19 December 2011

Supprimer l’édito ... dans certaines situations

The title line is drawn from a post entitled L'édito : sa place est dans les journaux on Les feuilles volantes -- Le blog de SFM Traduction. My colleagues at SFM Traduction are absolutely right. They also beat me to it by posting on this important aspect of 'translation by emulation'.

Headlines, take #2

After reading Headlines, take #1, some readers might think that my claims apply more to general journalism than technical journalism.

I trust that the following examples from Jane’s International Defence Review (JIDR), Jane’s Navy International (JNI)  and Jane's Defence Weekly (JDW) will convince you that English-speaking journalists specialising in naval defence use the same types of devices as their colleagues writing for everyday newspapers.

Device: techno-metaphor
JIDR, 13/03/07: Gas turbine design ignites race for naval powerpacks
Device: techno-metaphor
JNI, 13/02/07: Power trip: re-energising naval electric weapons
Device: humorous naval metaphor
JDW, 14/02/03: Is the alliance holed below the waterline?
Device: humorous naval metaphor
JNI, 11/05/05: UK casualty ship project faces major surgery
Device: pun
JNI, 17/03/06: Singapore moves to realise its Formidable ambitions
Device: pun
JDW, 29/07/05: Not-so-spritely Seasprite plan still off course

17 December 2011

Headlines, take #1

My post dated 11/11/11 referred to David Bellos's Is that a fish in your ear? (subtitled, Translation and the meaning of everything). Chapter 7 features a number of clear, succinct descriptions of well-known translation challenges.
The section on headlines says that the target-language version of a source-language headline "must conform to the general conventions of headline writing" in the target-language culture "because headline writing is just as much a genre -- a particular kind of language use restricted to particular contexts -- as promising, christening, threatening, and so forth".
French headlines and article headings typically explain quite a lot of what is to come, often at greater length than English headlines.
English headlines are often written specifically to intrigue, arouse curiosity, trigger a smile (using a pun or other play on words or language) or even be thorough enigmatic, since the point is not so much to summarise as to entice the reader to read on.
This approach can also be considered as an aspect of 'translation by emulation'.

Much the same approach applies to caption writing.

To sum up, headlines and captions should be drafted after completing the translation of a technical journalism article. The words of the source texts are a minor consideration. The aim has to be to write headlines and captions that work in their own right for the assumed or explicity defined target audience.

15 December 2011

NavTechGloss: M&M review

Le 15 décembre 2015, Mer et Marine a écrit à propos de "A French-English Glossary of Naval Technology":
Les professionnels français du domaine naval militaire le savent : les traductions du français vers l'anglais de textes techniques sont, parfois, loin d'être évidentes. Et, jusqu'ici, il n'existait pas vraiment d'outil très spécifique pour aider à la traduction de tels textes. Ce problème est désormais solutionné puisque Steve Dyson, traducteur et rédacteur technique pour l'industrie française de la défense navale depuis plus de 15 ans, vient d'éditer un glossaire français-anglais de la défense navale. « Cet ouvrage s'adresse aux traducteurs avertis et aux spécialistes de la défense navale. Il est le fruit de la traduction/adaptation de français en anglais de milliers de pages de journalisme technique concernant la défense navale et des sujets connexes », explique Steve Dyson.
Il s'agit d'un outil très spécifique en ce qui concerne le sujet (la défense navale), la « matière première » (des articles de journalisme technique destinés à promouvoir des produits, services et entreprises français) et l'approche traductologique que l'auteur désigne par « traduction par émulation ». L'auteur s'est permis d'écrire l'introduction (« Why this glossary is the way it is ») et les autres pages préliminaires en anglais. Il espère que l'utilisateur francophone l'excusera !

29 November 2011

Pictures & words: not what we thought

According to the latest post on Stories that sell, pictures are no longer worth a thousand words. See A picture is worth a thousand words – bollocks!
The post also introduces us to the “nobody reads copy any more” debate. Just Google the expression to read more.
The blog may be talking about advertising copywriting, but the conclusions also apply to technical communicators, technical journalists and translators.

You thought things were tough; now read about how they're even tougher than you thought!

And spare a thought (yet another...) for the translator. When translating promotional material and technical journalism closely linked to a picture, recall that the picture was chosen to work with the source language version. This means that the conscientious translator has the additional job of making sure that the translation works well as a text and with the picture. There are times when this can be very challenging indeed.

25 November 2011

Personal pronouns for ships

This is a vexed and vexing issue. Most online style and grammar guides are for journalists and others writing for broad lay audiences, not naval personnel.

The conventional advice is summarised on The Grammarphobia Blog as follows:
The Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition), as well as the style books of the Associated Press and the New York Times, recommend using 'it' or 'its' to refer to ships.
In 2002, Lloyd’s List, the 276-year-old London-based shipping newspaper, officially dropped the gender personification and now refers to ships with the pronouns 'it' and 'its' instead of 'she' and 'her'.
Under its entry for 'she', the Oxford English Dictionary describes the usage this way: “Used (instead of it) of things to which female sex is conventionally attributed,” such as “a ship or boat.”
Further on, we read:
Perhaps the grammarian Otto Jespersen came closest to an explanation in his Essentials of English Grammar (1933).
Jespersen wrote that some inanimate things may be personified “to show a certain kind of sympathy with or affection for the thing, which is thereby, as it were, raised above the inanimate sphere.”
 “In such cases,” he adds, “the speaker does not really attribute sex to the thing in question, and the choice of a sexual pronoun is occasioned only by the fact that there is no non-sexual pronoun available except  the inert it.”
So sometimes we may feel that 'it' is simply too lifeless and inadequate — or, as Jespersen says, 'inert'.

But this blog is for translators who write specifically for English-mother-tongue naval personnel. I believe that most readers of this type use feminine personal pronouns when referring to any ship they are personally familiar with. (Q: Is this true of the latest generation of female naval officers? R: Unfortunately, I don’t know.)

Aside: Here's a link to the transcript of an excellent Lingua Franca programme entitled She's Apples... on feminine personal pronouns in everyday Australian speech. The speaker, Andrew Pawley, Professor of Linguistics at the Australian National University, says "... the rules are roughly that you use animate pronouns for inanimates — that is, 'she' or 'he' instead of 'it' — when you want your speech to be lively and animated."
How representative this is of English internationally and how applicable to technical journalism remain, of course, open questions.

My advice:
In quoted speech (in translation and technical writing for navies, shipbuilders and the like), use feminine personal pronouns to refer to a particular vessel previously designated by name.
In other contexts, seriously consider the benefits of female personal pronouns (to refer to a particular vessel previously designated by name) as a means
Do not use these pronouns for a type, category, or class of ship.

Comments welcome. If you happen to know an English-mother-tongue women naval officer, I would very much like to know what she thinks.

22 November 2011

How do French communication agencies communicate?

Intercultural zone is a highly recommended blog by colleague Patricia Lane.

I particularly like her posting on "How do French communication agencies communicate?" and her training courses for French agencies working or aiming to work in English.
Patricia's services include workshops for French communicators who need to present or pitch to international clients in English.
Excellent!

21 November 2011

Cost-effective document design for a translation workflow

Interesting post, dated 14 January 2010, on the Oversetter blog under the heading "Cost-effective document design for a translation workflow".

Here at TTJ we've long been amazed that this topic attracts so little attention in France.

15 November 2011

On the organisation of thoughts in different languages

Excerpt #6  from The Little Book of Transcreation elegantly describes one aspect of translation by emulation:
In English and northern European languages, there is an emphasis on logical structure. (“Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you’ve just told them.”)

In languages such as French or Spanish, this style is often thought dull or inelegant. Digressions are seen as a sign of intellect, not disorganization.
I could not have put it better myself.

For Latins, one of the most sought-after skills is 'synthesis' or the capacity to state something in comprehensive but often abstract terms then work top-down from principle or synthesis to applications. In English and northern European languages, it is often preferable to mix deductive and inductive (or, top-down and bottom-up) thinking.

Another aspect of this vast subject is the value or importance of examples and anecdotes. In English and northern European languages, both are often considered pluses; in Latin languages they are often seen as trivial. In French, to say that something is anecdotal is fairly pejorative.

All this is especially useful when writing for a relatively homogeneous first-language (or L1) readership. Just what the translator should do when the client's mandate is to translate into English for L2 (i.e. second-language) readers in, say, the Middle East and/or southeast Asia is another challenge entirely.

Life is Magnifique

Blog posting on the Sofitel slogan "Life is Magnifique".

This blog links to another on "The Little Book of Transcreation" available form Amazon. Transcreation is a close ally of translation by emulation.

These postings take some of the points made under "Product naming in Europe, take #2" below further.

13 November 2011

Fish in ear produces buzz

On 30 October I mentioned David Bellos's Is that a fish in your ear? (subtitled, Translation and the meaning of everything). Here's another link for anyone interested in the growing buzz.
On 7 November  2011, Patrick Cox posted under the heading Translators Past, Present and Future.
It's not often that translation rises above the background noise to become a topic of interest to such a wide audience.

12 November 2011

Translation by emulation, take #2

But why go to all this trouble, especially if the client's mandate is not explicit?

The short answer is that language-sensitive translators with an appreciation of good copywriting want to do the best they can by their clients. Further, into-English translators with a natural respect for customer-centred copyrwriting or trained in customer-centred communication or customer experience management (aka CEM) constantly strive to move away from company-centred copy and towards customer-centred copy because they know it will have greater and more positive impact on the translation client's own customers in English-language markets.

In summary, translators adopting a 'translation by emulation' approach with a view to producing English language documents that are a little less company centred or, better still, significantly more customer centred than the original must focus increasingly on the client's image, products and services as promoted to the target audience in the target language.

CEM: See also this HBR article.

10 November 2011

Term mining pioneer

A quick search of the dtSearch site for either 'Dyson' or 'term mining' -- using, naturally enough, dtSearch's own wonderful indexing and search tools -- leads directly to the following article dating from 1998.
dtSearch Case Study — SDC
SDC Arms Itself with dtSearch for its Translation Services for European Naval Defense and Other Industries 
Steve Dyson Consulting (SDC) provides translation-oriented consultancy services for the European naval defense industry and other industries. Services include documentary chain optimization; optimization of the processes and methods of translation; linguistic quality assurance; and creation of terminological databases. As part of these functions, SDC also provides consultancy services relating to software tools for professional translators.
One such tool that SDC uses with its naval defense sector and other customers is dtSearch. "dtSearch is ideal for translators, terminologists and translation companies seeking an indexing/search engine for terminology searches, or 'term mining,'" says Steve Dyson, principal of SDC. Regarding "term mining," an article by Mr. Dyson explains: "I use the expression ‘term mining’ in much the same way as ‘data mining’ is used in the IT industry with reference to tools designed to extract nuggets of information from vast masses of data."

Continues Mr. Dyson's article: "While glossary compilation and terminology management are integral to most translation workflows, their cost-effectiveness needs to be carefully assessed during project planning or review. Documented workflows may represent a great leap forward for many, but using the same workflow for all projects, irrespective of the cost-effectiveness of each step can prove a costly mistake. I am personally convinced that there are many situations where term mining is more cost-effective than glossary compilation, particularly for freelancers and small teams working on short projects."

For those using dtSearch in connection with European-language translation, Mr. Dyson offers the following advice: "Always use the advanced option when creating a new index and select the 'accent-sensitive' indexing option."  

07 November 2011

Think different

From The New Yorker article The Tweaker:
The famous Apple “Think Different” campaign came from Jobs’s advertising team at TBWA\Chiat\Day. But it was Jobs who agonized over the slogan until it was right:
They debated the grammatical issue: If “different” was supposed to modify the verb “think,” it should be an adverb, as in “think differently.” But Jobs insisted that he wanted “different” to be used as a noun, as in “think victory” or “think beauty.” Also, it echoed colloquial use, as in “think big.” Jobs later explained, “We discussed whether it was correct before we ran it. It’s grammatical, if you think about what we’re trying to say. It’s not think the same, it’s think different. Think a little different, think a lot different, think different. ‘Think differently’ wouldn’t hit the meaning for me.”

Conclusions (for this blog): 1) English grammar offers both challenges and opportunities. 2) Sometimes grammar really is important. 3) Sometimes debate, thought, honing and re-honing can make all the difference. 4) All of these points apply, sometimes, to translating technical journalism and more specifically, a catchy heading or kicker (aka a standfirst or lead line in English or a 'chapô' in French). 

03 November 2011

A lesson in humility

Here's an old but wonderful lesson in humility for armed forces, procurement agencies, technology freaks and even intelligence agencies.
See TED Talk entitled The strange tale of the Norden bombsight by Malcolm Gladwell.
This ground-breaking piece of World War II technology had deeply unexpected results.

Good questions for translation buyers

Translation agency East West Estate, specialising in real estate documentation, asks some good questions that can help translation buyers find their way through the maze. Go to Why?

See also post of 12 September entitled "Translation - getting it right".

02 November 2011

Help journalists, take #2

Further to yesterday's blog, companies hoping for coverage in foreign language media can help journalists by ensuring that the media (or similar) section of their website includes, in the relevant languages:
  • company "boilerplate"
  • organisation charge complete with full titles (and short forms) of all key personnel
  • preferred names of key products complete with preferred designations  in the relevant languages.
This is a win-win solution. The company wins consistent terminology; the journalists win by saving time and improving accuracy. Company personnel also win by seeing their name correctly spelled and their title correctly presented.

One more point. Company organisation charts are notoriously difficult to translate. The best approach is to translate the entire chart and, where appropriate, coordinate each title with the person's business card.

31 October 2011

Help journalists to help you

Following my 6 October blog under the heading 'A page for your foreign journos', here's another idea for such a page.

If anyone can point me to a site that has thought of foreign journos to the point of helping them with relevant journalistic devices in key target languages, beginning with -- now what are these things called? -- those concise and hopefully at least gently favourable capsules that remind readers what a company does.

Here, for instance, are examples of how the Financial Times refers to Jane’s:
- IHS Jane’s, the military publishing group [FT January 31, 2011]
- IHS Jane’s, an intelligence consultancy [FT January 24, 2011]
- Jane’s Information Group, publisher of the renowned Jane’s Defence Weekly [FT Alphaville June 13, 2007]
- Jane’s, the defence consultancy [FT June 11, 2010]
- Jane’s, the defence analyst, [FT July 14, 2010].

Following Seth

To date, I've not been very successful in attracting feedback, comments or followers. Today, I consulted a guru. More specifically, I consulted Seth Godin's blog headed How to get traffic for your blog.

I'm following some of his 56 recommendations, but probably not enough. One that I am following and that struck me forcefully is tip 54: Write about obscure stuff that appeals to an obsessed minority.

Time will tell.

Product naming in Europe, take #2

In December 2000, French defence electronics contractor Thomson-CSF, changed its name to Thales, leaving a large proportion of its English-language customers, and even many employees, with no idea how to pronounce the word.

To this day, thousands hesitate between /talɛs/, if they have heard of Thales of Miletus, /ˈθeɪliːz/, and other variants. Closer to home, a large proportion of French mother-tongue journalists write ‘Thalès’ to match head office’s pronuncation, but not its orthography or offical tradename. Note, the OHIM site only lists the all-caps form. OHIM eSearch Plus beta link.
To listen to a podcast about Thales /ˈθeɪliːz/ of Miletus (and hear the word pronounced several times) go to History of Philosophy.
The fact that this and other French companies have names, whether words or acronyms, ending in -s is also a handicap when working in English. Flash agencies that propose company and product names should learn that English speakers spontaneously avoid names ending in -s because they are problematic when it comes to pronouncing and writing the possessive form. Doesn't sound like a big deal at first glance, but there are situations when it seriously constrains the copywriter's freedom.

Scorpène is a wonderful name for a submarine, even if you don’t know that it’s one of the many common French names for the red lionfish, a venomous coral reef fish in the family Scorpænidæ, order Scorpæniformes. Fishbase link to Pterois volitans.
And in English, I'd suggest that it might have been a better idea to retain Scorpène rather than Scorpene.
It seems a pity that the only form of the registered tradename is SCORPENE (all caps, no accent), a serious constraint for graphic artists, marketing copywriters and translators. OHIM eSearch Plus beta link.

Product naming in Europe, a scenario

R&D (aka RTD) develops a concept. Engineering builds and tests the prototypes. Management give the project the green light. Marketing dreams up a product name, typically with a heavy cultural and linguistic bias determined by where the team is based and the nationalities of the key members. Marketing asks Legal Affairs to register the tradenames.

Marketing fails to think through how the product name will work in the languages of key markets. Legal Affairs registers tradenames in ‘all caps’ format without accents, partly out of habit, partly as a result of insufficient dialogue with Marketing. No one thinks to ask sales staff in target markets or a language consultant what they think, possibly because this higher duty is thought to be above anyone closer to the company’s customers or more familiar with their languages and cultures.

Results. In some countries or languages, a name may be funny, offensive, unfortunate or a missed opportunity.

Example: English-language readers often react very positively to French accents; a point which is often lost on the French themselves since they don’t actually see the accents the way others do. Internationally, ‘France Télécom’ presents itself as ‘France Telecom’, whereas many outside France would have found the original form both stronger and more distinctive.

30 October 2011

The joyful side of translation

Two quotes from The joyful side of translation, novelist Adam Thirlwell's review of David Bellos's "Is that a fish in your ear?" (subtitled, Translation and the meaning of everything):
But a translation ... isn’t trying to be the same as the original, but to be like it. Which is why the usual conceptual duo of translation — fidelity, and the literal — is too clumsy.
Translation, ... rather than providing a substitute, instead “provides for some community an acceptable match for an utterance made in a foreign tongue.” What makes a match acceptable will vary according to that community’s idea of what aspects of an utterance need to be matched by its translation.

28 October 2011

EASIS, history, new edition and more

The infamous and oft mentioned 'English as She Is Spoke' (EASIS to friends) has "sputtered incoherently in the background of our culture for nearly a century and a half now, and the extent of its damage to Anglo-American/Portuguese-Brazilian relations can only be estimated. Thanks to Paul Collins and McSweeney's Books, it has returned after a hiatus of some 30 years, beautifully bound to resemble a volume from a school library, a new cover for an old trap."

Link

25 October 2011

Waffle and guff, take #2

More thoughts on waffle and guff as discussed by Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway on 23 October in Management guff lands in China.
Although none of the claims discussed here can be considered to have been formally demonstrated by exhaustive research, all are perfectly in line with my own observations over the past three decades.

Lucy points out that waffle and guff:
  • are widespread and probably increasingly so
  • seldom appear to have any negative impact on the performance or sales of large corporations (no matter how disappointing that observation may be to language-sensitive technical communicators and their readers)
  • are sometimes observed to have a significant negative impact on smaller companies that have yet to make a name for themselves.
I would add, as I pointed out below under 'Defence is different', that waffle, guff and other forms of poor writing and translation have little or no impact on sales in defence and other areas with high price tags per item.

All of which leaves language-sensitive technical communicators and translators with just one unique selling proposition when talking to large corporations, namely that front-line documents  in all working languages should be a source of corporate pride and the quality of the writing and any translations commensurate with the proclaimed quality of the company's own products and services.

24 October 2011

Lucy hits out at Publicis

Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway is renowned for her insightful criticism of waffle, fluff, guff and other forms of bullshit. Under the heading Management guff lands in China, she writes:
  “The release went on meaninglessly, moronically: 'Our dream is to grow our clients’ business by transforming human behaviour through uplifting, meaningful human experiences.'”
She adds:
  “ You could say that it doesn’t matter. Indeed, one of the most enduring mysteries in business is that there appears to be no link between talking nonsense and performing poorly.
No day at work ever passes without me being sent something from a perfectly successful company that has adopted management talk with no obvious ill effects.”

Apparently, the copy was produced by French masters of business communication (reread those last two words very slowly) Publicis.

Some quick conclusions.
Though common, this largely meaningless fluff and guff has amazingly little impact on sales or results despite the contrary hopes of journalists, technical communicators and translators.
This type of text is more challenging to translate than any other commonly encountered in the business world precisely because it almost sounds, after a quick scan, as though it is saying something, but, on further investigation, turns out to be nothing more than fluff, guff and buzz words.

17 October 2011

Translation by emulation, take #1

‘Translation by emulation’ is an approach to translation/adaptation or transcreation. As a French-to-English translator specialising in technical journalism, I aim to produce English versions of my customers’ documents that read as though they had been drafted directly by a mother-tongue technical journalist, which is to says someone combining professional mother-tongue writing skills, subject knowledge and experience in writing for the same target audience. In Europe, the standard in naval defence is set by publications like Jane’s Navy International and Jane’s Naval Forces News. I have studied both for many years and always striven to emulate their style, rhythm and other characteristics, save for occasional concessions to accommodate the fact that many of my readers (i.e. my customers’ customers) read English as a second language.
Writing for a highly specialised readership is quite different from writing for a much broader general audience. To explain how and why is a challenging task. Let me take the following points one at a time:
1) Change viewpoint. One of the great challenges of technical communication is to write not from one's own or the company's viewpoint, but from the customer's viewpoint. Good product promotion begins not with claims concerning challenges overcome by engineers but with information presented from the customer's viewpoint on how the product meets customer need. Sounds easy, doesn't it? In practice it is very challenging and takes long practice.
Company engineers who have not been trained in this area find it very difficult to forget that they are engineers and to write from the customer's viewpoint. Result? Much technical journalism produced by in-house teams is company focused instead of customer focused.
Without a clear mandate from the client, a translator cannot re-write a document in the target language and change the viewpoint entirely. But (s)he can subtly (or not-so-subtly) reduce the focus on the company or its product engineering and increase that on customer's needs.  
2) Change viewpoint (claims). Similarly, a French journalist can easily make a bold claim that will ring true (or at least not false) for his French-language readers because, like the writer, they will subconsciously be thinking of the French national context more than the international context. Contrast this with the fact that most readers of the English version will subconsciously be thinking of the international context in which the same claim may be anything from unproven or unlikely to downright misleading. The courageous transcreator will modify the claim accordingly to ensure that it doesn't ruffle the reader's feathers or, worse, tarnish instead or burnishing the (translation) customer's image.
3) Change viewpoint (adjectives). When a French naval engineer writes about a ship or other naval topic, (s)he's probably thinking subconsciously about the French Navy. Contrast this with the fact that most readers of the English version will subconsciously be thinking of the large English-language fleets or their own navy. This means that even a very simple adjective like 'big' needs serious thought since what is 'big' relative to the French Navy, is not necessarily so for, say, the US Navy.
4) Personal pronouns: Research confirms that annual reports and similar documents written directly in authentic English contain more first person pronouns (I, my, our) than translations of similar texts from French. ‘Translation by emulation’ thus demands that many sentences be recast with first person pronouns rather than third person pronouns. This research (by Rosie Wells recently and by Vinay & Darbelnet many years before) is backed up by the recommendations of the SEC Plain English Handbook among others.
5) Acronyms: Countless online style guides advise journalists to avoid acronyms and abbreviations wherever possible. I do not believe that this rule should be applied too rigorously to technical journalism, particularly for military readerships. Military personnel live and breathe acronyms to the point where they are often more familiar with an acronym than its long form. The documents that they read use so many acronyms that the text acquires a rhythm of its own that cannot be maintained if one resorts too often to long forms.

More in due course on headings, captions, the USN style guide, transforming unqualified and unconditional claims into conditional claims etc.

TJ and term variability

Technical journalism is often characterised by an odd mix of rigorous terminology and extreme term variability. Although difficult to desribe and even more difficult to quantify, the phenomenon is readily illustrated by example. Take naval defence. English-language naval defence journalists consistently refer to nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines using precisely that term or its short form SSBN. Similarly, their French counterparts consistently use sous-marin nucléaire lanceur d'engins or the short form SNLE. Contrast this with the following observations:
  • French journalists and engineers writing about combat management systems use: système d'exploitation navale des informations tactiques ; système de traitement de l'information ; système de combat ; système de direction de combat ; centre nerveux; combat management system ; CMS ; cerveau informatique, among others.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, Jane’s naval publications used over 20 designations referring to the BPC programme of French naval shipbuilder DCNS, including: … FS Mistral, the amphibious assault, command and power projection ship (BPC) … [JNI, 07/10/2004]; … Tonnerre, the second of two Batiments [sic] de Projection et de Commandement (BPC) multipurpose amphibious ships … [JNI, 22/03/2007]; and … Mistral-class amphibious assault vessels …[JNI, 04/03/2010].  

11 October 2011

Defence is different

In most industries, translators and technical communicators can claim that clear, forceful documents contribute directly or indirectly to sales and/or customer satisfaction.
See, for instance, Paper still sets the agenda for newsreaders.

Defence is, however, different, at least as regards I call 'front-line' documentation.

Because defence export contracts are driven by politics, price and performance these arguments don't carry the same weight. And while it is true that some international arms contracts have gone seriously wrong at least partly as a result of poor technical writing or translation of post-sales documentation, such considerations are far from foremost in a procurement agency's thinking when negotiating a new contract.

So where does this leave defence industry translators and technical communicators?

I think it boils down to maintaining face. Can a defence contractor seeking contracts worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars afford to look cheap and shoddy by producing poor copy and poorer translations?

Indeed, I wonder if any procurement agencies have ever thought about analysing bidders' copy and translations to glean insights into their motivations, cultural sensitivities and attitudes. It seems to me that this could be an inexpensive way of at least formulating some penetrating questions to raise at the negotiating table.

Waffle and fluff make translation tough

(This blog picks up where 'Technical, but not tough_#1' left off.)

Texts for translation can be classified in many ways. This translator’s voice of experience says that it’s not about subject matter but about information content and clarity. If a text actually says something and says it clearly, then it can be translated; if it’s ‘waffle’, then filling the space with a target-language version that sounds, at first glance, as though it is saying something, but on closer analysis turns out to say little or nothing -- in other words that achieves as much but no more than the original -- can be a huge challenge.
Experience also suggests that ‘waffle’ or ‘fluff’ is more prevalent in some areas and others. Management, human resources, graphics (including logos and graphic standards) are prime examples.

My thoughts are supported by Financial Times columnist  Lucy Kellaway.
On 24 October 2010, Lucy wrote under the heading Glass ceiling in management drivel is broken:
“The point of the conference is to empower, educate and inspire women to be ‘Architects of Change®’. But it’s not quite clear to me why anyone would want to be such a thing. An architect is someone who designs a building and then invariably falls out with the builders who build it and the clients who pay for it. And if I wanted to be an architect, the last thing I’d want to architect (the noun now perfectly acceptable as a verb in management circles) would be change, in general. Good change is good, bad change is bad, and sometimes the status quo is the best of all.”
“.... an orgy of ‘reaching out’ and ‘delivering value’ and ‘going forward’ ...”

On 17 October 2010 under the heading Listening to customers can be bad business, Lucy wrote:
“ ‘We think our new brand expression visually distinguishes PwC in the same way that the quality and expertise of our people differentiates the experience of working with PwC,’ said the firm’s chairman. Which is, of course, absolute, total tosh. Three little letters and some squares cannot say anything about quality or expertise at all.”
“But then logos are a fluffy subject; I have never heard anyone say anything that wasn’t daft about the thinking behind any change. This is because there never is any thinking, save the idea that it’s time to do something different.”

08 October 2011

An apostrophe

From
iamnotkathryn Twitter
Kathryn Williams, on punctuation:
"An apostrophe is the difference between a business that knows its shit and a business that knows it's shit."

Definitely one of the best visual puns I've ever seen.
Not to mention what it says about the importance of good punctuation.

Who writes what for the European defence industries?

Big industries. Big question. The subject probably deserves an extensive survey. For the moment, all I can offer is a few observations.
Please feel free to comment or correct.

Observation #1: European defence contractors based in the UK work only in English and most others in their national language plus English. Some work in three or four languages, the selection always including English.

Observation #2: Many higher-level documents are, as far as I can tell, drafted by engineers and other categories who do not see themselves primarily as technical communicators. Some higher-level documents are, I presume, drafted by people  who do see themselves primarily as technical communicators.

Observation #3:   Technical documents accompanying products are, as far as I can tell, generally produced by specialised tech doc contractors employing technical writers and translators who, again, as far as I can judge, are seldom members of organisations representing their profession.

Observation #4: A great deal of 'front-line' documentation  is, as far as I can tell, drafted by engineers and other categories who do not see themselves primarily as technical communicators.
Some 'front-line' documentation is produced by corporate and technical journalists, whether employees, freelancers or subcontractors.

What do I mean by the term 'front-line' documentation?  This category includes websites, documents available to customers, prospective customers and other interested persons via websites. Also hardcopy documents distributed at trade shows and the like. Press releases, presskits, brochures, product datasheets, company magazines and in-house publications are all examples, along with technical journalism article for trade publications.
Virtually all 'front-line' documentation drafted in a language other than English is translated or adapted into English.

What do I mean by 'higher-level' documents? This category includes 'front-line' documentation, but is broader as it also includes various types of in-house and published documents. I'm sorry if that's not very clear. The best I can do for the moment is to list some examples: speeches, policy statements, marketing discussion documents, in-house language resource documents (éléments de language), executive summaries of bids and documents serving as input for all of the above.
Many 'higher-level' documents   drafted in a language other than English are translated or adapted into English.

Why 'technical journalism'?

Above I define 'front-line' documentation as including websites, documents available to customers, prospective customers and other interested persons via websites. Also hardcopy documents distributed at trade shows and the like. Press releases, presskits, brochures, product datasheets, company magazines and in-house publications are all examples, along with technical journalism article for trade publications.

I further define 'technical journalism' as the work that goes into -- or should go into  -- producing such documents.

The translation of technical journalism falls into two categories:
o  'For information' translation of technical journalism articles about a company or its products. In this case the translation customer simply wants to know what a foreign-language article says about the company or its products, or possible a competitors products or some related topic. For the translator this is a straight-forward type of job.
o  'For publication' translation where the translation customer drafts an article promoting the company, its image or its products in its working language then requests translations into one or more target languages for use in the ways already described. At first glance this task sounds very similar to 'for information' translation, but is not. This challenging is the main reason for this blog's existence. Anyone interested should read on and wait for further postings.

06 October 2011

A page for your foreign journos

Most English-language print media have tags (for want of a better term) that they attach to company names to ensure that readers are clear on which company the journalist is referring to. For example, today's Financial Times mentions "TNT Express, the Dutch express delivery company,".

Has anyone out there noticed any alert media officers that have realised the potential of supplying tags describing their organisation in favourable terms in the languages of the company's target markets?

The same applies for basic explanations of an entity's name and boilerplate descriptions of what it does.

I suggest that organisations interested in the idea add a page under the Media (or similar) heading of their company site to deliver these items in their target languages. This would ensure that the company is tagged more consistently and more accurately while providing a service to foreign-language journalists.

29 September 2011

Seeking_#4: SRM that follows up on C-suite promises

High-profile translators often receive special requests directly from the personal assistants of C-suite executives with special translation needs. This type of job usually has to be done immediately, overnight or over a weekend and it must be highly polished to suit the end purpose, typically a high-profile presentation or press conference. Translators who know their worth then negotiate special rates to cover out-of-hours work and an additional reviser or two as well as the payment deadline.

I would be keen to hear from others who have had an experience similar to mine. First,  the C-suite assistant earnestly, and probably sincerely, promises that people at his/her level can guarantee faster-than-normal payment. Then what happens? When the payment is already several weeks late, you enquire to discover that the company's supplier relationship management (SRM) system cannot, I was told, be configured for faster-than-normal payments.

Does anyone know if this is likely to be true? Are SRMs really this limited?

On one occasion, I spent a long night honing a C-suite document to near perfection. The document explained how relations between my customer and its suppliers (I presume they meant the industrial kind, not service providers working directly for senior executives) were moving from traditional supplier relationships to new-generation partnerships.

From my perspective, the relationship with the C-suite assistant in question felt like a partnership in every respect, except one. Apparently I failed completely in my efforts to explain that a translator working directly for the CEO on a special project of special interest would have appreciated proper follow-up to the assurances given regarding how long I would have to wait before receiving payment for the job.

Perhaps this contains the germ of an idea for an SRM software house. Produce an add-on enabling C-suite teams to guarantee follow-up on promises made to selected suppliers.

Well, either than or I'm just poor duffer who is silly enough to think that because I honour my promises to deliver on time, the customer should honour his to pay on time.

Technical, but not tough_#1

It is widely believed that technical texts are more difficult to translate than so-called ‘general’ texts. Indeed, many language service providers (LSPs) charge more for technical texts than they do for ‘general’ ones.
This translator believes that surcharges for ‘technical’ texts are based on the assumption that all translators are generalists hence, by definition, not specialised in any particular area. This may be true of many translators and may be more common for certain language combinations than others, but it certainly isn’t true for all LSPs.
Today, many translators working in highly-sought-after language combinations find that they can provide better service, work faster and earn more by specialising in a small selection of fields.
For these translators, more technical often means better translations, particularly if the original uses consistent and accepted terminology. If the meaning is clear and the terminology familiar, specialised translators can produce good work by leveraging specialist subject knowledge using proven work methods.

28 September 2011

Seeking_#3: Graphic agencies that respect fellow professionals

Today I'm looking for feedback from into-English translators and English-language journalists and technical communicators based in non-English-speaking countries whose work is frequently laid out by local graphic artists and layout teams.

I'm hoping that colleagues in Europe and elsewhere will tell us about experiences more efficient and less unpleasant than those suffered by myself and trusted colleagues based in France.

And here are some precise questions I'd like answered.
Do the teams that lay out your work:
- Always remember to reset the language of their layout software to English before starting work on an English version? (And when they don't and proof reading reveals a myriad of errors, do they reduce their bill accordingly?) ;-)
- Do they use English-mother-tongue operators who understand what they are laying out, including how and where to break headings and the like?
- Do the layout personnel insist on retyping short headlines, captions and the like -- instead of using copy & paste, as they should, particularly if they are not working in their mother tongue?  (And when they don't and proof reading reveals a myriad of errors, do they reduce their bill accordingly?) ;-)
- Do they know how to use and adjust the settings of the hyphenation function for optimal results (as judged by mother-tongue readers)?
- And do they respect the translator's or writer's punctuation or insist, like one of very large agency in France, on running automatic punctuation software to the dismay and anger of anyone who knows anything about punctuation in English, not to mention anyone with the least notion of the respect due to other professionals (I refer to translators and journalists) supposedly working with the agency to give their shared customer the best possible service?

Last but not least, has anyone ever encountered a graphic agency with quality assurance procedures taking into account any of these issues?

27 September 2011

Seeking_#1: Graphic standards to accommodate cultural preferences

Can anyone point me to a graphic standard (charte graphique) catering for  the cultural preferences of readers of the different language versions of bi- or multilingual technical publications?

This series of 'Seeking' blogs is the direct result of frustrating experiences involving English-language versions of technical publications laid out using graphic standards developed by French agencies to meet the cultural and artistic preferences of French customers (i.e. the company publishing the magazine, brochure, datasheet, etc.) with little thought for the cultural preferences of the technical (i.e. most engineers) English-mother-tongue readership of the English-language versions.

Many layout templates designed by French graphic artists present problems for into-English translators and their end readers (i.e. the customer's potential customers), including:  
1) No white space between paragraphs; yet studies in the US demonstrate that American readers at least often choose to skip any text that appears as a single, large, indigestable block.
2) Higher proportion of text in ALL CAPS than corresponding layout designed in English-speaking countries*; whereas English-language sources on typography often point out that for  English-speaking readers, ALL CAPS is the equivalent of shouting and difficult to read. More.
3) High proportion of headings in ALL CAPS which, in technical documents for technical readers can make it difficult to distinguish between selected acronyms, plural acronyms, initialisms and other words (IT vs it; CATS vs CATs vs cats, etc.). Tradenames and product names with mixed upper and lower case letters are another frequent problem in this area (e.g. InDesign).
4) "Quotations both in quotation marks and in italics" where, in English, the usual practice is one or the other, not both. See How to format block quotations. Also Rules about quotation marks.

Web templates by English-mother-tongue graphic artists at Webmaster Templates.

* Comments, links and other feedback welcome. 
 

Seeking_#2: Layout specialist interested in bilingual docs

Translator with long experience in bilingual (FR-EN) technical journalism seeks layout specialist (i.e. graphic artists, typographers, InDesign experts, etc.) with suggestions as to how to accommodate the cultural preferences of readers of the different language versions of technical magazines, brochures, etc. by tweaking selected aspects of the layout template.

19 September 2011

Desperately seeking translators! No experience required!

Amazingly, this headline is from a real advertisement. See for yourself at realtranslatorjobs.

I trust translation buyers will find this encouraging.
Later: Fortunately, it turns out that it's a scam. See tjsdaily.blogspot.

More on a very similar scam at realwritingjobscom-scam-legit-review.

15 September 2011

TAUS survey at FIT 2011 conference

For translators: 
From a TAUS article on a survey conducted at the 2011 FIT conference:

High-quality translation will gain recognition

As machine translation becomes so universally available, it is clear that there isn’t just one single translation of a text that fits all. To differentiate their product offerings and appeal to specific customer groups, buyers will recognize the need for high-quality translation - call it personalization, transcreation or hyper-localization. This means that, machines will not replace human translators.

On the contrary, non-perfect MT output will stimulate the need for high-quality translation in a broad range of communication situations. The challenge we face as an industry is to agree on the criteria and the measurements for the level of quality that is needed for each situation. Sometimes MT is simply not an option. Sometimes MT is the only option. 


and

Translation becomes a business of choices

...
Today, you can choose to be a ‘boutique’ translator, specializing in a domain and providing hyper-localization or transcreation services. In this case, you will drift away from the original concept of a translator once you start specializing in your domain. You may be asked to create local content instead of translating text written for a different culture. 

13 September 2011

Now out!

I have just published “French-English Glossary (1980-2000) of Earth Observation and Applications” via Lulu in searchable, indexable pdf format. You can purchase a copy for just €4.50 by going to French-English glossaries by Steve Dyson

Support independent publishing: Buy this e-book on Lulu.

12 September 2011

Translation - getting it right

For translation buyers:
For non-linguists, purchasing translations can be frustrating. "Translation - getting it right" explains how to reduce the stress. Available in various languages, including French. Téléchargez "Traduction, faire les bons choix".

If you are a translation buyer and read two or more of the languages in which 'transcreated' versions this publication are available, you may find it very instructive to compare the said versions and consider what impact this approach could have on your own documents.

Links

For translators: 
Translation blogsextensive regularly-updated list of translation blogs
Translation Journal, an electronic journal, mostly in English, for translators
Translation blogspot by colleague John Smellie of E-Files
The Prosperous Translator, advice for translators compiled and edited by Chris Durban
Tradutor Profissional, translators' blog in Brazilian Portuguese
Thoughts On Translation by Corinne McKay
McMillan Translation by Karen McMillan Tkaczyk
WorldWideWords for English language etymology
Anglocom FR-EN translation resources

Les trucs d'anglais qu'on a oublié de vous enseigner by Grant Hamilton, President, Anglocom Inc., Canada
Intercultural zone by Patricia Lane. Highly recommended. Services include workshops for French communicators who need to present or to pitch in English to international clients.
Les Piles Intermédiaires, une traductrice (et très bonne plume) de l'audiovisuel s'exprime avec clarté et beaucoup d'humour.

Naval & maritime

MarineTraffic To locate ships at sea
Mer & Marine  Newsletter in French
Naval Technology News, views and contacts from the global Naval industry

Sea & Navy Newsletter in English from France 
Ships A list compiled by Mer & Marine

Other categories: 
All in the mind, ABC radio program on neuroscience
Lingua Franca, ABC radio program on language
TED Talks for language lovers



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