This month, I finally got hold of my copy of La traduction, un sport de haut niveau (“Translation, a high-performance sport”), which is the title given to the June edition of Traduire, the journal published by the Société française des traducteurs. It was published way back in June 2016, but with moving house it got sent to my old address and I didn’t get hold of it until October this year.
It was the first time I had subscribed to the magazine, not because I was not interested, but because I wondered when I would find the time to read it. But edition 234 was dedicated to sports translations, a field in which I specialise, so I was looking forward to reading it.
There was a mixed bag of authors: some who focus only on one or two sports, some who translate other fields in addition to sport, and some who are translators who dedicate much of their free time to sport.
The pedalling translator
In Traduire à vélo, which I will liberally translate as “The pedalling translator”, Jonathan Hine (website, blog) begins by telling a short story. He then tells us about his life as a nomadic translator who travels around North America and Europe by bicycle. Interestingly, Jonathan says that his professional profile on the American Translators Association‘s website is by far his main source of new clients.
Jonathan discusses many of the difficulties encountered by nomadic translators. Whenever possible, he stays in accommodation with WiFi, though he can use his smartphone if all else fails. Given his nomadic lifestyle, it is surprising that he did not get his first smartphone until 2014. He does rent a small flat in Italy that he uses for storage or for receiving items in the post (though more often that not, he has parcels sent to friends or hotels). If Jonathan ever wants to cycle around Southern Africa, I could recommend a few routes in South Africa and Namibia! He ends his article with a list of pros and cons, which anyone considering becoming a nomadic translator would do well to read before taking the plunge.
Mourinho, the interpreter’s nightmare
In Le cauchemare des interprètes, or “The interpreter’s nightmare”, Laurent Laget (website) writes at length about the man we all love to hate, pantomime villain José Mourinho. Mourinho is known for speaking half a dozen languages, and according to Laget, “Mourinho learned Catalan” when working for FC Barcelona as Bobby Robson’s interpreter. However, like the late Johan Cruijff, despite learning to speak several other languages Mourinho has never been heard speaking Catalan in public. He certainly learned to understand Catalan, as evidenced by interviews in which the journalist asked him questions in Catalan and he responded in Spanish, but when he went to Real Madrid, he started refusing to answer questions posed to him in Catalan, saying he did not understand.
Laurent looks at some of the press conferences in which Mourinho has reacted to the intervention of the interpreter. In one instance, Mourinho protested after “we didn’t deserve to win” became “we deserved to win”! By contrast, on another occasion, Mourinho was so impressed by the efforts of a Romanian translator that he chirped: “Who pays this guy? His salary should be doubled!” Laurent also mentions that some of Mourinho’s opponents use “translator” as a taunt, as if to insult him. We should applaud how Mourinho responded on one occasion: “Don’t call me a translator because that would be an offence to every translator.” Laurent’s insightful article concludes with some thoughts on how learning a foreign language is beneficial to players’ integration. He concludes by saying that languages are a powerful tool for integration, which benefits a player’s well-being, and therefore his or her performance on the field.
Golf and concentration skills
In Golf et traduction : de la page blanche à la balle (literally “Golf and translation: from the blank page to the white ball”, but the French title works better as it uses the same word for “blank” and “white”!), Céline Graciet (website) talks about how she enjoys playing golf and draws parallels between golf and translation. According to Céline, the concentration skills she uses on the fairways and greens (and perhaps occasionally in the rough or the bunkers!) are extremely helpful when she is sat at her desk, and she says that playing golf makes her more productive. Recently, Céline is delighted to have been regularly translating documents for a new golf club.
The power of corpora
Over the page I found a very familiar name: that of Simon Berrill (website, blog). I skipped past L’art du cliché, not because I wasn’t interested in what Simon had to say, but because I’d already read The right clichés — the original from which this French text was translated — on Simon’s blog. Simon mentions the abundance of clichés in sports writing and how using corpora can help translators working on a text about a sport with which they are less familiar. He suggests building corpora using WebBootCat and analysing it using one of my favourite tools, AntConc.
Terminology on track
Next up, Taffy Martin discusses cross-border athletics in L’athlétisme à travers les frontières. She focuses mainly on the differences between how athletes spend their formative years in France and in the United States, but I think the most interesting part is where she looks at athletics terminology. Taffy notes that certain event names in English have evolved to reflect international usage (a precursor to euro-English in the EU institutions?), such as broad jump and hop, step and jump becoming long jump and triple jump, respectively, as a result of which the French event names are transparent to English readers.
As a translator working for the IAAF, Taffy was asked to translate articles from English to French, i.e. from her mother tongue to her second language. She talks about an article she agreed to translate about race walking, and notes how certain terms used in English for both running and race walking have two different translations in French. For instance, both disciplines use the term stride in English, but French uses foulée in running and pas in race walking. This situation, where a term in the source language can be translated by two different terms in the target language, depending on the sport, is a common occurrence that sports translators must be wary of. Simon Berrill’s article (see the previous paragraph) gives an example in the opposite direction: the translation of the French word arbitre is referee in some sports (football, rugby, boxing…) and umpire in other sports (most racket sports, but also some ball sports like netball and hockey), the choice between the words being somewhat, ahem, arbitrary.
Back in 2003, Taffy worked in a team of around 15 voluntary interpreters at the 2003 World Championships at the Stade de France (I, by the way, was there too, sat high up in the stands for the entire week watching the action!). She talks about the challenge of helping illiterate athletes, often with broken English, during drug tests. With all the money in sports like football and Formula 1, it is often easy to forget that many sports, including athletics, rely on huge numbers of volunteers, and an event like the World Athletics Championships could not take place without them. Translators need to bear in mind crude economic realities when looking for job opportunities.
The controversy of the substituted substitute
Hiroko Nakao (website) writes about working as Une correspondante sportive dans l’abîme du décalage langagier (“A sports correspondent in a language gulf”). Hiroko, a Japanese sports translator who works mainly in football, discusses the “often extremely short deadlines” she faces, which is something that I think all sports translators can identify with. Hiroko worked for five years as a sports correspondent, mainly covering a French football club’s takeover by a Japanese company on behalf of a Japanese sports newspaper, with a role that was far broader than that of a translator and interpreter. She mentions an incident in which the newspaper had changed a word used to refer to a substitute to make the article shorter, but the changed word had negative connotations that had left the club chairman fuming. After that incident, Hiroko would always leave a note at the end of each report specifying that the taboo word should not be used.
Vanessa De Pizzol interviews Patrick Kendrick (website, blog), who is both a football interpreter and a sports commentator. (Is anybody as jealous as I am?) He had been told by one of his university interpreting lecturers that football press conferences are organised by clubs, who hire their own interpreters, often through agencies, and it is through a specialist football-interpreting agency that he began working as an interpreter in football. Asked about José Mourinho, Patrick mentions two positive experiences working with him. Regarding the role of the interpreter, Patrick says that when a manager says something controversial in a press conference, the home club’s press secretary might sometimes ask the interpreter not to translate it.
Patrick began working as a commentator when, after moving to Milan, he was asked to provide English commentary for the Italian league. He loves both careers and hopes that he will never have to choose between the two.
In Traduction sous adrénaline (“Translation on adrenaline”), Heather Watson (website, blog) discusses her role translating and interpreting (though officially as a “press officer”) for the sport of motorcycling, which is dominated by Italian teams, but has racers from all over the world. Like Hiroko Nakao, Heather mentions the “extremely tight publication deadlines”, with press releases that need to be completed in half an hour. She notes that translating for Twitter and for video subtitles has improved her ability to write concisely. As an interpreter, Heather says it is vital for her to know the technical terminology used in her sport, especially where two terms might be easily confused, such as forcella (the fork to which the front wheel is attached) and forcellone (the swinging arm to which the rear wheel is attached). She also mentions pseudo-English words that are misused, such as feeling, which she normally translates using a paraphrase referring to being in sync with the bike.
The forgotten specialist field
Idriss Chaplain (website), who translated the autobiography of four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome into French, says that sport is a much-maligned field in translation faculties, where lecturers rarely decide to work on sports translations, despite sport playing such an important role in today’s society. In his article, La passion, la tête et les jambes, Idriss recalls his surprise when he heard Laurent Laget tell an audience that sports translators regularly average 10,000 words a day! I have to say that I too am surprised, as I cannot recall ever translating quite that many words, though I have often had to translate around 1,000 words in about an hour. Sports translators often spot mistranslations made by non-specialists, and Idriss gives an example of the term clean sheet, which, during his master’s degree, many of his classmates translated as blanchissage, rather than writing cage inviolée. This is what Simon Berrill means when he refers to the importance of finding the right cliché.
Correcting the source text
Emmanuelle Hingant, whose Twitter feed includes a Tweet about a translation she did for the Irish National Ploughing Championships (yes, really!), also touches on the subject of clichés, or phrases bateau as she calls them, in Les mots du football : viser juste et respecter le jeu (“The words of football: aiming properly and playing fair”). By way of example, she mentions the number of times that the phrase “À la fin de la journée” crops up in translations of interviews, a mistranslation of “At the end of the day”. Emmannuelle says she usually has no problems translating player interviews, but sometimes struggles translating the words of managers who use long-winded answers to express a single idea. She gives an excellent example from an interview with Roy Hodgson when he was the England manager. “It’s better to try to reproduce the idea, rather than translating each sentence word for word,” she says.
Like me, and probably most sports translators, Emmannuelle finds errors in most of her source texts, and she agrees with me that we should point out such mistakes to the client, who expects us to do so. She adds that the only way for a translator to be able to point out certain mistakes in football texts is through “knowledge of the history of football, and knowledge of results, the Laws of the Game and the league tables”.
Sports de glisses
Elisabeth Monrozier (website) writes about Les anglicismes dans les sports de glisse. But what are sports de glisse? It is a term I first came across when I began working in sailing, and refers to a myriad of sports in which people slide across a surface, such as water, snow or ice, or even through the air. The term is a tricky one to translate because it is a case where French and English simply categorise things differently to each other. If you search for translations online, a common suggestion is boardsports (see this Proz answer and see the English language link on the French Wikipedia page). But remember where I said I first read the term: sailing. But although sailing is considered a sport de glisse (the boat slides across the water), it is certainly not a boardsport! For me, there is no one solution that fits every circumstance. You normally need to reword your translation based on the context.
Moving back to Elisabeth’s article, whose title I’ll translate as “Anglicisms in urban, nautical and winter sports”, the author looks at the influx of Anglicisms in new sports that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, such as freestyle and freeride (the kind of events you see in the X Games. Elisabeth explains that one reason why Anglicisms abound in these sports is because of the informal way in which the sports arose, without national sports federations to provide standardised French translations. Instead, there was a “community spirit”, and the translator, argues Elisabeth, can help the author be perceived as a member of that community by carefully choosing to use certain Anglicisms. She refers to three different situations: terms that have a single exact equivalent in French, terms that have a French equivalent used alongside an Anglicism, and terms that have no French equivalent.
The following fragment, which I quote in the original French (my emphasis in bold), is particularly interesting:
Prenons par exemple la figure consistant à sauter en réalisant un tour complet sur soi-même. Réalisée avec un skate, elle s’appelle un three sixty, mais se le sportif est chaussé de skis, c’est un trois-six.
First, we have another example of the same term in one language having two different translations in another, depending which sport is being referred to. In French, a three-sixty is called a trois-six when performed on skis, but a three-sixty on… On what? One might logically assume that skate refers to skating or skates. But skating is normally called le roller (except on ice, when it’s called le patinage). Le skate refers not to skating but to skateboarding! French tends to shorten many of the Anglicisms it adopts. Usually, though, this shortening of words merely involves dropping the -ing, so when Elisabeth’s article refers to the sports surf, ski, snowboard and windsurf, it is discussing surfing, skiing, snowboarding and windsurfing, respectively. So you would expect skateboarding to be le skateboard, but it is further shortened to le skate.
Elisabeth briefly discusses the illogical gender of some of the borrowed words from English, such as le team, even though équipe, the French word for team, is feminine. She then concludes that there are no hardfast rules and wisely advises sports translators, and translators in any field, that “the best glossary out there is no replacement for meticulous research”.
La course à pied vs. le running
Laura Orsal (website) writes about translating for the sports press, particularly texts about running, in Traduire pour la presse sportive : l’exemple de la course à pied (“Translating for the sports press: the example of running”). According to Laura, translations of articles about running are usually for a well-informed audience looking for “tips on training, food and equipment and nice stories to inspire and motivate them”. Like Elisabeth Monrozier, Laura notes the strong US influence on the language used in French, the perfect example being the influx of the English word run and its derivatives in the names of French blogs and magazines.
One issue the sports translator must face, says Laura, is the constant introduction of new concepts. She gives the word priming, which refers to a training technique, as an example. This term has been translated into French as amorce. Laura also discusses innovations in equipment, including clothing and footwear that incorporate “patented technologies with untranslatable names”.
Laura gives CrossFit as an example of a discipline in which Anglicisms are abundant, mentioning the terms kettlebell, skills, metcons, and providing definitions of all three in the footnotes.
Laura says that being a runner herself helps her understand the jargon, and therefore the text, and her examples of how to translate certain concepts prove that her knowledgeable about running is profound. She concludes by saying that sports translations “require excellent knowledge of the sport you are translating”. Having myself translated texts about sports I am less familiar, such as handball (and sailing when I first started working on sailing texts), my viewpoint is more in line with that of Idriss Chaplain (see above), who says that even when dealing with an unknown sport, someone who is familiar with sport in general will “assimilate the jargon much more easily, and turns of phrase will come more naturally”. However, I agree with Laura that by practising a sport (or, may I add, specialising in translating a specific sport) saves time when working on a text in that sport.
A valuable read
I would like to congratulate SFT for this fascinating edition of Traduire, which I advise any current or budding sports translator to read. The digital version will be freely accessible online from June 2018.
Idriss Chaplain mentioned sports translation being largely ignored in translation faculties, but it is also largely ignored by translation associations too, so I applaud the Société française des traducteurs for their initiative in organising this special edition of Traduire.
Are you a sports translator?
Unfortunately sports translation is a field ignored not only by faculties, but also by translation associations. I can’t remember ever hearing about any event or even a talk at a conference that specifically addresses sports translation. I already know around a dozen sports translators, but would love to hear from a few more, and perhaps one day organise a day of talks, maybe through a translation association. If you’re a sports translator, please drop me a line, either in the comments section or using the contact details on my website.