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?

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 ...