24 August 2014

Skapinker on Pinker on style

On 22 August 2014, Financial Times language columnist Michael Skapinker reviewed Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style under the subheading A writing guide that attacks the purists.
The full title of Pinker's book is The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century.

First, a critique of Pinker's own style:
When we are speaking, says Pinker, we can see if we are getting our words across by monitoring people’s faces, eyes and posture, whereas “we enjoy none of this give-and-take when we cast our bread upon the waters by sending a written missive out into the world”. Strunk and White’s book has its imperfections, but its instruction “omit needless words” holds good. “We enjoy none of this give-and-take when we write” would have been fine. There was no need for missive-sending and bread-casting.“Cast thy bread upon the waters” is from Ecclesiastes. So is “of making many books there is no end”. I was starting to think we didn’t need another one about style.
The following passages are noteworthy (my bold):
... the “curse of knowledge”. The curse was invented by economists, Pinker says, to explain why people don’t bargain as well as they should when they have information the other party does not.
Similarly, when writing, we often don’t realise how much more we know about our subject than the people we are writing for. ... More: we don’t realise how much of what we know we have reduced to distinctive phrases and short-cuts – what the linguists call “chunking”.
This is illuminating. It helps explain why business leaders cannot stop writing impenetrable jargon no matter how often it is pointed out to them. Some allege it is because they are trying to bury the reality of what they are saying, particularly when it is bad news, such as job losses. But much of it is because they cannot see what they are familiar with and their readers are not. “They are not trying to bamboozle us; that’s just the way they think.”
The last paragraph also applies to engineers and others -- and sometimes even to technical journalists -- even allowing for the fact that they are writing specifically (and almost exclusively) for a well-defined technical readership.

23 August 2014

Why it’s so hard to catch your own typos

On 8 August, Wired published a piece by Nick Stockton entitled What’s up with that: Why it’s so hard to catch your own typos. Fascinating.

Here are a few quotes:
The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.

By the time you proof read your own work, your brain already knows the destination. This explains why your readers are more likely to pick up on your errors.

As any typist knows, hitting keys happens too fast to divert a finger when it’s in the process of making a mistake.

... if you want to catch your own errors, you should try to make your work as unfamiliar as possible. Change the font or background color, or print it out and edit by hand. 

19 August 2014

From generalist to specialist, but how?

This post is for recent translation graduates and generalists from all backgrounds wondering how to become subject-specialists.

While the best approach is to find the client or potential client in need then learn the skills to fill the need, there are times when it might be better to leap into a field, then prospect for work as a budding specialist. For anyone contemplating this strategy, the next question is How do I pick a field? Again, there are many possible answers. One is to read widely, then explore anything and everything that you find interesting.

The article from the New Yorker mentioned here offers a superb introduction to elevators (aka lifts) and how they make buildings work. Articles like this provide insights into the technology and terminology; more than enough to enable the reader to determine whether or not the field is of potential interest.

Portugal (where I live) and many other countries have home-based elevator/lift manufacturers -- or even a national champion or two -- that often struggle to compete against leading multinationals (not to mention their tough tactics and cartels). Some may already export their products, others may want to export more and in so doing step up to the challenges of promoting and documenting their products and services in selected languages. Bingo! You may now have identified both a potential market for your services and a field of specialisation.

Under the heading 'Stand out from the crowd', item #13 of 101 things a translator needs to know has this to say:
Urologists don’t fix leaking radiators. Hairdressers don’t shear sheep.
Claiming proficiency in a plethora of subjects and languages usually
indicates a lack of professionalism. The I-translate-everything approach also
sends out signals that translation is easy, and easy tasks rarely pay well. If you
want to get interesting, well-paid work, you need a unique selling point.
That’s why it’s important to develop one or more specialist areas and stand
out from the crowd.
Up And Then Down, by Nicholas Paumgartenappeared in the New Yorker on 21 April 2008 and on The Browser today, 19 August 2014.

The Browser summarises the article as follows:
How elevators work, and how they make buildings work. Wrapped around the tale of a New Yorker for whom elevators, one horrible night in October 1999, did not work. Nicholas White, an editor at Business Week, got into a lift at Rockefeller Centre at 11pm. It jammed at the 13th floor. He emerged 41 hours later with his nerves shattered. He sued the company and lost his job. To this day, he doesn’t know what the problem was (8,000 words)

15 August 2014

Billing time

Billing by the hour?
Having trouble keeping accurate track of the time spent on each project?

Top language industry bloggers Judy & Dagmar Jenner recommend Toggl.
Direct link: Toggl.

09 August 2014

rue Tortueuse

Here's a post that has nothing whatsoever to do with translating technical journalism.
Instead, it's just for fun.

The name rue Tortueuse, in Moissac, France, brings many a smile to many a face.
The street is indeed tortuous, winding, crooked.

(Incidentally, I can personally recommend the Portuguese restaurant O Sol da Lusitania and the cooking of 
Marie-Hélène Goncalves. The back entrance is immediately to the right of the people in the photo while the main one is at 53 boulevard Alsace-Lorraine. The restaurantis open for midday meals on Saturdays and Sundays and at other times if booked in advance.)

The other day, a colleague stumbled on a translator's curiosity that amused and intrigued, and, for me, as one familiar with Moissac's rue Tortueuse, a strong association.

The curiosity is a nice attempt to translate a purported untranslatable poem.

The poem, by Brazilian Cassiano Ricardo is entitled Serenata sintética.
Here it is:

The patly-named Futility Closet blog has this to say about it and -- according to Spanish philologist and translator Valentín García in his 1983 book En Torno a la Traducción -- it's supposed untranslatability.

Fortunately a translator has risen to the challenge.
On her Mount Orégano page, blogger Sue Burke has matched the original's extraordinarily close rhyme and rhythm. (My colleague in Toulouse comments that she may have "started with 'moon' and worked out from there". And he may be right.)

Sue Burke's translation reads:

It works well.
Still, I can't help thinking how nice it would have been to include a hint of a twisting, winding, crooked street.

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...