [Points out one relative.] Here’s José Flanders.
José: Buenos ding dong diddly días señor.
Ned: And this is Lord Thistlewick Flanders.
Thistlewick: Charmed. [Ned nudges him in the back.] Eh, a googily… doogily.

While José replies here in an English-based, Flandersian Spanish by saying “Buenos ding dong diddly días señor” – incorporating the English tics into a Spanish phrase – other languages must incorporate their own interpretation of the tics outlined above into the translations:

IT:
Jose Flanders: Buenos dindinondandasdias senor!
Ned Flanders: E questo è Lord Thistlewick Flanders.
Lord Thistlewick Flanders: Incantato. [Ned gli da una gomitata] Ehm… can… tatino, cantatino.
FR:
José Flanders: Buenos dius dios dias senior.
Ned: Et voici Lord Thistlewick Flanders.
Lord Thistlewick: Charmé. [Ned lui donne un petit coup de coude] Heu… How di yi di, how do you do ?

As you can see, the nonstandard Spanish used in the English version cannot simply be retained in the French or Italian as, while the audience is considered to be sufficiently familiar with Spanish to make the inclusion of a basic phrase unproblematic, the joke has to be reframed in the context of the pre-existing translation of Ned Flanders’ vocal tics for it to work.
Interestingly, the existence of a third language in the Italian and French versions (the English of Thistlewick to add to the main language and the Spanish of José) allows Thistlewick’s language to be capitalised upon in a manner similar to José’s in the English. While the Italian audience will undoubtedly be familiar with a simple phrase in English (‘How do you do’ is used in the French) this is an opportunity that the Italian version oddly didn’t take.
(Here’s a link to the Latin American version of the episode in question for anyone who fancies checking out another extremely interesting version… The key scene is at about 3:45)
For me, this treatment of nonstandard language usage provides an extreme example of what translators have to do so often in their work. While dialogue is an area where these kinds of verbal deviations are very prominent as it provides “a powerful tool to reveal character traits or social and regional differences” (Taavitsainen et al in Writing in Nonstandard English), a more subtle version of this phenomenon is always present in a text in the form of a particular ‘tone of voice’.
This is particularly important in marketing translations, for example, where a company may want to ensure that their audience receives a certain impression of their values, standing or professionalism. In order to give this impression, their texts must employ a brand of language that adheres to, and deviates from, our expectations in such a way as to create that particular effect and it is down to the translator to replicate it in the target language.
Ultimately, while Flanders’ speech isn’t simply a tone of voice, his language usage nevertheless serves to demonstrate the amazing effects that slight deviations can produce and points to an oft-overlooked level of awareness required on the part of translators.

Seven Super Skills: Progressing in Translation

Today’s post sees us move from the power of translation to the process of translation and, more specifically, to a look at the demands of this process.

There are a number of vital skills required to produce high quality translations and here I put forward a selection of what I believe to be the most important of them alongside suggested methods of developing each one. Having previously touched upon a couple of the skills on my blog, I’ve also included links to relevant posts where possible.

My specific focus on the act of translation means that skills relating to freelancing or developing a translation company are not included. For example, while the ability to deal with tight deadlines is an important element of professional translation, it is not a prerequisite for the act of translation in itself.

Finally, my thoughts and suggestions are by no means exhaustive (I’ve had to overlook and merge a lot of ideas for the sake of brevity) so feel free to share your own skills and tips in the comments section.

 

LINGUISTIC MAGIC IN YOUR SOURCE LANGUAGE:

To start off with we have the most obvious – and perhaps most misunderstood – of all the skills.

Yes, being able to understand the meaning of the source text you’re working on is of vital importance and without this necessary level of competence there is no translation. However, linguistic proficiency alone does not automatically equate to good translation despite the widely held misconceptions that a translator is just a walking dictionary or someone who simply picks ready, one-to-one equivalents between languages.

Ultimately, there is much more to translation than simply knowing a language but that’s no excuse to ignore those tricky grammar points.

How to develop:

  • Combine language courses and immersion in the source culture (time in the country, interaction with native speakers…) to develop both linguistic and cultural knowledge on a general level.
  • Pay close attention to reading skills (as opposed to speaking or writing, for example) in the source language as this is where a translator’s primary focus lies. Read books, articles, magazines – anything and everything you can in your source language(s).

 

SUPERHUMAN SUBJECT KNOWLEDGE:

As mentioned above, total command of a language and culture alone isn’t enough to make a good translator and part of the reason is that translators generally work in very specific subject areas that require specialist knowledge.

Reading technical jargon in your mother tongue alone is challenging enough and therefore it is vital that translators are intimately familiar with the inner workings of their specific areas of expertise. Contracts, patents, or medical journal entries all require specific linguistic and cultural knowledge that goes well beyond that given in general language classes.

How to develop:

  • Read anything you can relating to your specialist area to expand your knowledge and stay up to date with new developments.
  • Develop specialisms in areas that you genuinely enjoy to easily integrate research into your daily routine.
  • Sign up for MOOCs or other courses to greatly boost your subject knowledge in a comprehensive, structured fashion.

Getting to the Heart of Medical Texts

SONIC SPEED RESEARCH & PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS:

No matter how much work you put in, there are always going to be words, phrases, or concepts with which you are unfamiliar popping up in source texts and this where another key translation ability lies. I’ve said it before but it’s definitely a point worth repeating: one of the most important attributes in a translator is not what they know, but how quickly and efficiently they are able to fill the gaps in what they don’t know.

Using the vast array of resources out there, it is amazing how quickly you can become well-versed in a previously unknown area and, while the widespread advice that you shouldn’t bite off more than you can chew in terms of tackling alien projects is very valid, I say that you shouldn’t be afraid expand your horizons – know your limits but remain ambitious and embrace new projects.

How to develop:

  • Get to know which resources lead to the most effective results. (The links below cover a few different ways of tracking down that elusive word or phrase)
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment with new tools to further enhance your research process.

Where to go when lost for words?

Using Corpora in Your Translation Work

 

X-RAY SPECS – CLOSE READING & ANALYTICAL SKILLS:

As well as understanding the explicit meaning of a word or phrase, a translator must be able to appreciate its many possible functions in a specific context. Beyond surface-level meanings, the use of allusions, cultural references, linguistic or rhetorical devices such as repetition or alliteration, or elements such as register and sentence length all combine to make the text the powerful entity that it is and part of the translator’s job is to recreate their effects in another language and culture. The connotations of one innocuous-looking word can be central to the meaning of an entire text (as the first link below suggests).

How to develop:

  • Think beyond what is on the page.
  • Explore texts and analyses of texts in order to encounter the various ways in which language influences us and the ways in which we can employ language to harness those techniques.

The Power of Translation: The Fox and the Grapes

Selling Cars with Sex and Lies

 

FORMATTING SKILLS & COMPUTER WIZARDRY:

This little pairing accounts for so much of the translation process as it involves the manipulation of the very platform that holds our work.

It is essential that a translator becomes an expert in using whatever programs clients demand of them and, in a manner similar to terminology mining (see above), this requires the ability to efficiently develop the knowledge you lack.

The only thing more annoying than an elusive indent sneaking into your document and blighting an otherwise immaculate page is having to spend an eternity finding a solution to the problem.

How to develop:

  • Don’t be afraid to experiment, be inquisitive in your usage of a program to learn all of its various shortcuts and quirks.
  • Read online tips or take a course in a program’s usage.

 

SUPERPOWERED PENMANSHIP / WRITING SKILLS:

So often overlooked when people are developing their translation prowess, the ability to write effectively is perhaps the most important skill there is. With the end product of the translation process taking the form of a text written in your native tongue, the overall success or failure of your work is often heavily based on your writing ability.

The key factor in producing a translation is for it to be fit-for-purpose and resemble an original target language document whether you like it or not (the translator’s power of invisibility). While equivalence between the source and target texts should be of utmost importance to the translator, clients or end users are not going to be able to compare the two texts and emphasis is therefore placed on producing a translation that stands on its own.

How to develop:

  • Learn target language conventions for producing specific texts.
  • Take the time to read style guides from various sources.
  • Practice writing! Write for sites focusing on your specialist areas or write a blog and employ different writing styles of your own choosing.
  • Get feedback on your writing.

One year down: What blogging has to offer

 

ENHANCED VISION:

The reason that the vast majority of translators offer editing or proofreading services on top of their translation work is that the move is such a natural one. Editing and proofreading your own work is a vital cog in the translation process and learning how to do it as effectively as possible is of utmost importance.

The difficulty when going through your own work is that your proximity to the text makes it more difficult to spot errors – you unconsciously read what you intended to write and your intimate knowledge of the source text’s subtleties offers you a privileged reading position that won’t be shared by your target audience. As such, the key concept to work on is distancing yourself from the text to the point of reaching an objective, uninformed position from which to assess its suitability (or as close to that as possible).

There are many different suggestions on how to best achieve this distance and to efficiently correct your own writing (examples include changing the font and size of the text you’re working on, printing the text out and working from a hard copy or reading the text back-to-front) but ultimately the best method is different for everybody. Personally I like reading out loud, taking breaks between readings, and using different levels of zoom when spotting errors and consider three consecutive error-free readings to be the benchmark for a completed text.

How to develop:

  • Experiment with a range of methods to find what works for you.
  • Get a colleague to correct your work and incorporate their advice into your own corrections.

The Power of Translation: the Fox and the Grapes

After a bit of a love-in over the Language Lovers competition last time out (don’t forget to vote!), today’s post takes a look at a specific translation example in order to analyse the translator’s role in creating meaning and the potential impact that our decisions can have.

As the title suggests, the text chosen for analysis in this post is the famous fable of ‘The Fox and the Grapes’. First written (or more likely spoken) by Aesop in the 6th Century B.C., the fable has gone on to hold an important place in literary culture across the globe.

The definitive version of the fable as we know it here in England, translated by V.S. Vernon Jones in 1912,  goes like this:

A hungry Fox saw some fine bunches of Grapes hanging from a vine that was trained along a high trellis, and did his best to reach them by jumping as high as he could into the air. But it was all in vain, for they were just out of reach: so he gave up trying, and walked away with an air of dignity and unconcern, remarking, “I thought those Grapes were ripe, but I see now they are quite sour.”

The moral that is most frequently taken from the story these days is that it is easy to take a dislike to something that you cannot have, and we do this in order to rationalise the fact that we do not have it whether or not that feeling is genuine.

Indeed, this moral is made explicit in many of the translations of the text, where authors have added a final remark outlining the fox’s real mental workings. French poet Isaac de Benserade, for example, adopts a thoughtful, moralising tone in his concise version and includes a final quatrain in which the fox admits that the grapes really were ripe but ‘what cannot be had, you speak of badly.’

So dominant is this interpretation of the fable that it is widely held that the English expression ‘sour grapes’ subsequently developed in relation to the usage in this tale. In contemporary English the phrase is used exactly as it is in the fable, referring to the act of pretending not to care for something you want but do not or cannot have.

What interests us from the context of translation, however, is the way in which a specific linguistic choice in the 1912 Vernon Jones translation has gone on to shape our understanding of the fable. As seen above, the grapes are described as ‘sour’ in the final line, yet research into earlier versions suggests that the Greek word employed in the original fables (‘ὄμφαξ’/’omphakes’) actually means ‘unripe’ grapes.

This interpretation is also alluded to in the Roman fabulist Phaedrus’ Latin version of the tale which pronounces: ‘nondum matura es’ [‘you are not ripe yet’], echoing the Greek original.

While initially appearing to be a minor change, upon closer inspection the use of the word ‘sour’ in fact alters the entire complexion of the story. In moving from ‘unripe’ (and therefore bad tasting as a result of this lack of maturity) to simply ‘sour’, we pass from a potential hint at patience and understanding on the part of the fox – he would perhaps return later at a more opportune moment when the grapes are ripe – to the disdainful, envious connotations that we have come to associate with the fable.

However, rather than being a mere slip on the part of the translator, this move represents a calculated choice that was designed to reflect the needs and the dominant ideology of the society into which the text was being translated. Beyond the aesthetic appeal that ‘sour grapes’ holds over the more clumsy ‘unripe grapes’, the term ‘unripe’ would have also contained the sexual connotation of an as-yet unripe woman, something that the author clearly sought to avoid in making his interpretation acceptable to the ultra-prudish audience of an approximately Victorian-era England.

The Greek phrasing not only contains this ambiguity – with the phrase having both the literal meaning of an unripe grape and the metaphorical usage of a girl not yet ripe for marriage – but is likely to have contained these sexual undertones as a fully intentional strand of meaning, with the original text existing in an age where advice against such actions would have perhaps had more pertinence. Given this centrality, the English author’s choice represents a clear attempt to sidestep what he deemed as an inappropriate interpretation.

In the canonical French translation of the fable by Jean de La Fontaine, meanwhile, which predates the English version by a considerable margin (it was first published in 1668) and was thus produced for both a different era and culture having its own different social standards and taboos, the rendering remains closer to the original version than the English does and leaves a greater amount of interpretive potential intact.

In rendering sour/unripe, La Fontaine used the phrase ‘ils sont trop verts’ [lit: ‘they are too green’ – ‘unripe’], and left ample room for interpretation.

Ultimately, in this specific context the example serves to demonstrate the power that translation wields in shaping meaning and exposes the way in which language use can be exploited to fulfil our own ideological wishes. More worryingly, perhaps, it demonstrates the extent to which we are often completely powerless to detect these changes: if we do not understand the language of the original then we are left at the mercy of the translator and take their rendering as the authoritative version.

Despite its continued relevance, the Vernon Jones version undeniably closes off several passages of meaning contained within the original while simultaneously opening up other channels which, while misrepresenting the source text, have nevertheless gone on to deeply ingrain themselves within English language and culture.

The power that the translator holds here is extraordinary: books, songs and films have subsequently emerged based on interpretations that developed from one man’s personal, culturally-bound take on an ancient text and the selection of one little word – ‘sour’.

Love your Language Lovers

As a bit of a change from the usual translation talk that my blog entails, I thought I would dedicate today’s post to sharing the love. It’s that time of the year when the Top 100 Language Lovers competition starts to elicit a degree of fevered excitement among the online language community and this provides the perfect opportunity for us all to focus on what great, language-based riches we have at our disposal. It’s brilliant to see so many hard-working language lovers rewarded for their efforts.

Hosted by bab.la language portal and the Lexiophiles language blog, the competition is in its seventh edition and always receives a great response. The nominations have been completed and we’re now at the all-important voting stage, which runs until 9th June before the final results are announced on 12th June.

For those of you unfamiliar with the competition process this year, the voting stage is split up into five different categories that cover all of the major resources available to language lovers worldwide – language learning blogs, language professionals blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and YouTube channels – and the top-rated picks from each category go on to form the Top 100 Language Lovers (more detailed explanation of the processes involved can be found here).

Vote the Top 100 Language Professional Blogs 2014 

I’m delighted to announce that JALTranslation has been included in the language professionals blogs category of the competition among so many other amazing entrants. Given that the voting process allows you to select as many blogs, pages, or channels as you want, if you’ve enjoyed my posts then a vote would be very much appreciated (a handy link to the voting page is available above if you’re feeling generous). However, I’m happy just to be included in the list and there is a more important reason for this blog post.

Quite simply, the list of nominees provides one of the best sources of online goodness that any language lover could ever hope to find! I’ve written about online translation resources in the past and the opportunity to share such a rich database of information was too good to turn down.

Of course, be sure to vote for all of your favourites (I had a fair few to get through!) but, more importantly, use the list to discover new blogs and accounts to follow in your areas of interest. It’s an absolute gold mine that is worth exploring. Go on, click your way through the lists of nominees and see what goodies are on offer.

I’ll be back soon with some more translation-y tidbits but, until then, go and check out what other great blogs are waiting for you. Ciao.

Book Review: 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know

After bringing you a Translation Studies-based post last time out, I wanted to again stick with an exploration of translation literature in today’s entry. The similarities end there, however, as here I give you my thoughts on the recently published (April 2014) 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know – quite a compelling title I’m sure you’ll agree – which provides a light collection of practical tips rather than an in-depth, academic odyssey.

First of all, it is worth mentioning that the book was written by a number of authors (including some fairly big names in the translation community) who are all members of the WLF Think Tank – a virtual body of experienced practicing translators. In a brief introduction the book quickly informs us that the 101 tips contained within come from “a broad spectrum of translation professionals with some 500 years of collective experience” so you instantly know that the advice on offer will be ultra-reliable.

The book’s tips range from practical translation advice (translating numbers or units of measurement in a source text, for example) to thoughts on the professional obligations that occupy a translator (such as the importance of marketing your business or keeping track of your finances).

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is its neat design, with each of the 101 translation tips displayed across two pages (see below for a typical example). On the left-hand page of each tip you find an excellent illustration by  Catherine Anne Hiley while the right-hand page contains a cleverly worded title for each tip as well as a well-articulated, succinct elaboration of around 100-200 words. With a selection of witty representations of the tips they depict and some neat cultural references (be sure to check out #45’s spin on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover), the illustrations fit in seamlessly and represented something of a personal highlight.DSC_0658

While I found myself with a few hours going spare and decided to blitz through the entire book in one sitting, the aforementioned style and the easily digested content are perfectly suited to a quick five-minute read when you’re in need of a break.

Less convincing, however, is the assertion that the book is perfectly suited to a wide-ranging readership. The very first page informs us that:

This is a book for beginners. It’s also a book for seasoned professionals, students and teachers. For freelancers and staff translators. For amateurs and experts, generalists and super-specialists – be they certified or sworn, recognised, authorised… or simply tantalised by translation’s potential for a varied and enriching career.

While it is certainly true that the book will appeal to anyone with an interest in translation, it seems to me that the content is primarily geared towards the beginner or student of translation looking to gain a foothold in the profession.

Yet that is not to say that the tips are of no use to a more experienced professional, quite the contrary. While anyone who has been around the translation community for an extended period will have previously read words to the same effect at some point, it is undeniably nice to have these tips gathered together in one place. Furthermore, the fact that the authors touch upon all aspects of life as a translator means that the book provides a handy way for professionals to ensure that they are operating in a well-rounded manner. The tips will either ring true and validate their existing practices or point to areas of their work requiring additional attention.

One minor gripe that I must share was the occasional repetition of certain points made throughout the short volume. Topics like ‘Specialism’ (tips 18 and 27) or ‘Saying No’ (4 and 34) both receive several mentions and, while this was probably a deliberate attempt to drive home specific points for readers who are less familiar with the area (indeed, tip #57 explicitly states the important role of repetition as an emphatic device in translation and this use of repetition is a positive trait for any learning resource), it will nevertheless feel slightly tiring for the more experienced translation professional. DSC_0656

Overall, however, complaints are few and far between. An overarching focus on the human aspect of an often de-personalised profession  provides the crux of an extremely valuable message and makes this book an ideal purchase for the modern translation professional (ideas such as developing effective communication skills, constantly improving and concentrating on the value that you can add as a translator are all prominent). Ultimately, the book summarises the range of challenges facing the modern-day translator and attempts to inspire you to get the most out of your skills.

Written with an understated authority and a sense of humour that makes it a pleasure to read, 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know is a worthy addition to any language professionals’ bookshelf and stacks up favourably alongside other introductions to the profession.

Still Invisible? Visiting and Revisiting Venuti

Hi everyone, after attending a seminar entitled ‘Domestication vs Foreignisation revisited’ a few days ago, I thought I’d share some of the interesting insights that I picked up as well as giving a couple of my own thoughts on the topic.

The seminar was given by Terry Hale of the University of Hull, a man with an astounding array of experience in translation and publishing and, as one of my MA lecturers back in the day, a man who is something of a translation hero of mine.

As the title suggests (for those who are familiar with his work), the seminar was based around developing a deeper understanding of Lawrence Venuti’s seminal 1995 The Translator’s Invisibility – an absolute must-read for all translators as it is the text that put translation studies on the map and shaped our understanding of the subject today.

Terry is in fact a good friend of Larry’s – as he calls him – and was instrumental in Venuti’s reception here in England. He wrote a fantastic review of Invisibility for the Times Literary Supplement at the time of publication (I haven’t been able to find a copy online unfortunately) and was even included on the back cover of Venuti’s excellent 1998 The Scandals of Translation with this quote:

[O]ne of the most provocative and far-reaching books to be published in the field of Translation Studies in recent years. Lawrence Venuti has proved himself a cultural commentator of the very first order. This book should be required reading for all those engaged in the humanities.

So who better to take a retrospective look at what The Translator’s Invisibility has to offer?!

While I don’t want to go over the book’s contents in too much detail here (I did write a brief overview in a previous post), the key contribution to come from The Translator’s Invisibility is Venuti’s new theory of translation, formulated around the basis of hermeneutics, which builds upon largely philosophical ideas from Friedrich Schleiermacher and Antoine Berman to distinguish between ‘foreignising’ and ‘domesticating’ types of translation in order to forward his ideas of deviation from dominant linguistic forms.

Venuti laments the domesticating strategies that prevail throughout Western literary translation and render texts as fluent, readable target language pieces, smoothing over the uniqueness of the foreign language that he seeks to retain. According to Venuti, his foreignising strategy allows the disturbing and stimulating effects of translation to be shown in the domestic setting and follows Berman’s idea that a bad translation negates the foreignness of the text.

While that’s the basic gist of it, however, Terry was able to provide a more nuanced appraisal of Venuti’s work by integrating a highly developed understanding of his background. Interesting snippets include how Venuti’s own personal life provided the basis for his Utopian ethics and how his interest in translation and ideology can be traced back to his PhD thesis Our Halcyon Dayes, which focuses on prerevolutionary English texts without even mentioning translation.

Indeed, it was within the Caroline period that Venuti first discovered these ‘fluent’ tendencies in translation that later formed the basis of Invisibility and led him to argue that every text since roughly 1600 has potentially been corrupted, pandering to the lowest common denominator of a readership wanting texts that simply uphold their own ideological views rather than challenging them.

This effect is achieved by selecting texts that fit within dominant ideologies or even by altering the ideology within the text, and this fact is key to understanding Venuti’s goals. His main aim was to demonstrate how every text we have ever read could have been politically, socially or sexually censored while suggesting a strategy (foreignisation) that leaves this ideology in tact. Ultimately, while Venuti demonstrates on numerous occasions that this process of domestication (and ideological shifting) is taking place in translation, he never quite fully demonstrates that translation is the key to unlocking ideology.

Perhaps even more interesting than these insights, however, is the fact that one of Venuti’s key influences remains largely unheralded. While everyone links Venuti’s thought with that of Schleiermacher due to the obvious equivalence between the two (Schleiermacher’s key contribution to translation is summarised by the quote: “Either the translator leaves the writer in peace as much as possible and moves the reader toward him; or he leaves the reader in peace as much as possible and moves the writer toward him.”), the French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser receives little mention despite having a huge influence on Venuti’s writing.

Althusser was Venuti’s intellectual hero and all of his thought on ideology stems from Althusser’s conception of ‘symptomatic reading’ – problematising a text to uncover ideology, something that Venuti is so good at. Furthermore, Althusser’s influence can be clearly felt in the Marxist terminology that Venuti employs. While a basis in Marxism in itself is not a problem, the way in which his use of Marxist language renders the text impenetrable and ambiguous in places certainly is. Indeed, Invisibility is already an extremely heavy text and the addition of Marxist terminology only serves to complicate matters further as well as sacrificing a degree of credibility as interest in these theories has subsequently subsided.

More worrying, however, is Venuti’s intellectualism and exclusion of non-literary translation, which dictate that the technical translator cannot realistically follow Venuti’s ideas at all given the economic concerns and client demands foregrounded in the professional setting.

Venuti is in the fortunate position of being able to translate with a degree of cultural experimentation rather than bending to commercial constraints and publisher demands as would probably be the case with an inexperienced translator desperate to give a good impression.

Indeed, in one of very few cases of negative reception that his work received he is criticised for this very focus on literary translation and supposedly more legitimate, ‘high brow’ texts. As Anthony Pym suggests in his review of Invisibility: “As long as the translations are kept distant from the masses’ cheap understanding, the professors will be employed to read and talk about those translations,” thus stressing the importance of Venuti’s own continued visibility in academia.

While we cannot underestimate the value of Venuti’s contributions, as modern-day freelance translators we are still left questioning what it really offers us. Ultimately, the more you agree with Venuti’s damning verdict on ‘fluent’ translation strategies, the more galling it is to have zero power in changing this state of affairs (this is something that Terry alluded to in saying that the focus on translators is perhaps misplaced in Venuti’s work, as it is the publishers and decision-makers who have a much greater – yet perhaps still inconsequential – degree of control).

Overall, the fact that we are still talking about Venuti’s work 20 years down the line (perhaps less so these days but still a considerable amount, as demonstrated by recent republications of Invisibility) is both a tribute to the enduring power of his writing and a condemnation of the lack of progress that has been made since. The situation hasn’t changed and neither has our outlook on translation and translation theory. Until something major happens, however, Invisibility remains the key text for understanding what really goes on in the world of translation.