Monday, 27 August 2012

La Canicule

Yes, it has been hot recently , with temperatures in London moving above 30 degrees celsius for the first time this year.

People here generally take this in their stride and many positively welcome the heat, which makes a change in a country where the norm is often cool rainy days.

We use various words in English to describe hot weather, one of which is ‘heatwave’, which seems particularly evocative.

In French one can speak of ‘la canicule’. This particular term has different connotations especially since 2003 and this year with temperatures rising above 40 degrees in large parts of the country.

‘La canicule’ evokes heat that is so intense as to be actually dangerous, particularly for more vulnerable people. The French authorities both national and local have put in place a great network of help for older people in particular to keep them safe from the effects of the current high temperatures.

A strange word, it comes from the latin ‘canicula’ little dog (female), a nickname given to the star Sirius, which rises at the same time as the Sun between the 24 July and 24th August and whose influence was thought in Antiquity to be behind the frequent hot spells, not to say heatwaves, often experienced around this time.

In English it can be translated by the expression ‘dog days’ corresponding to the summer rising and setting of Sirius.

Linguistic differences in wine description

This week, a few thoughts from the world of wine description.

We often tend to find the same descriptors being used again and again in wine tasting notes. The terms used are often related to the smell and taste of fruits, flowers, spices and other aromas which the experienced taster (or more accurately perhaps, smeller) may be able to detect in the wine being tasted.

The WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Systematic Approach to tasting lists around one hundred aroma and flavour characteristics useful in describing the particular organoleptic profile of a wine.

Tasters however often resort to a type of shorthand to rapidly give a succinct indication in their tasting notes of how a wine will taste to the average consumer and some flavours or aromas will be encountered more often. This will often vary according to the origin, national or linguistic, of the author.

In English-speaking circles there is often mention of ‘blueberries’ or ‘blackberries’; whereas the French will often plump for ‘cassis’ (blackcurrant). Floral aromas will often be described as being of ‘elderflower’ by anglophones whereas ‘acacia’ will often be used by French-speakers.

This is typical of the way different languages will divide up the visible and invisible universe in order to describe it. This goes for colour and sound as well as for taste and smell. One man’s yellow is another man’s brown or red. Yet the actual colour is the same.  

Translation, therefore, can also be a game of taste and smell and finding appropriate ways of accurately communicating the equivalent perception in the other language.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Fashion Statement

I was asked last week to translate some text containing the French word ‘marinière’.

Now you would imagine that there is some simple equivalent English word for this but nothing could be further from the truth.

You often find this word in recipes such as moules marinière which refers to mussels cooked with wine, cream, parsley etc. So far so good.

But it is also a garment worn by sailors in north western France originally but which has now become a fashion item featuring navy and white stripes. Of course being a fashion item it might not be navy and white, it might be sleeveless, long-sleeved, butterfly-sleeved or any other combination.

How to translate this ? You could try sailor shirt, sailor top, French sailor shirt, Breton sailor shirt, or even marinière.

So it’s not that easy, and without seeing the actual garment referred to in the text, the generic sailor shirt will probably have to do.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Does Let your Body Drive translate ?

Interesting comments by Steve Cropley in Autocar magazine (4th July 2012) on Peugeot’s latest TV advertising campaign for the new Peugeot 208. ‘Their ‘Let Your Body Drive’ campaign for the car - which implies that it’s somehow desirable to remove one’s brain from the equation if one is to enjoy driving - sets a new record in risibleness (sic)..I’m prepared to accept that the thing might work better in French, if it’s a translation. But if this is original work in English, it is truly terrible.’

I think Steve is a bit scathing. Of course we are often treated to excellent advertising in this country, so he may have a good point. It does seem that the campaign was developed simultaneously for all markets and simply translated (unless the English came first, which is possible). 

Whether ‘Let your body drive’ is the best rendition of ‘Votre corps reprend le pouvoir’ or ‘Laissez conduire votre corps’ (the same slogan in French language versions) is open to debate. From a cultural standpoint I think Steve is correct that the whole concept might work better in French and in more Latin environments as a whole.

Translation is much more complicated a task than it first seems, and it is not simply a matter of getting the words right. One needs to ask oneself if it works, and if the target audience will understand it.

SFO (Serious Fraud Office) in bad translation fiasco

SFO (Serious Fraud Office) in bad translation fiasco

The SFO (or Serious Farce Office if you are a Private Eye Reader) was involved in an embarrassing loss of face recently as related in Private Eye No 1314. The case the SFO had been hoping to make against the Tchenguiz brothers as part of their investigation into the collapse of Kaupthing (the Icelandic bank) might not now be brought because of errors in SFO evidence. One mistake was ‘the result of a poor translation of internal emails’.

It is not yet known how much this mistake and others might cost, but let us say that it will be millions.

No need to mention what the moral of this sorry tale might be...

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Google translations - are they any good ?

It is interesting to use Google translations as a matter of curiosity and see how they fare.

They can amble along quite nicely and translate quite competently until something throws them. 

As long as the context is very straightforward and factual (the cat is under the table) all is well. 

But whenever the context changes or becomes more specific, as happens in the real world, you may end up with gibberish.

So while the Google algorithms are brilliant and produce quite good translations you need to have a human being read them and make sure things have been correctly translated, in context, with the precise vocabulary and terminology of that particular context.

To sum up:  use Google or any other automat up to a point. But have the results proof read. 

This is an expense which really isn’t.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Is translation worth it ?

I was fascinated by Ryan Opaz’ ( discussion on ‘Winery websites: the good, the bad and the ugly’ at the LIWF (London International Wine Fair) last May.

Ryan gave a great list of do-s and don’t-s for website owners. With a few simple rules a website can be an effective means of communication and not an expensive mistake.

Translating a website is not a given and should only be done if you really need it. This should mean that you spend time and effort to get it right. It also means that you should keep the translated bits as up to date as the rest of your content.

As we were reminded Google likes content and sites which update. This means you will be noticed, and this may help you get that lucrative distribution contract you have been looking for.

I would always spend a few more euros on getting my stuff well translated and having up to date content. It will always be worth it in the end.

Back to normal

Week of 13th August

The Games are over. Thank you London. We did not mess it up ! Now back to everyday life.

Prepositional verbs or phrasal verbs. I am sure many visitors to London have been left perplexed by this peculiar form of English. These expressions take the form of a verb used in conjunction with a preposition to create a new verb with a particular meaning.

Take for example break : break up, break down, break off, break in, break out. Here we have five different meanings starting with one single verb. They cannot be translated literally, at the risk of producing gibberish.

Correctly using this type of construction is the sign of someone who has mastered English. One should however be cautious in their use.

A young man who came to London to learn English was keen to try out his new knowledge of prepositional verbs. As the day’s classes came to an end he offered to give one of his female classmates a lift home, with a breezy ‘Can I throw you down someplace ?’.