Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

English is confusing too!

August 16, 2019

Context is a rich source of confusion in English as well as German.

How about:

“You can’t be too modest” – Do you mean “It is unwise to be too modest, you’ll get trampled underfoot by more ambitious people”? Or do you mean “You should always be as modest as you can’t, don’t overestimate yourself”? Though some constructions of this sort, e.g. “you can’t be too careful” would probably never be misunderstood.

I have a bet on with a friend at the moment. I was thrilled yesterday when he wrote “Look forward to receiving your EUR 20” – until I realised he didn’t mean “You can look forward to receiving …”, it was a casual way of saying “I look forward to receiving…”!

Whatever the weather

August 29, 2017

A good while a go I heard a TV comic making fun of the tagline “xxx sponsors Weathernews on Channel yyy. Whatever the weather”. Well, yes, that figures. Can you imagine the effort that would go into sponsoring sunshine only? Contract clauses, forecasting ….

More recently, I’ve noticed TV weather experts saying things like: “And for those who like it cooler, by next Thursday we are likely to see temperatures of 16 degrees”. Is cold weather only of interest to those who like it? No one else needs a warm jacket?

On the other hand a) these things package the key point (“xxx is a generous sponsor, buy our product”; “it is going to get cooler) attractively b) a bald statement would be boring and c) most people just extract that key point and don’t analyse the wording. However, I can’t help wondering: just how little actual content (okay, call it “common sense”) does TV and magazine copy need to have in order to carry a marketing-type message/message with short-term relevance?

HEIDELBERG GROUP OF translators celebrating International Translation Day, 30 September 2016

September 30, 2016

#connectworlds – for one day only! Make their initiative go viral! Follow the hashtag!

In praise of a great translation

May 21, 2016

Most of us Brits will have studied this poem by John Keats at school – how many remember that it is about a translation that inspired him, not a beautifully worded travelogue?

On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Update on “Gespraech”

February 12, 2016

After so many years, I have now found in a number of monolingual contexts that the English equivalent of “Gespraech” is simply “conversation”!

Context is key – but the richness of language leads to other problems

May 6, 2015

Adding to the post about context resolving ambiguities: the other side of the coin is that a single meaning can of course be correctly translated in several-to-many different ways. Any translator knows that, it is also used by the Society of Authors to explain why translators are admitted as members: translation is a creative process, a book can be translated in many different valid ways, depending on the translator’s creative choices.

However, so can purely descriptive, factual texts. And the opportunity to become familiar with a client’s existing body of communication is particularly important here. Simply put, if your “Anlage” (see blog post on context) has been clearly identified as a large piece of technical kit, it can be a “plant” or a “system” or a “machine” or a “unit” or probably many more options in English. Failing to align with the existing material will confuse readers and make the client indignant – so clients, do allow time and money for us to engage with your content!

PS: this doesn’t apply to everyone – good clients have been doing it for years!

It depends on the context ….

May 6, 2015

According to a colleague (stand up Jonathan Downie), the number of translators it takes to change a light bulb “depends on the context”. Okay, it is a phrase we translators use often. Why? Here are some examples from English and German.

1. “You can’t be too humble/modest here”
– in the context of learning or study, for example, this would mean it is good to be modest. In an environment with a lot of dominant people, it would mean you shouldn’t be too modest, otherwise you will get nowhere.

2. “Produkt X wird nur von Unternehmen Y bezogen”
– You could translate this sentence “Product X is only purchased from Company Y”. However, with the range of meanings of the little word “von” it could also mean “Product X is only purchased by Company Y”. That’s a real example where the translation was changed after two or three further sentences – because the context made the sense clear.

3. “Sanction”
– It can mean either a ban or restriction – political sanctions on imports, for example – or a sign of approval.

4. “Anhalten”
– A German verb which can mean “continue” or “stop” – a similar example is “einstellen”, which can mean either “to start” (when used reflexively) or “to discontinue”. It also means “to hire”, less easy to confuse but you still need the context to know for sure.

5. “Anlage”
– One of my favourites, the root means “[something that is] laid on/at” – so in German it becomes anything from an investment to a complex of buildings to a large machine or system to a green and pleasant park. Confusing? Maybe only if you are investing in a factory….

It’s not just a matter of showing forbearance towards the translator who doesn’t immediately understand what everyone in your company knows.

It also has important implications for the increasingly common practice of expecting a translator to “plug in” new parts of an existing text without reference to that text. It may look like a good way to save money – but producing communications where the reader will know his money from his machine because the translator has been allowed to read the – yes, that tired old word context – could be worth a few pennies.

Linguistic myths – how do they survive?

July 24, 2012

This really is an “oldie but a goody”. I am talking about a classic dictionary error (in my opinion) that still turns up on translation forums, let alone in dictionaries – even very well known online ones (I checked today before writing this).

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

Wer rastet, der rostet.

Well, I suppose they look as if they should be similar – you keep on the move, you don’t have a lot of extraneous ballast (English), you keep still, you “rust” or become inactive. It isn’t unknown for two languages to say the same thing by opposites, one country’s health insurance is another’s sickness insurance.


A rolling stone gathers no moss: most definitions and explanations say it means people who keep moving on do not collect responsibilities and ties, or even many possessions – often, though by no means always, it is construed as negative, i.e. it is presumably a mature thing to gather responsibilities as you grow committed to a place.

Wer rastet, der rostet: generally defined as meaning that if you “rest” too much, i.e. don’t move physically and/or mentally, you will seize up (literally: rust) and be unable to run, skip, hop or use your brain.

Interestingly, one or two of the English definitions do take the German meaning, specifically in the sense of keeping mentally alert. However, generally speaking, anyone who knows German and English well must know that the ideas conveyed in the two phrases are not equivalent, so how do the dictionary entries survive? The two phrases “fit where they touch”, like loose clothing – and they don’t seem to touch in many places.

Old dog, new tricks?

June 7, 2011

I attended the ITI ScotNet Workshop on 4 June. Energetic and convincing speaker Judy Jenner was enthusiastic about Twitter – me, I signed up for an account probably years ago and have never once used it. I listened to that part of her speech with what I thought was just academic interest.

So why have I just tweeted for the first time, against all expectation on my part?

Simple answer – Judy’s information that blogs could be linked to other social networking sites  (which I suppose I knew, but somehow personal info is so much more effective for me than website info) gave me an easy way in. So after struggling somewhat to find the right tab, I linked with twitter on WordPress, which redirected me to my twitter account, I tweeted and here I am back to tell the tale.

The moral of the story? Let’s see. I don’t think it is “never attend ScotNet workshops”. But there are others:

1) Energetic positive persuasion works wonders

2) An oldie but a very, very important goodie – it helps to look at apparent barriers from a new angle

3) It feels good to keep up with the times.

And maybe, just maybe, it will help me to keep my blog up to date. I can’t believe my last post was in February, I’ve been doing a lot of things worth talking about (IMOH).

Proud new title – webinar speaker!

February 24, 2011

I had a truly brand new experience yesterday. I had been asked to speak on a webinar for a small company called eCPD. I was really nervous, it was such a new experience. My subject: “Working with direct clients”.

Normally when I speak I see the audience, rely on questions and the odd joke to warm them up, I know whether they are warmed up or not etc. I can ask or answer questions as I go along. Here, I was talking only to my own microphone – and occasionally to Lucy and Sarah, the organisers – and had to rely on polls (i.e. survey-type questions that are passed on to the audience for them to key in multiple-choice answers) and, at the end, questions relayed by Sarah and Lucy.

And yet at the end the questions did feel as if they reflected real people, real personalities – real listeners!

Apart from the physical reality being so different from any ordinary presentation, I wanted to share a couple of presentation tips that other webinaristas have probably already noticed anyway:

– Jazzy slides with pictures are helpful (an organiser told me, but I’d already worked it out for myself). Normally I make very plain visuals so that the talk is the main focus, not the graphics. This is partly due to one absolute debacle when I imported some beautiful Asterix the Gaul scenes into my charts from the web into a presentation I prepared on my desktop computer – only to find when I presented it from my laptop in a non-web-linked environment that the pictures had vanished, taking most of the point of some visuals away! But when the slides are all the audience sees, they do need eye candy. Possibly not an issue for most presenters, who in any case make better slides than I do! Yesterday a coloured background, tomorrow …… animations!

– It helps to remember that you don’t have to “look at the audience”. I kept looking at the main screen and completely forgot that it was okay to keep my eyes on my notes, because on this occasion that didn’t make me that awful woman who talked to her notebook, was barely audible and never made eye contact. By gazing raptly at the screen as audience, I missed at least one cue for a poll.

– I found myself being more disciplined than usual in trying to make the charts very clear and unambiguous – again because you can’t see the bewildered faces if you have written something a little strange.

Though for one scary moment it seemed the – remarkably simple – technology might not play ball, all went well in the end and I enjoyed it. Roll on next time, a few months or a year or so down the track.