Sunday, 28 October 2012

Forward or Back ?

Now that the clocks have gone back and winter is nearly upon us we need a handy expression to help us to remember which way the clocks go:

Spring forward, Fall back.

In French:

En octobre on recule les aiguilles, en avril on les avance.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Repetition, Deviation, Hesitation

You only realize how speech is really just a jumble of ideas at random, transformed into sound waves, when you do audio translation.
Repetition, deviation, hesitation; all the cardinal sins of the BBC Radio 4 word game ‘Just a Minute’ are there in abundance. The average speaker would not get many points or be allowed to speak continuously for one minute very often.
You are constantly tempted to improve the text, to have the speaker use much more elegant or concise expressions, but you can’t because the transcription must be done verbatim. So you just leave it there for all to see on the page. It’s not very pretty sometimes.
But you do at least get an impression of how ideas seem to form differently in different languages, or at least in a different order. English usually gets to the heart of the matter pretty quickly, whereas with French or German you often sit there twiddling your thumbs until the speaker finally reaches his or her point.
Monsieur Jourdain in Molière’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme did not know he was speaking in prose, until he was told so by some charlatan, but he was right in fact. 
People do not usually speak in prose, but more in stream of consciousness mode, after all.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Translating English into English

Some assorted euphemisms and their translation:

‘winemaker’s vintage’ = rotten grapes or no grapes, how do you make wine with that ?

‘challenging (market) conditions’ = no one is buying our products, or the company is about to go bust

‘we face significant headwinds’ = the company can’t make any money, is about to go bust

‘complete confidence’ - when the Prime Minister declares “I have complete confidence in X “ = he or she will ‘resign’ over the weekend

'he or she reflected on his or her situation and chose to resign' = they were sacked

‘we will work with all stakeholders going forward’ = we will ignore what you say and carry on regardless

The English language is rich with such expressions. If you have your own favourites please let us know.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Beware of the Cat

Couldn’t resist reproducing this (Comment by Clive Cookson - Financial Times) here.

‘Anyone who has used Google’s translation service to turn a foreign language web page into English will know how much help it still needs.

To test it, I requested an English translation of the French Wikipedia entry for chat (cat). Here is part of the response:

“It also means more familiarly by the cat pussy and pussy by pussy. This term, dating back from 1560, comes from mine, popular name of the cat in Gallo-Romance. This word is the origin of the expression ‘at the crack of dawn’, which means ‘good morning’.”

Admittedly, Google can do much better with its more specialised machine translation services. But even the most advanced technology for understanding, generating or translating human language by computer lags far behind the forecasts of AI (artificial intelligence) pioneers 30 or 40 years ago...’

So caveat emptor, or should it be cave canem or is that felis ?