Lebende Sprachen (German translation journal)

The latest edition of Lebende Sprachen, 2004/2, has just appeared. I am curious about an article by Dirk Siepmann, Siegen, entitled ‘High-profile Translation from the Mother Tongue into the Foreign Language: Effective Translation Strategies and Implications for Translation Theory and Translator Training’.

Lebende Sprachen does not give details of its authors, but here is a link with more information.

One main object of the article is to set out in detail strategies for creating one’s own corpus from the Internet (using what Siepmann calls the deep or invisible web, although I’m not sure that everything he mentions is strictly the invisible web), for instance an architecture corpus that one can search to determine if tympan or tympanum is the right word. Various other strategies for checking one’s English are discussed at length. These strategies are, as Siepmann himself says, useful for native speakers as well as those working into a foreign language. He also discusses intelligent guessing and suspicion of dictionaries.

The article creates a probably unintended impression that the translator would look up every word. I hope the archictecture text would be translated by someone who already knew the word tympanum. These are just examples to show how terms or phrases, or their absence, can be researched.

Another aim of the article is to comment critically on the value of translation theory. Siepmann comments on research based on observing students translating, although students have little experience of translation. And studies of the behaviour of professional translators all ‘abstract away from actual translation problems in their search for higher-order generalities’.

Of course, the article touches on the question of whether one should translate out of one’s native language. My usual answer to that question is that I would expect better results from an experienced non-native specialist translator, for example a legal or technical translator, in his or her field, than from most non-specialist native translators. However, the article gives examples of architecture, an estate agent’s brochure, a power of attorney (DE>FR), and a piece from the Frankfurter Rundschau with a literary touch, among others. If one translator is to translate all these different kinds of texts into the foreign language with a heavy use of corpora, that translator should have a day job (for instance at the University of Siegen?), because the hourly rate is not going to be good!

Incidentally, there is some rather peremptory advice on the course of study a translator should undertake:

bq. The non-native who intends to translate into English should work thoroughly and methodically through such textbooks as Smith/Klein-Braley (1985), Friederich (1969) and Gallagher (1982) (preferably in this order, which reflects an ascending scale of difficulty).

(I have my doubts about Friederich, but I have never worked through it).

These ideas are based on the idea that contrastive linguistics is a key to translation:

bq. In the rare event, however, that the client commissions a translation whose function differs from that of the source text, contrastive linguistics and translation science must part company. The relevance of this latter type of translation situation has been somewhat overstated by translation theorists …

In legal translation, many translations have a different function from the original. They are intended to inform a client or be read in a library rather than be presented to a court or read out to a defendant. Some books, such as Sarkevic’s, concentrate on, say, bilingual legislation in Canada or Switzerland – for me, that is work done by lawyers, not translators, in that it involves double and simultaneous drafting. Translating EU materials into new languages is a slightly different case, but somewhat different from my daily work.

Siepmann’s English is excellent. I imagine his French is too. I looked at the German Vollmacht (power of attorney) translated into French:

bq. Sometimes, however, it is not necessary to have recourse to an entire corpus, as in the case of highly stereotyped text types such as powers of attorney, where the download of two or three sample texts will usually do the trick.

Ha! This is highly suspicious. We are translating one legal system into another. Parts of a power of attorney may work as boilerplate, but others may have to be expressed in a more roundabout way. This is the corpus / Internet search problem of legal translators: just finding a phrase that sounds right is not necessarily good.

I will quote the end of the translation:

bq. Weitergehende Rechte sind mit dieser Vollmacht nicht verbunden.
Aucun autre droit n’est accordé au titre de la présente.
Der deutsche Text ist nur als Grundlage der französischen Übersetzung zu sehen.

Bei Meinungsverschiedenheiten über deren Auslegung ist ausschließlich der französische Text maßgebend.
En cas de différend [typo?] sur l’interprétation de la présente, seul le texte français (et non pas le texte-source allemand) fera foi.

This is quite surprising. Personally, I have never translated anything that is binding only under the target-language legal system. My translations have always been explanations of the German law. This approaches practising law without a licence. Perhaps one could risk it with a simple power of attorney, but I would be wary.

There are some isolated words at the bottom: ‘Pouvoir (F) /Procuration (CH)’, possibly meant to be removed or to be placed elsewhere. Of course, if one were working from DE to FR in Switzerland, the ground might be safer.

P.S. Many translators get very angry at the idea of people translating into a non-native language. This is common knowledge. Unreasoned flaming in the comments will be deleted.

8 thoughts on “Lebende Sprachen (German translation journal)

  1. True professionals translate ONLY into the native tongue, and nothing else!

    Accepting work into a foreign language (or, even worse, from one foreign language to another foreign language – “Chinese whispers”) is tantamount to defrauding one’s client.

  2. I’ve worked my way through the Friederich and found it useful. Its publication conveniently coincided with my language undergraduate fresher’s term.

    As for translating out of one’s native tongue, there really are times when the Counsel of Perfection of translating only into one’s native lang. just ain’t feasible and is out of keel with commercial and practical reality. As a logical corollary, an interpreter really can’t be expected to interpret one way only.

    There was a particular problem at my previous inhouse Covent Garden trans. agency that often used to scour the corridors of the BBC World Services at Bush House or of The School of Slavonic and East Europ. Langs. at London Uni. for Greek/Finnish/Ukrainian/Baltic langs.-into Eng. translators and interpreters.

    The near-native Eng. speakers who did volunteer were never available. They were always busy doing something else. And how many – available – native Eng. translators are there – into Eng. or any other major Europ, lang. – out of Albanian, Montenegran, Bosnian, Turkish, the African or Indian Sub-Continent langs. that can’t be described as LLDs/ langs. of limited diffusion?

  3. Yes, and translators of LLDs don’t usually specialize either. We had the same discussion on May 30th on ‘double interpretation’.
    I think this probably needs another entry. The topic of translating into a foreign language rarely gets discussed because people are usually either 100% for or against. This article, however, is more about resources than about the two directions of translation.

  4. Sorry, AMM, but all EU and UN interpreters work into the native language ONLY. And even most (AIIC) conference interpreters will interpret into one active (A) language only.

    As I said before, translating or interpreting into a non-native language is tantamount to defrauding your client.

  5. I agree that the ideal translation situation is into the native language. Unfortunately this isn’t always possible because the talent pool is just too small.

    Take the new EU member states. There’s no tradition of training English speaking translators for Polish or Hungarian or Latvian that I’m aware of.

    I live in Poland and the number of native English speakers who are capable of translating from Polish is not exactly large. Things are improving though. Ten years ago the “native” English translators of Polish were essentially all Polish (and while extremely fluent, the term “native” reflected courtesy more than reality). That’s no longer the case, but it takes time to build up numbers (and there is still a general lack of translator training for English speakers to translate from Polish).
    As it is, the native English speakers (like myself) who translate from Polish are essentially self and/or market-taught. Also, I don’t know of any Polish to English translators who do that as a main source of income. I don’t seek out translation work and basically due those jobs that fall in my lap.
    I’ll also mention a lack of really advanced Polish for non-native speaker courses. I wouldn’t mind some advanced Polish courses, but they don’t exist at a level I could benefit from.

    At present I teach a couple of classes in English-Polish translation (both directions).
    A few times I’ve had the students translate a text (usually pretty simple) into English and then I show them mine and go over it sentence by sentence explaining why I translated something one way and not another. This is _very_ daunting for them and drives home the point about translating into the native language very well. But, back in the real world, customers often just don’t have that option.

  6. Right, Michael. Also, Werner, look at your Translator’s Cafe ‘pool’ of native Eng.-speaking translators of Albanian into Eng. or German.

  7. I was born in England and have lived in Spain for over 30 years, teaching and translating.
    My English is sometimes rusty, especially in certain fields where I am out of touch.
    Do I have 1 native language, 2 or none? Should I translate into a language I have not spoken habitually for years or into one I speak, write and read every day?
    How many ‘bad’ translations are the result of misunderstanding the original rather than expressing the result poorly? Is there not a case to be made for only translating from, not into, one’s ‘native’ language?
    There are people with no native language, and with two or more. How far is the very concept of ‘native’ somewhat outdatedly linked to nation states, and so on?
    Should nationality (??) take precedence over expertise?

  8. I take your point, Gary. There are a lot of people in the USA who translate only into English but whose native language would be defined as German, for instance. I wouldn’t like to be categorical about it. I don’t see that ‘native’ is connected to nation states, though. It’s more a question of which language you spoke in your formative years. If you had had British or American or Canadian or Australian parents and grown up in Spain speaking English at home, English would still be your native language.
    My German is very good, although I don’t write it very often. If I wanted to translate into German, I’d need to do a lot of practising of written German. Certain types of texts I could certainly do, so much legal language is formulaic. I can also make jokes and use wordplay in German. But if German is badly written, I can see it, but I don’t have a gut reaction the way I do with English.

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