Monday, May 10, 2010

Logical word order

It is sometimes easy to be misled by he word order of the source text, and to translate using a construction that means something different from the original.

From a contract I recently edited:

English: “Please read the following penalty schedule carefully”
Italian: “Leggere le seguenti informazioni sulle penali con attenzione”

Here, the position of “attenzione” is only awkward, rather than misleading. It would be improved by moving the word closer to the beginning of the sentence: “Leggere con attenzione le seguenti informazioni sulle penali”.

However, in other instances the word order might mislead the reader, even if only for a moment:

English: “… [of the] electronic end user agreement…”
Italian: “… dell’accordo di licenza con l’utente finale elettronico…”

Strictly construed, this translation might be interpreted as “…of the license agreement with the electronic end user…”.Since we do not have “electronic end users”, “electronic” in the original can only refer logically to the agreement; meaning that the agreement appears online or in some electronic media, such as a CD or DVD.

The source text should therefore have been translated as “…dell’accordo elettronico di licenza con l’utente finale…”, or maybe “…dell’accordo di licenza elettronico con l’utente finale…”, but certainly not *“… dell’accordo di licenza con l’utente finale elettronico…”.

Pay attention to the logical word order in your translations: when you read with fresh eyes what you wrote you'll sometimes see it means something different from what you intended.


  1. You are absolutely right. I have noticed that - probably due to living abroad and being more exposed to my second language than to my mother tongue, I'm becoming more prone to form terrible sentences in both languages, simply copying the word order which "seems fine" at the tikme of actual translation, when you see both versions side by side, and then proves awkward or totally misleading in the second reading. This is why second reading is so essential. A pity that some "agencies" tend to think that time of producing the translation = time of typing the target text.

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  3. The blog is really nice and informative. Though sometimes mistakes may happen but I think we should take appropriate care of it. Really appreciable blog.

  4. You are right. Translation sometimes misleads the order of the source text and might even change the whole meaning. I appreciate the way you have explained the right process.


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