Friday, June 08, 2007

Translation nightmare

The kind of text that stops the translator of abstracts cold in her tracks:

This article is about the difference between X and Y. We examine the relationship between them and propose a concept of X that is free from dependence on Y.

Except that X and Y translate to the same word in the target language. Help!

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At June 12, 2007 7:42 p.m., Anonymous michael said...

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but it happens quite often that different words have the same dictionary translation. That's why a translator needs to be a native speaker of the target language and more than fluent in the source language – to understand the nuances of the source and to be able to express them in the target text. And that's the reason, in my opinion, why bilingual dictionaries are not always such a hot resource. But I feel for you and hope you have found a solution in the meantime.

At June 12, 2007 7:59 p.m., Blogger Mago said...

Quite so. What made this text such a challenge was that in this particular case, there was one and only one way to render X in this context; in the target language we call it "Z." Unfortunately there is also one and only way to translate Y in this context; in the target language we call it "Z." Believe me, when my own poor brain couldn't come up with an alternative, I searched the thesauruses (thesaurii) and the reverse dictionary but all the alternatives they offered for Z applied to other contexts and wouldn't have worked in the text in question.

In this particular case I fell back on a solution that might have seemed poor in other circumstances; I quoted the source words in the target text (followed in each case by a brief explanation in parentheses). The reason I believed it would be sufficient here was that this was the target-language abstract which was to accompany the article in source language in a source-language publication; the purpose of including the translated abstract is merely to give the target-language reader an idea of the article's contents. If my task had been to translate the full article, I would have worked harder on the nuances to give the reader the full experience of the article.


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