Translator still wondering

In the last entry, I mentioned – inter alia – non-native speakers of English correcting my grammar.
This has been met by a couple of rants about Germans writing English.
I do feel like ranting against Germans correcting English myself sometimes, but not always.

One correction: non-native speakers of English who know the subject area can be very useful and perfectly good revisers. It’s very useful for me to have a reviser. And I recognize good revision when I see it, much as I hate to admit mistakes.
Conversely, anyone who wants the opinion of a native speaker of English on a publication should get one who’s experienced in dealing with texts and/or publication.

Usual scenario: Translator translates for German lawyer.
German lawyer may speak English but has no time to translate.
Translator may have questions.
Sometimes there’s an odd term. I ask for a definition in German.
Reactions: 1) Omit it
or 2) I will rephrase the original
or 3) This is what it means in German:
or 4) Let me see, I’m not sure if I can tell you how to say that in English (I don’t like this, and it shows the client doesn’t realize translators simply need a German rephrase, that is, they need to understand the source text)

Less common: T translates a church or castle guide
Author may be a much-published historian – usually no problem
Author may be a little-published historian at the beginning of his or her career, and very ambitious – can be difficult
Author may be an amateur who sees the building and guide as his or her life’s work – can be difficult
Author may have time on hands
Usual reaction to translation: 10 or 20 corrections or queries
Occasional reaction: call in a “specialist” in English.

More examples in the continuation.Here’s one thing I hate: the reviser changes a lot of sentences around so the word order seems smoother to him/her. However, this can only be done by making intransitive verbs transitive and all manner of other grammatical errors. That’s why I didn’t write the sentences that way – because it doesn’t work in English.

Here’s another example. I get three weeks to translate a church guide (I think this was in Lower Saxony)
Author passes the translation to a German who teaches English at a secondary school and who takes six weeks to revise my translation.
Most of the “corrections” are alterations to my style. I try to write a moderately formal English, not pompous and not highly colloquial. The alterations make it more pompous. But just a minute – I’m the translator and that’s my style for this kind of translation. If it was a novel, they should have looked at my work beforehand (but I don’t do novels). If they wanted very formal style, they should have said so. Otherwise, style is not relevant.

Examples of suggested changes:

|MM: roof fell in |Reviser: roof collapsed|
|church (as adjective|ecclesiastical|
|Apart from this|Moreover|
|signature of his own|signature all his own|

I particularly dislike the last two. And looking at my ancient notes, I find I was delighted to find serious mistakes, like changing St. Matthias to St. Matthew.

Obviously style can be criticized, but it seems to be a wicked waste of time to alter a translator’s style in this way. But then again, the reviser is not experienced in commenting on translations.

6 thoughts on “Translator still wondering

  1. Working in a German or Dutch office is extremely dangerous because after a while you begin to write like the non-native speakers around you. Going native must be something that happens to quite a lot of translators.

  2. Yes – some people won’t employ translators who live in the source-language country. And some Germans in the USA who’ve been there for donkeys’ years translate only into English. But if you add up all the things you might not be able to do – write English, understand German, understand the subject-matter, not translate word-for-word, you might as well not translate at all.

  3. As for your first scenario, I’ve had the colloquial v. formalistic speech/written language problem of an affidavit, deposition or other sworn statement spoken to a lawyer or court. A native German lawyer changes my: ‘I don’t really believe’ to ‘I do not verily believe’ or ‘I make this statement under oath’ to ‘I do hereby swear this statement of truth’ – making the lay deponent etc. sound like a lawyer.

  4. I wonder how they would have handled the Franconian judge’s statement to witnesses: ‘Ihr wisst fei, dass Ihr die Wahrheit sagen müsst.’

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