Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sloppy, Inconsistent Translation Between Englishes

As I’ve mentioned before, I research children’s books. In reading a few books that were published in both the UK and the US, I’ve noticed that the English is not always consistent. The English in children’s books is often adjusted so UK children study “maths” while US children study “math,” for example, or wear “trousers” versus “pants,” or spell “favourite” with the “u.” But in a number of books, I’ve come across very sloppy translation (because translating between Englishes is indeed translation). I wonder if publishers are particularly careless about children’s books or if this is a problem in literature for adults, too.

11 comments:

Mago said...

To any discussion on US<>UK translation of children’s literature, I can’t resist bringing the anecdote of what happened to the first sentence of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Read about it here. (Go down to the second section on the page, “EXCERPT FROM A Circle of Quiet, by Madeleine L'Engle.”

B.J. Epstein said...

Thank you for your comment!

Best wishes,
BJ

Gregory Smith said...

It seems to me you're overexaggerating the the differences between these two versions of English. Even if I don't say "pants" (at least in the same way American English speakers do!) I understand what they mean - even as a child.

It's important for British and American English speakers to retain mutual intelligibility and I wonder if that's not harmed by overzealous "translators" who think Americans can't figure out that "trainers" are "sneakers" and a "horsepipe" is a "hose."

B.J. Epstein said...

Sorry, Gregory, perhaps I was unclear. My complaint is inconsistency. If translation between Englishes is indeed carried out, it should be done fully. In other words, don't use trainers in one place in a text and sneakers elsewhere, or trainers but then math. That's my point -- if something is going to be done, it should be done consistently.

Best wishes,
BJ

Translation Services said...

Translator can provide any one of the versions provided client should instruct them..

Marta said...

I'm wondering, what about the domestication/foreignisation (naturalisation/alienation) rule? If we call it the translation between languages, these strategies should apply here as well. I'm neither British nor American, but I imagine, if I were British and read a story set in American reality, I would appreciate the preservation of all the details involved in creation of the atmosphere and general impression the book leaves – including calling pants their American name.
But maybe I'm just too much for the foreignisation strategy.
Or maybe it's because I've never done the editor work.
And of course, the thing about literature for kids might be something totally different.

B.J. Epstein said...

My general feeling is to keep the locations, as they are an important part of the plot and story, but sometimes there might be reason to change them. People tend to assume kids can't handle the "foreign," but I disagree with this point of view.

Best wishes,
BJ

Donna said...

I was reading a mass-market edition of Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" last week, an edition supposedly specially-edited for a North American audience. Early in, "inconsistent translation between Englishes" became annoying. Alas, Dawkins in that book itself makes clear he KNOWS he uses BritEng which North Americans won't easily understand -- but he defends himself by opining that readers ought to put some effort into deciphering his meaning. Anyone else think that's goofy?

B.J. Epstein said...

I am not sure I think UK Eng and US Eng are so mutually unintelligble as people sometimes assume, so I guess I don't feel books do need to be translated from one or another. If they are going to be, this should be done consistently, however.

Best wishes,
BJ

Donna said...

Jumper / sweater: both have meaning in UK Eng and US Eng, so translation is helpful. And how about the word "football", or a simple sentence such as "I'll knock you up in the morning"? What's a Public School? Well, it depends where it is. Consistency throughout a text won't avoid confusion arising from wildly different meanings in different parts of the world.

B.J. Epstein said...

I take your point, Donna, but again I say that if it is going to be done, it should be done thoroughly.

Best wishes,
BJ