Wednesday, March 01, 2006

"Official" Translations (2)

A reader has answered my pot about "Official" translations with the following interesting comment:
This is not so vague as you seem to say , it's just literary translators' lingo. And there may be reasons to say so: just imagine I want to quote Rilke's Herbsttag. If I look for a translation, I will find something like this:
A translation by Pintor, one without any credits, one by an amateur, one by a blogger. Which one is the "official"? Pintor's, I would say (although I know there are is a more recent one, in a beautiful edition of Einaudi's Pleaide, and I would choose it as the official one, in primis because I know the translator, as she was my teacher at university and I know she spent something like 3 years on it). What has made it official: the translator's quality, the fact that it is published by a renowed publishing house, etc. At any rate, one shouldn't compare technical translation with literary translation, and not only because of remuneration. This is, of course, my humble opinion.

An aside: I am not sure where I have made any comparison between technical and literary translations, apart, maybe, by my being a technical translator commenting on something that falls in the province of literary translators.

However, I would like to answer to the main points noted in the comment: If calling something the "official" translation in this sense is current lingo or jargon among literary translators, then I shall defer to my colleague, as I acknowledge that current widespread usage normally trumps abstract rules.

Personally, however, I would prefer to call such translations "authoritative", or even "canonical". I realize that I am probably splitting hairs, but "official", in my mind at least, implies some official body which sanctions what is good and what less so.

Also, my colleague gives a good example of an official translation that is clearly prima facie better than the other translations found ("A translation by Pintor, one without any credits, one by an amateur, one by a blogger"). What about the case when there are several different authoritative translations for a given work? Is one of them to be considered the "official" one (and if so, on which grounds)?, or could there be more than one "official" translations?


  1. I would call those 'published translations'.

    Other translators are constantly wanting 'official translations' of statutes or titles of statutes. Sometimes they just have to find something on a website to call it 'official'. It drives me mad when these preferred translations are defective. And the German authorities have some 'official' translations of court names, but why I, translating into English for British and US readers, among others, should regard those as binding is a mystery.
    I can't see any great difference in kind between literary and other translation - perhaps a difference in density of particular kinds of problem.

  2. Margaret: is a translator who takes a translation from a Website as the official one without checking and double-cheching a serious one? And as for not comparing literary and technical translation: first, I was talking about official or not official *sources* and not in general terms about comparing the two kinds of translation; secondly, if I should speak in general terms, yes, they are really different, they are sometimes poles apart. But what I mean is not that literary is better, if this is what could be implied (and I cannot understand how sometimes technical translators seem to be so sensitive about it): I translate both technical and literary texts, but if I had a really strong specialisation, I would rather only translate technical texts: more money, more work, more stability etc.
    Again: I have no idea about English, I am an Italian speaker, so I will not argue about your proposed translation as "published", but I still cannot understand why one should debate over the traditional use of the word "official". Is it really so disturbing? :-)

  3. I think that someone who just takes a translation from a website without checking is doing the Internet era equivalent of what bad translators have been doing essentially forever: "...what you mean this is wrong/does not make any sense? I found it in the dictionary!".

    As regards the sensitivity of us technical translators as regards "literary translation", I suspect something a bit complex, such as an unexpressed feeling that literary translation may be worthier or more interesting, which may lead some of us to overcompensate in other directions. But I'm not even sure about my own feelings in this.

    And, no, "official" is not really so disturbing: I was just indulging my nerdy penchant for precision.

  4. Oh you're right, in that case the Web is just a worse form (because it's a lazier one!) than the dictionary! Actually this is a good way to judge a translator and anybody who has to do with languages altogether. I never trust one dictionary, sometimes not even every dictionary I have, and I learnt very early that "dictionaries are stupid" (this is a personal quotation, drawn from a wonderful "lettore" of mine at university). I have the problem now while teaching Italian to Austrian people: they translate from German, using microscopic Langenscheidt dictionaries, and then I often have to say, no, it's not right or this is not used any longer, or, not in this context, they look at me with a reproachful, stern expression and say, aloud and with utmost convinction: "BUT I found it in the dictionary!" And I am pretty helpless, in that case :-(

  5. Yes!: "BUT I found it in the DICTIONARY!" ... and when you point out that found in the dictionary, or wherever, it still has to make sense in the TL, they look at you as if that was a completely novel and disturbing concept.

  6. anonymous/ Riccardo,

    I don't feel that strongly about it. But I do object to the suggestion that something put up by an official organization is somehow sanctified, and I mean especially when the so-called official translation is wrong.
    I understand if a novel quotes a lot of literature and the translator looks for existing translations into the target language. But the translator should be in a position to tell if that translation is defective. Most of the time that won't be an issue in a novel - the quoted translation would have to be rejected only if it doesn't contain the meaning the original was quoted for.
    But as you say, people sometimes seem surprised when the quote has to make sense.

  7. How do I cite a translation of a web article? I understand the notary signatures and ect... Quite simply what is the accepted format for translation of a webarticle?
    Where does the article title go, the date, and the website adress. (This is for a law firm)

    Help "lost in translation" !


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