29 November 2011

Pictures & words: not what we thought

According to the latest post on Stories that sell, pictures are no longer worth a thousand words. See A picture is worth a thousand words – bollocks!
The post also introduces us to the “nobody reads copy any more” debate. Just Google the expression to read more.
The blog may be talking about advertising copywriting, but the conclusions also apply to technical communicators, technical journalists and translators.

You thought things were tough; now read about how they're even tougher than you thought!

And spare a thought (yet another...) for the translator. When translating promotional material and technical journalism closely linked to a picture, recall that the picture was chosen to work with the source language version. This means that the conscientious translator has the additional job of making sure that the translation works well as a text and with the picture. There are times when this can be very challenging indeed.

25 November 2011

Personal pronouns for ships

This is a vexed and vexing issue. Most online style and grammar guides are for journalists and others writing for broad lay audiences, not naval personnel.

The conventional advice is summarised on The Grammarphobia Blog as follows:
The Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition), as well as the style books of the Associated Press and the New York Times, recommend using 'it' or 'its' to refer to ships.
In 2002, Lloyd’s List, the 276-year-old London-based shipping newspaper, officially dropped the gender personification and now refers to ships with the pronouns 'it' and 'its' instead of 'she' and 'her'.
Under its entry for 'she', the Oxford English Dictionary describes the usage this way: “Used (instead of it) of things to which female sex is conventionally attributed,” such as “a ship or boat.”
Further on, we read:
Perhaps the grammarian Otto Jespersen came closest to an explanation in his Essentials of English Grammar (1933).
Jespersen wrote that some inanimate things may be personified “to show a certain kind of sympathy with or affection for the thing, which is thereby, as it were, raised above the inanimate sphere.”
 “In such cases,” he adds, “the speaker does not really attribute sex to the thing in question, and the choice of a sexual pronoun is occasioned only by the fact that there is no non-sexual pronoun available except  the inert it.”
So sometimes we may feel that 'it' is simply too lifeless and inadequate — or, as Jespersen says, 'inert'.

But this blog is for translators who write specifically for English-mother-tongue naval personnel. I believe that most readers of this type use feminine personal pronouns when referring to any ship they are personally familiar with. (Q: Is this true of the latest generation of female naval officers? R: Unfortunately, I don’t know.)

Aside: Here's a link to the transcript of an excellent Lingua Franca programme entitled She's Apples... on feminine personal pronouns in everyday Australian speech. The speaker, Andrew Pawley, Professor of Linguistics at the Australian National University, says "... the rules are roughly that you use animate pronouns for inanimates — that is, 'she' or 'he' instead of 'it' — when you want your speech to be lively and animated."
How representative this is of English internationally and how applicable to technical journalism remain, of course, open questions.

My advice:
In quoted speech (in translation and technical writing for navies, shipbuilders and the like), use feminine personal pronouns to refer to a particular vessel previously designated by name.
In other contexts, seriously consider the benefits of female personal pronouns (to refer to a particular vessel previously designated by name) as a means
Do not use these pronouns for a type, category, or class of ship.

Comments welcome. If you happen to know an English-mother-tongue women naval officer, I would very much like to know what she thinks.

22 November 2011

How do French communication agencies communicate?

Intercultural zone is a highly recommended blog by colleague Patricia Lane.

I particularly like her posting on "How do French communication agencies communicate?" and her training courses for French agencies working or aiming to work in English.
Patricia's services include workshops for French communicators who need to present or pitch to international clients in English.

21 November 2011

Cost-effective document design for a translation workflow

Interesting post, dated 14 January 2010, on the Oversetter blog under the heading "Cost-effective document design for a translation workflow".

Here at TTJ we've long been amazed that this topic attracts so little attention in France.

15 November 2011

On the organisation of thoughts in different languages

Excerpt #6  from The Little Book of Transcreation elegantly describes one aspect of translation by emulation:
In English and northern European languages, there is an emphasis on logical structure. (“Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you’ve just told them.”)

In languages such as French or Spanish, this style is often thought dull or inelegant. Digressions are seen as a sign of intellect, not disorganization.
I could not have put it better myself.

For Latins, one of the most sought-after skills is 'synthesis' or the capacity to state something in comprehensive but often abstract terms then work top-down from principle or synthesis to applications. In English and northern European languages, it is often preferable to mix deductive and inductive (or, top-down and bottom-up) thinking.

Another aspect of this vast subject is the value or importance of examples and anecdotes. In English and northern European languages, both are often considered pluses; in Latin languages they are often seen as trivial. In French, to say that something is anecdotal is fairly pejorative.

All this is especially useful when writing for a relatively homogeneous first-language (or L1) readership. Just what the translator should do when the client's mandate is to translate into English for L2 (i.e. second-language) readers in, say, the Middle East and/or southeast Asia is another challenge entirely.

Life is Magnifique

Blog posting on the Sofitel slogan "Life is Magnifique".

This blog links to another on "The Little Book of Transcreation" available form Amazon. Transcreation is a close ally of translation by emulation.

These postings take some of the points made under "Product naming in Europe, take #2" below further.

13 November 2011

Fish in ear produces buzz

On 30 October I mentioned David Bellos's Is that a fish in your ear? (subtitled, Translation and the meaning of everything). Here's another link for anyone interested in the growing buzz.
On 7 November  2011, Patrick Cox posted under the heading Translators Past, Present and Future.
It's not often that translation rises above the background noise to become a topic of interest to such a wide audience.

12 November 2011

Translation by emulation, take #2

But why go to all this trouble, especially if the client's mandate is not explicit?

The short answer is that language-sensitive translators with an appreciation of good copywriting want to do the best they can by their clients. Further, into-English translators with a natural respect for customer-centred copyrwriting or trained in customer-centred communication or customer experience management (aka CEM) constantly strive to move away from company-centred copy and towards customer-centred copy because they know it will have greater and more positive impact on the translation client's own customers in English-language markets.

In summary, translators adopting a 'translation by emulation' approach with a view to producing English language documents that are a little less company centred or, better still, significantly more customer centred than the original must focus increasingly on the client's image, products and services as promoted to the target audience in the target language.

CEM: See also this HBR article.

10 November 2011

Term mining pioneer

A quick search of the dtSearch site for either 'Dyson' or 'term mining' -- using, naturally enough, dtSearch's own wonderful indexing and search tools -- leads directly to the following article dating from 1998.
dtSearch Case Study — SDC
SDC Arms Itself with dtSearch for its Translation Services for European Naval Defense and Other Industries 
Steve Dyson Consulting (SDC) provides translation-oriented consultancy services for the European naval defense industry and other industries. Services include documentary chain optimization; optimization of the processes and methods of translation; linguistic quality assurance; and creation of terminological databases. As part of these functions, SDC also provides consultancy services relating to software tools for professional translators.
One such tool that SDC uses with its naval defense sector and other customers is dtSearch. "dtSearch is ideal for translators, terminologists and translation companies seeking an indexing/search engine for terminology searches, or 'term mining,'" says Steve Dyson, principal of SDC. Regarding "term mining," an article by Mr. Dyson explains: "I use the expression ‘term mining’ in much the same way as ‘data mining’ is used in the IT industry with reference to tools designed to extract nuggets of information from vast masses of data."

Continues Mr. Dyson's article: "While glossary compilation and terminology management are integral to most translation workflows, their cost-effectiveness needs to be carefully assessed during project planning or review. Documented workflows may represent a great leap forward for many, but using the same workflow for all projects, irrespective of the cost-effectiveness of each step can prove a costly mistake. I am personally convinced that there are many situations where term mining is more cost-effective than glossary compilation, particularly for freelancers and small teams working on short projects."

For those using dtSearch in connection with European-language translation, Mr. Dyson offers the following advice: "Always use the advanced option when creating a new index and select the 'accent-sensitive' indexing option."  

07 November 2011

Think different

From The New Yorker article The Tweaker:
The famous Apple “Think Different” campaign came from Jobs’s advertising team at TBWA\Chiat\Day. But it was Jobs who agonized over the slogan until it was right:
They debated the grammatical issue: If “different” was supposed to modify the verb “think,” it should be an adverb, as in “think differently.” But Jobs insisted that he wanted “different” to be used as a noun, as in “think victory” or “think beauty.” Also, it echoed colloquial use, as in “think big.” Jobs later explained, “We discussed whether it was correct before we ran it. It’s grammatical, if you think about what we’re trying to say. It’s not think the same, it’s think different. Think a little different, think a lot different, think different. ‘Think differently’ wouldn’t hit the meaning for me.”

Conclusions (for this blog): 1) English grammar offers both challenges and opportunities. 2) Sometimes grammar really is important. 3) Sometimes debate, thought, honing and re-honing can make all the difference. 4) All of these points apply, sometimes, to translating technical journalism and more specifically, a catchy heading or kicker (aka a standfirst or lead line in English or a 'chapĂ´' in French). 

03 November 2011

A lesson in humility

Here's an old but wonderful lesson in humility for armed forces, procurement agencies, technology freaks and even intelligence agencies.
See TED Talk entitled The strange tale of the Norden bombsight by Malcolm Gladwell.
This ground-breaking piece of World War II technology had deeply unexpected results.

Good questions for translation buyers

Translation agency East West Estate, specialising in real estate documentation, asks some good questions that can help translation buyers find their way through the maze. Go to Why?

See also post of 12 September entitled "Translation - getting it right".

02 November 2011

Help journalists, take #2

Further to yesterday's blog, companies hoping for coverage in foreign language media can help journalists by ensuring that the media (or similar) section of their website includes, in the relevant languages:
  • company "boilerplate"
  • organisation charge complete with full titles (and short forms) of all key personnel
  • preferred names of key products complete with preferred designations  in the relevant languages.
This is a win-win solution. The company wins consistent terminology; the journalists win by saving time and improving accuracy. Company personnel also win by seeing their name correctly spelled and their title correctly presented.

One more point. Company organisation charts are notoriously difficult to translate. The best approach is to translate the entire chart and, where appropriate, coordinate each title with the person's business card.

A mandate to transcreate

I transcreate a regular technical journalism publication from French into English. The declared aim of this publication is to promote specif...