Monday, 25 July 2011

Idioms as a reflection of a culture

We are taught in translation that we must look at people's previous experiences and expectations for an adequate translation to be done. This is also the reason why no two translations are the same (unless you're using Google translate), apart from the fact that translation is also dynamic.

This got me thinking (in the line of stream of consciousness). I had a Peruvian friend who having learnt English later in life could not get her head around the fact that in English we say "I have a headache". She could not understand how we could say "have" in reference to something intangible when we could only feel something. In Spanish the equivalent phrase is "me duele la cabeza" (lit. "it hurts me the head"). I never really thought about it until she pointed it out, as I learnt Spanish at an early age and accepted the phrase "me duele la cabeza" as a one-to-one equivalent to "I have a headache".

This got me thinking that language reflects the values and mental scenes and frames of a culture. This is nothing new though. People have written about this for decades. I have been thinking about idioms in languages and how this reflects the values of a culture. Idioms are notoriously difficult to translate because the meaning of the phrase can't be determined by the individual word units and you need to know the language inside out to recognise an idiom e.g. "never look a gift horse in the mouth".

Body parts are frequently used in idioms, however different cultures use different body parts. In the Apinaye language of Brazil for example:

Lit: "I don't have my eye on you" meaning "I don't remember you".
Lit: "I'll pull your eyelid" meaning "I'll ask a favour of you".

In English many figurative uses of "heart" are best translated as "liver" in some African languages.

Using "liver" instead of "heart" in some cases reflects the importance and value of that body part in African cultures.

Do you have examples of this in your language combination? How does this affect how your culture puts value and importance on certain things and how do you translate this? I'd love to know.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Nelson Mandela and translation

In honour of Nelson Mandela's birthday today I thought I would do a related post on the translation of his book Long walk to freedom.

Long walk to freedom was written in English. With the success of the book there was a call for translations. Having been written in English and directed to a worldwide audience, there were many African concepts which were familiar to South Africans such as 'knobkerrie' and 'lobola' which had to be paraphrased. In the Xhosa translation other hurdles were encountered.

Peter Mtuze, the Xhosa translator wrote a paper entitled "Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom: the isiXhosa translator's tall order" highlighting the difficulties of translating an English book into Xhosa. Some of the challenges of translating highlighted were the title of the book, the spelling of Madiba's name, kinship terminology (concepts differ between western audiences and African audiences), clanship, culture-boound expressions, specific political entities and acronyms, amongst others. It is a very interesting paper to read and I can help you get your hands on a copy if you are interested. The translator worked very closely with Nelson Mandela in the translation and in the conclusion he rightly states "it would be interesting to know how Madiba felt when reading the translation in his mother-tongue because an unusual situation has arisen whereby he wrote in his second language and the book has now been translated back into his first language".

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Curse or blessing for the consumer or small business owner

Note: I do not claim to be a legal expert but I have attempted to highlight what the Consumer Protection Act may entail if not regulated.
"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."
This does not hold truer than with us linguists. Much is expected from us linguists; not only do we have to render a text culturally and linguistically correct but we have to ensure that it is readable to the end target client.
The reason I am mentioning this is that there is a new Consumer Protection Act which has come into effect in South Africa. In a nutshell, we will have the right to restrict unsolicited marketing materials, which includes those late night phone calls just as you are about to sit down to dinner, with the voice on the other end of the phone asking if you would like to sell your house, or take out funeral insurance, as well as ensuring that consumers receive fair, reasonable and honest work. If a business, and this applies to all types of businesses, contravenes the act, it faces severe fines. This is great for the consumer who has had a new geyser installed and a week later their house is flooded because s/he was guaranteed that a drip tray was installed, but not too great for the small and honest language business.
The act is very much skewed towards the consumer.  We have all had the case  or read about the case where the translation client thinks s/he knows better than the translator and that s/he could have done a better job or that your 'translation' is wrong. Under this Act I fear that spurious claims can be directed to you under the guise of the Act.
We as linguists have to be even more pedantic (as if we weren't already) about the way we conduct business because we can't just be linguists but astute business owners too.
We are mostly one-man shows and this makes it even harder on us as we are held to the same standards as multinational corporations. I have come up with a checklist, which is basic and is automatic for seasoned linguists, but I think bears repeating.
-Check, recheck and check again your final translation. Read it out loud, walk around with it, employ a proofreader. It's surprising how many mistakes you can pick up doing this.
-Be careful what you say online. The Internet has a surprising memory. Remember that irreverent comment you made?
-Do not do what you are not qualified to do! Rather refuse one job than lose your livelihood altogether with a claim against you. Abide by a code of ethics.
-If a dispute does arise between you and a client, get a second opinion. If you and the client still disagree find a way to mediate the dispute. Maybe give a discount on your translation if the client is determined that s/he has to get a another translation done. At all costs avoid a major dispute and ruining your reputation.
I would love to hear your comments on this and if there are more checks you would add to this list. You can read more about the Consumer Protection Act here.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Tips from an aspiring translator

I thought in today's blog post I would give a list of what I have found to be useful in starting out in translation having absolutely no experience or path to follow after I graduated from my translation degree. I may be reiterating what other blog posts have said before but I think it's important because often I forget all the advice I have heard when I'm stressed.

Just a note: I have not been paid to promote any of the items I'm about to list below.

1. Join a translation association/institution in your country

I recommend doing this as one of your first steps. I joined the South African Translator's Institute (SATI) after I had graduated. They have regular bulletins with news specific to the translation industry in South Africa as well as what is happening on a global basis i.e. events, publications, conferences. It was in one of the journals which they give out to members that I came across an ad for the Jenners' blog  and book - The Entrepreneurial Linguist. This led to a boatload of information on the translation industry and linked me to other interesting sites, resources etc. which really opened my eyes to what is going on in the industry and not feeling so isolated. You don't have to necessarily join your country's institution because other bodies such as the ITI and the ATA offer membership to anyone and are well recognised! I'm considering joining because their accreditation is very well-recognised, their publications are very interesting and relevant and there are so many resources for beginner and seasoned translators.

2. Join twitter

If you haven't done this already, create an account today. I was using twitter on a personal basis and when I came across the Jenners' blog, I saw I could follow them on twitter. I started following them and this led to my being exposed to other colleagues in the translation industry and their blogs and in turn I started following them. Twitter has been an invaluable resource and as a result enabled me to meet respected, experienced, well-known translators and been able to engage with them. It has benefited me greatly.

3. Join ProZ.com

ProZ is a translator's portal. You can sign up for free and there is also a paid membership available which I would recommend. I cannot begin to describe what is available to a translator on their website! It is where you can encounter job offers, translation courses, forums etc. They offer free courses as well which are extremely helpful; I have just attended some high quality courses: 'How to meets clients at ProZ' (this course runs weekly), 'Starting out in the translation industry' and 'Expanding your translation business'. If these are all for free, imagine what the paid courses offer.

4. Educate yourself

It doesn't matter if you have a translation degree or not. It is your responsibility as a freelancer (this is what you'll most likely be if you're in the translation industry) to educate yourself. I recommend The Entrepreneurial Linguist, How to succeed as a freelance translator and The prosperous translator. Also, subscribe to translation journals. There is a free translation journal from the web. St Jerome publishes a few translation journals as well. Of course the ATA also has its own publication. It is up to the translator to be aware of industry trends, and tools available to him/her. Don't restrict yourself to translation advice only though. Subscribe to marketing blogs and just read, read, read.

5. Be visible

Comment on blogs, engage with twitter conversations, create your own blog.  You do not know what opportunity awaits you. You do not have to be an industry guru to be recognised. Discipline and hard work will pay off. As most of our work as translators is done on the web, we must use the web to become visible and network.

6. Carpe diem

Lastly, DO IT NOW. If you've been putting off creating your website, or starting a blog, or even starting your own business, do it now. The only regret that I have is not knowing all this sooner. I'm reminded of Rudyard Kipling's poem If. If only I had known all this while I was studying, I would be better prepared for my foray  into translation. Also, although it is good for you to look at industry trends, do not look at other people and be discouraged because you aren't where they are. You are unique. Brain Wong has an interesting clip somewhat related to this.

Lastly (and this really is the end), don't be discouraged by your lack of experience. It's a myth that no one will give you an opportunity. We all have interests which we can take into our translation. For example, I have a Grade 8 certificate in classical piano and a Grade 5 certificate in music theory. I therefore have a deep understanding of music terms and what they are referring to. I am therefore experienced and specialised in musical translation. Take your hobby and unite it with your passion of translation. You'll always love what you do and through the hard times you'll be able to persevere.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

One for the introverts

Today's blog post is a bit of a silly street item (to steal a phrase from the 'Financial Times') which really had me fascinated.

A while ago I read an article about the kug. It is blending (for those linguists out there) of the words 'kettle' and 'mug'. This item allows you to boil water and make your tea or coffee in your kug. It allows you to have piping hot cups of tea wherever you are instead of carrying a flask around all day full of lukewarm liquid. It was originally designed for people suffering from arthritis (don't ask me why).

I think this is a perfect item for introverts (like me) who won't even have to leave their rooms/offices to make a hot drink while translating . Although this stamps into the mind the image of the translator working all day in a cellar behind a pile of dictionaries where you can only catch a glimpse of his/her head, whatever the kug is used for, it will certainly be useful.

Visit the kug guys.