23 January 2012

Is there a system to French gender assignment?

There is, apparently, a system -- albeit complex -- to gender assignment in French. Australian linguist Margaret à Beckett of Monash University has laid claim to the discovery in a radio interview and podcast at ABC/RadioNational/LinguaFranca. (Transcript at ABC/RadioNational/LinguaFranca.)

For further information on Margaret à Beckett's book, Gender Assignment & Word-final Pronunciation in French - Two Classification Systems, see here.

At the end of the radio interview, Dr à Beckett explains how minuit changed from feminine to masculine when the sense changed historically from an extended period of time to a precise time thanks to the arrival of clocks. I wonder how she explains the fact that in modern French un espace corresponds to 'space' in the general sense while une espace corresponds to a 'space' in the typographical sense (i.e. a space between two words, etc.). The first is extensive, the second closer to a point, or the opposite of what happened with minuit.

Dr à Beckett's book, published by academic publisher Lincom, sells for €89.90, which really is quite a lot of money. I might have purchased a copy had she published with  an online publisher like Lulu  in electronic format for, say €10, rather than an expensive academic publisher like Lincom.

11 January 2012

Sailors as linguists

In a posted dated 30 July 2011, under the heading Sailors as Ad Hoc Linguists, blogger Translatology discusses a thesis by a naval officer on "native foreign language skills" among US Navy sailors.

For other articles on translation and interpreting in military contexts, search the blog for the word 'terp'. Interesting reading assured!

Next up: explore shared interests between this blog and Unprofessional Translation.

09 January 2012

Must read: Lucy's 2011 guff awards

Read Lucy Kellaway's 2011 guff awards... then ask yourself who, among your colleagues, clients or suppliers, has the worst or most pretentious job title or who should be awarded a Sound and Fury Cup or a prize for the spurious use of percentages, to name but two of Lucy's wonderful categories.

Then see if you can get your communications department to review your company's mission statement and press release boilerplate and replace them with texts that actually says something that people outside your company can relate to and take seriously.

06 January 2012

TJ translators: trend-follows, not trend-setters

One of the basic tenets of the translation by emulation approach outlined in this blog on translating technical journalism (TJ) is that that the translator should emulate the best practice of professional journalists working in the same or a closely allied area of specialisation in the translator's target language. Here 'best practice' includes monitoring trends and preferences with regard to evolving terminology. As the name implies, translation by emulation (TBE) proposes that the translator should follow exemplary terminology and usage trends, but not move ahead of the curve by adopting new terms before they have become established.

So what should the TBE translators do when a recognised standards organisation introduces new terminology? First, they should keep abreast of developments. Second, they should emulate their chosen exemplars.

The ICAO recently published a circular (n° 328) on what it calls 'Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)'. This and other ICAO documents on the same subject define a new set of terms that can be summarised as follows:
Unmanned aircraft (UA) & unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – the current ICAO terms – are also referred to as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), unmanned aerial systems (UAS), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned aerial vehicle systems (UAV systems), remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs), remotely piloted vehicle systems (RPV systems), uninhabited aircraft, uninhabited aircraft systems, and drones.
[The question of how to present term-acronym pairs  – especially  term-acronym pairs containing the plural noun 'systems' or the non-count noun 'aircraft' – will be discussed in a separate post.]

For the moment, it would seem that 'drone' is dominant in the lay media, 'UAV' is popular and  RPV is gaining ground  in TJ, while bodies like the ICAO are promoting UA and UAS. In naval defence journalism, articles on unmanned aerial, underwater and surface vehicles (UAVs, UUVs and USVs) may refer collectively to UxVs, offboard systems or drones.

In such cases, TBE stands for a trend-follower approach, not a trend-setter approach.

03 January 2012

Bellos on translating technical journalism

This post follows those of 30 October, 11 November and 17 December 2011 referring to David Bellos's Is that a fish in your ear? (subtitled, Translation and the meaning of everything). The 'fish', incidentally, refers to the 'Babel fish' in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. (published by Harmony Books in 1979). For more, see this video.

In chapter 28, entitled What Translators Do, Bellos writes:
Here's a tiny example of the kind of changes translators make in order not to change anything much at all. In (a 2003 issue of) the multilingual 'in-flight magazine' supplied to travelers on the Eurostar train, a page is devoted to graphics demonstrating the size and achievements of the whole enterprise of high-speed rail through the Channel Tunnel. One of the bubbles features "334.7 km.h," which is glossed in English as "The record breaking top speed (208 mph) a Eurostar train reached in July 2003 when testing the UK High Speed 1 Line." It is followed by the following French text:  
 Le record de vitesse d'un train Eurostar établi en juillet 2003 lors du test d'une ligne TGV en Grande-Bretagne.
The suppression of the 'miles per hour' speed in the French translation might be seen as simply conventional -- but the obvious reason for its omission is that it is of no relevance to French readers, who do not generally know how far a mile is anyway. More interesting is the French assertion that 208 miles per hour was the top speed of the train during the test, whereas the English asserts that the train's top speed broke a record -- no train had ever gone faster on a British track. But it's not a record for France, whose TGVs have exceeded that speed many times. So, for the French not to be frankly counterfactual, the translator has to rephrase and recontextualize. However, the real sublety in the recontextualization is when the "UK High Speed 1 Line" becomes just 'a high-speed line in Great Britain' in French. French readers do not need to know the embarrassing fact that Britain still has only one such line, when the French have many, and so they had also better not be told the proper name of a piece of railway engineering that is unique exclusively in British terms. Now linked more closely than ever by a fast train, Britain and France still provide two quite different contexts of use for even the simplest expressions. Translations naturally rephrase the message to adapt it to its altnerative context of use.
The endnote on p353 adds: Eurostar Metropolitan, June 2010: 5. The changes make it clear that this sentence was translated from English into French, and not vice versa. A back-translation of the French would probably give: "Top speed reached in July 2003 by a Eurostar train during testing of a high-speed line in the U.K."
Every aspect mentioned by David Bellos comes under the broad heading of what I call translation by emulation.

Glossary. Too little research.

Following this exchange on the Facebook  FR<>EN Translators   forum Catharine Cellier-Smart shared a link to the group: FR<>EN...