Friday, October 24, 2008


A good editor is an essential part of a translation team, but working with a bad one may be a nightmare.
  • A good editor must be a good translator, but sometimes a good translator is not a good editor: a good translator who has too high an opinion of himself and who is convinced that the definition of error is "something translated different from what what I would do" is unlikely to make a good editor.
  • A good editor must know when to change things that are not real errors. This may be necessary to achieve an appropriate register, to standardize style and terminology in team projects, to follow the style guide provided by the customer, etc.
  • A good editor must also know when, instead, it is better to leave things alone (for example, when the translation is done in a style different than one would use, but which is still appropriate).
  • A good editor needs to know how to indicate when a translation is wrong, how to indicate the type of error, and when instead to indicate that the changes made are preferential.
When I work as an editor I tend to make many changes in the translations I receive. But I also take care to say to the customer when the corrections are because of real errors (serious or otherwise) and when I am suggesting stylistic changes. For example:

"You'll see that I have made a lot of changes, but the translation was not, in fact, incorrect: these are almost all preferential changes made to give more of a "marketing" flavor to an otherwise correct translation."

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"The sorrow with any translation"

A couple of interesting quotes from a recent, excellent article (from "The Australian") on new translations of Virgil:

"The sorrow with any translation is that you're never really quite there, [but] you may be someplace almost as good."
[Stanley Lombardo, professor of classics at the University of Kansas]

A translator must strive to see the work in its own terms, [Ruden] believes, while knowing that such a goal will always be just out of reach. "But it's something that you keep pushing and pushing and pushing, until you pass out from exhaustion."
[Sarah Ruden, poet and classicist]

The entire article is very much worth reading, and a welcome change of pace from the humdrum translations we might be working on.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Writing in a foreign language

As translators, we are not supposed to work into our second language, only from it. However, we have to write in a foreign language when we live and work in a foreign country: We need to be able to write it well to correspond with our customers and colleagues, to give classes and presentations, to write resumes and applications. If we want to communicate more broadly, we may decide that a more widespread language (like English) opens to us a wider stage.

We should strive to write our second language as well as possible, with elegance and precision, style, restraint, and power. We may even find that writing in a foreign language is easier than translating into it: when we translate, we are bound to the path chosen for us by the original author; when we write, we are making our own way.

I came to love English, to appreciate its difficulties and beauty, its subtleties, its style. Over time I learned to think in English, now I often dream in it. Do I write like a native? I don't think so: we are often blind to our faults. But I'm attuned to the way good English is written: for certain things, it is a more flexible tool than Italian.

In English a good standard is saying things in a simple manner, trying to be concise, to use the active voice. Far too often, in Italian we find instead convoluted sentences, needlessly complex syntax, the use of language not to communicate but as a way to show off. Hence, so much legal and bureaucratic verbiage, and also the misplaced love for half-learned, and one-fourth-understood foreign (especially English) words when Italian ones would do.