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.


  1. Agreed. But a question that sometimes worries me is whether translators can do this on their own initiative or whether they should seek permission from their clients.

  2. You raise a very good question. IMHO, based solely on my own experience with a handful of clients, first, this type of approach should only be envisaged once a healthy client-supplier dialogue has been established and once the client has expressed confidence in the suppliers work. Second, (again IMHO, etc.) very few clients want to know anything about the strategy, the methods or the details. All they usually want to know is that you've taken liberties and flagged one or two of the most important ones for approval. In a word, it's all about trust and confidence and very little about explanations.


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