19 December 2013

Like slow food

Fast food serves a purpose and has had enormous impact. Slow food serves a different public and different needs. Slow food can’t be rushed and nor can expert professional translation. Translation is a creative intellectual process and, as such takes a certain amount of time. Capacity can be increased and response times reduced, but at some point customers must choose and realise what their choice involves. Carl Honore discusses the slow movement in his TED Talk In praise of slowness.


Some thoughts on the term 'drone' and its use in general and technical journalism.

On 18 December, the Financial Times defined 'drone' as its word of the day, writing:
Drones are unmanned aircraft, of any size or shape, used for both civilian and military purposes. There has been increasing discussion of the use of so-called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in a commercial setting. Although Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos has said he could see drone deliveries inside five years (see news below) others have been more cautious and think using UAVs for delivery would be better suited to remote parts of Africa rather than dense, built-up environments such as US cities.
The entry would have been more generic and more accurate had it read: Drones are unmanned vehicles, of any size or shape, used for civilian or military purposes. 'Vehicles', or similar, is preferable since the term is widely understood to cover both aerial and maritime vehicles. See here under 'nomenclature'.

On 17 December, the Guardian ran an article entitled 
with the 'kicker' reading:
General Atomics tells MPs the term drone is pejorative and the aircraft have a 'proven beneficial role in humanitarian crises'. (my bold)

Matthew Weaver's article begins:
The American company that supplies the Predator and Reaper drones used to assassinate insurgents in Afghanistan and elsewhere has complained to a committee of MPs about the image problem of such weapons.
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, which also manufactures the Avenger and Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft, says the word drone has "pejorative connotations".
This is an interesting development. In translating technical journalism on this topic for a clearly identified military readership I have consistently preferred more specialised acronyms and terms for precisely this reason. I can't claim to have convinced my translation customers of the validity of my choices or to have succeeded in bringing the issue to the attention of the customer's marketing department, but I've persevered none the less.

This discussion pinpoints a striking terminological difference between general and technical journalism and the translation thereof. While 'drone' is clearly familiar to the general journalism reader, technical journalists and their translators need to consider a range of broader issues. In writing or translating articles intended to promote the client's products and corporate image it may be entirely appropriate to use a manufacturer's preferred terminology, in this case the less emotive term 'remotely piloted aircraft (RPA)'.

It is also interesting to note, given Matthew Weaver's audience, the highly technical final paragraph:
The MoD's 14-page submission avoids any reference to the word drone and urged experts in the field to follow its detailed guidance on the correct terminology for various remotely piloted aircraft. It also rejected the term "unmanned aerial vehicle" as confusing because human pilots operated them remotely and would continue to do so.
The said 'detailed guidance on the correct terminology' can be found here under 'nomenclature'.

One of the main aims of this blog is to demonstrate that the translation of technical journalism presents a wide range of special challenges.

Proposition de valeur

Mon objectif est la promotion efficace des produits et services du client et la valorisation de son image de marque auprès de ses clients et cibles anglophones (ou s’informant en anglais). Je m’attache à délivrer l’information que le lecteur final attend, et à que celle-ci paraisse avoir été rédigée directement en anglais. Il ne s’agit donc pas ici de traduction technique mais de communication.

Value proposition

To promote the client's products, services and image by applying best practice in English-language technical journalism and communication to each and every project. To this end, I translate more for my client’s customers and prospects than for my clients per se. This often involves taking considerable liberties compared with conventional approaches to technical translation. (This applies to publications intended to promote the client’s products, services and image, directly or indirectly, to a clearly defined target audience.)

16 December 2013

Reading: On-screen vs. on-paper

Technical journalists and translators are just professions out of thousands that are – should be – themselves about how well they read and reread on screen versus on paper.

An article entitled Does reading on screen beat paper? by Rhymer Rigby in the Working Smarter
section of the Financial Times dated 15 December 2013 discusses the issue quoting, among others, Anne Mangen, an associate professor at the University of Stavanger in Norway, and Maryanne Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University in the US.

One factor makes generalisations both difficult and subject to rapid obsolescence is the subject's "history of screens – the more you have used them the more chance there is that you like them. Even so, studies suggest some 'digital natives' sometimes do better with paper."

Final quote, from Prof Wolf via the FT article: “My personal feeling is that paper is better for deep, focused reading, especially if you grew up with it”.

The good news is that reading specialists are working on the subject. 

13 December 2013

Cross-cultural user interface design

In September 2011, under the heading Seeking_#1: Graphic standards to accommodate cultural preferences, I asked the question:
Can anyone point me to a graphic standard (charte graphique) catering for  the cultural preferences of readers of the different language versions of bi- or multilingual technical publications?
Today, thanks to an article entitled Why we can’t let American tech take over the world (my decapitalisation, as usual when quoting American sources) by Sean Madden in Wired magazine dated 12 December 2013, I have something of an answer. Madden's contribution links to the feature article in the April 2013 issue of Human Factor International's UX Design Newsletter (UX for 'user experience') entitled Cross-cultural considerations for user interface design (my decap) by Nehal Shah. (For past issues of the UX Design Newsletter, see here.) For an explanation of what HFI means by 'user experience' and the return on investment it offers, view this RSA Animate presentation.

Shah's article provides some of the background theory while Madden's gives a number of interesting examples from web sites for mass consumer goods and services. Neither refers to technical communication on advanced-technology capital-intensive industrial products.

Interesting to note that Madden's opinion piece -- it appears on the Opinion page of Wired -- raised the hackles (see the comments section) of some American web designers. Perhaps if these designers looked at the English-language versions of some European or Asian websites that, in their view, are unlikely to achieve the desired effect on American readers (despite apparent success in their home cultures), they might realise that they entirely missed the point of the article.

To summarise the state of the art in cross-cultural user interface design and graphic standards, I invite feedback on the following tentative conclusions:

  • some large corporations selling mass consumer goods and services have moved beyond the early 2000s approaches to website localisation (l10n) and globalisation (g18n) to culturally tailored text, graphics and layout based on evidence-based cross-cultural user experience methods and/or similar strategies
  • few if any companies selling advanced-technology capital-intensive industrial products and services appear to have picked up on this trend (the situation may be different in the software sector)
  • few if any graphics agencies and the like in western Europe and working for companies selling advanced-technology capital-intensive industrial products -- and more specifically agencies employing or using freelance technical writters, journalists and translators -- appear to have picked up on this trend.

12 December 2013

Link this, link that...

For a lesson in branding and marketing jargon, take a look at the *Santa* brand book.

For an excellent post from the highly competent and highly regarded but not modest* Kevin Hendzel, read Bad advice for novice skydivers: “Learn as you go.” (my decapitalisation).
* Kevin describes himself as an 'award-winning translator, linguist, author, national media consultant and translation industry expert' (again, my decapitalisation).
Quote, unquote (my character attributes):
Translation is an audacious act.
It requires not only that you know what you know – easy enough, for sure – but it also requires you to know everything the writer knows.
Translation buyers in the quality sector of the market actually talk about who is good and who is not, and who produces at the top of the field and who does not, as well as why that is so.
For the first of a series of articles by Lucy Kellaway on the Golden Flannel Awards 2013 (for the finest examples of corporate drivel written or uttered in the last twelve months), see here.
Quote, unquote:
The point of my Golden Flannel Awards (now in their splendid 8th year) is to celebrate business leaders and companies that have gone the extra mile to push the envelope when it comes to creovative, best-of-breed drivel.
Enjoy these links, even if they do go way beyond this blog's usual scope.

10 December 2013

Applying OSASCOMP to military terms, part 1

On 2 December 2013, Jane's Defence Weekly wrote, under the heading Norway bridges JSM funding ahead of Storting vote:
Norway's Ministry of Defence has awarded Kongsberg Defence Systems a ... bridging contract to maintain work on the Joint Strike Missile (JSM) programme ahead of a parliamentary vote on funding for full-scale development... Derived from Kongsberg's Nytt Sjomalsmissile/Naval Strike Missile (NSM) surface-to-surface guided missile, already in service with the Royal Norwegian Navy, the JSM is a stealthy air-launched multi-role precision-strike missile specifically designed for internal carriage in the F-35A and F-35C variants of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).
Let us now attempt to apply OSASCOMP -- that's opinion size age shape colour origin material purpose noun -- (see post below dated 2 December) to the term
stealthy air-launched multi-role precision-strike missile.

The first thing to observe is that the analysis is not a straight forward as one might have hoped.
The second is that, as an experienced reader of technical journalism on military issues, the term reads well and appears to be well formed.

My first guess at assigning the components to the different roles would be:
stealthy = opinion
air-launched = origin
multi-role = purpose (??)
precision-strike = purpose (??).

  • each step of the analysis presents a challenge (Is stealthy an opinion? Does air-launched correspond to an origin? Multi-role to a purpose? Idem for precision-strike?)
  • if multiple qualifying elements are assigned the same roles (in this case 'purpose'), how does one determine the correct order of the said elements?
Clearly, analysis of complex multi-element military terms according the OSASCOMPN rule is by no means straight forward.
It is beginning to look as though the long-standing question mentioned on 2 December still awaits an answer meeting the needs of technical journalists and translators.

Comment just posted on Mark Forsyth's Inky Fool blog:
Mark. After reading your article in the Spectator, I posted to my own blog, on 2 December, under the heading 'Answer to a long-standing question'. Today, I posted again under the heading 'Applying OSASCOMPN to military terms'. Turns out that I had trouble applying the rule. If you could spare a few minutes to take a look and clarify, I would be very grateful indeed.

07 December 2013


​'Marcom' (or 'marcomm') stands for 'marketing communications', a term I only learned recently. Wikipedia has an introductory article here and WhatIs.com has a definition here. The WhatIs definition reads, in part: Marcom is targeted interaction with customers and prospects using one or more media.

As a long-time freelance translator working for French groups in the defence and advanced technology sectors, the thing I find interesting about this concept is simply the close connection between the words 'marketing' and 'communications' (as in 'corporate communications'). One of the mysteries associated with ​​working for​ ​the ​corporate communications​ ​departments of ​such groups ​is​ ​​that freelance language service providers are seldom if ever in a position to exchange information with product marketing teams​. This means that it is generally impossible to​ ​​discuss ​product​ designations ​and descriptions​ ​in different languages, ​obtain background information on product names, ​and so forth.

Sounds incredible doesn't it? But I can assure you that it's true. I could write pages about the consequences, but it might be best if I simply leave it to your imagination.

Conquérir des marchés étrangers | crédibilité et réputation

Encouraging news and an encouraging post under this heading by Patricia Lane here.

06 December 2013

Review comment

Comment posted on the New Statesman page featuring John Gray's review of Umberto Eco's The Book of Legendary Lands:
Shame on the New Statesman and the reviewer for not mentioning the name of the translator. I would have preferred that you not mention the name of the reviewer.
Note: As the New Statesman's lead book reviewer, John Gray really should know better.

The Telegraph headline read:
The Book of Legendary Lands, by Umberto Eco, translated by Alastair McEwen, review.
So many thanks to Telegraph reviewer Robert Douglas-Fairhurst.

Scoring the top end

Marking or scoring anything more subjective than a multiple-choice question is challenging enough, but finding words to qualify the resulting scores more so. Financial times wine writer extraordinaire Jancis Robinson (extraordinaire for her palate and her writing) qualifies wine tasting scores between 12 to 20 as follows:
20: Truly exceptional
19: A humdinger
18: A cut above average
17: Superior
16: Distinguished
15: Average, a perfectly nice drink with no faults but not much excitement
14: Deadly dull
13: Borderline faulty or unbalanced
12: Faulty or unbalanced.

Perhaps a similar scale could be used to score top-of-the-market translations and transcreations?

​Her latest survey of the worldwide wine market is here.​

For top-of-the-market translations and transcreations, might I suggest:
20: Truly exceptional
19: A humdinger
18: A cut above average
17: Superior
16: Distinguished
15: Average, a perfectly acceptable translation but not much excitement
14: Correct as regards equivalence of meaning, also grammatically correct, but deadly dull
13: Correct as regards equivalence of meaning, but beginning to plod, perhaps the odd lapse of idiom or noncompliance with OSASCOMPN (see post below)
12: Minor shortcomings regarding equivalence of meaning, target-language idioms or grammar

... And so the list might go on.

Oh, and if that doesn't sound anything like the scoring systems proposed for translation quality assurance, it's no accident. We're talking about a completely different paradigm.

02 December 2013

OSASCOMP: Answer to a long-standing question

What's notable about 'a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife'? is a review of The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth (Icon Books, pp.208, £12.99, ISBN: 9781848316218). The article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator dated 30 November 2013.

The book sounds very promising indeed.

Forsyth’s chief and admirable ambition is to demolish ‘the bleak and imbecile idea that the aim of writing is to express yourself clearly in plain, simple English using as few words as possible’.
Reviewer Christopher Howse also writes:
The shiniest piece of information I picked up is that, in English, adjectives go in this order:
Opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose-noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac.
This knowledge is implicitly mastered by all native speakers; to see it made explicit is an enjoyable revelation, like learning to carry a tray on the flat of your hand.
The formula "opinion size age shape colour origin material purpose, then nounis the long-sought answer to a difficult question. And, while agree with Howse when he says that "this knowledge is implicitly mastered by all native speakers", all writers occasionally -- and translators frequently -- hesitate and wonder what it the right order for a string of qualifiers.

It is, in fact, amazing how difficult this information is to track down. I've tried many times and never come up with more than partial answers. The question is important for writers and even more so for translations precisley because, as Forsyth says, "if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac".

As an acronym, that makes: OSASCOMP, or perhaps OSAS_COMP.
Would anyone like to suggest a mnemonic?

20 November 2013

A great divide emerging

It is becoming increasingly apparent to this observer of the language services industry (in Western Europe) that a great divide is emerging between language service providers (LSPs) that deal with, or hope to deal with, the departments that actually use their products and LSPs that have to deal with corporate purchasing department.

The former have at least the prospect of discussing quality issues, hence pricing, whereas the latter have no option but to compete on price and speed. And... for translators who are committed to the 'very end user' (i.e. the client's customers), the client and the job itself, the latter prospect -- save perhaps for the very fastest workers -- promises nothing but drudgery.

Many language industry observers have commented on how amazingly fragmented the sector is (language combinations, areas of specialisation, types of customer needs, types of target audience, document formats and so on), but I am not aware of many who have clearly identified this particular form of fragmentation.

Corporate purchasing departments are the option of choice for purchasing commodities. And certain types of language services are indeed very close to commodity status. Some examples among many, many other, include:
The great mistake many companies make is to assume that all language services are commodities and therefore should be purchased by the corporate purchasing department.

Comments welcome.

18 November 2013

From Idéfix to Dogmatix and from Panoramix to Getafix

A post on a couple of brilliant into-English literary translators.

The Saturday 16 November issue of the Guardian featured a brilliant article by literary editor Claire Armitstead on translator extraordinaire Anthea Bell, translator of the Asterix series, among many other works from French and German.

Two quotes: 'It's all about finding the tone of voice in the original. You have to be quite free'. 'The secret to successful translation is invisibility.'

Bell's transformation of Idéfix into Dogmatix and Panoramix into Getafix contributed to her reputation as a great translator of great puns.

Interesting to see that the Guardian article links directly to My hero: Asterix by Tom HollandHolland is himself a remarkable translator, this time from ancient Greek, as demonstrated by Edith Hall's enthusiastic TLS review of Tom's recently published The Histories by Herodotus under the heading Herodotus the Homer of European prose.

A quote:
This is a twenty-first-century Herodotus. It is a Herodotus whose tongue is often in his cheek: the conflict between Greeks and Persians began long ago with ‘a bout of competitive princess-rustling’. It is a Herodotus who can speak directly to modern capitalism: the Phoenicians ‘began investing heavily in the long-distance shipping business’, exporting goods ‘to a wide variety of markets’. Arion, the travelling poet, ‘raked in an absolute fortune’. It is a Herodotus who knows the language in which powerful men are described today: Peisistratus the tyrant was attended by a retinue of ‘heavies’. Cyrus is described as ‘eyeballing’ Croesus from his rival camp.
But this is also the Herodotus of a translator who respects the old-fashioned niceties of retoric and prose style.

07 November 2013

Speaking at a conference?

If you're scheduled to speak at a conference -- and more particularly a conference with simultaneous interpretation -- take a look at this presentation by Calliope interpreters first.

If you know anyone who is organising a conference, suggest that they view the presentation too.

Highly recommended.

06 November 2013

RSA Animate version of Pinker on dialogue

In this RSA Animatelinguist Steven Pinker demonstrates how the mind turns the finite building blocks of language into infinite meanings. Along the way, he makes it clear why a good appreciation of cultural conventions is an essential ingredient for effective translation and why fully automated methods will never achieve 100% success in areas like the translation of dialogue whether for film scripts or business presentations to name just two.

To hear and see Pinker's full-length presentation on this and related issues, but without the wonderful animation, go here.

31 October 2013

Pricing translations

Excellent piece on pricing translations here. Very well reasoned.

Step 9 of Netherlands-based Dutch-to-English translator Grayson Morris's pricing method reads:
I figure out the minimum I am willing to do this project for. I think this is an important step. Some projects make me go “ugh” and droop my shoulders when I see them. What price would perk me up enough to be glad to do that job? Other projects make me drool in anticipation. How unhappy would I be if that job didn’t go through because of price? I adjust the number I got in step 8 to reflect this. Now, if the client for Unfun Project A says, “Great! You’ve got it,” I’ll be glad. And if the client for Awesome Project B says, “Sorry, that’s just too much for us,” I won’t be sad. Well, not very.

04 October 2013

Johnson on untranslatably

'Johnson', the Economist columnist on linguistics and related matters has an excellent article on untranslatably entitled Is fairness untranslatably English?.

Quotable quote:
Lists of “untranslatable words” bounce around the internet constantly. They’re good fun. But almost nothing is truly untranslatable. And that anyone would choose “fair” as a case in point is almost exactly backwards.

01 October 2013

Email to Lucy Kellaway

Following FT columnist Lucy Kellaway's article, published on 22 September, entitled Do we hug? Kiss? Shake hands? Bow? We need to be told, I wrote her the following email:

Thanks for another excellent article in the form of 'Do we hug? Kiss? Shake hands? Bow? We need to be told'.

I suspect that there is little prospect for widely acceptable change, but, in exploring that avenue, it might be a good idea to explore the hygiene aspect. Cheek kisses (if that's a suitable name) and hand-shaking are significant hygiene hazards. I occasionally daydream -- especially when coughs and colds are abroad -- of a world where everyone suddenly adopted the bright idea of a polite bow of some sort along the lines of what Thai people do. We could even agree to call it the GGP bow!
Today, Lucy replied:
Belated thanks for your suggestion - a more hygienic alternative!
Lucy's article also resulted in a letter from FT reader Christopher Robbins in Binissalem, Spain, that was published under the subheading Greetings (almost) lost in translation. Mr Robbins remind us that when addressing Sikhs a sat sri akaal is more appropriate than an almost pan-Indian namaste.

25 September 2013

Email to Gillian Tett

After uploading the post immediately below, I sent the following email to FT columnist Gillian Tett:
I'm a regular reader and great admirer. I enjoy reading your analyses and admire your writing style.

Today I posted an article on my blog entitled
FT columnist Gillian Tett discusses an idea that has crossed the mind of many a translator
(I hope the quotations won't be considered an abuse of copyright.)

Back in the 1990s I worked with a colleague on a number of annual reports for a top French engineering group.
As the clarity of the text declined and the proportion of self-congratulatory garbage rose, we spent time:
- thinking, as we read between the lines, that the company was earning much of its income from the short- and medium-term placement of engineers as a means of helping French technology companies to bypass restrictive employment laws and dressing these placements up as technical cooperation and partnerships
- wondering, if this sort of information was being misrepresented, whether the comapny's senior executives might be hiding other important information.

Shortly afterwards, the company that had been the Paris Bourse's top performer for several years was rocked by scandal and its shares plummeted.

There's no way of knowing if our insights were valid, but the events are certainly stuck firmly in my memory.

Keep up the excellent work.
Eight hours later, Gillian replied:
Many thanks - fascinating!

24 September 2013

FT columnist Gillian Tett discusses an idea that has crossed the mind of many a translator

On 23 September 2013, esteemed FT columnist Gillian Tett posted an article entitled Science can help to spot symptoms of executive hubris. While the science discussed is a long way from the thoughts that cross the minds of translators working on political and business texts tainted or suspected of being tainted with hubris, some of the comments are nevertheless very familiar.
"How can an investor tell if a bank is heading for danger? ... But why not analyse the words of the person running the bank?" ...
"Researchers have been looking at the speech patterns of leaders such as British politicians and bank chief executives. And this has revealed a point that we instinctively know but often forget: power not only goes to the head, but also to the tongue." ...
"Hubris has long fascinated poets, philosophers and political scientists"
... and, I would add, translators...
"Four years ago David Owen, a former British foreign minister who happens also to be a psychiatrist, tried to give the idea a firmer framework by listing 14 markers of hubris." ...
"... analysis (of letters to shareholders issued by the chief executive of a European bank) showed that during the eight years that he was in power, this chief executive also displayed rising hubris in his speech, with excessive optimism and a growing use of the royal 'we'." ...
Questions: Were these letters to shareholders drafted directly in English by the CEO or translated?
And if they were translated, shouldn't the researchers have considered (a) the originals rather than their translation and (b) to what extent 'linguistic biomarkers' are dependent on language or culture?

Gillian adds:
"If this work sparks a little more scrutiny of the people who run institutions such as banks – and helps puncture the hype – that can only be a good thing."

20 September 2013

Worth quoting

From Revolution revisited, a review of The Society of Equals, by Pierre Rosanvallon (Harvard University Press, 2013) by Daniel Ben-Ami, translated by Arthur Goldhammer:
Being French, it is more laden with erudite references and theoretical reasoning than an Anglo-Saxon equivalent would be likely to have. Nevertheless it is well worth persisting. Partly thanks to a clear translation by Arthur Goldhammer, a Harvard academic, the argument is accessible. (my italics)

19 September 2013


The term "deliverable" is frequently encountered in documents on localisation and globalisation, and somewhat less frequently in texts dealing solely with translation.

On 18 September 2013, in a post subtitled Deliverables are the product of certain kinds of work, Paul Ford commented:
'Deliverable' is a hilarious word, because it implies that the only quality of work that truly matters is that it is delivered — like bad take-out food or weed. A deliverable is anything as long as it’s there.
This is from Medium's Editor's pick.

18 September 2013

Map of Europe: 1000 AD to present day

The video entitled Map of Europe: 1000 AD to present day is impressive. It would, I find, have been even better if it showed the date on which each series of geopolitical changes unfolded.

Now wouldn't it be fascinating to have a map like that displaying the languages spoken across Europe (or any other large landmass) over the decades and centuries?

Cartoon power

The post mentioned below -- The most lucrative ways to specialize -- includes some interesting links.

I especially like the one to writer/cartoonist Hugh MacCleod's Gapinvoid. The presentation on Effective Visual Strategies is both informative and convincing. One slide reminds us: "Neuroscientists tell us that when words and images are combined together, they are five times more memorable than words alone".

Highly recommended.

Lucrative ways to specialise

Walt Kani's Freelancery offers advice for all types of freelancers. Walt's latest post -- entitled The most lucrative ways to specialize -- is, I believe, particularly relevant to freelance translators.

05 August 2013

Lucy does it again!

FT columnist  Lucy Kellaway has written another one of her marvelous takes on language, this time under the heading Abuse of language that keeps going forward.

Some quotable quotes:
  • UK civil servants have been banned from using 30 ugly words. There will be no more “delivering” – unless pizzas are involved; no more “empowerment” or “facilitation”, and nothing will ever be “key” again, apart from things that fit in locks. “Going forward” – another banned phrase – there will be no more “fostering” without children and no more “driving” without steering wheels.
  • a blog with the title “Your Company is Only as Good as Your Writing”. (see posts below)
  • ...  a reminder of how business people are addicted to abusing meaning, syntax and metaphor, but to show that Mr Wiens is wrong: there is no link between business success and talking like a regular human being. 
  • The sad truth is that words matter to only a few of us, and we get unreasonably agitated when people use them badly. 
  • If there is no business link between language and sales, there is no point in exhortation ...
Highly recommended.
I agree with Lucy when she says that "there is no business link between language and sales", except in the rarest situations, possibly including the aims of people like Mr Wiens, iFixit, along with some journalists, technical communicators and   translators, among others.

Visual is better

The post immediately below (A different type of resource) led me directly to the Dozuki site.

Companies considering projects involving multilingual manuals, should think first about reducing the volume of text in the source documents while carefully standardising the terminology and style. Visual documents offer tremendous potential in this respect and the people at Dozuki appear to know what they're talking about.

The site explains:
Dozuki makes innovative documentation software for everything from work instructions to product support.

A different type of resource

The Harvard Business Review article entitled Your Company Is Only as Good as Your Writing by Kyle Wiens of iFixit contains the following short sentence explaining what Mr Wiens' company does: For the last 10 years, iFixit has been writing and hosting free, open source repair manuals for every thing.

Translators working into English on items for which iFixit has written an open source repair manual thus have access to a remarkable resource by a company that has invested a great deal in high-quality technical communication. Sound promising?

If you have an opportunity to use this resource, please let me know what you think.

30 July 2013

Strangest numbers, more

John Huerta and his supervisor, John Baez, have done something extremely science-writer-friendly by making accessible both their original draft and the final version published by Scientific American. The links can be found here.

Many thanks to the two Johns.

29 July 2013

Economist lambasts financial writers and publishers

The subheading -- The world's worst sentence? -- gives a good idea of the content. Certainly the sentence quoted is a fairly strong candidate for the title.

28 July 2013

The strangest numbers

Compared with technical journalism, science journalism is in quite another realm. The contrast is perhaps most pronounced in the case of journals like NatureScientific American and a handful of others in English, plus a smaller number in other languages, partly because they attract skilled writers working on challenging topics, partly because the articles go through rigorous peer reviews combined with in-house editing and refinement, also because the production cycle is long. None of which is true of the types technical journalism encountered in trade publications and media focusing on companies and their products, which I mention simply because that is what I have worked on for most of my career.

These thoughts and others came to mind this Sunday after reading an exemplary piece of science writing/journalism. The article is entitled The Strangest Numbers in String Theory. The full paper is available here.

If you are interested in imaginary numbers, physics and fine science writing for a broad audience, I earnestly encourage you to download it, print it and read it through carefully and quietly. It deserves, IMHO, more attention than on-screen reading can offer. And, it may -- just may -- give you an early insight into what might turn out to be a paradigm-shattering breakthrough in theoretical physics. I had the considerable good fortune of meeting one of the authors, John Huertas, at an informal get-together here in Lisbon last weekend.

Like other areas of professional writing, science journalism is also in a state of flux. For an overview and links to more on the subject, read Science journalism: Supplanting the old media?, published in Nature in March 2009.

26 July 2013

Passive voice in TJ

There is no end of advice on writing in English available on the internet, much of it good. Pieces urging writers to use the active voice in preference to the passive are everywhere de rigueur.

The article Using the Active Voice to Strengthen Your Writing by the ever-reliable team at DailyWritingTips is typical of many.

Without disagreeing with anything this article claims, I do think that it is somewhat overstated despite several carefully explained exceptions and concessions.

Technical journalists and their translators are especially aware of this issue for the simple reason that their articles focus more  often about products and processes rather than they do on agents, which is to say people and institutions. In such contexts, the passive voice is spontaneously the more appropriate and often the only choice because it puts the subject of interest -- the produce or process -- in the foreground.

"The ship was launched ..." is perfectly natural when the subject is the ship. To shift the emphasis to who launched it will be fine in some contexts, but ill-advised in an article focusing on the ship itself.

As the article says, "using the passive voice can be an excellent way to avoid assigning responsibility for a job or problem". This too is often required when a company writes about an accident, mishap, delay or whatever and for obvious reasons does not which to name names... especially not for the sake of a change from the passive to the active voice.

15 July 2013

Translation scams

Through the web page he's constantly updating, Lisbon-based colleague and friend João Roque Dias is doing a fine job helping colleagues and translation service buyers all over the world to limit the damage being done by Translator Scammers.

Keep up the good work João.

João's website is exemplary in the world of expert professional freelance translation.

Article breakdown

As part of the analysis leading to his answer to the question Is Mentoring Just a Memory?, Mark Nichol of DailyWritingTips defines the components of English-language 'news style' including such terms like 'lede' (or 'lead'), 'inverted pyramid form' and nut'.

The Wikipedia article on 'news style' goes into more detail and explains the differences between a news story and a feature article. It is interesting to observe that this Wikipedia article has parallel versions in several eastern European languages, but only one romance language, namely Portuguese. The reason is that journalism in each culture developed independently before entering a period of global convergence after WWII while continuing to be based on culturally specific traditions, methods, preferences and so forth.

There must be ample material here for a thesis or three on the translation challenges associated with these cultural differences. To begin with, the names for the different parts of an article will only have meaningful equivalents if it can be assumed that the target-language reader is familiar with a comparable breakdown, or taxonomy.

The differences are of similar significance in the various forms of technical journalism that I have encountered throughout my career.

A question in passing. Magazines under the IHS Jane's banner often begin with a 'standfirst' (aka a 'kicker') ending "...., writes (name of journalist or specialist)". I wonder if this device has a more specific name?

04 July 2013

Making translated TJ sing

An esteemed colleague is translating (from German into English) daily updates for a page of the Continental tires website entitled Continental and Tour de France: A success story for over 100 years. (Note, the site calls its products 'tires', not 'tyres'.)

My colleagues is not only an experienced and technically alert translator with  proven target-language writing skills, he's also a keen cyclist. In other words, he has precisely the skillset Continental needs to post translated technical journalism that sings.

Language service buyers everywhere who aim to achieve similar impact should follow Continental's excellent example.

On acronyms, pseudo-acronyms, et al

Wikipedia has a useful article on acronyms, pseudo-acronyms and the like that wisely proceeds on the basis of examples rather than over-systematisation.

The section on pseudo-acronyms is of special interest, although it might have been useful to include the term 'empty acronym' as used here.

Technical journalists and their translators need to understand the many and various distinctions in order to ensure consistent usage.

For translators, one of Wikipedia's greatest benefits is, of course, immediate access to parallel or approximately parallel articles in a host of languages.

24 June 2013

LK on corporate titles

Excellent article by Lucy Kellaway on the recent history and meaning of corporate titles, particularly in the UK. Excellent.

22 June 2013

Arabic 101

The Economist's highly regarded language columnist Johnson posted an excellent overview of the Arabic language on 21 June under the heading Arabic
A language with too many armies and navies?

Highly recommended.

Language services for (almost) every special need

On 3 June, I posted under the heading Terms for (almost) everything. Today, we're in a similar vein under the heading Language services for (almost) every special need. The 21 June issue of Slate includes an article entitled How Do You Say Shaolin in Sign Language? by Amy K. Nelson. It's subtitled Meet the interpreter who has signed for the Wu-Tang Clan, Killer Mike, and the Beastie Boys. The Browser's summary reads:
Profile of Holly Maniatty, sign-language interpreter for rock and rap concerts. Translates hip-hop in real time. “Her prep work includes researching dialectal signs to ensure accuracy and authenticity. An Atlanta rapper will use different slang than a Queens one, and ASL speakers from different regions also use different signs, so knowing how a word like guns and brother are signed in a given region is crucial for authenticity”

15 June 2013

Make it sparkle

Reading a review of Mark Miodownik's book Stuff Matters: The Strange Stories of the Marvellous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made World by Clive Cookson, I was struck by the sentence: "This sounds dull but Miodownik writes well enough to make even concrete sparkle."

When a science writer can make a subject like concrete 'sparkle', he or she has really achieved something. Similarly, when a translator can make a customer's text on anything potentially dull 'sparkle' or 'sing' (I think I prefer 'sing'), then he or she has really achieved something. 

14 June 2013

When words really count

The Financial Times of 14 June 2013 featured an article by Henny Sender entitled Central bank oracles must choose their words carefully and subtitled When Bernanke spoke of ‘tapering’, the markets heard ‘tightening’.

The second paragraph reads:
"Today, virtually everything trades more on fundamentals than on the markets’ interpretation of the words of the oracles at the world’s central banks. And as developments since May 22 have made clear, the markets often put a different slant on their words than the central bankers intended. Thus when Mr Bernanke spoke of “tapering”, the markets heard “tightening”. (my bold)

So spare a thought for the people who translate the pronouncements of central bankers and how much they must think about (a) the bankers intended meaning and (b) how the markets are likely to interpret the translated message. The translator needs first the requisite level of understanding; second the market and language awareness to second guess the markets' interpretations. Sound challenging?

Come to think of it, spare a thought also for the translators of any number of delicate or challenging corporate communications. We all appreciate that few pronouncements are subject to the same level of scrutiny applied to the those of central bankers, but do translation buyers give enough thought to such issues when they ask their suppliers to turn around critical press releases and the like in record time.

03 June 2013

Terms for (almost) everything

The Jargon Of Junk Food by Paul McFedries appeared in IEEE Spectrum on 31 May.
The Browser summarised it like this:
Manufactured foods need manufactured words. Food companies strive to increase stomach share by cranking up the pillar ingredients — salt, sugar, and fat — to a bliss point of overwhelming flavour. The optimal mouthfeel is a vanishing caloric density at which the food melts in your mouth so quickly that the brain is fooled into thinking it’s hardly consuming any calories at all, so it just keeps snacking, or auto-eating.

The Mysteries Of The Cereal Box by Paul Lukas  appeared in  The New Republic on 28 May 2013. The Browser summarised it like this:

 Irresistible. A feature-length piece in a major publication on a taxonomy of cereal-box closure mechanisms, and their respective strengths and weaknesses. You never thought about it before. And now, every time you see a cereal box, you will say to yourself: “Aha! Slotted!” Or, “No! Slotless”. Conclusion: The slotless closure is by so much the better that it’s a mystery why any manufacturers still persist with the slotted.
Surprisingly enough, the two versions of cereal closures don't have separate names, which is rather disappointing. You'd think the packaging industry would have come up with endearingly geeky terms for them, no? But no. So we'll keep calling them slotted and slotless, at least until someone comes up with something better. (my bold)

28 May 2013

Multiple translations of foreign-language classics into English, part 2

Now let me link you to a review of a new translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy by eminent Australian poet and critic Clive James. The article, by Joseph Luzzi, is entitled This Could Be ‘Heaven,’ or This Could Be ‘Hell’.

Yet another review mentioned that there over one hundred translations of The Divine Comedy in English have been published over the centuries and that each leaves something to be desired.

While translating technical journalism is in no way comparable to translating a classic like this, the fact that one hundred or more translations have been produced and that all have their shortcomings is a useful reminder to monolingual translation buyers just how challenging and variable the process can be.

A footnote in passing: Occitanists claim that, before writing La Divina Commedia, Dante Alighieri hesitated for some time between Occitan, the language of troubadour poetry, and Tuscan. He chose the latter, helped establish the Tuscan dialect as the standardized Italian language, and in the process earned the title of 'Father of the Italian language'.

Multiple translations of foreign-language classics into English, part 1

Although this blog is mostly about translating technical journalism, I have more than a passing interest in literary translation into English. Reviews of recent re-translations of two classics of European literature are interesting in their own right and for the spotlight they cast on the challenges and variability of all types of translation.

First, an excellent article by Julian Barnes in the London Review of Books (Vol. 32 No. 22, 18 November 2010 pages 7-11, 5855 words) here. This extended review of Madame Bovary: Provincial Ways by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Lydia Davis
(Penguin, 342 pp, £20.00, November 2010, ISBN 978 1 84614 104 1) explains a number of interesting aspects of Lydia Davis's translation, and translation in general, complete with comparisons and examples from other English-language versions. Recommended reading for translators and others.

Some quotable quotes:
You would want it to provoke in you most of the same reactions as it would provoke in a French reader (though you would also want some sense of distance, and the pleasure of exploring a different world). (my italics and bold)
But then translation involves micro-pedantry as much as the full yet controlled use of the linguistic imagination. The plainest sentence is full of hazard; often the choices available seem to be between different percentages of loss.  
This is the paradox and bind of translation. If to be ‘faithful’ is to be ‘clunky’, then it is also to be unfaithful, because Flaubert was not a ‘clunky’ writer.
And last but not least:
Madame Bovary is many things – a perfect piece of fictional machinery, the pinnacle of realism, the slaughterer of Romanticism, a complex study of failure – but it is also the first great shopping and fucking novel.

22 May 2013

'Anthimeria' in the news

Anthimeria is, apparently, the process of switching a word from one part of speech to another.

Robert Lane Greene, explains all, with ample examples, in Think Similar. Excellent.

20 May 2013

'Meeting' in the news

FT columnist Lucy Kellaway has published an article entitled A meeting by any other name isn’t worth going to. An interesting take indeed on the word 'meeting' and several dozen synonyms, complete with Lucy's comments on why they are not recommended.

13 May 2013

'Competitiveness' in the news

The Financial Times has updated the entry for 'competitiveness' in its Lexicon.
The definition begins: "Competitiveness is about boosting the ability to compete by increasing productivity in the long run. It stresses a continual improvement through constant innovation in products, processes and management..."

Under the subheading Competitiveness in the news, we read:
Protectionist policies would seem most likely to damage competitiveness. In April 2013, Pascal Lamy, director-general of the World Trade Organisation spoke about the rising threat of protectionism. An FT editorial commented: "The belief that protectionism can preserve jobs is an illusion. Shielding a sector from more efficient foreign competitors comes at the expense of other domestic businesses, which are denied access to cheaper goods."

The attention now being given to the word is of special interest to  French-to-English translators.  Because 'competitiveness' is ugly, difficult to pronounce, and remains less common in English than its cognate in French, translators often go to considerable lengths to translate compétitivité  by something other than 'competitiveness'.

Provided the word doesn't come up too often, it looks as though French-to-English translators will be able to fall back a little more often on 'competitiveness' than they did in the past.

04 May 2013

Translating captions

Under the heading 10 Tips About How to Write a Caption, Daily Writing Tips blogger Mark Nichol makes ten excellent points that are as relevant to caption writers as they are to caption translators.

I fear, however, that he missed on critical point, namely the importance of looking closely as the image and making sure that the caption describes to precisely what can be seen or instantly deduced from same. I often find instances where someone has decided what they want to illustrate, chosen an image or graphic, the written a caption that says more about the illustration they were hoping to find than it does about the one actually used. Sometimes this arises because a graphic artists prefers the colours, size, definition, etc. of one illustration over another, losing sight of the overall aim in the process.

When confronted by a  source language caption that does not match what you can actually see (or immediately deduced), I recommend that the translator propose propose a target language caption describing what can actually be seen (or deduced) in addition to compliance with Mark Nichol's ten tips. The initiative should then be flagged for client review.

29 April 2013

Translating management speak #1

When tackling the translation of comprehensible MS, the translator needs to bear in mind a host of potential issues, including:
  • The customer is likely to have a good idea how he/she wants his/her pet BWs to be translated into the target language.
  • In spite of all the fine words of those who rail against BWs (see Management speak I and II below), it is not, as a rule, up to the translator to replace the author's BWs by exemplary jargon-free paraphrases for reasons that I hope to make clear shortly.
  •  Ask yourself: What is going on in the subtext? 
More specifically:
  • Are any sections of the text aimed at people ‘in the know’ to the exclusion of those who are not?
  • Do sections of the text identify an author who genuinely belongs to some inner circle and is attempting to send a message to other members to the exclusion of lesser mortals?
  • Do sections of the text reveal an author who is desperate to make his/her readers believe that he/she belongs to some inner circle, but clearly has not succeeded?
The point here is to determine whether or not certain MS passages contain coded messages for specific audiences or are part of some power play? In such cases, clarity, from the average reader's viewpoint as opposed to members of some inner circle, is secondary or even irrelevant to other aspects of the subtext.

None of these issues are ever tackled by those who rail against MS&BW, sometimes without understanding what is really going on.

Management speak II

Now let me move on to a couple of preliminary points on the challenges of translating MS&BW.

First, IMHO MS often proves one of the most difficult text categories for the conscientious translator.

Second, bad MS -- by which I mean MS that remains incomprehensible even to those familiar with the BWs, the company and its policies -- presents translation challenges that are literally beyond the pale, hence  beyond anything except painful case-by-case analysis.
Allow me, therefore, to restrict this discussion to MS that is comprehensible to the initiated.

Third, it's always important to identify the 'real' intended audience. While the declared audience of a company's annual report nominally includes all 'stakeholders' (I'm using this BW in its true sense), the 'real' target audience of some sections of may be far smaller. More on this later.

Management speak #1

This is the first of a series of blogs on management speak and buzzwords. Allow me, with a nod to all, to call it SM&BW.

SM&BW are easy and frequent targets of journalists, though I often wonder if some of these articles are not written in advance and held in store for slow news days.

On Thursday 25 April 2013, The Guardian ran 10 of the worst examples of management-speak. (In passing: Why not "Ten of the worst examples of management speak"?) My first reaction is to say: "Easy pickings!" Certainly the words are often mis-used or over-used, but that's not necessarily the case.

To further set the scene on SM&BW -- before I go on to talk about the challenges of translating it and other aspects -- here are some gems from a page on The Conference Board Review's website presenting a list of questions and the replies of authors who have railed at length against SM&BW:
  • Once an obscure scientific term, paradigm is so vague when used in common parlance that it was easily vandalized by snake-oil consultants to peddle everything from global trade liberalization to casual Fridays.
  • Reengineering, as promoted by Mike Hammer and James Champy twenty years ago, was a very detailed and process-driven approach to changing the way a company operates. However, at many companies using the term, it simply equated to firing people.
  • The most egregious jargon I’ve encountered is surplus to requirements in reference to laid-off employees. Downsizing and census reduction are heartless enough. But STR to describe humans as spare parts is pretty damn cruel.
  • Kaizen, the Japanese term for continuous improvement, is of such immense value that it should be adopted in all walks of life. It’s the antonym of complacency, which is to business what heart disease is to health — widespread yet preventable. 
  • Monetize has had a bad rap, I think: It’s a handy, accurate term for turning an asset like a factory or piece of intellectual property into money. My favorite description of the panic buying of the dotcom era remains Warren Buffett’s observation, at the time, that, “The ability to monetize shareholder ignorance has probably never been exceeded.”
And, before I leave you, another wonderful quote from that master of plain business talk, Warren Buffet:
"When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact. I just wish I hadn't been so energetic in creating examples. My behaviour has matched that admitted by Mae West: 'I was Snow White - but I drifted'."

Why translators are the new blacksmiths

An excellent article by Nataly Kelly in The Huffington Post under this heading here.

24 April 2013

On the other hand, alone

Question: Is it legitimate to say "On the other hand, …" in a text where you have not first used "On the one hand, …"?

Answer: The generalization that "on the other hand" always needs a matching instance of "on (the) one hand" preceding it is simply false.

For more, see this post on the Language Log.

01 April 2013

Take Nothing for Granted

Under the heading Take Nothing for Granted, Mark Nichol of DailyWritingTips writes:
I just read today that a fellow named Gustave Whitehead preceded the Wright brothers in heavier-than-air flight by more than two years — and stayed aloft longer and at a higher altitude than Orville Wright in his inaugural flight. That’s the conclusion of Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, the world’s most authoritative resource about aviation, which claims that Whitehead’s flight, and subsequent efforts preceding the 1903 launch of the Wright Flyer, have precedence.
After examining the implications, Mark concludes:
You may never have the occasion to mention flight in your writing other than a passing reference to the mode of travel to your recent vacation destination, but this lesson is scalable to any topic: Unequivocal claims of priority are hazardous to one’s credibility. Take care that such discussions are backed up by documentation and accurately expressed. (my bold)
This is precisely the challenge faced by the technical translator working on any project where the aim -- be it explicit or implicit -- is to promote the client entity's image and credibility to readers accessing information in the target language. This challenge becomes acute when the original makes inaccurate claims or claims based on knowledge that is more widely available in the source language than the target language.

In such situations, I believe that the translator should follow Mark's advice by adapting the translation to the target audience's expectations and to information  that is widely available in the target language.

30 March 2013

Like: FT punctuation

I like the way the FT uses punctuation marks in combination with full stops, commas and the like.

The following examples are from Lunch with the FT: Isabel dos Santos by Tom Burgis published on 29 March 2013:
“He didn’t know.” ... The tender process ... was, she says “fair”. ...
“Let’s do the bottle,” she says with a grin. ...
“It took them seven years ... otherwise they would have got the papers quicker.”
The conflict ended in 2002 and communism has long since given way to what one Angola expert calls “crony capitalism”.

I like it because it makes real sense to me. (It's also the way I punctuate my work, though I must add that it's not always understood.) It requires more thinking than the 'one rule fits all situations' approach adopted by  many style guides (including those of quality publications), but I find it intrisically pleasing.

What should we call it? The 'quotation marks inside or outside as dictated by logic' method?

25 March 2013

Product-specific terminology

In the latest issue of his highly regarded Tool Box Newsletter, Jost Zetzsche writes:
"If you have ever translated SAP products ... you know that everything you have ever known about computer-related terminology needs to be forgotten before you even sit down. ... Over the years, SAP's approach to supporting the external translation community has been a little capricious, but that has just changed with the amazing SAPterm project, a terminology resource with official translations of SAP terminology into 37 standard languages and 150,000 source entries. ... This reminded me of a talk I once had with Aiman Copty and Heinz Lueken, then the responsible representatives for translation at Oracle and SAP respectively. ... I asked Aiman and Heinz -- very naïvely, might I add -- whether this would not be a tremendous opportunity for these two fierce competitors to share terminology so that the customers would not be confused with contradictory terminology, a trademark of Oracle and SAP's history. I actually don't remember what their exact words were, but the gist was: "You've got to be kidding!" No, wait, I think they actually didn't say anything, they just gazed at me with serene and very pitying smiles on their faces."

I have quoted Jost at length to highlight just how company- and product-specific some areas of technical terminology can be and what an enormous mistake it can be if even a highly skilled translator fails to identify this type of context and go to the right sources.

22 March 2013

Grammar checkers reviewed

Mark Nichol of DailyWritingTips has reviewed a number of English language grammar checkers in an article entitled Grammar-Checking Software Is Soft on Grammar Errors.

I am looking for a better grammar checker than the one that comes with Microsoft Word, but I'm hardly tempted by any of those reviewed by DailyWritingTips. (I'm also looking for a better thesaurus -- specifically a thesaurus tailored to the needs of general and technical journalists... but that's another subject.)

Above, I wrote 'English language grammar checkers', but I suspect I should have said 'US English grammar checkers'. Indeed, it is interesting to note that most of the site promoting these products are aimed solely at users writing in US English.

I'm in the market for a grammar checked, but I want one that offers choices matching my personal preferences. These include:
  • spelling options (-is- vs. -iz-, US versus UK, etc.)
  • punctuation options ('inside' vs. 'outside' quotation marks, single vs. double  quotation marks, spaces around ellipses, bullet list punctuation options, etc.)
  • Oxford comma vs. optional Oxford commas
  • US vs. other adverb positioning options.
Although we sometimes appear to have a plethora of tools to choose from, there are occasions when users like me continue to search.

21 March 2013

Comment répondre quand le délai est trop court

Ma grande disponibilité et la qualité de mes prestations m'ont permis d'acquérir une solide réputation. Les documents importants sont systématiquement relus par un ou plusieurs collaborateurs expérimentés et si exceptionnellement une traduction ne donne pas entière satisfaction, elle n'est pas facturée.

Le soin que j'apporte à mes prestations exige du temps : 2 à 3 jours de travail sont la plupart du temps nécessaires, même pour un travail ne représentant que 4 ou 5 heures facturables.

La qualité qui m'a permis de fidéliser mes clients ne peut pas être garantie si l'on ne m'accorde pas le temps nécessaire.

12 March 2013

Business à la française

In Business à la française, FT columnist Simon Kuper reviews “Light at the End of the Tunnel: Practical Reflections on the French and British in Business”, published by the French chamber of commerce in Great Britain, describing it as “full of shrewd insights into both sides’ codes”.  Simon Kuper then adds: My only question is whether that’s much use. After 11 years in Paris, I reckon the main reason for Franco-British incomprehension isn’t clashing codes. It’s different languages. 

The guide’s insights into French business practices include:
• “Raising one’s voice or losing one’s temper may be seen as a sign of leadership” 
• The French “sometimes disagree for the sake of discussion and to test conviction”
• They make “greater use of … body expression in confrontational situations”
• Performance appraisals “start as a ‘one way’ process subsequently evolving into an emotional dialogue”
• “Criticism can descend into personal observations”.

More quotes:
• French business people “will potentially view humour as lack of seriousness”.
• Meanwhile, the French – like everyone else on earth – are baffled when Britons say inscrutable things like, “I agree with you, up to a point.” (Guide for foreigners: this means, “That’s insane!”) As a Dutchman I know in a British company complains, it’s tiring being in a workplace where nobody ever says what they mean.
• The greater Franco-British problem is language. Most French business people under 50 can now speak Globish: the simplified, dull, idiom-free version of English with a small vocabulary. It’s silly to expect more.
• It’s customary at this point to urge British schools to start teaching French again. But that probably wouldn’t help. When dealing with French people, only near-native French confers an advantage. Speaking mediocre French is worse than useless. If mediocre French is all you have, it’s much better to speak English, and force the French person to operate on your turf.
• Later ... just smile and say: “I agree with you, up to a point.”

07 March 2013

ALL CAPS, for and against

Despite a widely perceived drift among English-language graphic artists and layout specialists towards fewer capital letters (CAPS) and greatly reduced use of all capitals (ALL CAPS), there are still significant exceptions... and some very strong reactions.

Writing in the 2013-03-06 issue of Windows Secrets Newsletter, here's some of what Woody Leonhard had to say:
"Dropping Office 2013′s new SHOUTING CAPS look
It defies understanding, but Microsoft’s interface gurus decided that all Office 2013 menu (er, tab) names looked best in ALL CAPS! — perhaps to make New Office’s layout more touch-friendly. ...

Fortunately, it’s easy to get rid of the all-caps labels. ..."

I have to tell you that I'm 100% with Woody on this!

20 February 2013

Oxford comma and more

I highly recommend Angus Croll's excellent posting entitled The Oxford Comma and the Internet here.
I agree with Angus. When it's needed it's important and when it's not, it's not. To my mind there is no point being dogmatically for or against. As Angus clearly demonstrates there are contexts where it clarified and others where it doesn't.

Update, 14 May 2013:
Americans apparently call it the 'serial comma'.
Excellent article entitled 10 Function of the Comma by Mark Nichol here.

Another great debate among punctuation freaks is where to put quotation marks in relation to punctuation marks like full stops (periods), commas and semi-colons. Most Americans always put the closing quotation mark after the other punctuation mark while many writers raised in the Commonwealth do the opposite.

Again, I favour of pragmatism over dogmatism. On each occasion I place the marks in what I consider is the more logical and/or more typographically aesthetic position... with apologies to those who favour systematic solutions over logic.

None of this is of much real importance, but it's quite amazing how pleasant it feels to state one's case in the form of a posting accessible to any and all.

19 February 2013

Free FR-EN term research

As of today, I'm offering free advice on French-English terms and equivalents in naval defence.
Submit your queries to

18 February 2013

Better business writing

FT columnist Lucy Kellaway has finally found some good 'corporate guff'. See her article here.
I like the term 'business writing'. It's simple and clear and surprisingly underused.

Reading Lucy's examples from a 'credo' written by Robert Wood Johnson of Johnson & Johnson in 1943, I too was struck by how rare writing this direct and honest really is.

During the many years I've spent writing and translating for the French naval defence industry, it would have been nice -- and challenging too -- to have had a mandate to write or rewrite business and technical documents in this straight and honest style. But of course writing like this is very difficult to sell anywhere, let alone to customers with a different mother tongue and culture, precisely because it is so different and so unfamiliar.

As a result, I have long settled for writing and translations that are close enough to the customer's first draft so as not to ruffle too many feathers, yet a few small steps closer to the sort of style that Lucy so rightly admires. Why? Because I believe this to be a service to customer. Comments welcome.

02 February 2013

Layout guidelines for a specialist readership

As mentioned in my last post, Gican will be distributing a special issue of Sea and Navy magazine focusing on French products and service at naval shows around the world throughout 2013.

Preliminary discussions on this project between translator Steve Dyson (yours truly) and the Met & Marine team focused on how to improve the magazine's visual appeal and readability for our highly specialised audience including procurement agency staff, company executives and naval officers, a high proportion of whom are second-language readers.

We decided to adopt a number of simple guidelines with a view to meeting the needs of our target readership.
These guidelines include:
  • simple, elegant layout  
  • simple, elegant high-readability typeface
  • black type on white background (no coloured type on coloured background)
  • white space between paragraphs
  • minimal use of italics and capitals
  • easy-to-read captions relating directly to photos and diagrams of special interest.
Feedback welcome. When the magazine becomes available on line, I'll post a reminder.

Gican to distribute Sea & Navy

French marine industry group Gican will represent the French maritime and naval defence industries at a number of international shows in 2012. To promote the French naval defence industry at these events, the group asked Mer et Marine to produce a special issue of Sea and Navy magazine focusing on French products and services.
An earlier special issue of Sea and Navy published by Mer et Marine for the Euronaval 2012 show can be viewed here.

30 January 2013

Proposition de valeur

Une proposition de valeur est une présentation de votre activité en 2 phrases maximum qui doit répondre à la question suivantes : « Pourquoi devrais-je faire affaire avec vous et pas avec quelqu'un d'autre ? ».
Ce n'est donc pas un slogan publicitaire, une accroche instantanée, mais une phrase concise et mémorisable qui montre votre valeur à vos prospects et fait de vous l'homme de la situation.

Voici ma proposition de valeur :

Je propose des traductions pour la promotion des produits et services de l’industrie française et la valorisation de son image de marque auprès de ses clients et cibles anglophones ou s'informant en anglais. Je m’attache à délivrer l’information que le lecteur final attend, et à que celle-ci paraisse avoir été rédigée directement en anglais. Il ne s’agit donc pas ici de traduction technique mais de promotion et de communication.

Translation is not about words. It’s about what the words are about.

Great title. Excellent article.
Read it here.

In response to a reader comment, Kevin Hendzel writes:
"My core belief is actually a bit more radical. I believe that translation is essentially all about content and subject-matter expertise and really about nothing else at all. The language aspect of translation is trivial. (You heard it here first.)"

I think 'trivial' is too strong, but I agree with what he says. Perhaps 'less important' would have suited me better. As a translator that has focused on a single (though admittedly broad) subject for over 15 years, I also believe that I practise when Kevin preaches.

28 January 2013

Value proposition

My value proposition:
To promote the products, services and image of French industry by applying best practice in English-language technical journalism and communication to each and every project. To this end, I translate more for my client’s customers and prospects than for my clients per se. This often involves taking considerable liberties compared with conventional approaches to technical translation.
This value proposition applies solely to publications intended (explicitly or not) to promote the client’s products, services and image to a clearly defined target audience. 

My translations may fail the translation industry's usual quality tests (which are intended for technical documents drafted by trained technical communicators using standardised terminology), but they do promote the industry and companies that I work for!

This post was inspired by What’s the Value of a Compelling Value Proposition? by Jessica Rathke in Surfing the big wave of language technology. Read her post here.

French-English glossary of naval defence, v17

Below you will find a link to v17 of my  French-English Glossary of Naval Technology  dated October 2019. This glossary or lexicon is ...