Saturday, March 30, 2002

Tongues of the Web. Article on the Economist presents an overview of machine translation and argues that "the Internet changes the game for machine translation: users want speed, rather than quality, and are more likely to accept poor results".

I agree. No-one can eat caviar everyday.

via field and methods, a newly-discovered blog on human language technology

Oxford Online: Will People Pay? The core collection is up and running and there is a 30 day free-trial for organizations and institutions. We are talking 100 dictionaries and reference titles across an array of subjects -- from astronomy to zoology -- into a single cross-searchable resource. But hefty fees are expected, even though part of the collection is available for free at Xrefer. Oxford Reference Online follows the launch of the Oxford English Dictionary in March 2000 as part of the dictionary's first complete revision in its 120-year history. The OED Online charges approximately $550 per year for a single subscription and a base price of $795 for multiple users.

Revamped. The Ethnologue has a new look.

Interpreting Bloopers. "After that wonderful speech, I think we should all give him the clap."

Language is not neutral, it carries the weight of its origin. Two readers want to know why this blog is in English. My justification, based on my experience, is that by choosing English I can reach a wider audience. But upon reading Mother Tongue, interviews with African poets Solomon Mutswairo and Musaemura B. Zimunya I realize that indeed:

"To choose a language is to choose an audience and by the fact of writing in English, French, or Portuguese the blogger has chosen to address members of the Brazilian petty bourgeoisie and English speakers"

nota bene:

"(...) Dambudzo Marechera, the late Shona poet, choose the English language "as a means of escape and mental liberation while at the same time undermining and subverting the former colonial language and its implications."

nota bene:

"When using the English language, the emotional component often gets lost; as a matter of course, writers feel more detached and relate to the language as a tool rather than as a means of cultural identification. Those however who have an equal command of both languages can benefit from the situation of bilingualism. They can choose either language according to specific purpose or feeling."

The emotional component does not get completely lost, in my opinion. It gets subdued. Ha Jin's writing comes to mind as an example. Interestingly, he always conceives his works in English, except when writing dialogues.

Could that be the reason why someone said that this blog seems to be driven by an almost inhuman logic?

Turning PDAs into Multilingual Chatterboxes. "Handhelds from Hewlett-Packard and IBM with built-in talking capabilities are still in development. But one talking PDA, known as the Phraselator, is due to be shipped in the next few days to U.S. troops in Afghanistan."

Big Blue Expands Its Vocabulary. "The additions of Chinese and Japanese as languages that can be translated to English take the number of supported language pairs that the WebSphere Translation Server can translate to sixteen, according to IBM."

Google vs. Altavista. "The folks at Google are very proud that their system defies human tampering. In fact, what they've done is encourage the development of bizarre business models structured to take advantage of their link-based ranking system."

A Far-Off Inuit World, in a Dozen Shades of White. "The Fast Runner" (Atanarjuat) directed by Zacharias Kunuk and based on an ancient folk epic, is the first feature film made in the Inuktitut language by an almost entirely Inuit cast and crew. The film snatched the first feature Camera D'Or last year and New York Times is raving about it:

"The myth that Eskimos have dozens of words for snow may have been discredited by linguists", but Mr. Cohn, using a widescreen digital video camera, has discovered at least a dozen distinct shades of white, from the bluish glow of the winter ice to the warm creaminess of coats made of polar bear fur"

Sounds like paradise for Antipodeans scorching under an unusually hot autumn. Take me away, Nanook of the North.

Yahoo Snafu. Yahoo has changed its privacy policy and has not notified its overseas members that their universal opt-out preferences were automatically changed into universal opt-ins. What do you call that? Cara de pau.

Get multilingual Verba Volant quotations in your mailbox.
Chinese Journals Discard Up-Down for Left-Right Reading. "Imagine the uproar if an American paper suddenly decided that all text would be printed from right to left and that columns would run horizontally instead of vertically."

Google Bombs. Doing it for fun, self-indulgence, justice and profit.

Multilingual Hong Kong a Model. "From the purely utilitarian point of view, mono-lingualism is the most efficient approach. But efficiency doesn't satisfy people's desire to use languages with which they identify and the social cost of such policies is high."

Fake Moustache Translator. Fake Moustache Translator attaches between nose and mouth to double as a language translator and identity concealer. Sophisticated electronics translate your voice into the desired language. Wriggle your nose to toggle between Spanish, English, French, and Arabic. Excellent on diplomatic missions.

thanks Tangerine, you've made my day!

Quote of the Day

One of the most interesting statistics about the Web is that the growth of the Web outside the United States is much faster than it is in the United States, and the growth rate of non-English languages is much faster than the growth rate of English. Of course, English has a head start. So the right thing is that eventually languages like Chinese should be the dominant languages because there are so many more people who speak these languages in the world. Today, we’re working on that.

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google in this interview published today at the International Herald Tribune.

Don't Shoot the Translator. "The Egyptian report claims that a poor English translation of the flight's cockpit data recorder led to American speculation of a suicide. The initial translation of the pilot's last word were, "I place my feet in the hands of God."

Women Back on Top in New Kama Sutra Translation. ""Where it advises yelling, I think Burton couldn't imagine that women could have that kind of privilege," said Doniger. "He couldn't believe it possible."

Hey, y'all! Is the Texas accent fixin' to die out? Let's hope not.

via the quite wonderful prentiss riddle, aprendiz de todo maestro de nada

Small World, ain't it? I've signed up as a subject for this research. My targets are a writer in New York, a student in Croatia and a computing instructor in Britain.

What does Portuguese sound like? A new friend has asked me today. Here's a definition from a reader of this blog, a gringo who shares my infatuation with Portuguese: "It is so, so beautiful! I happened to listen in on a chunk of Brazilian Portuguese conversation, and it sounded like a French person speaking Spanish".

What can I say about the language spoken in the Sleeping Giant (which is how the country is depicted in our national anthem) without causing a geopolitical incident? First of all, Brazil and Portugal are nations separated by a common language, as Mark Twain would have said if he had ever tasted a caipirinha and also visited Oporto. Iberian Portuguese is syncopated like a German fanfare. Brazilian Portuguese is delivered in a more leisurely pace and has more slurred endings. To someone who doesn't know Latin languages it may sound like Spanish, much like Czech and Hungarian sound exactly the same to me.

My Andalucian grandmother who was born in Algeria and spent her youth in Catalunya before moving to Brazil wasn't the world's most gifted linguist. Every time she tried to speak Portuguese, the result was perfect Catalan. My Catalan grandfather took offense for this linguistic faux-pas because during all the years in Catalunya she never ventured to say a mere "Véns a banyar-te?". When I was traveling in Italy, my every attempt to speak the Italian I picked up from the "ciao carina" who were trying to pick me up ended up as Frenchized Babelian with a pinch of Spanish. My daughter, the little tunababy, spent months toggling between the US and Brazil before her language skills were completely sound, so now she speaks Consonant-Free Portuguese or Vowelian, her own variation of Baby Martian.

All this to say that it all depends on where, when and who is speaking the language. And most importantly, on the linguistic footprints the listener is able to track down to make a comparison. To me Portuguese will always sound like a refreshing breeze blowing through the Indo-European linguistic stem. It's the language that makes me feel at home, it's the colorful language spoken in neighborhood padarias, sacred conservatories of the country's bonhomie and test laboratories for the latest linguistic quirks. But others may diverge.

To Tangelino, in his capacity of world's foremost authority in Letras Ocultas and Ciências Apagadas (Occult Letters and Erased Sciences) and to the drifters of the Seaweb: what do you think Portuguese sounds like?

New York Times News Tracker Alerts. The Gray Lady grants you three wishes. Mine are Brazil, translation and multilingual.

Lost in Translation. "What happens when an English phrase is translated (by computer) back and forth between 5 different languages?" It gets babelized.

Here's my stab at babelization:

"The sky above the port was the color of television tuned to a dead channel",
"The sky in the furrow was the color of the television, was attributed died to an advice"
Furrow I of the interior of the sky was the color of the television, attributed died in the recommendation
Furrow of the Innerens of the sky I was attributed I died the color of
the television, in the recommendation (which sounds a bit poetic)

fascinating link via kelegraph

Latin Maxims with English Translation.
When you Don't know Shit from Shinola. Try your luck with the Phrase Finder. But what should you do when you're looking for the lyrics of "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" by Noel Coward? Where did Google put it this time? I'll try to use the advice given to me last week. When you're looking for a lost object meditate and transmutate your protein blob into the object you're seeking. Here I am morphing into a HTML page with the lyrics I covet...ohmmm

Famous Last Words. "Pardonnez-moi, Monsieur" (Marie Antoinette, after treading upon her executioner's toe).
via provenanceunknown.

The Grandpère of Alphabetically-Indexed Wry Wit. Someone has finally had the divine inspiration of putting Flaubert's Le Dictionnaire des Idées Reçues online. We've had the Devil's Dictionary available for some time, so all that is missing is The Pocket Dictionary of People I Know jotted down by Pinto Calçudo in the greatest most funnest book of Brazilian Modernismo, and of course I am referring to Seraphim Grosse Pointe by Oswald de Andrade.

For every action there is a reaction. The market for anti-plagiarism software is expanding. This Economist article explains how it nails copistes.
via Geek Press.

Korean Soldiers Swap Guns for Dictionaries.

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea plans to draft in soldiers as emergency translators to help visitors at the World Cup after failing to recruit enough people with language skills, the South Korean organising committee (KOWOC) says.

Some smaller venues among the 10 cities hosting matches in South Korea have had trouble finding interpreters to help teams and fans from countries with less common languages. Even English, while increasingly popular, is not widely spoken.

KOWOC said the army, navy and air force had agreed to provide translators and help at the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Seoul on May 31.

"We expect the Korean soldiers' support will be of great help to the success of the World Cup," the committee said in a statement on Thursday.

Many soldiers speak English, having worked alongside U.S. troops based in South Korea. Others have trained at military academies in other countries or studied languages in South Korea before their national service.

The South Korean army and defence ministry have also set up committees to prepare for the finals, which are being co-hosted with Japan. The army will supply 2,410 personnel in total.

The armed forces are already heavily involved in security preparations for the tournament and have carried out frequent anti-terrorism drills with special police units.

A new market for software localizers? By the way it looks, soon there will be a new strain of job offers coming from ProZ.

Yet another chimeric sign decoder (on wireless networks this time). Why do scientists keep dreaming of the Universal Translator ? Don't they know it only works aboard the Enterprise? Maybe I am being too skeptical. Everything is possible in a world where Hamlet is translated into Klingon.

Are you with me? Because I want your undivided attention. The 1911 version of Encyclopedia Brittanica is available online. If you're wondering why you should bother about the digital reinstatement of musty old books, head over to Limited Inc. for enlightement with a capital E.

Theta, gamma, sumation etcetera. I've just had to look up what ∑ is.

Know the Way to Monterrey?

(they should have called it The Interpreting Squad of Brancaleone)

MONTERREY, Mexico, March 18 (Reuters) — A German crew providing translation services for a United Nations conference on development financing went to the wrong city.

The crew members showed up in Monterey, Calif., rather than the meeting site more than 1,500 miles away in Monterrey, Mexico, red-faced United Nations and Mexican officials said today.

The crew members, from Brähler ICS, a German company, "planned their trip from Germany and their travel agency erroneously sent them to Monterey in California," an official said.

Trabalenguas So I got it all wrong and I've had my share of strikethrough text in this archive entry so I will just admit to a self-cannibalizing, distortion-prone memory and post below the Catalan tongue-twister where the 16 judges are saved from having their livers eaten by a hangman through the divine providence of a conditional clause. In all truth, the hangman is not even that keen on eating judicial mincemeat, I don't know where I got that from.
And the trabalenguas goes:

Setze jutges d'un jutjat mengen el fetge d'un penjat.
Si el penjat es despenja, els setze jutges del jutjat no podran menjar mes fetge del penjat.

My memory may be toast but I can still google my way to a page with a million trillion billion trabalenguas in a gazillion languages.

More Translation Geekery. Here's a master's thesis submitted to the Monterey Institute of International Studies in 2001, discussing the pros and cons of CAT software, and when it is or isn't cost-effective to use. And rest assured, there is a huge difference between machine translation and computer-aided translation.

The Seven Wonders of the Globalized World. Episode One.

A Latin newscast originating in Finland and masterminded by a dedicated nudist who is also big on Elvis.

What kind of geek am I? I'm the kind of geek who appraises João Roque Dias's presentation on Translating Technical Manuals as one of the most exciting talks of 2001. He has a nice collection of glossaries, I mean, not as large as The Glossarist or YourDictionary but surely more focused on Portuguese. He has just written to me, in my capacity as GlossPost moderator, to announce that his collection of online glossaries is now searchable. Excelente, João.

American Dialect Society Words of 2001. My vote goes to misunderestimate.

Isa Mara's E-talk on Literary Translation (continued)

Here are the questions and answers generated by her FAQ.

Questions & Answers

1- From : ROGERIO

Hi Isa,

I am too young to have read the classics, as you suggest. I have never seen a film with Humphrey Bogart and can't answer your question...
What do you advise me to do?
Hello Rogerio,
First of all, congratulations on wanting to learn. This is a good first step!
You have all your life ahead of you. There´s plenty of time to read the classics, watch classic movies and listen to classic songs. It´s all a matter of being interested.

My advice: first of all, rent the video "Casablanca" with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Watch it, love it, get involved. I dare you not to cry when they start playing the Marseillese!
Then watch it again to savor the dialogue in all its beautiful simplicity. Repeat the lines mentally, or even aloud, if you like them.

What's the effect? Besides a wonderful input in English, maybe the film will make you want to know more about WWII, the city of Casablanca, Bogart's movies, Ingrid Bergman's life, Cole Porter's songs or.... who knows what else? Follow your interest. Go look for it! . Find Casablanca on a world map. Find the lyrics of the song that Sam played again. Be curious!!! That's the recipe.

And also - take all kinds of courses. Art History, Music History, film scenarios... Join a theater group, you'll learn a lot. Go to Europe and to the US. Visit the main cities, go to the great museums. Is it expensive? Maybe no more than taking a university course in Brazil. New York and London are a must.

Read good books, newspapers and magazines. No time? How about trading 2 hours of TV for 2 hours of reading every day? That will make all the difference.

Let´s hear from you again -
all the best,
Isa Mara

2- From : OSMAN

I've just finished reading your tips on translation and I can't quite agree with you. Because it seems to me that you're being honest on all aspects but one. When you give the BRISTLES example, I disagree cuz it seems to me that all you translators have the annoying habit of saying that this or that phrase could have only been translated this or that way, and in my opinion there are many ways of doing it depending on the context, to whom the text is directed to and MOST important of it all: Who wrote it! who's the author? What's the character's age(if he or she's describing a scenario for instance) and his or her profile and needs, ambitions, is it a dramatic character or not? etc, etc, etc.
let's take this example of yours.

Let's suppose a 13 years old boy, laconic, intelligent but even still a child describes his homeland to a foreigner; Bristle would become INFESTAR very easily. and I can see other scenes in which BRISTLES would become PULULAR, ESTRAGAR, ENVENENAR, etc, etc, etc.
So I know you're a good translator but you guys seem to be always trying to scare the rest of us away from your area by not telling us the whole truth.
I read a lot, tons of books a year (english and portuguese) and i didn't need to look up the word Bristle in the Dic, but I can understand its meaning, so probably you'll tell me I'm wrong and so on but those aforementioned words could easily fit into various texts depending on a lot of aspects of it.

Hello Osman,

Well, I was not trying to hide anything from anybody, much to the contrary. I was trying to share my thought processes as I grappled with the word BRISTLE in that sentence. I also did not imply that my translation was the only possible one. To the contrary, there are endless possibilities.

The context: a story on Afghanistan published in The Economist, that I translated for the newspaper Valor Econômico. It said the Afghan soil was bristling with mines.
As a reader, you do well in trying to guess the meaning of words from the context; but for a professional translator this is not enough.

I feel it is my first and foremost duty to look up in one or more dictionaries **any** word that I don’t understand, or that is not very familiar to me, or that I’ve never seen in that particular context, or that offers difficulties for translation. Therefore I would never have translated that sentence without knowing the exact meaning of "bristle". It means a stiff hair, like the espinho do porco-espinho and other animals. As a verb it is very expressive here, meaning that the soil has lots of sharp and lethal bristles that are sticking out, ready to kill you or maim you.

I did not find a satisfactory way of introducing the words "espinho", "espinhoso". "eriçar" or similar ones here. That is why I chose to add the adjective "mortífero" to the landmines, to compensate for that loss and give back mines all their threatening force.

This is what is called in translation "o jogo do perde-ganha." If you lose a vigorous detail here, you try to add some more vigor elsewhere. Otherwise – por example, if I had settled for "solo cheio de minas" - you will betray the impact of the original and write a dull, inexpressive translation.

As for your suggestions, "envenenar" would be rather off the mark, but I liked "infestar" very much. It would fit in very well in that sentence: "seu solo infestado de minas." Duly noted!

Let me state that again:
***If you are a real professional translator, or if you take translation seriously, you **don't** rely on your guesses. You look the unfamiliar words up, you research examples with them, you try to understand them really well!
Millôr Fernandes, a great translator, has said he often looks words up in TWENTY or more dictionaries. ***

Thank you, Osman, for your participation and for raising this interesting point.
all the best,
isa mara


I agree with everything Isa Mara has said. But publishing houses are usually too inconsiderate with translators. Besides, it's quite common that the editor in charge has no experience in translation. Unfortunately, if good people are never given a chance, books will keep on having lousy translations.

Hello Fatima!

Unfortunately I must agree with you. I have not received too much consideration from publishing houses in all these years. There is a real problem with revisores that make unnecessary changes. Companhia das Letras is the best, also because all their staff has a much higher level than you find in the other publishers. Even so they hardly ever exchange a word with me about the translations - even though I ask for it, send them my comments etc. I would not say they are inexperienced with translations; it's just that they don't give it too much importance. They care much more about deadlines than about the quality of the work.

As for giving a chance to beginners, here's a tip for you. The first books I translated were those sugary romance stories that sell in newsstands (Julia, Sabrina etc) It is a good translation exercise and a not a bad beginning. You have to write in a pleasant, attractive manner and balance romanticism and eroticism very well in the love scenes so as not to slide to vulgarity. Believe me, it's not so easy! In fact there's quite a lot of creativity involved, since you often are asked to copydesk and/or reduce the story. So I could advise you to read a couple of them and write to the publishers offering to do a test.

There's no lack of work in this area, I suppose. They have this huge output of weekly silly stories to deceive the young girls into thinking they will find Prince Charming... But one has to start somewhere.

Thank you for writing and keep up the good work. If you really like English and translation, you will succeed!

isa mara

4- From : ADRIANA
Oi, Isa Mara,
É bom vê-la aqui no e-talks. Não sou tradutora literária, mas traduzo filmes e séries para dublagem e infelizmente não tenho tempo para ler 5 vezes a minha tradução, mas concordo com você - seria o ideal!
Mas o que mais me intriga é que os tradutores não tenham o "desconfiômetro" de perceber que "algo não está legal" e partir para a busca de mais informações - como nos exemplos que você deu dos "vinhedos da Marta".
Não posso dizer que eu conheça tudo, é claro - aliás, graças a Deus não conheço tudo - mas o tradutor tem que estar sempre atento para algo que "soe estranho", para fazer pesquisas a respeito do assunto. Fico abismada com a falta de cultura geral que alguns "profissionais" demonstram...

Um forte abraço,
Santos - SP

Hello Adriana!
So nice to hear from you. Well, my subject this time is *literary* translation, and that´s why I recommended 5 revisions - let's say 4 at the very least, if you are pressed for time, so that later on you won't open the book and find all kinds of little things that could have turned out better.

Translating movie subtitles is another area altogether, a different reality. I did it for a couple of weeks and I know what it´s like: you get tons of movies to translate over the weekend and there´s absolutely no time for refinements. Moreover, many of them are done in Miami by totally unqualified people.

Even so one would expect them to have a little more common sense and professional pride so as not to produce hilarious mistranslations such as "vinhedos de Marta".

The worst example I've seen so far is the tv movie "Fiddler on the Roof". In the beginnging the matchmaker was translated as "fabricante de fósforos". And worse, later on in the movie they changed it to "casamenteira" but never went back to correct the beginning. What sloppiness!

Anyway, subtitles are not my field, but I am glad to see that there are some intelligent, conscientious people like yourself doing this job -- which reaches millions of people and ideally shoud be done by well-paid, qualified professionals.

See you then and all the best,
Isa Mara


Oi, Isa Mara.
Eu concordo com o que disse a Adriana, realmente a pesquisa é fundamental para que o trabalho do tradutor seja bem feito. O problema é que muitas pessoas que fazem traduções consideram este trabalho como "bico" e então não dispõem do tempo necessário para revisá-las. Isto é bem visível nas séries de televisão, encontramos muitas "pérolas". Vamos torcer para que os "profissionais" a que se referiu a Adriana tomem consciência desta importância!

Oi Ludmilla,

Obrigada pela sua participação.

Creio que esse assunto da trad. de legendas mereceria um e-talk à parte, pois desperta muito interesse. Está dada a sugestão à Renata.

Como já disse, nao é minha area profissional, mas como telespectadora, tb. sou agredida.
E creio que há outros gdes culpados alem dos "tradutores" sem nenhuma cultura que fazem como "bico" esse trabalho massificante e mal pago . Culpada tb é a ganância das legendadoras e das emissoras. Não há interesse em contratar tradutores mais qualificados. Culpada tb. é a passividade do público. Se muitos escrevessem ou telefonassem reclamando das "pérolas", quem sabe a situação melhoraria?
No momento a tendência é piorar, pois o volume de programas de TV a traduzir é cada vez maior, a pressa tb cada vez maior, e nao há revisao quase nenhuma.
Entao só nos resta mesmo fazer um piquenique "nos vinhedos de Marta"!
isa mara

6- From : ROBINSON

Oi, Isa Mara,

É uma honra participar deste e-talk. Não tenho muito a acrescentar neste momento, mas gostaria de expressar minha satisfação por ver que sua primeira recomendação para um bom tradutor de textos literários é que ele ou ela escreva bem em português. Parece algo lógico, óbvio, ululante, mas, sejamos sinceros (como você), é uma coisa raríssima ver textos traduzidos em português cativante, dinâmico, convidativo. Tenho deparado com textos tão esdrúxulos quanto a própria palavra "esdrúxula", que nos fazem ter a sensação de estar passando de carroça por uma rua cheia de buracos e de lombadas!
Precisamos de textos que transpirem naturalidade, com a leveza de uma seda, que comuniquem um espírito bem-humorado, isento das carrancas sintáticas e vocabulares que assustam e afastam qualquer leitor por mais bem-intencionado que seja, que encantem e seduzam o leitor a continuar lendo, lendo, lendo. Queremos textos marcados pela singularidade do português falado no Brasil, corretos, mas brasileiríssimos, belos, mas encharcados de uma simplicidade que comunica, que entra no quintal das nossas emoções e da lógica do raciocínio lingüístico verde-e-amarelo.

Que bom ver você empenhada em ser alguém "que escreve gostoso". Um texto gostoso: que mais pode querer um leitor?

Um abraço.
São Paulo-SP.
Caro Robinson,
Muito obrigada pela sua belíssima contribuição. Sabendo que você é um editor, responsável por uma editora, suas palavras têm ainda mais peso.

De fato, as pessoas se esquecem que o requisito número 1 é escrever bem em português. As faculdades tb. poderiam ajudar mais nesse aspecto. A meu ver um curso de tradução deveria ter tb. aulas de redação criativa em português, para que as traduções fossem, como diz você, "textos corretos, mas brasileiríssimos, belos, mas encharcados de uma simplicidade que comunica."

Ótima definição!

isa mara

Web ethnologue. A new search algorithm developed by NEC could lead to the detection of "hitherto unsuspected communities", says computer scientist and network researcher Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Is this a threat to Google's supremacy? Probably not, Google kicks ass.

Literary Translation FAQ by Isa Mara Lando

Isa has given me permission to post her thoughts on literary translation here. The FAQ served as the basis for an e-talk (more of a talkback forum) at SBS. It's going to make for a long entry. The Translation Journal also features her profile. Her presentations are famous all over Brazil for she is an energetic and hilarious speaker. Ladies and gentlemen, I have the pleasure to introduce you to our very distinguished teacher:

Isa Mara Lando

Some thoughts on literary translation
posted at the SBS site in March 2002

Hi everybody, so nice seeing you here!

After having translated over 70 books (you can check out the list at my website) I often receive e-mails from people who would love to be literary translators and are dying for a chance. So here are some FAQs...

Q.- What does it take to be a literary translator? Do you think I could qualify?

The most important thing is to have a knack for writing well in Portuguese. "Você escreve gostoso”, “Nem parece tradução!” are the most gratifying compliments, that compensate for all the hard work.

I would say a good literary translator is someone who...

...has a natural, fluent, pleasant style in Portuguese.

Having corrected dozens of translation tests for publishers, I know how rare this is. Finding a good translator – someone who shows intelligence, general knowledge, elegance and a sense of humor, someone who can write a text that will keep the reader interested for 200 pages or more – is like finding a rare and precious gem.

Maybe 95% of the tests I have corrected are no good at all. The sentences are long, dull and humorless; they sound stilted and awkward. No wonder people often say they started reading a book but quit because it was boring – more often than not, the translation was boring!

Try and do some soul-searching. Do you enjoy writing? Do you write well? Can you keep the reader interested?

... has a sound knowledge of English that goes way beyond the basics.

Someone who has a rich vocabulary in English and can get the point of a joke, a word play or an idiom; someone who can understand complex English structures without being misled – that’s a real-to-goodness rarity.

... keeps his text interesting, expressive and lively.

English and American writers are often compelling, humorous, highly personal, even if they are writing about finances or technology. But most translators just ignore and kill all that makes their style forceful and appealing.

For example:
- “The catastrophic results" of the atom bomb became “considerable results".
- “Before we can trust them we have to examine seven times if they are hiding seven perfidies in their heart” became “We have to see how sincere they are.”

No flesh, just bare bones... No magic, no poetry, no originality, no soul...

Here’s an attempt at keeping the text vigorous:

"Angola’s fertile soil bristles with mines, its people are permanently hungry and afraid."

I couldn’t find a good equivalent for the verb "bristle", so expressive in the context. (Can you?? Send it over!)

But at least I tried to compensate with “mortíferas” right next to it:
"Seu solo fértil está repleto de minas mortíferas, seu povo sempre com fome e com medo."

... has a vast and diversified general knowledge.

Too often, would-be translators can’t recognize references to famous facts, names or places and make the most terrible blunders. For example,

"As lindas casas em estilo Tuscan...”
“Saímos de Nova York e fomos de carro para a Albânia...”
“O filme foi todo rodado nos vinhedos de Marta...”

(All real examples.)

Or else they have never left Brazil and cannot recognize features of American or British life.

For example,

“Peguei o tubo e fui para Piccadilly...”
“This Disney World fly-and-drive tour gives you unlimited park-hopping” was translated as “estacionamento grátis”.

Young people today unfortunately read very little and seem content with their MTV culture. But remember, “Knowledge is power”.
Develop the habit of reading! That will set you apart from the rest of the herd.

Also, a translator must travel and see the world. Is it expensive? Maybe no more than taking a university course in Brazil.

... can recognize the classics.

Suppose you were reading about someone who used to be very mean and tight-fisted but suddenly had a "scroogean epiphany".
Can you understand this? How would you translate so that the reader can understand it?

How about “Bush’s Orwellian address”?

Or an article on the Arab world entitled “...And the twain shall never meet”.
What do you make of that? Where does it come from?

The "classics" also include music and movies, since literature is full of references to them.
For example,

- When Humphrey Bogart asked, “Play it again, Sam”, what song did Sam play?

- How would you translate “The Rite of Spring”, considering you should adopt the most common and generally accepted form in Portuguese?

And – perhaps most important: if you can´t recognize those references, where and how would you look them up? And how long would it take for you to find them?

...knows how to use the internet effectively to do research.

If you don´t know the answers to the questions above, how would you go about finding out? And how long would you take to find them?

Q.-How many times should I reread my translation before I consider it done?

A. – This is the most important question, but I made it up myself. Unfortunately, no one ever asks it... But they should!

Reread it your text at least five times. It takes a long time to look natural! It’s like a young girl who spends hours dressing and grooming in front of the mirror in order to get that “natural" look. You know, “Wow, you look stunning!” “Oh, I just grabbed the first thing I found in my closet...”

So, don’t reread your work just once or twice, as most translators do. The more you reread it, the more natural and fluent your style will be. Read it a third, a fourth and a fifth time – in a loud voice! It makes a big difference. Listen to your own voice and make your sentences sound more beautiful, pleasant and well-balanced.

Aim for communication. Be clear and concise. Have a sense of humor, for God’s sake!

Then try and show your text to someone else – a colleague, or just anyone that can act as a normal reader – your mother, for example. Ask her: "So, was it interesting and pleasant to read? Is there anything you didn’t like, or that interfered with your understanding? Tell me and I’ll change it!"

Try doing that and you will see the difference.

The problem is, the more you polish your translation, the less money you are making, of course.
But you have to resign yourself to that. It’s the only way you can reread your work later and feel proud of yourself.

I look forward to your comments on this piece! Go ahead and write.
See you!
Isa Mara

Isa Mara Lando

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Forget Translation Memories and Globalization. The two hottest issues in the translation/localization world are client education and translation metrics. I just read the February ATA Chronicle and found three other interesting articles: Translating Official Documents for African Immigrants by Adrián Fuentes Luque, Where do we go from here? a brief overview of the evolution of the localization industry by Tim Altanero and Some Thoughts on the Modern Scientific Principle of Oversimplification by Steve Vlaska Vitek. None of the three are available on the online version of the Chronicle or at the Capital Translator Online, but I found this delightful piece on Music and the Zen of Translation also by Vitek at the NCATA site.

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