24 January 2014

Fear and loathing of the English passive

Fear and loathing of the English passive, by Geoffrey K Pullum, Linguistics and English Language, University of Edinburgh (version of 17 January 2014), to appear in Language and Communication, is currently available for download at this address.

And, to add my two cents worth from the viewpoint of the technical journalist and translator, it is interesting to observe in the endless and often, as Pullam points out, incompetent attacks on the passive voice how often critics simply gloss over the need  especially frequent in TJ&T  to describe past, present or future events without identifying the agent.

A quote from Pullam's conclusion:
It is right and good, of course, to instruct students and novice writers in how they might improve their writing. But handing them simplistic prescriptions and prohibitions is not doing them any favors. ‘Avoid the passive’ is typical of such virtually useless advice.
The claims about why you should avoid passives – the allegations about why they are bad – are all bogus, and the interesting point (the discourse condition) is always missed. The advice is often supplied by advice-givers who don’t respect their own counsel – though they are unaware of that because they are commonly hopeless at distinguishing passives from actives.

23 January 2014

Forbes on localisation

Under the heading How To Do World Domination Right: 5 Tips For Better Localization, Jessica Stillman, a contributor to the Forbes blog, presents sound advice on localisation based on the recent experiences of Irish startup app builder Soundwave.

Localisation for B2C (business-to-consumers) companies is in some ways simpler than for B2B (business-to-business) companies. Good advice for the former group is also more readily available and more readily applicable from case to case. Still nice to see this article on the Forbes blog.

22 January 2014

Weekly action email

Australia-based, Ireland-born multilingual translator (ES, FR, DE è EN) Sarah Dillion now offers a Weekly Action Email for small businesses with BIG vision. I've just received my first issue, dated 21 January, entitled Why Style Matters. Whether you are actually a small business with a BIG vision or simply interested in what leading-edge translators are offering, I thoroughly recommend a subscription.

Here's the link to Sarah's Facebook page.

Exemplary punctuation

Under the heading The 5 Best Punctuation Marks in Literature, blogger Kathryn Schulz lists quotes featuring exemplary punctuation by five leading authors.

It would be nice to have some examples from technical journalism or translation. If anyone reading this has any, please feel free to contribute or comment.

Here's one modest example. The French expression plus ou moins has, perhaps surprisingly, a wider range of meaning than the corresponding more or less in English. Some of the equivalents listed in the Collins-Roberts French-English dictionary include: not very, just about, vaguely, and with varying degrees of. In some contexts, one option is to use more – or less –. The punctuation makes all the difference.

21 January 2014

Fact or factoid

From the Guardian's MINDYOURLANGUAGE blog (style.guide@theguardian.com), posted by
David Marsh under the heading A factoid is not a small fact. Fact. Norman Mailer, widely credited with coining the word in his 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe, said that factoids were "facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper".

Here are a couple of quotes:
Books about grammar and language are full of factoids, such as George Bernard Shaw spelling "fish" as "ghoti" and Winston Churchill writing "this is something up with which I will not put". I think the writers want these stories to be true, so repeat them, even when there is little or no evidence for them.
Part of the Mailer definition that is usually overlooked is that the media create factoids not so much as lies but "as a product to manipulate emotion in the Silent Majority"

Applying OSASCOMP to military terms, part 2

For Applying OSASCOMP to military terms, part 1, see the post dated 10 December 2013.
Reminder: OSASCOMP (or OSAS_COMP) = opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, purpose (noun)
a suggested rule to ensure that a string of noun qualifiers sounds natural in English.

Under the heading Surface Navy 2014: Saab unveils Sea Giraffe 4A AESA radar, the issue of Jane's International Defence Review dated 16 January 2014, contained the following sentence:
Saab has revealed details of a new E/F-band shipborne active electronically scanned array (AESA) 3D multifunction radar based Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology.
First, I think that should read:
Saab has revealed details of a new E/F-band shipborne active electronically scanned array (AESA) 3D multifunction radar based on the Gallium Nitride (GaN) technology.
Let us now attempt to apply OSASCOMP -- that's opinion size age shape colour origin material purpose noun -- (see post below dated 2 December 2013) to the term a new E/F-band shipborne active electronically scanned array (AESA) 3D multifunction radar.

My first guess at assigning the qualifiers roles would be:
new = opinion
E/F-band = type, or more specifically, operating frequency
shipborne = type, or platform for which the product is designed
active electronically scanned array (AESA) = (Wow, that is some qualifier!) type, or more specifically, array technology
3D = type, or coverage
multifunction = type, or capability.

Comments and issues:
  • each step of the analysis presents a classification challenge
  • the classification of technical qualifiers is far more complicated than OSASCOMPN suggests
  • if multiple qualifyiers are assigned the same role, how does one determine the correct order?
  • although extraordinarily long, this elaborate string of qualifiers sounds natural to this blogger and is probably unlikely to surprise anyone used to reading technical journalism on naval matters save perhaps for the expanded form of AESA.
Clearly, OSASCOMP is not readily applicable to complex multi-element military terms.
Thus, the long-standing question raised on 2 December 2013 still awaits an answer meeting the needs of technical journalists and translators.

14 January 2014

Have concept, but no straightforward word

On 2 January, the Economist's language columnist Johnson published an article under the rubric Word of the year and the heading Johnson: And the winner for 2013 is... The article is signed 'R.L.G.' and was written in Berlin.

The passage I'd like to focus on reads (my bold):
When Johnson was asked by a German magazine to write a short commentary on the revelations of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who blew the lid on America's electronic eavesdropping, I was moved to muse that the German language had no straightforward word for “privacy”. (It has Privatsphäre, or “private sphere”, and Ungestörtheit for the idea of being left in peace, but no word for the abstract notion of privacy itself.)
Under the traditional lazy analysis, “German has no word for ‘privacy’” should mean that the concept is unimportant to Germans, or that they have a hard time understanding it. But the opposite is true.
The comments below the article mention other German possible equivalents of 'privacy', suggesting that Johnson could have elaborated a little on what he meant by 'straigtforward'. Still he does appear to have picked up on a nugget of information. Linguists and more particularly terminologists have long debated the complex and evolving relationships between terms and concepts. See, for instance, this thesis. Johnson's observation may give them further food for thought.

10 January 2014

Native languages of Britain

Want to know how many native languages are spoken in Britain?

You'll find partial answers in an article dated 8 January 2014 by Adam Ramsay entitled The many languages native to Britain on the OurKingdom site.

Oh. And the quick answer is about 20.

07 January 2014

Cutting-edge terminology

On 19 December 2013, under the heading Drone: Some thoughts on the term 'drone' and its use in general and technical journalism, I mentioned a Guardian article quoting an executive pointing out that his company, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, now considers that the word 'unmanned' in terms like 'unmanned aerial vehicle' is 'pejorative'.

Turns out the man is far from being alone. Several website, including that of UAS Vision and UVS International, are promoting a number of new terms using 'remotely operated' or 'remotely piloted' instead of 'unmanned'.

This raises a range of issues, some extending beyond jargon and marketing to ethics and beyond. For technical journalists and their translators the challenges are simpler but no less real. For them, the vast majority of decisions concerned terms of choice are determined by considerations like What is the most familiar to my readers?, What is the existing standard terminology? or What are most companies active in this area using?

On this occasion, the challenge is a little bigger. Some technical journalists and their translators will simply use terms that are likely to be the more familiar to their readers. Others, once aware of the efforts of UAS VisionUVS International and others, will be tempted to demonstrate that they are at the cutting edge of terminology by suggesting that their clients switch to a series of terms that are, for the moment, potentially ahead of the curve.

An interesting challenge for technical journalists and their translators working in this area and an excellent example of how important it is for both (a) to specialise and (b) to stay thoroughly up to date with the latest trends.

What makes TJ and its translation so special?

So what is it that makes technical journalism and its translation so special?

I've considered some aspects since starting this blog, but today I have, I think, a more concise and insightful take on the issue.

Hopefully, most technical journalists and their translators have read at least the odd article on terminology theory and specialised documents on core terminology in one or more of the technical fields of interest. Equally hopefully, they have also read or studied journalism proper or a related subject.

Formal terminologies are developed first and foremost to help professional and technical writers to introduce and use technical terminology correctly and consistently. In many professional and technical writing contexts this often implies avoiding or eliminating all non-standard terminology. Naturally, technical journalists and their translators need to be familiar with any formal terminology relevant to the subject at hand, whether in the form of international or national standards, recommended and corporate terminologies and glossaries, and so forth.

Technical journalists and their translators are, however, in the business of writing professional technical articles and, in most languages and contexts this means that they must avoid repeating terms (and more particularly multi-word terms) (not to mention other stylistic devices).

To summarise, technical journalists and their translators juggle the constant tension between formal, correct terminology and non-repetition, one of the accepted norms of journalism. Those that have come to TJ from technical writing or an engineering or science background may err on the side of excessively formal terminology, those that come from conventional journalism and non-technical backgrounds may err pay insufficient attention to the same.

06 January 2014

Challenge: translate this

Challenge: translate into any language you wish.
“As brands build out a world footprint, they look for the no-holds-barred global POV that’s always been part of our wheelhouse.” Rob Stone, CEO, Cornerstone.
For more, see here.

And do let me know how you get on...

03 January 2014

Techies talking gobbledegook

On 3 January, Gillian Tett signed an FT article entitled Beware techies talking gobbledegook.

When the computing expert presented his plans, everyone on the board waved them through – except for Dennis, who declared that he would not approve the plans since he had “not understood a word the computer expert had said … [The project] was delivered using the baffling gobbledegook that many computer geeks use,” he explains.
A stand-off ensued until his fellow board members eventually admitted that they had not really understood the project either and demanded the computing experts translate their plans into plain English.
I posted the following comment:
One problem is that procurement processes focus too much attention on price, price, price; another that they fail to identify in advance criteria for analytical rigour, attention to user (as opposed to backoffice) needs and tests among other considerations.
It's also interesting to note that few if any procurement teams (let alone boards) use the quality and clarity of the bid documents they receive, beginning with executive summary and the main technical overviews, as selection criteria in their own right.
Technical translators are frequently requested to do rush translations of rush drafts of bid documents that clearly reveal poor bid process planning, sloppy analysis, unclear explanations and insufficient attention to either user of backoffice needs. Some bidders even outsource bid drafting and translation tasks through Dutch auction sites. Procurement staff aware of the state of the art capabilities in technical writing and translation can read a great deal between the lines of any bid. 

02 January 2014

Quote, unquote 2014 #1


Every act of communication is an act of translation. Gregory Rabassa, into-English translator of Gabriel García Márquez and other South American authors.

TED Talk: Writer Chris Bliss thinks hard about the way that great comedy can translate deep truths for a mass audience.

Une traduction ne doit pas sentir la traduction.
    A translation should read like an original.

La langue de l’Europe, c’est la traduction. Umberto Eco

Translation is fundamentally impossible.
Translators simply try to make it less so.


Peu de monde lit vos documents d’aussi près que votre traducteur.

Transcreating technical journalism, conference presentation

On Saturday 17 June, I at spoke at the TransLisboa 2017 conference organised by Aptrad . My presentation was entitled  Transcreating techn...