Re: Translations of Owner's Guides?

Subject: Re: Translations of Owner's Guides?
From: Robert Bononno <bononno -at- ACF2 -dot- NYU -dot- EDU>
Date: Fri, 15 Apr 1994 17:32:49 -0400

Jim in response to your comments re translation and manuals, etc.

On Thu, 14 Apr 1994, Jim Grey wrote:

> Once upon a long ago, I studied and practiced to earn a Certificate for
> Technical Translation in German. The two-year course taught me to translate
> technical documents from German into English. The number 1 thing drummed into
> our heads was that we were *not* to alter the author's message. The number
> 2 thing was that our translations were supposed to read naturally, and not
> be merely literal. This makes sense, but its practice was difficult.

I teach Fr/En technical translation and this is the hardest thing to
drill into a student's head. Although I think you're placing too much
emphasis on altering the author's message. Basically you don't want to
alter substantive information. A large part of written communication--oh,
I suppose, all written communication--is filtered through rhetorical
devices. English has its own, as do Fr. and German. I do not always
consider this substantive information. The rhetorical devices will change
from language to language.

--------------------Text Cut------------------------------

> Unfortunately, too much of this was considered "rewriting" and probably an
> alteration of the author's message. The course instructors maintained that
> the American Translators Association (I think that's what it's called),
> frowned deeply on this kind of thing. The ATA is the translator's equivalent
> to the STC, except I get the impression that without ATA affiliation, a
> translator is a nobody.

This is not true. If the ATA maintains that this is rewriting they're full
of manure. Also, it's not at all true that you're noboday without having
ATA accreditation. I happen to be a member, which is nice, but it's
neither essential for finding work nor any guarantee that you're
competent as a translator. The ATA accreditation really only establishes
baseline standards (and they still have only a roughly 30% pass rate).

> If this kind of constraint is found worldwide, I wonder how effective
> "sanctioned" translations really are. I'm just one guy against a viewpoint
> widely agreed-upon within a group of people who do this stuff for a living,
> and am open to being wrong or misunderstanding.

This attitude is widespread and must be fought. I'm very much with you in
feeling that it's a translator's job to communicate meaning. In technical
texts we have an opportunity (some would say responsibility) to improve
on what are often poorly written materials. Editing is an integral part
of translation in one sense. I don't mean substantive editing, like
chopping out paragraphs or sentences. I mean editing for style and
naturalness. It's simply that readers--consumers of translation--have
grown accustomed to reading crap. They almost expect translations to be
bad. The other problem is that they're not willing to pay for quality
work. They're are hundreds of bad translators out there willing to work
for peanuts. If the customer accepts it, why pay more?

> still, I'd hate to use the product's manual translated into English under
> the translation constraint I faced. The writing would still seem stiff
> and stuffy.

It would be worse than that, it would be unusable! I've seen plenty of
examples of badly translated technical manuals. They are difficult to
follow and confusing. In certain situations they can be dangerous as

Robert Bononno /// Techline
bononno -at- acf2 -dot- nyu -dot- edu
CIS 73670,1570

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