03 October 2015

Orwell for interpreters and a ramble on translating technical journalism

Mary Fons I Fleming has posted an excellent piece entitled Orwell for Interpreters on the aiic website. Mary's selection of Orwellian quotes includes this gem for serious journalists and writers:
If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don’t have to hunt about for words; you also don’t have to bother with the rhythms of your sentences, since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be euphonious ... By using stale metaphors, similes and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself ... [Ready-made phrases] will construct your sentences for you — even think your thoughts for you, to a certain extent — and at need they will perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.

Orwell is followed by few TJs

The styles adopted by most technical journalists and in most of their work — and I stress the word 'most' in both instances — are less ambitious and less noble. Why? Because most TJs — apart from the odd flash of creativity reserved for headlines, subheadings and kickers — make frequent use to stale metaphors, similes and idioms while exploiting the rhythms and euphony of ready-made phrases. As Orwell says, these strategies save much mental effort. The price, as Orwell also points out, is ready-made thoughts that conceal a great deal from authors and readers alike.

Nor easily applicable to TJT

When the TJ's original is as just described, any TJ translator aiming higher than the straight-forward translation of the original's style and devices faces a challenge. By 'aiming higher' I mean striving for metaphors, similes and idioms in the target language that are less stale but not so innovative as to distract busy skim-readers. After many years' work in this area, I regretfully acknowledge that familiar devices and chunks have — despite the shortcomings pointed out by Orwell — save mental effort for all concerned (i.e. TJs, translators and their respective audiences) while offering rhythm and euphony.

With few TJs prepared, IMHO, to follow Orwell's demanding work ethic, it is hardly surprising that few TJ translators are able to produce target-language versions that scale these easily stated but nevertheless impressive heights.

As mentioned towards the end of Translation by emulation, take #1, acronyms and short-form terms, among other devices, also contribute to rhythm and euphony.

Such is the lot of TJ translators and the methods explained in Translation by emulation, take #1 and take #2.

Note: I use the abbreviation 'TJ' to mean either 'technical journalist' or 'technical journalism' and 'TJT' to mean 'technical journalism translator'.

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