Thursday, December 28, 2006

Translators: Learning from architects

A common query and topic of discussion at translator forums and on translator lists is whether the customer is always right. How should a translator respond when the client insists that the translation must adhere to a faulty glossary, lets a reviewer who is non-native or unacquainted with the subject matter alter or add to the translation (thereby introducing errors), or insists that wrong terms are the right ones?

Perhaps we should take a cue from other professionals. This quote is from an interview with architect Frank Gehry:

"I don't know why people hire architects and then tell them what to do," Mr. Gehry says. "Architects have to become parental. They have to learn to be parental." By this he means that an architect has to listen to his client but also remain firm about what the architect knows best, the aesthetics of a building. This, Mr. Gehry says, is what makes an architect relevant in the process that leads to a completed building. "I think a lot of my colleagues lose it, lose that relevance in the spirit of serving their client, so that no matter what, they are serving the client. Even if the building they produce, that they think serves the client, doesn't really serve the client because it's not very good."

In a similar way, I believe that a translator does not serve the client by bowing to pressure to introduce known errors.

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Penalty for Not Translating Into One's Native Language, ca. 1744

In an episode of In Our Time dealing with the French Encyclopédie, Judith Hawley tells that the origins of the Encylopédie lay in a translation of Chambers' Cyclopaedia by John Mills. The translation, however, was so incompetent, due to Mills' deficient knowledge of French, that publisher André le Breton had Mills beat up. As Dr. Hawley recounts it, "they punched him in the stomach and hit him over the head with a cane." Mills took le Breton to court, but lost because the translation was truly bad; according to the Wiki Encyclopédie article, he could barely read or write French.

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