17 December 2015

Barry Jones on translators

As I said yesterday, I'm reading Barry Jones: A thinking reed and enjoying it. Reviews here and here.
I thought I would quote the occasions when Jones mentions translation and/or translators.

At first glance, this story appears to be rather critical of the Chinese translators involved. If we give them the benefit of the doubt, perhaps it just expresses the fact that they could not immediately take in what was to their mind radical input, even if it did come from the author himself. Perhaps professional translators might have responded faster and better compared to these academics who had taken on the task.
Sleepers Wake!, aka Sleepers Wake! Technology and the Future of Work: Wikipedia article, Review.

In Chengdu I met the Chinese translators of Sleepers Wake!, three academics from the University of Western China. ... The censors were troubled by what seemed to be a religious reference. This turned out to be a joke based on an ambiguity in the word 'work', set out at the start of Chapter 4:
Q. How many people work in the Vatican?
A. About half.
 I said, 'If the censors complain, just cut the material out'. My translators said, 'No. That would not be faithful to the intention of the author'. I said, 'But I am the author, and I say you can do it'. They did not see it my way.
The Executive Board (of UNESCO) had some distinguished members. I was closest to Talat Halman, formerly Turkey's Ambassador to the United Nations and Minister for Culture, rewarded with a British knighthood (GBE) for having translated Shakespeare's sonnets. I was told, not by Talat, that the Turkish versions were an improvement on the original.
Now that is saying something. First about Talât Sait Halman as a translator. Also a reminder that a translation can sometimes be "an improvement on the original", even when the original is itself considered to be a masterpiece.

[As A. J. Krailsheimer — aka AJK, a scholar at Christ Church, Oxford — Jones' preferred translator of Pascal's Pensées notes:] 'He is addressing a person well versed in the social graces, familiar with the world of the great and its pastimes ... informed about the discoveries of contemporary science, a critic of style and fashion, priding himself on being a hardheaded rationalist.' (Blaise Pascal, Pensées, pp xxii, x.)
Works and translations by A. J. Krailsheimer here.
Googled for A. J. Krailsheimer, but failed to find a biography or any biographical information.

Pensée No. 200 has long had a personal appeal to me: 'Man is but a reed, the feeblest in nature; but he is a thinking reed (un roseau pensant)'. I suspect that Pascal's 'thinking reed' is an adaptation of Bacon's 'I beseech your Lordships to be merciful to a broken reed'.

Barry Jones' autobiography: Note on title

I am reading Barry Jones: A thinking reed and enjoying it. (Reviews here and here.)

The title is taken the "man is a thinking reed" quote from philosopher Blaise Pascal's Pensées.

The original:
L'homme est un roseau, le plus faible de la nature, mais c'est un roseau pensant. Il ne faut pas que l'univers entier s'arme pour l'écraser : une vapeur, une goutte d'eau suffit pour le tuer. Mais quand l’univers l’écraserait, l’homme serait encore plus noble que ce qui le tue, puisqu’il sait qu’il meurt et l’avantage que l’univers a sur lui. L’univers n’en sait rien.
Transition 5 (Laf. 200, Sel. 231). H3.
Barry Jones' preferred English version:
“Man is but a reed, the feeblest in nature; but he is a thinking reed. There is no need for the whole universe to take up arms to crush him. A vapour or a drop of water is enough to kill him. But even if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than his killer, for he knows that he is dying and that the universe has the advantage over him. The universe knows nothing of this.”
According to the Philosophy & Philosophers website the "man is a thinking reed" quote is the most famous of French philosopher Blaise Pascal's Pensées.

While there are plenty of online discussions on interpretations of what Pascal means, I must say that I don't see quite why Pascal chose the word 'roseau' which his translators have translated, naturally enough, as 'reed'.

16 December 2015

Bizspeak also knows nuance

In VW needs more therapy to change its flawed mindset — subtitled 'The carmaker’s directors should take a look at Bill Gates’s reading list for insight' — FT columnist Andrew Hill examines in passing the terms 'mindset' and 'corporate culture'.

The article refers to a VW press release dated December 10 entitled Volkswagen kommt bei Aufklärung, technischen Lösungen und der Neuausrichtung des Konzerns gut voran. The German version can be found here and the English translation — Volkswagen making good progress with its investigation, technical solutions, and Group realignment — here.

'Mindset' and 'corporate culture' may be bizspeak, but Hill reminds us that even corporate jargon demands thought and analysis if it is to achieve the desired impact.

Bizspeak is rightly criticised by many — one example is usage guru Bryan A. Garner in his book Garner's Modern American Usage — but the critics seldom spare a moment's thought for the corporate copywriters and journalists and, of course, their translators, who find themselves in the invidious position (not to mention the troubled and troubling inner dialogues) of understanding the issues and knowing full well how to write without using such crutches but employed by others who dare not stray from either the original or the familiar. The irony is that corporate copywriters, journalists and translators invest vast amounts of time in mastering the nuances of silly bizspeak.

Those who understand something of what I am trying to say here — perhaps not very successfully — will enjoy Andrew Hill's article.

When a competent team of translators signs off on something like this:
An internal review, being conducted by a task force of experts from various Group companies with a clearly defined mandate and a deadline, is focused on the mandate to Group Audit by the Supervisory Board and the Management Board to investigate relevant processes, reporting and monitoring systems, and the associated infrastructure.
while realising that it clearly means little more than "we're looking into it", you can be sure that many factors contributed to their frustration. These factors may have included:
  • legal considerations under a range of regimes, not least the need to avoid saying anything that might be interpreted by US courts as an admission of wrongdoing
  • the challenges of writing or translating for multiple audiences in many countries with different cultural norms and legal systems
  • the challenge of translating for German-mother-tongue clients (or bosses) who speak impeccable English, are hierachically distant and proabably insist on a more restrictive concept of faithfulness to the original than the more target-language-sensitive translators.
This last point may explain why the translation didn't read more like: 
"We have asked a task force drawn from Group companies to review the situation by a set date. Their mandate will be the same as that assigned by the supervisory and management boards for the Group Audit — namely to investigate processes, reporting and monitoring systems and the associated infrastructure."

*********All of this in an attempt to demonstrate that notwithstanding the justified criticism of bizspeak and other turgid forms, language service providers need to balance compliance with the imposed constraints against readability and elegance.

10 December 2015

Einstein's translator

Robert W. Lawson (a lecturer and member of the Physics Laboratory at the University of Sheffield in England in the 1920s) deserves credit in any history of science translation.
To find out why, read the Unprofessional Translation blog post entitled Einstein's translator.

07 December 2015

Anglocom on translators' additions

As part of its excellent ongoing of tweets on French to English translation, the team at

has raised a series of questions along the lines: Why did the translator add ... ?

The first tweet reads:
Some translators are in the bad habit of adding things that are not in the source text. If the FR says "gros," say "big," not "very big"!

This is followed by four examples:
(a) …ceux qui poursuivent son œuvre /…those who help carry on his work
(b) …les visiteurs viennent y découvrir… / …its many visitors discover…
(c) Surmonter les obstacles / Overcome substantial obstacles
(d) Elle a été davantage soulignée… / It received much more attention…

These tweets hit me with force for the simple reason — I have to come clean — that I am often guilty of precisely this. Such additions are common in my drafts and despite my efforts to delete them too many survive revision and rereading.

The only answer can suggest sounds very lame indeed. It's the nagging feeling that the English sounds either better or more familiar with the added word or notion.
And why might that be?
My first guess is that I, like my fellow offenders, are influenced by the English-language journalists we read. Is it poor style, fashion, or what? I have no idea. Certainly many articles by many journalists in both English and French can be improved by simply deleting unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, helper verbs and other excesses.

Two other contributing factors are time and talent.
Even talented writers need time to produce texts that are tight and crisp while others can't achieve 'tight and crisp' no matter how much time they have.
Does anyone out there know of any relevant academic research?

Comments very welcome indeed.

Matthew Cobb

A quote from Matthew Cobb on the History of Science, an interview on the Five Books blog in which scientist, historian and translator Matthew Cobb on his five best books on the history of science (my bold).

So, in the seventeenth century book* I couldn’t talk about ‘reproduction’ because it wasn’t a seventeenth century term — people talked about ‘generation.’ That is what we would call ‘reproduction’ and ‘development’ rolled together in one word. Similarly, you can’t talk about heredity before the 19th century. Heredity only takes on a biological meaning in the 1830s — people didn’t have a word to describe the relationship between parents and offspring. Then you realise that there’s a reason why people can’t see things — they don’t have the words, the ideas. The concepts aren’t there and therefore you can’t think them.

I was very fortunate and lived for 18 years in Paris. I went with absolutely awful French and ended up pretty much bilingual. One of the things I realised is that when you can speak another language, you can think things you can’t think in your mother tongue. Words and thoughts are interconnected. That’s one thing that I tried to bring over in my books, by trying to look at what people thought at different times and how the ideas and concepts either limited them or finally enabled them to understand things in a richer way.

The Egg and Sperm Race: The Seventeenth-Century Scientists Who Unravelled the Secrets of Sex, Life and Growth 

03 December 2015

Journalism and publishing terms. Jargon buster

The good people at journalism.co.uk have set up a journalism glossary wiki entitled Journalism and publishing terms - jargon buster. This is an excellent initiative. Like all Wikis, the quality and completeness of the content depends entirely on the the quality and completeness of the contributions submitted by users. That said, it sounds like I've issued a challenge not only to my readers, but also to myself. I'll keep you posted on developments.

The introductory paragraph begins:
This page is intended to be a glossary of old and new media terms of relevance to the practice of journalism. To edit or add glossary entries on this page, please click here or email your suggestions or questions to john at journalism.co.uk.
Email to John at journalism.co.uk:
canonical form: (see below) from Handbook of Terminology Management: Volume 1: Basic Aspects of Terminology Management, Language Arts & Disciplines, 1997.
The entries listed here are in canonical form. For terminologists, translators and many others, it would be wonderful to see canonical form guidelines adopted by all those who produce the types of glossaries curated by Glossarissimo! (monolingual & multilingual resources & terminology for translators & interpreters).
globalisation: see here ​
internationalisation: see here ​
localisation: see here ​
​​​technical journalism: definition from The Tech Writer's Survival Guide: A Comprehensive Handbook for Aspiring Technical Writers by Janet Van Wicklen, 2009:

​technical journalism: (my own definition for my blog Translating technical journalism) journalism for specific technical audiences where the main challenge is typically to write clearly and concisely in the everyday jargon of the specific target audience(s), which, in turn, implies a complete break with some of the basic guidelines for all forms of journalism for more lay publics.
technology journalism: Wikipedia article, including definition, here.​
terminology management: see (for instance) Impact of inconsistent terminology management or Google for "terminology management".
writing for translation, aka writing for a global audience: see here or Google for "writing for translation" or "writing for a global audience". 
The Wall Street Journal's Glossary of Journalism pdf can be downloaded here.

Other Glossarismo links on journalism in English and other languages here.

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