What to do with long German sentences/Lange deutsche Sätze trennen beim Übersetzen?

German sentences are longer than English ones, in general. (Must find statistics)
So they sometimes need to be broken up on translation into English.

Maybe not in statutes (because German statutes are sometimes quoted by the half-sentence, or alternative – so footnotes would be needed if a big change were made)

Maybe not in contracts, for the same reason.

You have to be careful not to distort the meaning, but that goes without saying. It can be difficult – I understand my client with very difficult sentences in judgments who doesn’t want the number of sentences changed, and Iunderstand – the meaning might very well be affected.

However, some clients don’t want sentence length changed. Recently, I heard of a client who rejected the breaking down of sentences in a client brochure on financial services – some of the German sentences had 45 words.

The answer to this one is to break the sentences down, but join them by a semicolon rather than splitting them with a full stop (thanks to Gabi!).

I asked on the pt mailing list at Yahoo if anyone had techniques for breaking sentences down, but the only answer I had on that, from Robert, agreed with me in doing it by feeling. He too had had a comment from another translator, a non-native speaker of English, that splitting or combining German sentences undermines the ‘scientific’ nature of the text (a text on history). (Yes, sometimes you do have to combine sentences).

So there are at least two non-native English speakers around who are convinced German sentences should be left alone.

Is there a contrastive treatment of the two languages that could help here? Might books on writing simpler German offer ways of splitting sentences?

I have looked for some examples in my own files, but only by searching for sentences where I have introduced a semicolon. Other examples I’ll have to watch out for as I work. I set out three examples in the continuation:1. Here is one example of a sentence with a semicolon, where the English translation was subject to a number of requirements (vocabulary, not splitting sentence):

bq. Die Sozialpflichtversicherung gewährte allgemein bei Erreichen der Altersgrenze eine Altersrente, deren Höhe sich im wesentlichen nach der Beschäftigungsdauer und dem erzielten Verdienst richtete.

bq. The Mandatory Social Security Insurance Scheme generally granted an old-age pension when retirement age was reached; the amount of this old-age pension was essentially based on the length of employment and the income earned.

Here, the subclause has been replaced by another main clause. There could just as well be two sentences. The repetition of the term ‘old-age pension’ is common in legal texts.


bq. Der vom Rentenangleichungsgesetz vorgesehene, auf den Maßgaben des Staatsvertrages beruhende Zwischenschritt auf dem Weg zur Herstellung der Rechtseinheit – nämlich die Schaffung eines den Strukturvorgaben des SGB VI entsprechenden Rentenversicherungsrechts der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik – entfiel.

bq. The Pensions Adjustment Act provided an interim step, based on the provisions in the Treaty, on the way to the establishment of legal unity – that is, the creation of a pensions insurance law for the German Democratic Republic satisfying the structural framework conditions of the Sixth Book of the Code of Social Law; this interim step was omitted.

Here, a passive construction has been changed to active, to make it easier to read (I do not believe that all passive constructions should be avoided in English, though, unlike some), and a new main clause has been used, as in the first example above.

3. I notice I often use this ‘new main clause’ technique where German links with ‘dabei’ or ‘wobei’.

bq. Aus dem Bodenfonds wurden Grundstücke an landlose oder landarme Bauern, Landarbeiter, Flüchtlinge und Umsiedler verteilt, wobei der zugeteilte Boden 5 Hektar, bei schlechter Bodenqualität bis zu 10 Hektar nicht überschreiten sollte (Art. IV Nr. 6, 8 und 9 BRVO).

bq. From the land fund, plots of land were given to landless or near-landless farmers, agricultural labourers, refugees and migrants; the amount of land granted was not to be more than 5 hectares, or if the land was of poor quality 10 hectares (Article IV numbers 6, 8 and 9 of the Land Reform Order).

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