Translation topic

Subject: Translation topic
From: "JACK P. SHAW" <jsh -at- SOFTWARE-AG -dot- DE>
Date: Tue, 8 Feb 1994 11:59:55 MEZ

First, an aside: I was waylaid for a while with illness,
and during that time my friendly Internet gateway choked
on my undiscontinued mail, throwing a lot away. I know
that some of you wrote and I didn't respond in the last
couple of weeks. Please accept my apologies, and I am
trying to get through the responses to the email that was
salvaged. Please forgive, but I'm not astute enough yet
to be able to make Internet take unplanned absence into

OK. To translation. I, too, was of the mind that a non-native
speaker simply isn't up to the nuances of the task. Was.
After seven+ years of hacking my way into the jungle of
German and dealing with the translation, I've noticed (or
like to believe I have) a strange phenomenon.

I've gotten the impression that those who have to fight
to acquire their second language are acutely attuned to
nuances and shades of meaning. Those whose mother tongue
it is, however, seem to (sometimes) have a more "laid back"
approach to translation. As an example, I've found the native
German speakers actually favor the equally cumbersome and
oft undesirable passive construction when translating from
non-passive english. I surmise quite unscientifically that this
is simply due to conditioning; Germans generally find the
passive construction more "studious/serious"--though not
necessarily more understandable. In short, it's a habit.

On the other hand, a non-native translator to German seems
more likely (again, in my experience) to prefer simpler,
more direct structures and be more aware of subtleties--maybe
a tendency toward "tripping over the freethrow line", as my
basketball coach used to accuse me of doing. Non-native
types "trip" over questionable constructions, word choices,
and the like. IMVHO...

As for your first (two ) sentences, John, wie waere es mit:

>>Als Uebersetzer der Bedienungsanleitungen fuer Schwergeraete
von Englisch ins Deutsch bin ich der Meinung dass es haengt
davon ab, wie einfach eine Uebersetzung ist und wie verstaendlich
der (ursprungliche) Satz geschrieben war.<<

No showing off, but as John can tell you, a feeble attempt to do
what he said--translate the first two sentences of his note. I did
that in about a minute, and know already that I'd do it differently
if I had to do it again. You'll have to ask John how well I did;
that's his bread and butter, not mine. But I do know this--most
native-speaking Germans would tend to translate literally from his
two sentences, and would do something like:

>>Waehrend meiner Leben als Uebersetzer habe ich Betriebsanleitungen
fuer Schwergeraete von Englisch ins Deutsch uebersetzt. Ich kann
sagen, der Handhabung (i'm groping here) beim uebersetzen bezeiht
sich direkt dazu, inwieweit der gegebene Satz geschrieben war.<<

If I could, I'd go back and change "der Handhabung" to "die Hand..."
and "dazu" to "darauf". But anyway, the second is a literal
translation of John's two sentences, whereas the former and somewhat
shorter (though single) sentence--and more like I think one would
speak, rather than write, the translation. I think non-native
translators tend to do that, as well--translate to a form that's
more like the spoken. At least in German, there's a strong educ.
conditioning to write one way and speak another.

This has gotten out of hand. My point is, I don't think the non-native
translator is at a disadvantage, but rather sometimes quite more
attuned to make better choices than the "conditioned" native
speaker. No doubt, though, that varies from land to land and, more
obviously and fairly, case to case.

Jack Shaw
jsh -at- software-ag -dot- de

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