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Spot the foreign-language influence

Amazon.com: For If The Flies - t-shirt: Clothing

¡Por si las moscas!

Anyone translator living in his or her source-language country needs to watch out for source-language interference. Similarly, an author who writes in one language but lives in a country that speaks a different language needs to be wary of interference from the host country’s language.

Today, Google recommended an article to me in which I noticed foreign-language interference almost from the beginning. See if you can spot it too in this article about the level of English in Spain, then click on “Continue reading” to reveal the answers.

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Izaskun Orkwis’s article on institutional translation

I first met Izaskun Orkwis at the 1st International Conference of Economic, Business, Financial and Institutional Translation, when my only institutional client was the OECD. Since then, she’s given me some great advice on how to get my feet in the door of international institutions.

In an article for the latest edition of the ATA Chronicle, Izaskun draws on her experience with international institutions to explain some of the quirks of working for them and how to ensure your translation is fit for purpose. The article is packed with pearls of wisdom. Here, I highlight just a few, with some additional remarks based on my own experience:

“the different language versions must match exactly, including all nuances and formal structure…replacing parentheses with commas may be fine in other contexts, but not in institutional translation”


“There will be humongous databases and parallel corpora that will be both a blessing…and a curse (sometimes you must reuse previous language, unchanged).”

Sometimes I’ve translated 3,000 word documents in 15 minutes, as nearly the entire document is a recycled version of an old one in the translation memory. But as Izaskun says, sometimes the databases are a curse. This is especially true when you find inconsistencies in the memory and you spend far more time deciding which previous version to use than you would have spent just translating it from scratch.

“the institutional translator must…lose their individual voice…the translated document, just like the original, belongs to the institution, which is its sole author”


“the institutional translator must…adopt the institution’s working methods”

The latter is particularly challenging for those of us who do short-term contracts for various institutions, as the working methods vary from one institution to another. To give just one example, the World Trade Organization uses Trados Studio (with two different workflows, depending on the type of document), whereas the United Nations Office at Geneva has its own computer-assisted translation tool that runs in the browser. Some institutions require you to upload your translation to a portal; others ask you to save it to a shared network drive.

“the institutional translator must…adhere to vetted terminology”

Izaskun goes on to say that you should consult a terminologist if you feel the need to depart from the vetted terminology. In the work I’ve done, I tend only to have to consult one of the revisers, not a terminologist.

Sometimes the solution in the terminology database is not what the more senior translation staff actually use. In such cases, if I were working at home, with my own setup, I would quickly edit the entry in my termbase, but in an institutional setting, terminology vetting is a complex process and it can take a long time for the entry to be corrected. It gets even more complicated if you suggest a change to the editorial manual. Since it is used by all the UN offices, someone in Geneva can’t just change something without consulting colleagues in New York, Nairobi and elsewhere, which is perhaps why we’re still not allowed to make country names possessive, despite the fact that every UN translator I’ve ever spoken to hates the rule!

“whenever there’s a quote from or a reference to a previous document, no matter how long or short, you must assume there exists a previous translation that needs to be found and reused”

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Configuration de l’orthographe traditionnelle dans Word

Word vous souligne le mot “oignon”, ou il ne vous signale pas que vous avez oublié l’accent circonflexe sur le mot “parait”? C’est parce que par défaut Word utilise l’orthographe réformée de 1990.

Si, comme moi, vous préférez l’orthographe traditionnelle, ou c’est ce que votre client exige, il suffit de changer les options dans Word. Cette vidéo vous expliquera comment le faire.


Una mala traducción comprensible, pero rectificable

El New York Times publicó, hace 4 días, un editorial en el cual instó el gobierno español a buscar una solución política a su conflicto con el gobierno catalán. El último párrafo dice en inglés:

“The best outcome for Spain would be to permit the referendum, and for Catalan voters to reject independence — as voters in Quebec and Scotland have done. Otherwise, Madrid’s intransigence will only inflame Catalan frustrations.”

La primera frase se tradujo o se interpretó erróneamente en varios medios de comunicación (El Periódico, Antena 3, El Confidencial, La Vanguardia, El Economista, ABC), que aseguraron, correctamente, que el editorial instaba al gobierno español a convocar un referéndum, pero que también aseguraron, incorrectamente, que decía que rechazar la independencia sería el mejor resultado para los votantes catalanes.

En realidad, la frase dice que el rechazo de la independencia por parte de los votantes catalanes sería el mejor resultado para el gobierno español; no dice cual sería el mejor resultado para los catalanes.

La mala interpretación de la frase es comprensible. Un lector que no es de habla inglesa fácilmente podría entender que dice “The best outcome…for Catalan voters [would be] to reject independence”, así que no creo que sea una manipulación. Pero pregunta a cualquier persona de lengua materna inglesa – sea a favor o en contra de la independencia de Cataluña – y te explicará que lo que realmente dice el editorial es: “The best outcome for Spain would be…for Catalan voters to reject independence”, es decir “El mejor resultado para España sería…que los votantes catalanes rechazaran la independencia”.

La razón por la cual esta última interpretación es la correcta, y por la cual hay que convertir “for + infinitivo” en “que + subjuntivo” lo explica muy bien Albert Pla en este artículo en Catalán en el diario Ara (ya sé que es un diario catalanista, pero si no te lo crees, puedes preguntar a cualquier persona de lengua materna inglesa).

Y si hubiera alguna duda (que no la hay, pero si la hubiera), esta interpretación la confirma la última frase: “Otherwise, Madrid’s intransigence will only inflame Catalan frustrations”. Aquí, la palabra “otherwise” significa “Si el gobierno no permite un referéndum” no “Si los catalanes no rechazan la independencia”. Si no fuera así, la última parte de la frase – “Madrid’s intransigence will only inflame Catalan frustrations” – no tendría sentido.

Como ya dije, la mala interpretación es comprensible. En cambio, lo que es inadmisible es que los diarios no rectifiquen.

Si yo descubriera que una traducción mía contenía un error grave como este, contactaría a mi cliente de seguida para pedir la rectificación. Los diarios tienen que hacer lo mismo: rectificar las traducciones o interpretaciones erróneas del editorial que todavía tienen publicadas en sus páginas web.

Y para evitar que eso vuelva a pasar en el futuro, podrán consultar a un traductor profesional en caso de duda sobre el sentido de un texto en una lengua extranjera. ¡Estamos a su disposición!


Translating graph and table labels from Spanish/Catalan to English

It is easy to fall into the trap of using literal translations when labelling graphs and tables, but we should try to look for translations that sound more natural. Here are a few quick thoughts on translating some of the expressions that often come up in Spanish (Catalan) texts:

Illustración/Gráfico (Il·lustració/Gràfic)

Usually followed by a number. These labels usually refer to some kind of graph. I would suggest translating it as Figure.

Evolución de… (Evolució de…)

My current project has the following label for one of the graphs:

Evolució del dèficit d’habitatge a Seül, 1926 – 2009

If the project had been in Spanish it would have read:

Evolución del déficit de vivienda en Seúl, 1926 – 2009

Evolución (Evolució) is always a tricky word to translate. The English cognate, evolution, is not used nearly as frequently as the Spanish (Catalan) word.

In the context of graphs, the Spanish and Catalan words usually refer to the fact that the graph shows information over a period of time. My suggestion here is simply to leave it out in the English, since the date in the label already makes it clear that the data refer to a period of time (if the date range is not in the Spanish or Catalan label or title, we could add it).

So, my translation of the Catalan was as follows:

Housing shortage in Seoul, 1926-2009

Elaboración propia (Elaboració pròpia)

Anyone who translates from Catalan to English will, at some point, have had the headache of having to translate the phrase llengua pròpia. Part of the problem is that in English we can’t normally use the word own next to a noun without an accompanying possessive pronoun such as his or my.

An additional problem with the designation elaboración propia (elaboració pròpia) is that elaboración (elaboració) and elaboration are false cognates. The English word implies adding more detail to something, rather than producing something.

Based on my experience of texts written in English, my suggestion is to translate the phrase as Author’s work, or if the document has more than one author, Authors’ work (NB: make sure you double check whether you need the singular or plural possessive if it comes up as an “exact” match from your translation memory, as your previous project might have had a different number of authors!)

Do you agree with my proposed translations? What other tricky terms do you often see next to tables and graphs?


Don’t overuse connectors when translating into English

One of things that can make an English translation look like an English translation is overuse of connectors, or linking expressions, between sentences. Such expressions are much more common in Romance-language texts than they are in English. Here is an example from a text I was working on this morning, used with the author’s permission.

Hay quien afirma que la traducción automática es simplemente una herramienta más de traducción. Otros, en cambio, defienden que estamos ante un cambio de paradigma en la profesión. En cualquier caso, los defensores de ambas concepciones de la traducción automática la utilizan con reticencias.

I have marked the two connectors in bold. My first draft read as follows:

Some say that machine translation is just another translation tool. Others, meanwhile, argue that it represents a paradigm shift in the profession. However, neither view is expressed without reservations.

When revising my translation, I was uncomfortable with the result, which didn’t seem to flow well. My solution was to remove the adverb “meanwhile”, which is unnecessary in English, since the words “some” and “others” already provide the necessary contrast in English. I also moved the position of “however” away from the beginning of the sentence, which is another useful technique to make English translations sound more authentic.


Football, fútbol, futbol, calcio II: terminology

In Part I of this series I discussed the expression the beautiful game used to refer to association football (which I will simply call football in the rest of this post). In this part I will look at the terminology mentioned by Joseph Lambert in his own blog post, The Terminology of the Beautiful Game.

The first half of the following table shows the terminology mentioned by Joseph Lambert in English, French and Italian, to which I have included the equivalents in Spanish and Catalan and English definitions.

Entries marked with an asterisk are not specific terms, but are ordinary words that could be used to describe the same situation.

The second half of the table contains additional interesting terms, and are discussed further below.

petit ponttunneltúneltúnelnutmegWhen the ball is played between the legs of an opposing player.
caviar*peach, *gemAn exceptionally good pass.
doppietadobletedobletbrace, double, pairTwo goals by the same player.
coup du chapeautriplettahat-trick, tripletehat-trick, triplethat-trickThree goals by the same player.
pokerpókerpòkerFour goals by the same player.
pokerissimo, manitamanitamaneta*score five, *thrashing, *thrash, *cricket score, *trounceFive goals, but not necessarily by the same player.
but [goal]golgolgolgoalIf you don't know what a goal is you probably won't be interested in this article!
cornercorner, calcio d'angolocórnercórnercornerDitto!
córner olímpicocórner olímpic*goal (straight/directly) from a corner, *score (straight/directly) from a cornerWhen the ball goes straight into the goal from a corner, without touching another player (except perhaps a small touch by a goalkeeper).
arbitrereferí, árbitroàrbitre/arefereeThe main official in charge of a match.
vuelta olímpicalap of honourWhen players walk around the edge of the pitch, celebrating in front of their fans.
cucchiaio, pallonettovaselinavaselinachipA short, high kick going over the head of an opposing player or over the arms of the opposing goalkeeper. Also used as a verb.
grand pont*autopase*autopase*beat, *go (a)roundWhen a player knocks the ball past an opponent on one side and runs around the other side of him or her.
lucarneescuadraescairetop cornerThe area just inside where the crossbar and post meet on the goalposts.
prolongationprórrogapròrrogaextra-timeAn additional 30 minutes of play in knockout matches when the scores are level at the end of ordinary time.
temps additionnelprolongación, descuento, tiempo añadidoprolongació, descompte, temps afegitinjury time, stoppage time, time added onAdditional time added by the referee to compensate for time lost due to injuries, substitutions or time-wasting.

Joseph’s article does not offer a translation of manita. I believe there is no specific term in English. We would either say that a team scored five or use an expression that refers to the fact that a team were well beaten, such as the verbs thrash or trounce. The expression cricket score is often used when a team is banging in the goals. A commentator might say ‘At one stage Arsenal looked like they might make it a cricket score‘. For those unfamiliar with cricket, this is an exaggeration. Even the lowest innings score ever in first-class cricket is 26, but normally a cricket score would be in excess of 150.

An interesting term in Spanish (and Catalan) is córner olímpico, literally an ‘Olympic corner’. In English we have no such term, so we’d just have to say that a player ‘scored straight from a corner’. According to Nicolás Alejandro Cunto’s blog, the term was coined when Argentina scored such a goal against Uruguay in 1924. The Uruguayan team had recently won the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Paris, where they celebrated with a lap of honour, which in Spanish was dubbed a vuelta olímpica – an Olympic lap or tour – a term still used in Spanish – and in Catalan – to this day.

The same article by Nicolás Alejandro Cunto illustrates the much higher proportion of words borrowed from English in Latin American Spanish than in Spanish Spanish. He uses referí (referee) rather than árbitro and wing (winger) rather than lateral.

Another curious Spanish term is vaselina, literally meaning ‘Vaseline’, to refer to what in English we call a chip. In English the word chip is often used as a verb rather than a noun, so ‘marcó con una vaselina’ might become ‘chipped the ball (over the goalkeeper’s head and) into the net’.

Joseph’s article mentions petit pont (small bridge), the French term for a nutmeg. French football parlance also has the grand pont (big bridge), which is when an attacking player knocks the ball past a defender on one side and then runs around the other side of the defender. (If you’re confused by this explanation, watch this exquisite ‘grand pont’ and goal by an 8-year-old called Adam, and if you’re not confused, watch it anyway!) There is no term as precise as this in English. Although a translator could describe the action precisely by explaining the manoeuvre in detail, this is a good example of where it is better to let some information become lost in translation in the interest of maintaining good style (e.g. ‘Ronaldo beat Johnson on the right flank before unleashing a cross to the far post…’).

French refers to the top corner as the lucarne (skylight); Spanish and Catalan use escuadra and escaire respectively, both meaning ‘right angle’. The closer the ball is to the junction between the crossbar and the upright, the more likely a French writer or commentator is to say en pleine lucarne (‘right in the top corner’, or ‘in the very top corner’).

Finally, translators working between French and Spanish or French and Catalan should watch out for a false friend when referring to extra time and injury time (see the table for other synonyms). Extra time is called la prolongation in French, but in Spanish and Catalan prolongación and prolongació mean injury time; extra time is called prórroga and pròrroga respectively.


Working with your author to find the mot juste: journal vs magazine

Spanish and other Iberian languages do not make a distinction between a journal and a magazine. They use the same word for both, a revista. For translators this can cause us a headache if information about a particular publication is sparse. An abstract I was translating today mentioned two underground Catalan revistas from the 1940s, so it was hard to check whether they were journals or magazines.

One solution is to do what I did twice in the previous paragraph: translate revista with its hypernym, the more generic word publication. But if we want to be more precise – you probably don’t want to repeat the word publication too often in the same text – then you can ask the author, who will probably know about the publication and will be able to tell you which is the more appropriate word.

But the author might not understand the difference between the two terms, or might think that magazine refers only to glossy, tabloid-like magazines like Hello!, when in fact some magazines, like Time, are more serious. To solve this problem, this slide presentation in Spanish is a good resource to send your author, who should be able to identify which word is more appropriate based on the explanations on the slides.

This nuance between a journal and a magazine is another example of the dangers of machine translation. Google Translate might pick the right word if your sentence contains the name of a well-known magazine like ¡Hola! (the Spanish version of Hello!), but for a 1940s publication it will most likely just be guessing.


Problemàtiques del llenguatge administratiu

Per què els polítics i l’administració pública tenen una obsessió per parlar de “problemàtiques”? En teniu un exemple en aquest article publicat per l’Ajuntament de Sant Quirze del Vallès en què s’anunciava el tancament de les escoles a causa de la neu. (La foto demostra clarament que aquesta decisió va ser justificada, per l’enorme quantitat de neu que va caure!).

Segons l’article, el mal temps pot ocasionar “problemàtiques”. Segons el Gran Diccionari de la Llengua Catalana, “problemàtica”, com a substantiu, significa “Conjunt dels problemes que planteja una ciència, una filosofia, etc.”. Per tant, l’Ajuntament ens està informant de diversos conjunts de problemes (amb un conjunt no n’hi prou?) que ocasionen una ciència o filosofia (la ciència de la meteorologia, potser?).

Si volem dir “problemes”, i en el llenguatge de cada dia parlem de “problemes” i no pas de “problemàtiques”, per què no parlar de “problemes” en un text administratiu? A més de ser menys pomposa i més entenedora, per la seva definició és una paraula més precisa per a aquest context.


La guia de CCOO i la manipulació de l’IEC

Ja tenim una altra de les moltes guies del llenguatge no sexista. Aquestes guies les escriuen persones que a la pregunta “com estan els teus pares?” deuen respondre “només tinc un pare”. La gent normal sabem que, segons el context, els noms masculins plurals de vegades es refereixen només a homes i de vegades es refereixen a homes i dones.

El pitjor de la guia de CCOO és la manipulació que fa de la Gramàtica de la llenguage catalana que està preparant l’Institut d’Estudis Catalans (IEC). Argumentant que no s’hauria d’emprar noms masculins plurals com “els treballadors” per a referir-se tant a homes com a dones, la guia de CCOO ens cita un fragment d’aquesta gramàtica:

La quasi totalitat de les categories nominals tenen gènere i nombre, i únicament mostren especificitats morfològiques els noms, els possessius i els pronoms. Els noms, perquè, a diferència de la resta de categories nominals, tenen gènere inherent: els noms són lèxicament masculins o femenins, enfront de les altres categories nominals que poden ésser masculines o femenines segons el context en què apareixen. Els possessius, perquè també presenten la categoria gramatical de persona, i els pronoms, perquè tenen persona i cas.

A partir d’aquest fragment, la guia de CCOO conclou: “Així doncs, cal tenir clar que s’està utilitzant el gènere masculí i no pas el neutre.”

Quina manipulació! Aquest capítol està parlant dels gèneres de les paraules. Diu que tots els noms tenen una gènere: masculí o femení. Però aquí no diu res de la relació entre el gènere i el sexe. Per això, els autors d’aquesta guia haurien d’haver llegit la secció 10.1.2 (“La relació entre gènere i sexe en els noms que designen éssers sexuats”) del mateix document:

En els noms en què el gènere estableix oposicions de sexe, el masculí és la forma no marcada semànticament. El caràcter no marcat del masculí es pot constatar fàcilment en el valor extensiu d’aquest gènere en contextos plurals. Efectivament, un nom masculí plural (com els avis o els llops) pot designar un grup sexualment heterogeni de mascles i femelles, però un nom femení ha de fer referència necessàriament a un grup de femelles (com les àvies o les llobes). El caràcter no marcat del masculí es pot constatar igualment en el fet que la concordança amb mots de gènere diferent es fa en masculí (El meu pare i la meva àvia eren rossellonesos; tots els avantpassats meus són italians menys ells dos).

Els autors d’aquesta guia (per cert, oi que quan he dit “els autors” tots heu entès que podria incloure dones?) no poden utilitzar la gramàtica de l’IEC per a justificar l’ús de les formes dobles com “els autors i les autores”, perquè aquesta gramàtica ho deixa molt clar que aquestes formes són innecessàries.