29 August 2012

Traduire vos éditos en anglais… pas toujours une bonne idée

Article à lire ici.

Egalement Traduire votre site internet : les sept péchés capitaux.

Language and the Mind

The Browser has posted an interview with Economist correspondent and author Robert Lane Greene entitled Language and the Mind. Greene writes The Economist’s highly regarded language blog, Johnson.

A sampler:
1) One of the most interesting things about language is the prejudices and ideas people have about it.
2) Ludwig Wittgenstein famously said: ‘The limits of my language mean the limits of my world’.
3) The Kuuk Thaayorre who live in northern Australia ... don't have words for relative directions. They don’t say ‘left’ or ‘right’ or ‘up’ or ‘down’ or ‘back’. They use only the cardinal directions i.e. north, south, east and west.
4 When people say x can’t be translated, what they usually mean is that you need a couple of words instead of one word.

My thoughts. 1: OK. 2: Turns out it's not true. 4: Clearly contradicted by the example given in 3!

I'll say no more.

Bright as a million light bulbs

(Translating technical journalism is proud to post a contribution by friend and colleague John Smellie, curator of English as she is spoke/Scoop.it! and owner of language services company E-Files. Many thanks John.)

Much to the chagrin of the purists of the scientific world, technical journalists are constantly coining new units of measurement for lay readers. Thanks to them, we're all familiar with the "football stadium" and the "width of hair", while measuring CO2 emissions in "thousands of trees" helps us put the impact of global warming into perspective.

Translators of these colourful metaphors sometimes have to strip out any regional references. French media outlets, for example, like to measure Chevron's devastation of the Ecuadorian rainforest in terms of "an area half the size of Corsica". For a translator of technical journalism, it's all in a day's work (about 12 hours, last time I counted).

According to a recent article on www.phys.org, the Mars rover ("about the size of a small car") is equipped with a laser that "briefly focuses the energy of a million light bulbs onto an area the size of a pinhead". One knowledgeable reader was quick to comment that the laser (built by Thales) is in fact a "pulsed 1067 nm Q-switched diode-pumped solid-state laser that delivers 40 mJ per pulse with a pulse duration of less than 10 ns at a 10 Hz maximum repetition rate".

For us lesser mortals, the light bulb metaphor will do just fine!

Fortunately, phys.org's readers have a sense of humour. Later in the conversation about the rock-zapping laser on Mars, Torbjorn Larsson enthused "the laser shot showed some non-volatile carbon". And while no ratios had yet been released by NASA, Torbjorn assumed "they would be [measured] in 'smidgens' or 'yo mommas IQ'".

(Steve added:)
WolframAlpha, a powerful online computational tool that can handle plain language queries in English, gives conventional values and units for a "football stadium" (area), "width of human hair" (length), Corsica (area), a "pinhead" (area), but it can't tell you anything about a "tree" of CO2, the volume of a "small car", or a "light bulb" of energy or brightness.

13 August 2012

Fed-speak, Alan Greenspan explains

Question by Devin Leonard and Peter Coy of BloombergBusinessWeek:
When you were Fed chairman, people talked about your inscrutability. You talk in your book about practicing the art of constructive ambiguity. What does that mean?

Alan Greenspan:
As Fed chairman, every time I expressed a view, I added or subtracted 10 basis points from the credit market. That was not helpful. But I nonetheless had to testify before Congress. On questions that were too market-sensitive to answer, “no comment” was indeed an answer. And so you construct what we used to call Fed-speak. I would hypothetically think of a little plate in front of my eyes, which was the Washington Post, the following morning’s headline, and I would catch myself in the middle of a sentence. Then, instead of just stopping, I would continue on resolving the sentence in some obscure way which made it incomprehensible. But nobody was quite sure I wasn’t saying something profound when I wasn’t. And that became the so-called Fed-speak which I became an expert on over the years. It’s a self-protection mechanism … when you’re in an environment where people are shooting questions at you, and you’ve got to be very careful about the nuances of what you’re going to say and what you don’t say.

And translators and interpreters have to translate and interpret this sort of thing!

The rest of the interview is here.

10 August 2012

IAE, technical journalism or art form?

My previous post included a link to a fascinating article on international art English, or IAE.

Translators and other readers of this blog may be able to decide whether they want to read the whole article after considering the challenges presented by translating passages such as those below. Certainly a translator facing a job with IAE or some variant as the source language will be thrilled to read the detailed analysis.

IAE sampler
- X causes an immediate confusion between the space of retail and the space of subjective construction
- Y will unfold his ideas beyond the specific and anecdotal limits of his Paris experience to encompass a more general scope, a new and broader dimension of meaning
- questioning the division between inside and outside in the Western sacred space (the venue was a former church) to highlight what is excluded in order to invest the sanctum with its spatial purity. Pieces of cement, wire, refrigerators, barrels, bits of glass and residues of ‘the sacred,’ speak of the space of the exhibition hall … transforming it into a kind of ‘temple of confusion’
- the field of the real the parafictional has one foot
- Through an expansive practice that spans drawing, sculpture, video, and artist books, Kim contemplates a world in which perception is radically questioned. His visual language is characterized by deadpan humor and absurdist propositions that playfully and subversively invert expectations. By suggesting that what you see may not be what you see, Kim reveals the tension between internal psychology and external reality, and relates observation and knowledge as states of mind.

... starting to get the idea?

The last couple of sentences bring us full circle, or almost, back to this blog. They read: When we sense ourselves to be in proximity to something serious and art related, we reflexively reach for subordinate clauses. The question is why. How did we end up writing in a way that sounds like inexpertly translated French?
Indeed! I could not have said it better myself.
... which suggests that IAE probably translates more readily into the Romance languages than into a Scandinavian or Asian language.

To Baskerville or not to Baskerville?

After reading Hear, All Ye People; Hearken, O Earth (Part One) by Errol Morris, I was tempted to change the default font used in this blog to Baskerville (and probably would have if I'd been able to work out how to do it). This post is in Verdana. Blogger does not appear to offer Baskerville. Pity.

Morris raises an issue that has always fascinated me with the question: Is there a font that promotes, engenders a belief that a sentence is true?
And the quick answer is: Yes, and it appears to be Baskerville!

Graphic artists choose fonts, I presume, primarily for purely aesthetic reasons.
Morris's article discusses an issue I've long believed deserves far more attention than it currently receives. That question is: Should the elements of a graphic concept for a document intended to promote a company's corporate image, products or services be chosen not on the basis of the artist's aesthetics, but on the basis of objective measurements of what works best on the target readership (fonts, text size and legibility, white space, use of captions, etc.)?

Morris's article represents a small but important step towards an answer.

One day we will find out more. And when we do, purchasers of graphic artists' services will be able to establish whether or not they are getting value for money.
The challenge is considerable. Among many other factors, one would like to know something about the impact of different fonts on different readerships depending on their mother tongue, nationality, type of education, line of business, etc.

A couple or notes scribbled to myself over the years:
- English version of a high-cost multicolour brochure on high-tech industry in a French city, published in 1986, was composed, like the French version, in Le Novarese italics with extensive use of 'all caps'. The graphic artists were pleased, but, like me, several English-mother-tongue colleagues with technical backgrounds found it decidedly unappealing.
- When choosing fonts for publications for technical audiences, graphic artists should make sure that the font includes all necessary signs and symbols and that all mathematical symbols look good (to mathematically-minded technical readers trained in a given language) in combination with the font's numbers. (I've seen a couple of failures in this respect but unfortunately cannot recall the fonts involved...).

While researching this, I stumbled upon the following (source):
« Aucun caractère n’est parfait; il peut être le meilleur à une époque donnée, dans un environnement artistique et technique particulier, pour une destination bien définie. Cela vaut pour tout caractère typographique. » 
Né en 1928, en Suisse, Adrian Frutiger est formé au graphisme, à la typographie et à la sculpture.

And just in case you are wondering whether my repeated references to the specificity of writing for publications for highly specific readerships is a little 'over the top', take a look at this site on the specificity of international art English, aka IAE.

Transcreating technical journalism, conference presentation

On Saturday 17 June, I at spoke at the TransLisboa 2017 conference organised by Aptrad . My presentation was entitled  Transcreating techn...