21 March 2019

Full circle

After completing a BSc in physics and maths in Australia and extended travels in Africa I found a job in Paris that left me with considerable free time. I began to buzz with the thrill of total immersion in French and the speed at which I gained fluency. Months later I began a sort of apprenticeship in the art of technical translation with a chap named Werner Kowarsch. Later still, I set up in Paris as a freelance French-to-English translator.

The BSc quickly proved useful as most translators in Paris in those days had degrees in literature and languages and very little knowledge of matters more scientific or technical.

I met French engineers who had tried unsuccessfully to work with translators from purely literary backgrounds who were no match for their technical documents. They greatly appreciated my understanding of their subject matter and terminology while, unbeknown to them, I was busy working hard on my French, my written English and my technical writing skills.

A chance encounter in the mid-1970s with an engineer who worked at CNES, the still young French space agency, led to a friendship and many years of work. Claude Gourdet had just been appointed to lead Prospace, CNES's first initiative to promote the country's budding space industry, and promotion naturally meant producing documents in English.

This enabled me to move from Paris to a rural setting in south-west France within striking distance of Toulouse – where the Toulouse Space Centre, or CST, was expanding rapidly. I worked from home, received most jobs by overnight mail from Paris or Toulouse and delivered them in the same way. I owed a great deal to Claude and to the efficiency and reliability (How things have changed!) of La Poste, the French postal service.

Among my many contacts at the CST was a Monsieur Saint-Etienne with whom I got on very well indeed. One of M Saint-Etienne's responsibilities was to produce CNES's first bilingual thesaurus on spacecraft. He was also the agency's delegate to the International Telecommunications Union, or ITU, where he was involved in drafting standards on space telecommunications with me providing input in English. This was my first experience in formal terminology, and I found it fascinating.

By the early 1980s I was working less for CNES and more for Spot Image, a spin-off set up to develop and launch Spot remote sensing satellites and to promote and market the resulting imagery. From my earliest apprenticeship with Werner Kowarsch I had learned how to make and organise notes on problem terms and equivalents that needed to be recorded (at first using just pencil and paper) to ensure consistency when other jobs came in on similar subjects. By the eighties, I was working on a Macintosh computer and compiling a lot of terminology.

In 1986 I published the first edition of my French-English glossary on Spot, remote sensing and their applications. Between 1986 and 1999 I published ten editions of this glossary with modest sales success, the last one comprising some 8,000 terms. The production process involved printing my Microsoft Word files on A4 paper, then taking this output to a shop to be photocopied and bound. Distribution was by hand delivery or book post.

A handful of Toulouse-based translators became aware of my glossary, including Marie-Jeanne Jarry, a full-time Russian-French translator and interpreter at the CST until 2013) (LinkedIn page). This led to my appointment as an invitation lecturer for a 20-hour terminology module that was part of the first diploma course in technical translation to be offered at a Toulouse university. My title was chargé de cours, module Terminologie, DESS en Techniques de la Traduction. The course was run by the LEA (langues étrangères appliquées) department at Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail. I gave the course from 1994/95 to 2005/06.

Fast-forward to January 2019. I was in Toulouse for the day and decided to call on Ian Margo who had set up and was still associated with Coup de Puce Expansion, aka CPE*, a Toulouse-based language service provider. In the 1990s, Coup de Puce had won a contract to provide translation services to my former client, the CST. (I held a similar contract for French-to-English translation services in the early 1980s.) I mentioned that I am now semi-retired, but sometimes found myself under-employed and was thus looking for translation or terminology work but wanted to avoid working to tight deadlines or with translation memory tools (aka translation environment tools, or TenTs).

I did well to mention this because it turned out that Coup de Puce has a contract with the CST to add content to and resolve non-conformities in a vast terminology database shared by all its language service suppliers. The database uses a web-based application called Aplikaterm developed by Joliciel Informatique. Ian had to consult his team but felt confident that Coup de Puce would be happy to have me work on the database.

What a great arc these decades of work have cast! After a first encounter with formal space industry terminology at the CST in the late 1970s, the publication of a glossary on a satellite-based remote sensing system, and several years teaching a short course on terminology and terminology management, I now find myself working with Coup de Puce on the CST terminology database. I have challenging work ahead of me and feel – I think it's fair to say – that this aspect of my career has come full circle.

* CPE is an a private company (an SARL under French law) comprising ten partners, all professional translators.

03 January 2019

Lexicon backstory: How ... gave rise to a different type of Fr-En lexicon

The ATA has posted an article I submitted on the Science and Technology Division's blog.
The article, dated 3 January 2019, is entitled A Lexicon Backstory and subtitled How transcreating promotional technical journalism gave rise to a different type of Fr-En lexicon

In it, I explain how my French-English Lexicon of Naval Technology -- which is now freely downloadable -- came into being.

10 November 2018


Here is an exchange of Facebook messages and emails with Daniel Heuman, CEO & Founder of Intelligent Editing Ltd.
Twitter: http://twitter.com/intelligentedit
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PerfectItSoftware

I posted my first impression using the contact link:
I just tested PerfectIt and sent them some feedback. It reads:
This is not a request for support, just feedback. I tested your app and found it to be a complete waste of time. It appears to be totally incapable of distinguishing between simple successions of words like "armour plated" in "the ship is armour plated" and qualifiers like "armour-plated" in "an armour-plated ship". Utterly useless. You don't appear to have worked out the difference between grammar and consistency.
PerfectIt CEO Daniel Heuman responded promptly saying:
Thanks for looking at PerfectIt. I'm sorry it's not for you.

On that error, our philosophy is that human beings make the best decisions about grammar and language, and they always will. So the software doesn't try to check grammar. Instead, it shows possible errors and leaves everything up to the user. So you're absolutely right. It won't understand the difference between "armour-plated" and "armour plated" in that context. However, it has an onscreen warning about adjectival compounds so that users know to look out for it. The only alternative would be to have the software check it. Would you really trust a machine to understand differences in grammar and language?
As I say, I'm sorry we couldn't win your business. It sounds like you have a deep understanding of grammar, so I would have hoped that you'd really like the philosophy behind the program. We're always working to reduce the false positives it shows, so I hope you'll consider us again in a few years.
Best wishes,
I followed up with:
For my first test, I had PerfectIt scan a highly technical text of 30,500 words (sample articles can be viewed here) containing 845 hyphens, one of which turned out to be misplaced. PerfectIt queried every single one of these plus many hundred of word strings that were not adjectival compounds. Tedious, to say the least. Your excellent reply has at least given me the urge to test other aspects. Let me add, however, that where technical writers and translators are concerned, software that pretends to check hyphen but cannot distinguish between adjectival compounds and similar strings of words in other contexts simply fails to make the cut. If I have helped you to clarify this for others that might be useful. One more point, when viewing your site and installing the software I didn't see any indication as to which languages PerfectIt can analyse.
Then with:
Thanks again for your prompt reply via Facebook.
I will shortly place our exchanges on my blog.
I have now corrected my inconsistent use of ‘commandos’ and 'commandoes', also ‘Scorpène’ and ‘Scorpene’, though I notice that the app wasn't able to distinguish between the singular and plural forms of this proper noun (the name of a French submarine that the manufacturer changed half way through this project in response to feedback from me which I then failed to double-check before delivering my document).

I have now been through the other checks that PerfectIt runs and, overall, was rather impressed. (see result below) It is also closer to meeting my needs than Antidote which was a huge disappointment to me despite the claims of many of my colleagues. Many of the PerfectIt checks are both thorough and well thought out even if they don't match the needs of a technical writer or translator drafting texts for specialist readerships where acronyms are used in different ways from the guidelines applicable to those writing for lay readers.
Conclusion: PerfectIt looks like a very useful tool for most writers and translators working in/into English, despite some serious limitations in the case of technical writers and into-English translators drafting for specialist readerships where acronyms are used differently from the guidelines applicable to those writing for lay readers.

PerfectIt offers one feature that Antidote does not, namely a 30-day money-back guarantee. This plus PerfectIt's free, full-scale 14-day trial are significant advantages.

25 October 2018

A French-English Glossary of Naval Technology

Below you will find version 15d of my French-English Glossary of Naval Technology dated October 2018.

This glossary or lexicon is intended for French-to-English translators and writers specialising in technical journalism. The layout is an attempt to deal with a terminological challenge specific to journalism, whether technical or general, namely the benefits of direct access to multiple designations (aka synonyms) avoid repetition for stylistic reasons.

The glossary began as a simple Word document about 20 years ago and has simply grown and grown. To accommodate the amount of information it contains, I have adopted a custom page format (36cm wide by 25cm high). The idea is not to print it, but to use it on your computer display.

Until yesterday, the glossary was sold via Lulu and Lulu redistributors. From today, it is offered free of charge.

Download it here. File size: >4M.

Send comments and feedback via this blog or to the email address in the file.

08 August 2018

Fruitful exchange

A fruitful exchange of tweets:


I usually use two re-readers.


Replying to  
Were you thinking he just proofread his work on two different tablets or the two tablets have two different style and editing software packages? Curious minds want to know.
My last to explain why I use 're-reader'. But I see that this is not as clear as 'reviser' even if my meaning is more restrictive in that I'm the senior asking usually younger translators to pick up on certain aspects while leaving my 'style' intact. Clearer?

21 June 2018

A mandate to transcreate

I transcreate a regular technical journalism publication from French into English. The declared aim of this publication is to promote specific France-based industries. The source articles give people who read French access to in-depth news and analysis on companies, projects, products and services in the target sectors. For the English version, the editorial team selects articles of potential interest to a wider technical audience throughout Europe.

It is my job to translate while adapting the English-language content to suit the new target audience and emphasizing the positive, particularly with regard to French successes in tailoring products and services to client needs.

Where I feel a passage is likely to be of little or no interest to the target readership, I shorten or delete it. In the email accompanying my draft I explain my editorial decisions. To my mind, this is where transcreation differs from 'translation' in the normal sense.

Recently, I transcreated an article based on an interview with the CEO of an advanced technology company. The interviewee discussed recent news and the state of progress of his company's main technology among other issues of interest.

At one point, the interviewee explained why he thought the French government should subsidise his company's technology until it became cost-competitive with other technologies in the same general area.

I suggested to my client that this passage would probably have a distinctly negative impact on a large proportion of the target readership of the English version. Indeed, I felt that the passage was at odds with the declared aim of my client's publication. Because the passage was relatively long, I translated it, but suggested to the client that we delete it. After reviewing my version of the article, my client agreed with my line of argument and the passage was duly deleted.

While this is an extreme case, I think it illustrates how useful transcreation can be to a client and how much success hinges on close collaboration between transcreator and client.

25 May 2018

My public portfolio

My public portfolio includes:
Feedback on any of these posts is more than welcome.

Night jasmine is an example of maritime literature, Je vais passer pour un vieux con is an example of light journalistic humour, for want of a better description, and all the other posts are transcreations, or translation/adaptations, of technical journalism from French to English.

Full circle

After completing a BSc in physics and maths in Australia and extended travels in Africa I found a job in Paris that left me with considerab...