Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Team Translation

This weekend, I was reading Translation and Power, edited by Maria Tymoczko and Edwin Gentzler. In an interesting essay by Lin Kenan on translation’s role in China, there was a section on the history of translation in the country. Translation in China began two thousand years ago with Buddhist religious texts; such translation was done in teams and it included what perhaps can be considered a form of sight translation, the subject of the last post.

Dr. Kenan writes: “First, a foreign monk recited from the scriptures. As he was doing so, a native speaker of the target language translated orally what was heard into Chinese. Then someone else transcribed it into written script before it was polished and finalized by a stylist.”

This is quite a different method of operation than most translators follow these days, at least in Europe and the United States. It is true that many religious documents are translated in teams or at least the translation projects are run by editorial boards, but otherwise, team translation is not common, and interpretation/sight translation (I assume that the interpreters in China had access to the scriptures being recited from) usually is not part of the process. One wonders if the translations suffered or were improved because of the multitude of people working on them. Having several people to share ideas with and/or to look over a translation is generally beneficial for translators and their work, but there is also the question of style, since all people have different vocabularies and different ways of writing, so it might be difficult to make a text consistent if each of the translators on a team has his or her own translation techniques and his or her own sense of the text and its style.

Dr. Kenan mentions that team translation is still practiced regularly in China; a recent example he gives is James Joyce’s Ulysses.


Enig said...

Hi Brett

Sight translation is used by some translators I know, with the aid of text to speech software such as Via Voice or Dragon Naturally Speaking. Others record their translations and send them to a typist. When you're experienced and good at sight translation, you can turn out higher volumes that way. While other translators are not involved directly in the first draft of the text, a technical translation project includes at least another or two more translators, one acting as editor and one as proofreader. It is also very common to split the text up in as many parts as you need to meet a deadline. I've seen that done even with literary translation in Brazil. The rule of thumb is the more translators the messier. In this case, the task of making style and terminology consistent is usually on the hands of the editor. I try to split large volume translations among three people tops.

Brett Jocelyn Epstein said...

Thank you for your comment!
It seems to me that, especially in the case of literary translation, the editor would potentially need to do a lot of rewriting in order to make the text consistent. I know that there are time constraints, but splitting up literary translations (and some non-fiction documents) is not a way of serving the text.
Some years ago, I tried using voice recognition software, but I found that I had to speak more slowly than I could type, and that the program didn't always recognize my words (this might be an even bigger problem for technical translation), so I gave up. Maybe it's worth trying again, if the programs have been updated.

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Hello Brett,

here is the link about unsuccessful translation of the sixth Harry Potter book into the Slovenian language:


Perhaps it will interest you.

Maja (Ljubljana, Slovenia)

B.J. Epstein said...

Thank you, Maja! That looks like an interesting article!

Best wishes,