Volume 12, No. 4 
October 2008

Danilo Nogueira


Front Page

Select one of the previous 45 issues.

Index 1997-2008

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
A Life without Sunday Nights
by Anne Vincent

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Whistle-Blowing and Language Professionals: The Case of Postville and Professor Erik Camayd-Freixas
by Eileen B. Hennessy
Navigating in a New Era: What Kind of Education and Training for Translators?
by Eileen B. Hennessy
In Love with Words
by Monica Scheer

From the Editor
by Gabe Bokor

  In Memoriam
Henry Fischbach, 1921 - 2008
by Gabe Bokor
Dr. Marijan Ante Bošković, 1939 - 2008
by Paula Gordon

  Translators Around the World
The Serbo-Croatian Language(s) Today
by Michael Walker

  Nuts and Bolts of Translation
O papel das técnicas de tradução no ensino da Tradução Especializada—o caso dos textos turísticos no par de línguas português-alemão
Katrin Herget, Teresa Alegre
The Seven Steps
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

  Advertising Translation
Skopos in Practice: Building an Appealing Brand Image in the Translation of Soft News
by Zhao Ning

  Religious Translation
God's Translators: A Conversation with Ilan Stavans
by Verónica Albin

  Literary Translation
How to Face Challenging Symbols: Translating Symbols from Persian to English
by Mahmoud Ordudari
The Literary Translator and the Concept of Fidelity: Kirkup's Translation of Camara Laye's L'Enfant noir as a Case Study
by Kolawole, S. O. and Salawu, Adewuni

  Translator Education
The Acquisition of Translation Competence through Textual Genre
by V. Montalt Ressurrecció, P. Ezpeleta Piorno, I. García Izquierdo

  Translation Theory
The Translators' Role in Clarifying Some Misconceptions
by Ferenc Kovács,
CILT, MA, Dip Trans in Business, Law and ICT,

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium
Getting Graphic
by Jost Zetzsche
The Comparable Corpus-Based Chinese-English Translation—A Case Study of City Introduction
by Guangsa Jin

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

Translators’ Events

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Nuts & Bolts

The Seven Steps

by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

It is my pleasant duty to introduce our young colleague Kelli Semolini, who has agreed to join me in certain authoring projects, including a new series of articles for the Translation Journal and materials for the distance-learning projects. Kelli has a degree in languages and could have followed a career in teaching, but she thought translating would be far more interesting—and that was my good luck. She lives in São Carlos some 200 km west of the São Paulo Metropolitan Area, where I am. Thank God for the Internet, which allows us to work as if we were in the same room. We wrote this article four hands, in the manner described near the end.

I expect her role in our partnership to grow steadily in the near future. As things are at the moment, I am fully responsible for this article, since final decisions always rested upon my shoulders. But it would be a lot worse without Kelli's suggestions, advice and criticism.

We have great plans and will be only too glad to share the news with you when time comes.

Kelli's e-mail is kelsem@gmail.com.

Danilo Nogueira

s you translate, your brain generates a large number of translation candidates and discards all of them, except for the one you "put on paper" so to say. You can either use the think-before-you-leap method and start writing only when you are sure you have the right solution; or you can opt for the think-as-you-go method and write, amend, edit, correct back and forth; in either case you have to make decisions.

How do you choose between those translation candidates? You can hardly coax the candidates into playing rock-paper-scissors, you know. So we developed this series of steps to help you in the task.

  1. Choose the alternative that best reflects the message of the source document
  2. Our first duty is to convey the same message as the original. Like it or not, the reader is interested in knowing what the author said, not in what we think. It is well known that all translations involve a degree of distortion, that a translation always adds something to the original and subtracts something from it. A good professional translator should minimize distortion, the opinion of several academics notwithstanding.

    Our first duty is to convey the same message as the original.
    Too many of us are bent on "improving" other people's texts. Sometimes, it is just a question of form: a professional translator is expected to write well and many of the documents we translate are badly written, especially in the case of technical translations. If the translation reads as badly as the original, chances are that readers will think it is the translator's fault, so we caulk a few cracks here and there.

    To improve or not to improve, that is the question. We do not see much harm in patching up a badly written text, and, to be honest, more than once we have pretended not to see "principle" written where Mr. Fowler would claim "principal" should be used. But redoing the whole thing in our fashion is surely out of bounds.

    The point at issue here, however, is the message, the content. If the original is a nasty piece of work full of racist prejudice, those characteristics should also be seen in the translation. Watering the text down to make it more palatable is outright lying. What the author said may be a bunch of lies, but it is true that the author said them and readers are entitled to know that and take such measures as may be appropriate in their opinion.

    The same goes for the colleague who deleted a few sentences from a baby-care manual because she did not agree with them. She should have attempted to write her own book instead.

  3. If more than one translation meets the preceding condition, use the one that cannot possibly be misinterpreted
  4. Ambiguity is our enemy. Murphy's first law of translation says that if a phrase can be understood in two different ways, readers (including editors and professional critics) will always interpret it the way that makes the sentence read like a mistranslation.

    Once, many years ago when Danilo was a young translator, an editor found a phrase that was not to his liking and "corrected" it. In so doing, the editor entirely distorted the meaning. Danilo was very angry, but in fact it was his mistake, not the editor's; the phrase was ambiguous, allowed two readings—and the editor, as Murphy would have it, followed the wrong path and made the wrong correction. It is quite possible that many readers would have mentally done the same.

    Fortunately, the error was found and corrected in time and had no further consequences, except making Danilo afraid of ambiguity.

    Since our job is to transmit someone else's message as accurately as possible, the only reason to present a translation with more than one interpretation is to reflect ambiguity found in our source text, a task far more difficult than most of us would believe.

  5. If more than one translation meets the preceding condition, use the one that is more widely accepted as correct
  6. This is the tricky step. When the first draft of these 7 Steps was published in Danilo's blog, this was the point that drew fire from readers. They claimed that all translations should be grammatically correct. Yes, we agree, up to a point, that is. In certain cases, grammatically correct text will simply fail the rule set out in Step 1, because it will not convey the message. More often than not this will happen in literary texts, where violations of the grammatical norm may be used to convey a message. Otherwise, translations should conform to grammatical norm.

    What we mean here is that once a translation conveys the message and is unambiguous, the time has come to bow to the purists, to those people who keep telling you that it is wrong to use a preposition to end a sentence with.

  7. If more than one translation meets the preceding condition, use the one that better reflects the form of the original
  8. To the extent possible, that is after the three above conditions are met, a translation should reflect the style of the original. Don DeLillo and Ernst Hemingway should read differently in translation—as they do in the original. It seems to be the fashion among a certain type of publishing house to impose a manual of style that should better be called a Procrustean bed. The outcome is a perfectly correct and readable text which also is absolutely flat, tasteless and bloodless. It does not matter who you are reading; the style is always the same.

    The problem is, of course, what type of style can be used in the target language to reflect the author's. Oh, well, we will deal with this some other time. Perhaps.

  9. If more than one translation meets the preceding condition, use the one that flows better
  10. The concept of flowing is very fluid, so to say. Very subjective. What flows well for you may not flow well in the opinion of the next reader. Nobody said translation is an exact science, you know. Except for those people who believe in machine translation, but that's another story.

    It's horrible to read a translation that does not flow well, a bumpy text that reads like a translation. We know that some people advocate exactly this type of work, translations that are hard to read and that smack of the syntax of the original. Frankly, we do not care a hoot. Our clients love translations that flow well and so do we.

  11. If more than one translation meets the preceding condition, use the one that your reader is more likely to understand
  12. Some people consider translating a fine opportunity to demonstrate their sapience and vocabulary. They think they are justified in using any word that can be found in the largest dictionary of their language—and that the reader will have that dictionary handy and use it all the time.

    This does not mean that you should limit your vocabulary to the three thousand most frequently used words of your language. It means that some words suit Immanuel Kant but not the blockbusters people read in airport waiting rooms.

  13. If more than one translation meets the preceding condition, use the shortest

    [Danilo's comment: I was going to say "last but not least," but I am sure Kelli would pull my ears claiming I should not use hackneyed phrases. As I write this in my home, she is at her own place, over 200 km away, using a screen-sharing utility to read it online and Skype to keep a constant stream of suggestions and criticism. That is called modernity, I suppose. Lots of fun, if you ask me. End of comment.]

    Most translations are far too wordy. Translators tend to translate short source-text expressions with longer target phrases when and as necessary, but often forget that many long source-text expressions have shorter target counterparts.

    Perhaps all of us should take a course on film subtitling. Subtitlers are the kings of concision. We do not mean all translations should be as terse as film subtitles, but we certainly have a few tricks to learn from them.

What if?

What if, after the Seven Steps, you still have two alternatives? Well, perhaps you should give rock-paper-scissors a try.