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.

Transcreating technical journalism, conference presentation

On Saturday 17 June, I at spoke at the TransLisboa 2017 conference organised by Aptrad . My presentation was entitled  Transcreating techn...