Sunday, April 27, 2008

An Editor’s Rant: On Using Foreign Languages in a Text

Today’s post is more of a rant. Why do authors who want to include words or phrases in foreign languages not check that they are using the correct spelling and grammar (unless, of course, there is a reason for using something in the wrong way, such as to show that a character is pretentious but really ignorant)? Why don’t editors check these things?

In recent weeks, I’ve been reading a lot of work in Swedish. In Sweden, it can be considered cool to include English in a poem or short story, or an author may genuinely find that there is something she or he must say in English rather than in Swedish. But often, I find serious mistakes. And to be honest, the author has lost me as soon as I see that she or he (or the editor or publisher) couldn’t be bothered to have an editor check over the text.


Antoine Cassar said...

I couldn't agree more... even in academic papers I sometimes see orthographical or grammatical mistakes from wrongly cited extracts in other languages.

I write multilingual poetry, occasionally incorportating words or phrases taken from languages I don't know - but before I use them, I do all I can to ensure I write (and pronounce) them properly.

Sarah Alys said...

Argh, this happens because of the "English is cool" thing in Japanese all the time too, and I HATE it. It drives me absolutely crazy. It doesn't help that the English is not only misspelled/ungrammatical most of the time, but it's often quite catastrophically bad--imagine all the humorously wrong "English" signs from China and Japan that you've ever seen, but incorporated into popular songs and TV dialogue. ;_;

B.J. Epstein said...

Thank you for your comments. Alys, your comment made me think of
Antoine, I believe there is a place for multilingual texts, but I wish more writers were like you and would check over their work first!
Best wishes,

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DavidH said...

Incorrect English is also common in Finnish literature. In instances where the fact that the words are in English is of no direct importance to the text, I simply correct where necessary. When the incorrect quotation is of some significance, however, the translator is forced to come up with a suitable strategy. This, in itself, can cause major headaches.

Also, as far as Scandinavia is concerned, the lack of attention to detail may be down to the fact that everybody here thinks they can speak English. Therefore, they a) don't think they will make mistakes and/or b) don't think it's necessary to speak or write English correctly because English is an "international language" and, as such, is considered outside the purview of things as trivial as grammar. Still, given that most native speakers don't even know how to use apostrophes correctly, this attitude is hardly surprising.

B.J. Epstein said...

Thank you for your comment, David. I think you are definitely right about how Scandinavians generally think they are so good at English that they don't need an editor. How many times have translators been told that the clients could do the translation themselves, if they only had time, since after all, they know English? Frustrating!
Glad you have noticed the apostrophe issue too. I always find it interesting that both Swedes and Brits use apostrophes in the wrong way. Americans are slightly better with apostrophes, but here in the UK, I can't go anywhere without seeing horrible errors, such as "CD's" and "banana's". You might enjoy:

Best wishes,

info said...

Tell me about it.

In Der Spiegel a few weeks ago the talk was of "bloody bags" instead of "body bags"

Where are the fact checkers??

B.J. Epstein said...

Well, I suppose body bags could be bloody (in the blood-related sense, not the curse word-sense), but yes, the editors were definitely asleep on the job there!

Best wishes,