#FLtranslation: working with translation

Working with translation, started 24 October, four weeks, from Translation Studies in Cardiff’s School of Modern Languages (@cardiffmlang).

What is translation?

Definitions, perceptions, misconceptions…are translators ‘just’ messengers who ferry things across borders? This view is rooted in the history of the word ‘translation’ in English and European languages. Other languages offer different images and metaphors, eg bridging, carrying the sense across, a creative retelling, turning over an embroidery, giving a new life…

Types of translation:

  • interlingual – between languages
    • literal: close to the original; translations rendering each word separately (interlinear) are rare
    • sense-for-sense or free: focus on conveying the sense or meaning, even if the words or ways of expression change; what counts as freely conveying the sense to some people may be criticised as taking too many liberties by others; depends on beliefs, ideologies and ideas about the purpose of the text and its translation
  • intralingual – within the same language
    • shares with translation ‘proper’ the idea of changing form but maintaining meaning and the need to adjust to different audiences and expectations, eg between registers, as in formal and informal speech, or between regional varieties
    • indicative of the richness of perspectives, knowledge and cultures that exist within linguistic traditions (however forgotten; see Robert Macfarlane)
    • language does not just explain but helps generate meanings, create new understandings and bring new energy to familiar entities
    • err…related to editing, eg exercise on translating a parking ticket from technical writing to Plain English (“Your translation should be readable, easily understandable and cover all the points of the source text.”)
  • intersemiotic – moving between different types of language, such as verbal and visual codes; between media or sign systems, when ideas expressed verbally are translated into images and/or movement

Pillar of salt metaphor: a ‘backward gaze’, ie staring at or obsessive working with the text results in something that lacks life.

The dictum that something gets lost in translation further suggests that the ‘imitation’ is inevitably imperfect, with the figure of the translator subordinated to that of the creative author.

The origin of the English word ‘translation’ suggests that translation is about transferring meaning in space. One influential perception is that meaning can be carried over and reach the other language or culture intact:

It’s as though there was some core content that you wrap in paper (ie express in language) and send on its way. At the border the packaging or language is changed but the content remains the same, to arrive untouched at its destination…These images ignore the profound connection between meaning and language as well as culture, and the fact that changing the language may affect meaning itself.

Translators mediate between two sides without taking sides – they are neutral and render information ‘faithfully’. At the same time, as bilinguals having access to information in both languages, translators have always been viewed with suspicion.

Techniques (editing again):

  • substituting words
  • paraphrasing meaning
  • simplifying sentences
  • reorganising information

Cultural translation:

  • creative solutions tailored for a new audience and locale (transcreation or localisation)
  • cultural factors can affect translation, from simple everyday contexts like the social norms associated with drinking coffee to complex phenomena such as localisation
  • translators as ‘cultural mediators’, needing not just linguistic but also cultural knowledge and cultural awareness (always remember to check your own assumptions)
  • professional ethics aim to avoid interferences caused by unconscious bias and assumptions
  • the meanings carried by verbal language (and by visual language or gestures) are coloured by cultural assumptions, social habits, expectations
  • in the 1990s translation scholars proposed what is now known as ‘the cultural turn’ in translation studies; besides Source Text/Language and Target Text/Language we also need to think of Source Culture and Target Culture
  • types of cultural communication:
    • intralingual – a set of behaviours, including language conventions and habits, associated with a particular activity or profession; see also Barack Obama’s ‘anger translator’
    • interlingual – combined with specialist translation, for instance when translating a legal text into the language of a country whose legal system differs substantially from that of the Source Text
    • localisation – eg the American Dream in other locales…localisation is all about the audience; it’s not about the original in itself, it’s about that text making sense and being usable for a particular place and for a particular set of people

Dilemma: when translating material for a publicity campaign for an international company, the translator becomes aware of possible issues due to cultural stereotyping which might negatively affect the reception of the advertisement. – The translator should contact the client and point out the problem. ( In this case the relationship is between client and translator only and discussing the issue will not cause undue interference.)

Who translates?

According to the ITI’s code of conduct, a professional translator should:

  • Only translate into their native language or ‘a language of habitual use’. The translator’s competence in those languages is assessed and certified by the professional body. (Art 4.1.1)
  • Translate in a way that ensures ‘fidelity of meaning and register’, unless they have been specifically required by the client to re-create certain elements of the source culture or context. (Art. 4.1.2)
  • Notify the client if there are errors, omissions or imprecise language in the source text. (Art. 4.1.4)
  • Keep information and material translated confidential. (Art. 3.5.1)

While the terminology used to discuss translation leads us to divide the world along linguistic and national lines (between source and target cultures, source and target language speakers), in our increasingly multilingual and globalised world there are many people who write, think and speak in more than one language but would not see themselves as translators. Languages often co-exist within the same geographical space, the same community. (This is like the Pole who doesn’t watch British TV, he’s Polish…)

Salman Rushdie describes post-colonial subjects and migrants as ‘translated men’, individuals who are forced to live a life ‘in-between’ in the constant negotiation between different languages, conceptualisations of the world and cultural traditions. Multilingual speakers are often oblivious of translation because they themselves live ‘in translation’, forging their identity and relationships in a constant tension between different languages and cultural allegiances.

Being a migrant, an exile, a traveller, makes you aware not only of the multiplicity of linguistic landscapes that surround us but also of the often very concrete examples of the impossibility of translation. When are multilinguals translators – and when does a non-native become a multilingual? Is it ‘interlingual’, ‘intralingual’, ‘translation between sign systems’, ‘cultural translation’ or a mixture of all of them?

Spectators as translators – what happens when you hear a song or listen to a performance in a foreign language? Research on intercultural spectatorship suggests that the response to foreign language performance, be it in the field of music, theatre or film, is never complete non-understanding. Even if we do not understand the language that is spoken in performance, we respond to it in a different way and create a different relationship of meaning. As spectators, we are used to giving meaning not only to sounds and language but to objects, gestures, facial expressions, and put those meanings together to create a story in our own mind. (Or we just like the tune. The ‘meaning’ of a lot of English pop music my partner grew up with was actually about completely passed him by.)

Some discussion of ‘non-native’ translators – see Exploring directionality in translation studies.

Where does translation take place?

Ooh, the spatial turn, you do wonder if it’s compulsory with FutureLearn:

We will look at the relationship between translation and space. Translation is, literally, all around us, whether we see it or not. We encounter it on the pages of books and on our computer screens, on the streets of our cities, in airports, museums and schools. And the way in which we think about the space around us, the way in which we inhabit it, whether we feel at home in it or not, is closely linked with languages and with translation.

We will discuss how translators like to organise their own space, as well as how they are at times forced to work in spaces and places which are less than ideal. And we will discuss how just by looking at the position of text on the page we make assumptions about what is or is not a translation.

The spaces of translation:

  • a book and its pages, in which translation and the original can be both visible or can collapse, one into the other
  • the public space of the museum, in which multiple languages encounter each other
  • a conflict zone, in which interpreters mediate between factions, often in very difficult circumstances
  • on the borders between states, between languages, between cultures
  • inside our nations and inside our increasingly multi-lingual cities (see The city as translation zone)

Linguistic landscapes:

  • the way in which different languages are displayed, mixed, perceived or contested in public spaces
  • the way in which languages face each other, overlap, or mix in multilingual cities
  • polyphonic cities – translation and multilingualism sit side by side, often mixed through forms of ‘translanguaging’
  • translation is not neutral – it changes spaces, it transforms them, and it transforms the way in which we can access space, who can access it, and to what extent; example: gender
  • space is also not neutral –  where do we position something on a page? translation and its original will change the relationship of power between those texts
  • a world in constant movement and mobility, constantly bringing previously disparate and distant ideas, representations and experiences into local frames of references
  • islands and bridges are not the only spatial images of translation (36 metaphors) – translation can also be found within one location, such as one city or even one street where multiple languages co-exist, clash, overlap or are creatively mixed
  • graphic and spatial arrangements, eg parallel texts – most people in the West will instinctively assume that the text which appears before the other is the source text (from top to bottom of the page and from left to right); spatial arrangement is enough to indicate a ‘hierarchy’ of reading

When does non-native become peer translation? Translanguaging – a book written by an author in a language which is not his or her mother tongue (translingual authors often make use of multiple languages in their writing), see also multilingual rock bands.

Key considerations when dealing with space and translation:

  1. Type: what type of translation (or interpreting) is appropriate in a given scenario?
  2. Visibility: how visible (or invisible) is the translation going to be in a specific place, and why?
  3. Location: what are the physical locations in which translation will take place and how can they be adapted, if needed, to ensure that the space is suitable for the activities that are being planned?
  4. Participants: who are the people taking part in the translation process and what is the relationship among them?
  5. Power relationships: are there any power implications in the situation and, if so, how are they going to influence the translation process or its outcomes?
  6. Ethical issues: what are the ethical questions posed by the specific situation in which translation will take place?

Tips:

  • it is essential to think about space when dealing with translation and interpreting
  • always question the assumptions we instinctively make on the basis of spatial arrangements, for instance assumptions about authority, power and originality
  • proximity and distance are important when translating or interpreting, too distant and translation becomes difficult, if not impossible; too close and it may become uncomfortable
  • space arrangements often have implications for privacy when translating and interpreting.
  • in many cases it is important to create a safe space in which translation can take place; how we do this varies from case to case

What is a good translation?

The Big Question: should a translation mirror the style of the source or refer to the style of the target (linguistic description vs social evaluation)? It depends on what the translation is trying to achieve.

The source text model: comparing the profiles

Anecdotes about interesting mistranslations abound, attracting so much attention that it may be easier to explain what a good translation is not than what it actually is. The understanding of quality depends on text and translation types as well as the context: the clients, users, audience and so on.

Some approaches concentrate on the relationship between the source text and the translation, expecting them to be equivalent in meaning and, sometimes, form. To measure how successful the transfer of meaning has been, some scholars suggest analysing the source text first, using criteria borrowed from linguistics such as:

  • the subject matter
  • the communicative situation (who is addressing whom)
  • register (the level of formality)
  • cohesion (logical links within the text)
  • the genre or text function (for example, an informative report vs a persuasive political speech)
  • the argumentative or narrative structure (how the points are made or how a story develops within the text)

The quality can be judged by analysing the translation using the same criteria as for the source text (genre, subject matter, etc.) and then comparing the texts’ profiles. If they are very similar, it’s a good translation; if there are mismatches, it’s not so good. Some models allow departures from the source text if they bring the translation more in line with the preferences and conventions of the target language – a translation that fulfills its purpose in the target language and culture is a good translation, even if it changes the source text.

The user and purpose model: assessing the function

Translation defined by purpose: in privileging the purpose, this approach is interested in the target text and context and a connection to the source text may become secondary. Some people are critical of this, suggesting that if a translation is very far away from the original, it would be misleading to call it a translation. Another point of criticism is that it is not always clear what the ‘function’ should be and whether it has been fulfilled.

A translation brief (from Sonia Colina’s 2015 book Fundamentals of translation (adapted):

brief

Good enough?

In the translation industry this criterion ensures resources are allocated effectively. How long would you expect the translator to spend working on your text, with what level of attention and how much revision? How much do you wish to pay for?

Technology has had a huge impact on how translations are produced to meet tight deadlines and sufficient quality standards. Given the industry focus on efficiency, the use of MT may be acceptable for some ‘quick and dirty’ internal tasks, where the gist matters.

Quality concerns not just the product but also the whole process, from recruitment/the commission, process management via a project manager with a system for handling queries, the scope of revisions depending on the available resources, and the profile and purpose of the project (from sample checks against the source text to a quick skim of the target text for basic readability and typos or a bilingual revision against the original).

Read the target text more than once, each time focusing on other issues such as flow and logic, or spelling and grammar. Consistency is extremely important: from the use of terms, to style, to punctuation. Some clients may prefer a particular house style, i.e. a set of language and editing rules. Other tips for efficient revision include reading on paper and not on screen and having the translation revised by someone else (not the translator).

Further stages of the translation process may involve IT checks (especially for specialised formats), product testing (for example, in game localisation) and client surveys.

However, quality control does not have to be present at every stage – eg a call for voluntary translators may have some quality control at a later stage.

Specialised translation:

  • translating specialised, as opposed to general, content from a field of knowledge (eg medical, legal, scientific, technical)
  • specialised texts tend to contain terms (as opposed to regular words) from the relevant field, as well as abbreviations and acronyms
  • some acronyms have an established target language equivalent, while others may be left in the original language, especially in translations from English, and explained in the target language
  • a key marker of translation quality is to render terms accurately and consistently

Key methods and resources for researching terminology:

  • specialised dictionaries, monolingual dictionaries or lexicons
  • reading about the subject in the source language and the target language
  • consulting specialists and fellow translators (eg on a forum)
  • looking up authoritative translations of similar texts, which show how relevant terms have been translated before
  • online terminological databases
  • translation memories

Sometimes it’s not easy to find an equivalent term – there may be more than one term (one borrowed from another language and one ‘native’)or there may be none. If there is no term in the target language a new term may be introduced through translation, by eg literal translation or calque (a French word for tracing paper), or by borrowing, eg importing the English word.

Specialised translation can sometimes pose cultural problems, as conventions for writing specialised texts vary across languages. For example, in English it’s acceptable to use personal pronouns such as ‘we’ in technical writing. The dominance of English means that Anglophone ways of writing and presenting knowledge exert a huge influence on how specialised texts are translated and written in other languages. The situation is so serious that scholars find non-Anglophone ways of constructing knowledge under threat and warn against ‘epistemicide’, or the killing of knowledge.

Literary translation – favouring fluency?:

  • from experiments in literalism to free adaptations
  • the dominant view among many contemporary publishers is that a well translated book reads naturally and the language flows well, sometimes to the extent of creating an illusion that the book has been originally written in the target language – this rests on the assumption that translation is simply about re-packaging the content in another language
  • “make the narrative read fluently” – making the language idiomatic and natural, so it does not read like a translation;  a good translation is ‘invisible’ (translators are only noticed to be blamed, never to be praised)
  • vs translation as a truly creative process – instead of seeing a translation as a mere copy of an original, we may consider it a text among many texts
  • what about literature that strives for unique ways of expression, sculpting language into shapes unseen before (or just using different effects)? If language in a literary piece is not a transparent container for meaning but instead draws attention to itself, how will such pieces be translated? – many translators and publishers prefer not to experiment too much
  • allowing foreignness – calls for literary translations that bend and inflect the target language, sound foreign and, indeed, read like translations
  • if a text is complicated, ambiguous and challenging, it may be inviting us to pause and see things in a new way or to develop our own interpretations – that complexity should be recreated in translation, even if the resulting text may become even more unusual than the original because of a close or experimental translation
  • eg long sentences should be recreated, even if the target language normally uses shorter sentences
  • translations should signal linguistic and cultural foreignness to expose readers to other cultures (‘foreignising’, making translators more visible and raising their status, making a difference through translation)
  • vs strange sounding texts may appear elitist or scholarly and put readers off; politically progressive translation depends on the context, eg if the source culture has been negatively stereotyped by the target culture, ‘foreignised’ translations could reinforce stereotypes of strangeness, primitivism
  • how to render foreign cultural references – ricotta or cream cheese?
  • good literary translation is about representing others in a responsible way – many dilemmas!

From comment:

Translations: either compare with originals or focus on the target audience and the translation function (as in industry)

Type of translation:

  • specialised – a high degree of accuracy is important
  • literary – opinion is divided:
    • for some people a well translated book or novel or poem will read very naturally as though it had been written in the target language
    • others prefer to know that they’re reading a translation for they like the style to be a bit different or unusual, or they want to see words and concepts from another culture
    • yet others prefer, whatever the message, to represent the source author, and maybe the community that’s depicted in the literary work in a fair way

The myths about translation, that it is easy, that anybody can do it, it’s just a matter of transposing one word for another or perhaps the opposite that it is an impossible task bound to betray and to fail the original every time…How to prepare for translation so that you can perhaps pre-empt some of the difficulties and issues that might come up.

Doing the Danglish

In her webinar on editing non-native English Joy Burrough-Boenisch highlighted the problem of “going native” – she even felt herself going Dutch and wrote a book to stop it (sample).  Turns out there’s even a Dunglish blog. This is interesting, as like in Denmark it’s often assumed that in the Netherlands  “everyone speaks English” faultlessly. But it is still a foreign language, and it’s all to easy to fall into more familiar patterns.

Further issues are the concept of international English or globish (see the globish text scanner), other Englishes (see Flavours of English, including EU English), and the confusions that can arise when two non-native speakers try to communicate in their own particular versions of English. At my Danish language school everyone bar the most committed switched to English in the breaks, leading to much miscommunication between students from around the world. I’ve also witnessed a number of perplexing encounters in tourist locations, where I’m often tempted to leap in to ease communication between two parties who only share English as a common language. For more, see Robert McCrum‘s Globish: how the English language became the world’s language (Amazon | article | review).

Danglish is definitely a thing:

It’s pretty easy to spot an English text which has been translated by a Dane rather than a native speaker, and while in most cases it may be “good enough”, it’s frequently jarring for native speakers and can easily lead to issues somewhere along the line, in a global game of Chinese whispers.

From here it’s not such a leap to the idea that the language you speak affects the way you behave and express yourself. For example:

  • the fact that Danish has no word for please means they only do ‘negative politeness’ and can come over as passive aggressive
  • English has a large vocabulary, with lots of ‘redundant’ words, but at the same time prefers to imply and understate
  • Denmark’s smaller vocabulary limits expression; can be repetitive and feel exaggerated/’black and white’

The Economist even held a debate on the question (78% agreed that the language we speak shapes how we think) and regularly posts articles on its Johnson or Prospero blogs on the issue (You think what you talkDo different languages confer different personalities?). The TED blog has 5 examples of how the languages we speak can affect the way we think.

This view is traced back to the early 20th century linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf and has become known as Whorfianism (or linguistic relativity) in certain circles. We now have two camps:

There probably is some horse/cart confusion going on, however the prevalence of the need for native translations plus everyday exposure to Danish discourse puts me in the Deutscher camp (great names both, mind).

I borrowed the Deutscher from the library so I could look “Danish” up in the index. There’s not much, but this is worth the effort:

the industrious Protestant Danes have dropped more consonants onto their icy windswept soil than any indolent tropical tribe

Charles the V, born in Ghent, spoke “Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men and German to my horse”.

In a similar vein, Using the foreign to grasp the familiar, looks at the issue of bilingual writers and emigres. You can do that even when writing in your ‘own’ language. And untranslatable words? Wishful thinking.

See also How the language you speak changes your view of the world, Lost in translation (obv) and Multilinguals have multiple personalities.

Update, Jan 2017: Lauren Collins’ When in French (2016; Gdn | New York Times | extractpodcast) comes over a bit US-En from the reviews etc, with over-use of words such as ‘charming’ and ‘disarming’, but eulogising is a problem for writing about Paris in general. More interesting is her take on Whorfianism, making two interesting points: your use of a language depends on time and place (she was a mother in French), and that ‘language’ in a relationship has to be learned, even if you share a native language; factors in play include culture, class etc.

No Francophile from the start, she hated life in Geneva, with the lack of a dominant Swiss culture an issue (nothing to belong to, or conversely to be outside). She spoke French there, but not the French “we love”, ie of France, where she enjoys a dinner table dispute, the lofty, abstract nouns, the courtesy of greetings and salutations, the culture of argument, rhetoric and logic. This is compared with the flexibility and egalitarian nature of English. Having lived in London she compares the UK attitude to first languages (often maintained by immigrants) with that in the US (stigmatised), and the preference in both for second languages which have been studied.

Anna-Louise Milne, developing the Paris Centre for Migrant Writing and Expression and MA in Urban History and Culture at the University of London Institute in Paris, is exploring issues around expat or migrant and writes in French. Her ‘novel without fiction’ 75 explores a single street in the La Chapelle quarter (19th arrondissement), where “the stories and anecdotes of the inhabitants disappear under the layers of painting” (75 is the number of years spent in the district by one of the protagonists).

See also Ilan Stavans on translating The little prince into Spanglish.

#ot15: my open translation MOOC

OT12, the Open Translation MOOC took place nearly three years ago, but let’s give it a whirl anyway.

Open translation practices rely on crowdsourcing, and are used for translating open resources such as TED talks and Wikipedia articles, and also in global blogging and citizen media projects. There are many tools to help open translation practices, from Google Translate to online dictionaries and translation workflow tools.

Supported by my old friend the Higher Education Academy and run by the Open University, a number of post-MOOC resources are available:

The MOOC used the FLOSS manual Open translation tools as a reference book (see the introduction and why translate for starters), plus NPTEL’s Introduction to translation studies. Useful, both.

The main activities on the MOOC addressed subtitling videos and collaborative translation, looking in particular at quality assurance and workflow issues.

Subtitling videos: making video accessible

Issues related to captioning videos:

  • what to do when what you hear is grammatically incorrect – transcribe or correct? does the better quality of edited captions justify the time and resource needed to edit them? or is automatic captioning ‘good enough’? if so, for what and for whom?
  • acknowledging the translator – do you want your work recognised, or prefer to remain anonymous?
  • difficult to translate directly from a vid – a transcription by a native speaker is a better starting point (well yes)
  • machine translation – often laughably inaccurate, not good at accents, but better than nothing and will get better as the tech advances
  • if the quality of translation is not very high it may still be useful
  • closed captions make video/audio accessible and can also be used for SEO, learning a language, watching something with the sound off, etc

Tools:

  • Google’s automatic captioning for YouTube (vid) – upload a text file with captions and Google takes care of the synchronisation; vid owners can produce transcriptions and also enable viewer-created translations; check options and settings under Subtitles/CC, autotranslations into a range of languages may be on offer
  • Amara – previously Universal Subtitles; an open source platform for subtitling video content from the web; used by Coursera and TED; how to vid
  • more software: Caption It Yourself (info from the US Association for the Deaf) | WinCAPS (priced)
  • VideoNote.es – video watching and notetaking on one screen, could easily be used for subtitling; tried out here

With Danish as a source language opportunites are pretty limited (who does eg The Legacy), although we are back to the issue of post-editing, non-native, etc. For more see MA Translation Studies News, and for a Danish perspective Kirsten Marie Øveraas’ series (De dårlige undertekster | De knap så dårlige | De gode). Subtitling companies include SDI Media Denmark, Subline/Prima Vista.

Collaborative translation

Sections of an OER on the practice of translation (useful!) were translated by participants, using Transifex (open? only 30 day free trial; vid) to manage workflow and crowdsourcing (similar to GatherContent, a content strategy workflow tool):

The Transifex localization platform makes it easy to collect, translate and deliver digital content, web and mobile apps in multiple languages.

Features:

  • autotranslate populates the translation field with a translation from Google Translate
  • suggestions, glossary: “in the context of crowd-sourced translations totally foreseeable decision-making should be part of a clear style guide distributed to all participants before they start work”
  • editing and proofreading – peer review, suggestion and voting facilities

See the FLOSS manual on community managementdictionaries and glossaries.

Issues:

  • the Skopos theory states that you cannot translate a text without knowing the purpose, but for much of the information on the internet the original purpose is unknown; is it possible to deduce the purpose from the context?
  • Mary Snell-Hornby: “a good translator has to be not only bilingual but bi-cultural”; in an age of globalisation does it still hold true? is there a ‘world culture’ that renders culture awareness less relevant (the globish argument – how can you reflect cultural awareness if you don’t know what culture is the target audience)? or is cultural awareness even more important in a global context?

Open translation projects

Quality assurance

Quality control:

  • should there be a responsibility to ensure the minimum quality of translating and captioning? where does it lie?
  • should there be code of conduct for the people who undertake to translate Internet resources?
  • and what about legal protection?

According to European Standard EN 15038:2006 Translation services: service requirement translators should check their translation in terms of omissions and errors and ensure that specific specifications have been met. Translators cannot revise their own translation, meaning that revision has to be done by another person. Is this relevant and/or practical in the context of open translation, where translators often work as volunteers and may not be professionals?

A ‘good’ translation often depends on how ‘satisfied’ the client is. Can an open translation be measured as such, considering that there is no specific client?

Quality control procedures in on open translation sh/could include

  • a project plan and guide to the common approach (code of practice) shared with the team
  • defined roles and responsibilities
  • a style guide
  • contributor profiles
  • self-check tests and collaboration agreements
  • a forum for queries and sharing resources
  • acknowledge all contributions

Place writing in Denmark: stedssans

Update, Nov 2015: in I anno 2015 skal også fagbøger skrives som personlige fortællinger Politiken explores the storytelling turn in non-fiction. Out with the encyclopedias, in with something rather more accessible. On a related note, a lengthy article from Videnskab.dk explores the role of academics in the Danish media. So many rules, written or not.

The Danish book market is very different from that in the English speaking world. For starters, it’s a very small market, receiving large cash injections from the state via 25% VAT on books, hefty grants and subsidies for the fortunate (some sort of payback for your taxes, perhaps) and an eye wateringly high Public Lending Right Scheme (max UK payment: £6.6K).

The dominance of a single Authors’ School, Forfatterskolen, rather than different flavours of creative writing throughout the higher education system, can be criticised for stifling creativity and producing identikit authors with interchangeable names all writing the same thing in the same style. It would be fun to do some analysis of Litteratursiden’s Årets bedste bøger and ditto fagbøger – eg how many received state support, how many are translations and from what language, how many by women in shifts with n legater…?

And for this UK reader, books are painfully expensive – no £7.99 paperbacks here, or three for two offers, tempting you to impulse buy. Danish books tend to the encyclopedic and the huge, perhaps to justify the cover price. Thank goodness for the excellent Danish library service.

Then there’s the lack of literary non-fiction, my genre of choice. This year’s winner of historical book of the year (Årets Historiske Bog), Ellen og Adam (news story), was praised for taking a ‘new turn’ in literature and being, perhaps, readable. More common is a new publication at  the other end of the scale, a four volume set of diaries written by a member of the Danish government during WW2 – a tad niche, surely? According to P1’s Skønlitteratur, itself rather more highbrow than your average R4 prog, this approach is due to Denmark’s educational tradition, based on the German, with history seen as a science – Wissenschaft – see #sagasandspace, rather than the more populist British approach, public engagement (aka formidling) and all. The Danish higher education system does come over like a mighty dinosaur.

So it’s no real surprise that there’s a lack of writing in the Sinclair/Macfarlane mould in Denmark. (Neither of these two have been translated into Danish, and there’s surprisingly little Sebald on offer). And with Facebook (and Instragram) being the Danish #some of choice, there’s no Twitter or blogging to tap into either. (The blogging thing is weird. Maybe it’s because writing a blog doesn’t make you an Author, plus it’s free in a country where everything has a cost.) Which isn’t to say there is no writing about place or walking, rather that it comes from a rather different…place.

Denmark’s two big cultural exports, Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Andersen, were both walkers. Rather less familiar is Ludvig Feilberg, Denmark’s philosopher of walking, and doubtless Grundtvig had a hand in it all too. A vandringsessay by Kim Skotte in Politiken illlustrates the issues perfectly. Coming in at just over 2K words, I loaded this into OmegaT as a translation exercise, the first time I have used a CAT tool rather than parallel columns in GoogleDocs. The essay was inspired by Frederic Gros’ book  The philosophy of walking, recently published in Danish as . Familiar issues from the start. For example, very short sentences. Alliteration which doesn’t carry over. And at the end of para 3:

Og mens vi går, indhenter vi langsomt os selv.

This is a Kierkegaard allusion. Never mind the spatial turn, this is the philosophical turn.

Turning to books on place, several approach the topic from the perspective of literature, reminiscent of the secondary literature I read on my first degree in German. It feels derivative and unoriginal, and TBH I’m unsure why would you want to read litcrit unless you were studying the lit. Odd.

Anyway, I’m now pulling together the main references on place writing in Denmark I have found – see Stedssans (a sense of place), with posts in the stedssans category.

Update, Oct 2015: some explanations for the lack of place writing in Denmark can be found in the issue of Ecozon@ on European new nature writing. From the editorial:

Nature writing…has played a significant role as a minor genre in AngloAmerican culture over the last two and a half centuries. However, there is no term for it in most European languages, and no comparable literary tradition, despite the existence of individual works since Rousseau and Humboldt which might be regarded as classics of nature writing… Are the ‘new’ developments in British nature writing…such as depiction of the experience of wildness in urban and marginal settings, populated landscapes and everyday life, notions of transnational eco-citizenship and transient, dynamic dwelling in a changing world rather than timeless, exclusively national forms of inhabitation, and postmodern formal innovations, then to be found in contemporary European writing?

And from the introduction:

But when we came to frame the call for papers for this special issue of Ecozon@ we found that ‘nature writing’ was not a category that translated easily in the rest of Europe. Indeed, the term ‘pastoral’ was often a cultural mode more associated with music than with literature. The lone writer, such as Robert Macfarlane, making trips into the countryside for personal epiphanies of engagement or enlightenment, often in dialogue with a writer from the past, was not a common mode of literary production.

On a more basic level, it turns out that half of Danes live less than 10km from where they were born (source). I don’t have comparative statistics, but this feels like a rather limited national self geography.

Experiments in literature and translation

Experimental writing

A mixed bunch of examples:

Tools:

På dansk:

Experimental translations (and related)

Translation specific devices:

Editing non-native English: academic editing

eCPD Webinars’ follow-up to Editing non-native English with Joy Burrough-Boenisch looked specifically at academic and scientific texts:

With so many non-native-English university students, academics and scientists expected to write in English there is huge demand for proofreaders and authors’ editors to make their texts fit for purpose. The presenter will discuss the nature of this work: what it entails, methods and techniques to use, and resources to deploy. Attention will also be given to the ethics of editing texts that are to be assessed by academic institutions and/or are intended to be published in pursuit of academic or scientific kudos.

To recap, typical ‘non-native’ features that need to be corrected include learner English problems and transfers from the author’s language and culture.

A growing number of non-native English (NNE) higher education students are required to write in English because they are studying in Anglophone countries or their courses are being taught in English (not always by native English speakers). Scientists are publishing more in English than in their own language.

Both individuals and companies offers editing help. See American Manuscript Editors, who offer to “correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. He or she will also improve the flow of your paper, eliminate any awkward sentences or phrasing, and ensure that the writing is clear and concise while meeting the formatting requirements of the targeted journal”. This is not just copy or language editing, and could be considered invasive.

In UK universities the language correction services offered to students as ‘proofreading’ (not to be confused with the reading of galley proofs or electronic texts to detect and correct minor errors before the text is published) are often provided by academically trained and generally not commercially-oriented persons.

This term proofreading, which historically the term only applied to the final check of galley proofs against marked-up text, is now used for checking final or near-final version of text and rectifying minor shortcomings. How minor is minor? See True Editing’s Academic Services for details of what they will do.

educateIf the text is to be graded or assessed, there are ethical issues, as writing skills may be part of the assessment. Editing hence entails correcting wrong or strange English, plus addressing other shortcomings.

If the text is an article for a peer reviewed journal or similar the usual aim of editing is to give that person a credible voice in the academic community, and hence editing entails correcting any wrong or strange English and non-Anglophone conventions, plus addressing other shortcomings.

You can choose to edit to educate – the third circle of the Venn diagram.

Ethical editing for students involves fixing language-related errors and flagging errors you think the student should be able to fix. Consider teaching via comments, either via marginal comments or as inline comments inserted in the text, forcing the author to engage with comments and remove them manually.

A further issue is plagiarism – keep an eye open for unexpected changes in style.

Universities are starting to develop policies on proofreading aka academic editing, eg LSE’s Statement on editorial help, Essex on proofreading, which bans noticeboard ads from proofreaders and has developed a register of proofreaders, with regular meetings for ‘control’. Their policy includes, for example, reformatting only a section of a bibliography as an appropriate level of intervention, but rewriting sections, reordering paragraphs or correcting factual errors as not. Substantive or structural editing is the role of the student’s supervisor. (Lots more on this plus examples in slides 57-62. See also Guardian article.

Professional organisation are also beginning to offer guidance. See the Institute of Professional Editors (PDF; 2001; see IPEd) in Australia and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), who have published a guide to checking the language of theses and dissertations.

Bottom line: the editor’s contribution should always be acknowledged. It should be clear whether the editor was responsible for the final or near-final draft. (Authors may ‘improve’ the edited manuscript without consulting the editor.) Examples on slides 65-68.

To edit academic texts you should:

  • be familiar with the jargon and discourse conventions of the given field of science (the ‘tribal language’)
  • know the style and conventions of the text genre (eg research article, grant proposal)
  • for journal articles, be acquainted with the journal’s instructions for authors

Google Scholar (dansk) can be used to check that words and phrases are acceptable jargon in both the SL and the TL. If it is only used in the SL try Google Translate. Alternatively a specialist corpus such as Springer Exemplar can be used – it shows the country or usage, over time etc. (Sometimes words do make it out of the SL into broader usage.) If this does not resolve the issue, ask the author!

From the Q&A:

  • to calculate how long it might take, translate 1K words and add on a margin – if it takes 4 hours, you are going to have to re-examine your level of edit and find a compromise; JBB goes with four double spaced pages of text/hour + 1 page wriggle room
  • state that will charge less if takes a shorter time; what if more?
  • the PhD issue – technical translators don’t usually have PhDs in the subject; you can be self educated due to an interest and gain background knowledge cf Karen Shashok, the main thing is to be linguistically gifted, there are techniques you can use; once you specialise in a field you start to feel comfortable with the ‘tribal language’
  • can’t they get away with dodgy English? – one country’s NNE may not be understood by NNSs from another country, the whole thing will get lost in translation; an international norm is needed which is understandable to all; lowering the bar perpetuates errors and may well lead to dodgy English getting into a corpus, or becoming the norm for a tribe, see EU English

Clearly the further you move up the editing scale the more you can charge. Academic proofreading prices range roughly from £16 for a 2,000-word essay to £600 for a doctoral thesis (from ghostwriting article), but Harwood found offers varied widely, with some charging by the hour and some by the word. JBB charges by the hour for editing, but by the word for translating. EASE allegedly charges £29.60/hour (low), while Libro charges (2014) from £6 per 1000 words (standard) and £9 per 1000 words (urgent).

Links:

See also my post on academic writing, which includes some English for Academic Purposes and style links.

Who does it?

Editing non-native English

eCPD Webinars’ introduction to editing non-native English took place at 12:30 CET on 10 February:

The many types of non-native written English have common characteristics that academic language professionals tasked with editing or proofreading should know to look out for. Focusing mainly on European languages, the presenter will give examples of non-native-English textual features and explain why authors produce them. Understanding what drives the author is only part of the story, so we will also look at what drives the editor or proofreader to change text. Though aimed primarily at novices, the presentation will also benefit more seasoned practitioners, by consolidating their knowledge and enabling them to put their editing in perspective.

Led by Joy Burrough-Boenisch (LinkedIn), who doesn’t look like a novice, so I gave it a whirl, along with ~27 other attendees. It still feels weird to pay for a webinar, but this one was interesting and thought provoking.

I’ve worked as an editor for many a year so I was interested in what would be highlighted as specific to editing non-native English, as opposed to poor English, or even English written in a different style from that required. And what are the particular pitfalls in editing the English written by someone whose language you do not know? (That sentence could do with a little help.)

Like me, but unlike most of the webinar participants, Joy came into translating via editing. She stated however that the translation angle gives you a different way of looking at things.

Useful skills:

  • subject knowledge – gives you access to jargon and ‘tribal usage’
  • cultural knowledge – but bear in mind how personal and other factors can affect your editing, including your knowledge of a language (cf going Dutch)

From old friend NASA’s Levels of edit (1980):

[the levels are] not applicable to editing copy by a foreign born person who is not familiar with idiomatic English usage

This is a non- professionalised field – many people who edit non-native English are not necessarily experienced in the types of editing that professional editors perform. Equally, the English word ‘editing’ means different things to different people, depending on their mother tongue and their field of work. Different connotations are attached to editing and the terminology to describe text processing, even within the language professions (journalism, publishing, copywriting and translation, for example). (See Copyediting and proofreading: similar yet different and Can you pass a proofreading test?)

Traits of non-native English:

  • the writing of non-native authors of English is likely to have faults and inadequacies common to all draft texts, such as typos, spelling errors, omissions and inaccuracies, tautology and redundancy, poor writing – ie the same as in native English, which can be a comfort to the non-native author
  • specifically ‘non-native’ characteristics can be grouped into two categories:
    • learner English problems, not always picked up by spelling and grammar checkers, such as limited vocabulary and inappropriate register
    • transfers from the author’s language and culture, such as idioms, ‘airing cupboards’ (cultural things which need explanation), The Egg of Columbus
  • it helps to be able to speak, or at least to be familiar with the author’s language: ie to be able to use translation strategies
  • language transfers – spelling a word according to how you ‘hear’ it
  • convention transfer – punctuation, eg Danish comma rules, overuse of !; Dutch/German paragraphs (incidentally, are English paras universally still indented?)
  • limited vocabulary, leading to overuse and repetition
  • formal vs informal
  • US vs UK English
  • false friends
  • differing usage of Latin words – someone’s probably written a paper on that
  • different writing cultures – sentence length, linking words (English uses lots, eg moreover, in addition), ways of emphasising words
  • absences may also be transferred – in/definite articles, tenses, gender pronouns, lack of a precise word

Strategies for problem solving:

  • consult web resources on common errors made by writers sharing your author’s native language
  • think laterally
  • back-translate – Google Translate can help here

Usage of corpora was bigged up. Ideally the corpus should cover the area you are editing, but you can always create your own. (See my #corpusmooc posts, esp on language learning, using AntConc and using CQPweb. A year ago already!)

Editing skills:

  • general editorial principles – remove redundancy, ensure accuracy, edit to achieve clarity of expression and logic of presentation
  • importance of consistency – adhere to a self-imposed or prescribed style (spelling, the use of abbreviations, the formatting of references, appropriate standards for international symbols for units of measurement)
  • follow a style manual which prescribes spelling, punctuation, use of typefaces (italics, for example), capitalisation etc
  • be aware of conventions and practices of both main forms of English (in practice, many non-native-speaker authors write in a mixture of British and American English)
  • consult publicly accessible corpora and build up own corpora of published texts
  • awareness of genre theory – analysing and comparing genres from the author’s culture with the equivalent genres in English can be revealing (eg meeting minutes tense)
  • usage of the mark-up techniques used by (proper) copyeditors is not essential

Translation skills:

  • familiarisation with differences between the source language and the target language acquired from translation means you become particularly alert to false friends and other linguistic and cultural transfers
  • comparing style guides in English with style guides in the author’s language (sprogpolitik) reveals differences in conventions (punctuation, alphabetisation and usage of Latin)
  • back-translating ‘nonsense’ sentences or phrases into the author’s language.  The Internet translation tool will reveal alternative translations for a highlighted word, and this can lead the editor directly or indirectly (via a false friend) to the editorial solution

Some of the above comes from Joy’s article on editing non-native English. See also Supporting research writing: roles and challenges in multilingual settings (co-editor with V Matarese). Finally, membership of  SENSE (Society of English-Native-Speaking Editors; mainly NL, has some DK members) and MET (Mediterranean Editors & Translators; lots of lovely links) can help avoid language attrition, and also be good for networking.