Friday, February 29, 2008


Something that annoys me is wordiness: I don't mind long texts, if there is little redundancy, but words that are there just to take up space, are another matter.

There is a dear friend that always translates "including [something]" as "ad inclusione di [qualcosa]". When I edit her, I can usually pare that down to "incluso" - one word instead of three, 7 characters instead of 16 (I know, I'm nitpicking).

Worse when the redundant words create an interference. From a letter I translated today: "Ali was originally born in Cairo". Unbidden, thoughts came to mind: is there a way one can be born otherwise? "Ali was originally born in Cairo, then he thought better of it, and was finally born in Alexandria, instead", perhaps?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

When are two names 67% the same?

Would you prefer:
  • To have "afxc04z5.htm" suggested as a translation when the html file in the string you are translating is actually "afxc04z5_10.htm"?
  • Would you rather copy manually the file name from the source segment to the target one, avoiding the risk of accepting a wrong file name while typing rapidly?
I would always opt for the second option - it's just too easy accepting a fuzzy match "as is", when you are typing fast, and this type of error is serious (it would break a web site), and remarkably difficult to spot (file names looks similar, and re-reading the translation there is no logical clue to indicate that something is amiss).

The brillant programming team that gave us useless fuzzy matches like this or this one, once again chooses the wrong answer:

When is DWI the same as murder?

Not when someone is run over by a drunk driver, but maybe when that driver, after his arrests, signs a mistranslated waiver.

[...] The form, waiving his right to a lawyer, states that Segundo was charged with “a murder,” and his penalty was “1 anus in jail and a $ 1, 000 fine.”

(from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette)

Signora Presidente and Ms Chairperson: different paths to gender-neutral language

Yesterday a translation of mine returned, marred by some questionable edits: turns out the editor was not even a native speaker of Italian. But that, as they say, is another story.

What is interesting is that one of the "corrections" she marked in my translation was this sentence (suitably changed here to protect my customer): "La Signora Jane Doe, Direttore del Centro..." [Ms. Jane Doe, Director of the Center ..."].

My editor changed that to "La Signora Jane Doe, Direttrice del Centro...". My old elementary teacher would have agreed with the editor and marked my translation with a blue pencil. That would have been right, back then: "La ... Direttore", feminine article plus male noun - a blatant error of concordance.

But usage changes with time. Now the old feminine names for titles and professions are disappearing from Italian: no longer "Direttrice", but "Direttore"; no longer "Avvocatessa", but "Avvocato", and so on, ever more often.

A similar trend in English has replaced "Chairman" with "Chairperson", and brought many other new gender-neutral nouns in English.

Yet, if the underlying reasons for these trends are the same, the two languages have taken strangely divergent roads to similar ends. In English, where gender is almost absent, this change towards neutrality has stripped the gender from most of the few words that retained it. In Italian, where every noun has a masculine and a feminine form, the trend among women has been to adopt the masculine labels for their professional titles.

In English, women resented words such as "Chairman", because the masculine ending implied that only men were suited for such a position. On a strikingly different path to the same goal, Italian women rejected the feminine versions of their titles, finding them demeaning, as if a "Presidentessa" was a second class Chairman, and an "Avvocatessa" a lawyer only by sufferance.

As indeed my elementary teacher would have agreed, when teaching to our class that a "Deputatessa" was the wife of a Representative, while a "Sindachessa" only the wife of the Mayor.

A final twist to this meandering story. The elementary teacher I was referring to was a man, as were all the other elementary teachers to the all-male school forms in our public school. I doubt that in Italy, nowadays, one would find many male elementary teachers left.


He looked old to me, then, Maestro Buffon, certainly older than my parents; old enough that it was my grandmother who had been his elementary teacher.

And yet, he was probably younger than I am now.

Friday, February 22, 2008

English-Italian dictionaries: CD-ROMs and online

I believe that most, if not all, major EN>IT IT>EN dictionaries are now available on CD-ROM or at least with CD-ROM available (in addition to the paper dictionary).

I don't have a link for the Ragazzini (Zanichelli), but the Picchi (Hoepli), Rizzoli-Larousse "Sansoni" (which, sadly, does not contain the full text of the great Sansoni-Macchi), and Hazon-Garzanti are now available online.

Of the above, I think the best and most complete general English-Italian dictionary nowadays is Picchi's, closely followed by Rizzoli-Sansoni.

You can try them for yourself, using the following links:

Using these dictionaries "for free" online is tempting, and occasionally useful. Remember, however, that the CD-ROM versions have some important advantages: faster searches, availability even when you are not online, and additional functionality, (much richer search capability, from full-text searches to the use of boolean operators).


I've added to the body of this post another two online dictionaries, Oxford-Paravia Concise and Collins, which have been suggested by colleagues.

I will probably write a comparison review of these online dictionaries in a future post.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The translation of Aesop's Fables

Aesop's fables have been so frequently published that it is widely assumed that in Europe only the Bible has more editions.

The Chronicle Review has a very interesting article (No Children's Tale: Aesop's translators have had varied agendas) on the varied history of the translation of Aesop's Fables, and of how they have changed with the times and with the different intentions of the various translators.

Today we assume that translators always work from the original text. It was not always so, hence (for example) the translations of Russian authors into Italian that were actually translations of the French translations. Even so, it is startling to read that

Caxton's translation is an English translation of a French translation of a Latin translation prepared by a German in 1476.

That German, at last, presumably translated from the Greek.

A very interesting article, well worth reading.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Agency rating lists

How do you know if the new prospect that has just contacted you is going to become one of your best customers, or a headache that will pay (IF they pay) only late and after sundry reminders and threats?

In pre-Internet times, there was no quick answer: a translator could check with some trusted colleagues if they had heard of that particular agency, but that was about it.

Later, translators started to exchange such information online, in an unsystematic way in bulletin boards and newsgroup.

For some years, now, there has been something better: sites or list specifically devoted to collect information about translation agencies from translators, and make such ratings available (usually for a small fee) to other translators.

There are three such services that I use regularly when checking new prospects (or even old customers that come back after a long absence): the ProZ Blue Board, TCR, and PP. There are other similar services, although, for some of them, it is difficult to assess their reliability (I'm thinking, for example of the Translation Directory "black list", since it is difficult to know what selection criteria have been used to add translation companies to this "black list"). There are also smaller free Lists and others that specialize in a specific country or language.

To use most of these services there is a fee to pay, but it is well worth it. For the Blue Board (if you want to use it fully), the fee is the ProZ paid membership; same for the Translators Café area devoted to agency reviews (the "Hall of Fame and Shame). For the other two services, I use Payment Practices (PP) and the Translation Customer Review (TCR) list, the fee is respectively 20 and 12 dollars.

A few pieces of advice. Pay attention to trends, if possible: two companies with an average rating may be different if the rating of one is improving and the other worsening, and a positive or negative rating may not be worth much if too old. (In many of these lists, however, it is possible to ask for more up to date information). Also, if the information is available, check how many people have rated the translation company: a rating that averages twenty responses is more informative than a single one.

If the rating list shows who has given bad ratings to a company, try to verify the reputation of those translators: a bad rating given by a translator known to be unreliable may mean something different from the same rating given by someone who has a stellar reputation.

Follow the rules set by the service, and don't abuse them. In particular, I believe that to threaten your prospect with something like "if you don't pay I'm going to give you a bad rating on XYZ board" is forbidden by these services' rules. In many jurisdictions this would be illegal (blackmail). Even if it worked, you would pay a disservice to your colleagues (a bad payer that pays only because threatened remains a bad prospect, and should be rated as such, to protect other translators).

Try to see why a prospect has a bad reputation: you can probably live with someone who consistently pays late, if they are also known to pay always, eventually, and remember that normally it is better to get a customer that pays on time at, 45 days, than one who sometimes pays at 20, and sometimes at 90: you need to be able to plan your own payments.

Bear in mind that you are usually hearing only one side of the story (and as a translator, you are perhaps naturally inclined to side with your colleagues)

Beware that you can also err by excessive caution: we acquired one of our best customers a few years ago: they had found my name on the ATA site, and called to see if I was available for a big project. I checked them out: they were the successors of a company with a truly bad reputation... however, I had a good impression of the project manager who called me. I called her back with my doubts, mentioning the past reputation of the company. She explained that the company had recently been taken over by new owners, who were trying to overcome the bad impressions and practices left by their predecessors. I trusted her, and my hunch. We never regretted it.

  1. PP - Payment Practices
    Fee: $ 19.99 year
    - structured information about the translation companies
    - structured feedback from translators visible
    - information may be updated over time
    - no feedback from agencies

  2. TCR - Translator Client Review List
    Fee: $ 12 year
    - less structured information
    - feedback from translators visible
    - information may be updated over time
    - no feedback from agencies

  3. ProZ Blue Board
    Fee: free for limited access; otherwise included in ProZ paid membership - $ 70 / year for limited membership, $ 129 / year for full membership
    - limited access without paid membership to ProZ
    - structured information about translation companies
    - feedback from translators visible
    - feedback from agencies

  4. Translators Café Hall of Fame and Shame
    Fee: free for very limited access; otherwise included in Translators Café paid membership - $ 120 / year; unrestricted access is also available with any payment to TranslatorsCafé, starting with the $10 fee for credentials verification. Unrestricted access also available for free to active members, and upon special request to moderators, to those unable to pay.
    - (usually) limited access without paid membership (or other lower payments) to Translators Café

  5. WPPF WorldPaymentPracticesFree
    Fee: free
    - Simple yahoo group
    - Fewer members than other lists
    - Feedback from translators visible

  6. Translation Agency Payment
    Fee: free
    - Simple Yahoo group

  7. "black list"
    Fee: free
    - sent as an e-mail for free upon joining the Translation Directory mailing list
    - Feedback from translators not visible
    - No visible means of updating the list, apart from agencies been added to the list from time to time
    - No feedback from agencies

Please note that there may be other lists available, and that I have a less personal experience with the rating lists after the first free: for example, I could not explore the Translators Café list better, as my lack of a paid membership did not permit me to access it fully.


I have updated this post with new information about the fee necessary to access the TranslatorsCafé "Hall of Fame and Shame"

Sunday, February 03, 2008

An English novelist's take on the translation of his books

David Baddiel struggles with fiction in translation in the Times Online.

Now, say what you like about the irrelevance of authorial intention but the truth remains that I never meant the phrase “careers officer” to be heard in the reader's head a bit sarkily.

An interesting, though lightweight, article about how David Baddiel discovers that his authorial intentions have not been faithfully carried out by his German translator... and about Baddiel's thoughts on the trustworthiness of the translation of fiction.