status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage
For a few days I fielded some rather odd questions from Fiona;
Fiona: Would you say ‘a sea borough’ or ‘a sea district’?
SV: What the…? Let me have a look at that.
Fiona: No, no. It’s ok. I’ll get you to check it afterwards.
I struggled to concentrate as she redirected her strange questioning to an Italian colleague, X;
Fiona: X, would you say ‘the San Marco palace is made revived on the will of the Filippi’s family’ or ‘the Filippi’s family made will the San Marco palace to revived’?
X: Ummm… I think the second one.
Needless to say, the document ended up on my desk, and after tearing my hair out over it for less than a day, I was treated to the following haranguing;
Fiona: Why are you taking so long to proofread that 6,000 word (totally un-work-related tourist guide) document?
SV: Because it is gobbledygook and I’m having to rewrite it.
Fiona: But I don’t understand, Y translated it.
SV: Yes, but Y is Italian.
Fiona: But she speaks English.
SV: Y spent one year in England two years ago. That does not a ‘translate into English’ translator make.
Fiona: And I proofread it myself, with the help of X.
SV: Yes. I heard.
Fiona: Well can’t you just skim through and make corrections?
SV: Sigh. Let me put it to you like this. When you have a 6,000 word document composed of sentences of approximately ten words each (for argument’s sake), of which four of the words in each sentence are in the wrong order and the other six are just plain wrong, would you call the necessary adjustments ‘corrections’ or ‘rewriting’?
Fiona: Well. I don’t understand. We did a similar translation for the same man last year without all this palaver and he was perfectly happy.
SV: THAT WOULD BE BECAUSE HE DOES NOT SPEAK ENGLISH! HOW THE FLIPPING HECK WOULD HE KNOW IF IT WAS CORRECT OR NOT?
Fiona: Huffle gruffle stomp. Well just hurry up and finish it will you.
It was necessary to spend nearly 15 hours re-translating about 90% of it from Italian in order to render it comprehensible. When the man came to collect it, Fiona introduced him to the colleague who had done the French translation – cue lots of back slapping and ‘grazie milles’.
My name, however, was curiously absent from the conversation.
There is a rather laissez-faire attitude to general translation in many countries. Something that can lead to some fantastically humorous moments in restaurants especially; such as the other day, when the menu asked me to choose between a pizza or an ‘overcoat in a cream sauce’ (I kid you not). But also in hotels, tourist attractions and many other public arenas, the hysterical laughter often outweighs the useful information conveyed.
I lay the blame squarely at the door of Google translator – unmitigated crap. And Giuseppe’s cousin Giulia who once spent a week in London on a school trip.
These tools are all very well when you just want to gain a small inkling into the meaning of some foreign-language text, but are beyond useless for serious translating.
I’m not a certified translator (properly trained translators and interpreters have to study for four years or more), but I have done quite a bit of it over the years. There is a definite knack, not automatically guaranteed by just being able to speak the target language. I limit myself to translating into English because although correct usage of grammar and vocabulary are indispensable, making the text flow and ensuring that the language is not obviously stilted by lack of mother-tongue ability is primordial (certified translators learn how to mimic that, even if they are not mother-tongue themselves).
A translator spends a lot of time surrounded by dictionaries, but also knows how to use them properly. Do you use the first word listed, or should you trawl through the different translations to ensure that you have the required architectural/medical/scientific term? If you are still in doubt, you must then cross reference with other dictionaries or articles on the web, to make absolutely sure that the terminology fits. An incorrectly translated word can render text meaningless.
A translator is prepared for the fact that different languages have different word orders within sentences. The subject, object, verb, noun, adjective, adverb combinations vary hugely from language to language. Sometimes an incorrect word-order will simply make for a clumsy read, but often it will alter the meaning of the sentence completely or leave it incomprehensible.
There are many other skills involved, but I cannot lay claim to knowing them all. They are the domain of those brave souls who have spent years at university perfecting the art of seamless language conversion - (just to have some ridiculous Italian English teacher who can barely speak English thinking she is equally qualified).
Coming across shoddily translated menus, signs, leaflets and websites makes me cringe because of the obvious ignorance and carelessness involved. However, if I am to be honest, it also winds me up for another reason. Every Spanish, French or Italian document shoved through Google translator, or thrust in front of Giuseppe’s cousin Giulia’s nose, is one less document that I could earn a few pennies from translating more competently.
I know, I know. Mercenary self-interest is a most unattractive trait in a laydee!
This is Status Viatoris, who chose the pizza in case you are interested, in Italy.