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.

1 comment:

  1. A couple of comments from German-to-English translator friend who failed to overcome the obstacles to comment posing:
    Several thoughts occurred to me:
    First my favourite notion of “translating with the handbrake on”™ by which I mean refraining from purple prose because it is beyond the capacity not necessarily of the target audience but of the client commissioning the job. The same applies to bizspeak –- how to judge which terms have been around long enough for the client to encounter and fully comprehend them? We are ultimately hog-tied by our clients’ knowledge of English OR willingness to learn from what we deliver and not condemn it out of hand because they have never heard it before. (Here I am essentially paraphrasing your third bullet point.)
    I also agree with your rendering of the “internal review” process. The key to what went wrong lies in your second bullet point about “cultural norms”. The use of “we” “us” and “our” is anathema in German reporting, leaving translators to slog their way through the thick and cloying mud of passive constructions, generating the kind of “verbal vomit” that they eventually signed off on in this particular case. I wonder if a campaign of articles to leading business papers and mags in Germany could help build an awareness of the need to communicate in the first person in English language reports... Maybe when we retire :))


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