30 December 2014

News article links directly to dictionary

In her article entitled Tips on career rebounds for French socialists and CEOs alike in the 29 December 2014 issue of the Financial Times, Herminia Ibarra, professor of organisational behaviour at Insead business school, introduced a type of link that I have not seen previously.

In the passage
The benefits of this strategy of reculer pour mieux sauter are one reason why going back to school is such a popular tool for personal reinvention.
The expression reculer pour mieux sauter appears in italics and in blue to indicate an underlying link. The innovation lies in the fact that the link is to an online dicationary, specifically the Merriam-Webster online dicationary.
That the author, who is based in France and writing about a French ex-minister, should wish to use an excellent French idiom is hardly surprising. But to use the expression without further explanation while providing a link directly to a dictionary for the benefit of anyone not familiar with it, is both effective and innovative.

What about a translation?

A quick check using Linguee suggests that the expression frequently challenges translators. (None of the equivalents available as of this writing -- including preparing to move ahead, go back to take abetter jump forward, pull back and re-engage, and take a step back to see the big picture -- is anywhere near as effective as the original.)

Termium has a discussion of the expression here, including detailed treatment of the expression's usage with both positive and negative connotations.

To me, the Merriam-Webster translation "to draw back in order to make a better jump" sounds a little awkward. Perhaps "to pull back for a better run-up" or "to move back for a better leap", provided of course, that the connotation is positive. "Strategic retreat" is also useful on occasions.

Collins online French-English dictionary gives "(figurative) to put off the inevitable" while another edition gives "to put off the evil day", presumably for instances where the French is used figuratively and with a negative connotation.

In the passage quoted above, one reasonably satisfactory translation solution would be:
The benefits of this strategic retreat are one reason why going back to school is such a popular tool for personal reinvention.

08 December 2014

There Is No Language Instinct

Vyvyan Evans -- Professor of Linguistics at Bangor University in Wales, UK and author of The Language Myth: Why Language Is Not an Instinct (2014) -- summarised his main thesis for Aeon magazine in an article entitled Real talk (with the lead-in: For decades, the idea of a language instinct has dominated linguistics. It is simple, powerful and completely wrong.) This, in turn, was further summarised by The Browser under the heading There Is No Language Instinct as follows:
Nor a language organ. Nor, probably, a universal grammar anchoring all human languages. Chomsky’s conjectures were brilliant but wrong. Children learn language, as they do many other things, by trial and error. “Children have far more sophisticated learning capacities than Chomsky foresaw”. At the age of nine months, most children are already hard at work decoding what the adults around them are trying to say (4,200 words).
Excellent read. Highly recommended... unless of course you prefer the full thesis in Evans' latest book.

05 December 2014

WLTT and 101 Things

On 4 December 2014, the UK-based Association of Translation Companies (ATC) published a review of 101 things a translator needs to know by Wordlink Think Tank members Ian Hinchliffe and Andrew Evans.

The review begins:
Many of us remember how a hapless US Secretary of Defense was pilloried by the press and public opinion for the way he formulated his message about “known knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns”. But the point he was endeavouring to make was both legitimate and important ...
As a member of the Wordlink Think Tank and a contributor to 101 things a translator needs to know I certainly agree with every word that Ian and Andy say. I also take this opportunity to point out that the article is the only report published anywhere to date on what WLTT is, how it was founded and what it aims to achieve. As Ian and Andy say:
WordLink is only one of many present and possible such constellations in the industry, but the breadth of expertise among its members and the geographical spread of their experience has taught each one of them that the scope of translation – as a trade, an art and a business – is so vast that there are “unknown unknowns” galore out there.

04 December 2014

Latest trends in media content

On 3 December, the FT's Media section featured an article by digital media correspondent Robert Cookson entitled News organisations ‘go native’ to find new source of ad revenue. While Cookson focuses primarily on the changing revenue streams of media organisations, the article will be of interest to journalists and translators in general, including technical journalists and their translators.

As has often been mentioned here and elsewhere, good journalism, like good translation, begins with a clear idea of who the audience is and how the vehicle of communication works. Cookson's article provides excellent concise background information along with key terminology on the changing media scene and how different types of 'journalism' (or whatever one wants to call it) now work.

Key terms include: sponsored content, advertorial, native advertising, paid posts (a form of sponsored content), branded content, content marketing agency,

Some quotes:
In developing these capabilities, newspapers are following a trail blazed by upstart digital publishers such as BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post and Vice Media. BuzzFeed ...
The opportunity, she says, is to “give brands a new way to talk to their audience” by creating original forms of advertising with the same journalistic flair as the publisher’s editorial coverage.
And even when an article is clearly branded, readers often struggle to interpret exactly what terms such as “sponsored” mean.
The Guardian, for example, uses “sponsored” to label “editorially independent” content produced by its journalists “to the same standards expected in all of our journalism”.

Complicating matters, it (The Guardian) uses other terms – such as “brought to you by” and “advertisement feature” – to describe content that is both paid for and produced by an advertiser.
To prevent commercial pressures from corrupting their journalism, news publishers have traditionally maintained a strict separation between their business teams and their journalists. ... Known within the industry as the “separation of church and state” ...
The New York Times has adopted a similar stance to BuzzFeed, creating all of its sponsored content within a dedicated team that sits in its advertising department.
For readers, such distinctions are subtle and easy to miss. But the increasingly close embrace between church and state within some publishers has important ramifications for the future of news.
One other aspect of potential interest to journalists, translators and their professional associations is whether they should be thinking about using such strategies to promote themselves. There's food for thought there I feel. 

28 November 2014

Market research vs. translation market realities

Writing on his award-winning Word Prisms blog, US-based Russian-to-English translator Kevin Hendzel has added a post, dated 28 November 2014, entitled Why translators are promoting premium markets. Although aimed much more at translators than translation buyers, it offers excellent insights for one and all into a market he describes as "immense, opaque, highly fragmented and comprised of radically different dynamics".

I agree with everything Kevin says on Market “research” vs. market realities, including the comments:
Translation market “research,” meanwhile, has not come remotely close to portraying this complexity.
... despite their high price, such heavily-marketed “studies” distort reality by relying on self-reported data from bulk-market companies, missing many of the largest and most lucrative sectors of the market that for various reasons – national security, institutional confidentiality, competitive secrecy, and teaming agreements, to name a few – are compelled to fly under the “self-reporting” radar.
As a result, the enormously complex translation market has been massively distorted by this bulk-market “research” lens to portray nothing but bulk-market providers.
... the translation market is a very long continuum consisting of billions of shades of gray. The “premium vs. bulk” dichotomy is a form of shorthand only.
Kevin goes on to point out that the bulk-market business model perpetually drives down the rates paid to translators by setting them (translators) against each other to compete for the work that’s available from clients who belong to the bulk-market agencies, not to the translators. The point is well made.

20 November 2014

[Sujet inanimé ou abstrait] + [permet de + infinitif]

Dominique Jonkers on the infernal overuse of 'permet de' and variants by French authors.

The solutions Dominique proposes for how to improve the French in documents using this formula apply equally well to how to translate them and, at the same time, make the target-language version better than the original.

Solution: Dans 9 cas sur 10, voire davantage, vous remplacerez avantageusement « permettre de + infinitif » par un verbe unique, porteur de sens -- j’ai envie de dire : « savoureux ».

Thanks Dominique.

OSASCOMP: Applied analysis

OSASCOMP = Opinion, Size, Age, Shape, Colour, Origin, Material, Purpose
QOSASCOMP = Quantity, Opinion, Size, Age, Shape, Colour, Origin, Material, Purpose.
Mnemonic 1: On Saturday And Sunday Cold Ovens Make Pastry.
Mnemonic 2: Quite Often Simply Asking Someone Can Obliterate Many Problems (source)
QOSASCOMP is listed here for completeness. For the moment I prefer OSASCOMP.

This rule appears to have been invented to help ESL (English as a second language) teachers and students. It is also useful for technical journalists, writers and translators who often need to string together multiple adjectives and qualifiers and as a result can quickly become confused or hesitant as to the best order.
Note, however, that this is a guide, not a strict rule and that there are some contexts where the order depends on the context or which term one wishes to emphasise.

See, for instance: Translating technical journalism: OSASCOMP revisited (11/09/14), Order, qualifiers (same type,comma separated) (14/10/14), OSASCOMP revisited (11/09/14)

It also explains the rule as follows:
Opinion (ridiculous, crazy, beautiful)
Size (big, small)
Age (old, young)
Shape (round, square)
Colour (yellow, blue)
Origin (American, British)
Material (polyester, Styrofoam)
Purpose (swimming in 'swimming pool'; shooting in 'shooting range'

(I am still thinking about whether the letter 'P' should be for "Purpose or Price", or whether the rule the rule should be restated as OSASCOMPP, or possible POSASCOMP. More to come on this.)

Important notes from Adjective order:
1. The adjectives used in the table below are examples only.
2. Some adjectives can be found in different positions, but if you follow the OSASCOMP rule you won’t be wrong!
Further advice from Adjective order in English:
Take care when applying the rule to categorise the adjectives correctly. For example, "The old rotund man read a short old story about an ugly big bear" seems to follow the rules, yet sounds wrong. In this case, 'old' and 'short' are qualifiers, not merely size or age designations, because 'old man' is a social concept on its own, and 'short story' is a genre. And 'big ugly' is a 'commonplace term'.
The qualifiers in the examples in Order, qualifiers (same type,comma separated) – A $27.7 million firm-fixed-price, fixed-price-incentive, cost-plus-fixed fee contract for 7 GQM-163A Coyote SSST base vehicles – are of all in the same category which means that they can be listed in any order.

Collins Cobuild (link)

Under 'order of adjectives', Collins Cobuild (p13) (1992 edition) says:
"When more than one adjective is used in front of a noun, the usual order is:
quantitative adj. – colour adj. – classifying adj.
rapid technological change."
The authors go on to add:
"However, non-gradable adjectives indicating shape, such as 'circular' and 'rectangular', often come in front of the colour adjectives, even though they are classifying adjectives."

Practical English Usage (Wiki link)

In Practical English Usage, under 'commas' (ref. 14.5, p9) (2nd ed.), Michael Swan writes:
"Before nouns, we generally use commas between adjectives (especially in long sequences) which give similar kinds of information, for example in physical descriptions.
            a lovely, long, cool, refreshing drink
            an expensive, ill-planned, wasteful project

(Sorry the image of this table is so small. 
I do hope that those interested can see it.)

Examples from here and there:
  • On 13 January 2015, The Age carried an article entitled A castle for the price of an apartment that included the words "an English medieval castle". OSASCOMP suggests that this should have read "a medieval English castle", which certainly sounds better to me.
  • Is there a difference between "top-quality canned sardines" and "canned top-quality sardines"? It seems to me that the former implies that both the sardines and the canning process are 'top quality' whereas the latter means that only the sardines are 'top quality'. If this analysis is correct, what conclusions can we draw?
  • This page of the Lindt website promotes "Swiss premium chocolate". IMHO and according to the above analysis that should read "premium Swiss chocolate".
Please feel free to comment or supply other examples.

18 November 2014

Je vais passer pour un vieux con, #2

Parisian sensibility, irony, literary wit, psychological and sociological insights, subtlety, wry humour are all there.
So if, as a translator, you came across one of these ready-made phrases in a quotation or an interview, you may want to consult Delerm's little gem or run the risk of missing some of the intended meaning.

To give you a taste, the opener, Je vais passer pour un vieux con, begins:
   Dans la liste des précautions oratoires, celle-ci occupe une place à part. Elle n'a pas l'aspect cauteleux, gourmé, en demi-teinte de ses congénères. Elle souhaite jouer la surprise par sa forme, une vulgarité appuyée qui aurait pour mission de gommer à l'avance le pire des soupçons : une pensée réactionnaire. L'interlocuteur ne doit pas se récrier avant la remarque promise. Mais une petite réticence aux commissures des lèvres signifiant « Toi, passer pour un vieux con !? » semble bienvenue. Elle était espérée.
 My draft translation reads:
I'll sound like a grumpy old bastard
   As little phrases go, this one stands apart. It doesn't have the cunning or subtlety of its brethren. It starts simply enough, then surprises. The strong word nips the harsh judgement – How bloody conservative! – in the bud. While awaiting the remark, the listener should hold off, a half-grin signalling a cheery "You, a grumpy old bastard!?" Phew! The relief.
More -- including a better translation -- in due course.

Je vais passer pour un vieux con, #1

Je vais passer pour un vieux con by Philippe Delerm is not only a fascinating and entertaining read for anyone interested in French and the French; it is also a source of understanding and insights for from-French translators confronted by any of the 42 petites phrases toutes faites that he analyses.

The phrases are:
1.      Je vais passer pour un vieux con
2.      Vous n'avez aucun nouveau message
3.      La maison n'accepte plus les chèques
4.      C'est moi !
5.      Tout d'abord, bonjour !
6.      J'ai habité trois ans rue Commines !
7.      Et puis je vais vous faire une confidence
8.      Comment il l'a cassé !
9.      Quand on est dedans, elle est bonne
10.   Les mots sont dérisoires
11.   J'en parle dans le livre
12.   Nous vous invitons à vous rapprocher
13.   C'est du triplex !
14.   C'est presque de mauvais goût
15.   J'étais pas né
16.   Alleeez
17.   Je garde mon maître
18.   C'est à voir
19.   J'ai fait cinq ans de piano
20.   Joli chapeau madame
21.   Sinon, moi je peux vous emmener
22.   On ne vous voit pas assez souvent !
23.   Et là, c'en était pas une ?
24.   Je préfère Le Havre à Rouen
25.   C'est peut-être mieux comme ça
26.   C'est très bien fait
27.   Oh, lui, rien de l'inquiète !
28.   Ça passe trop tard
29.   Il y a longtemps que vous attendez ?
30.   À l'aile, bon dieu !
31.   Et ce soir ?
32.   Attention, l'assiette est très chaude !
33.   Ils l'avaient dit
34.   Je vais relire Proust
35.   Mets ta cagoule !
36.   On n'est pas obligé de tout boire !
37.   Vous n'aimez pas l'accordéon
38.   Je vais chez Mentec
39.   C'est vraiment par gourmandise
40.   Il n'y a que moi qui passe chez moi !
41.   On va laisser descendre les gens
42.   Je ne m'en servirai plus, maintenant

What's behind the expression?

As the astoundingly prolific Andrew Morris said on his blog a few hours ago, "... I must say I do like a translator who has a keen mastery of everyday speech".
I couldn't agree more.
And, indeed, had already planned on precisely this topic this morning.
The trouble is that translators specialising in technical documents or even technical journalism, don't got too many opportunities to translate everyday speech.
The exceptions include interviews and quotations that pop up in editorials, letters from the C-suite and so forth.
Everyday speech -- indeed anything containing what the French call petites phrases toutes faites, or little phrases and expressions that say a lot -- often present more challenges than many suspect.

I've been reading Philippe Delerm's Je vais passer pour un vieux con.
... see next post.

14 November 2014

UCAV era

On 30 October 2014, IHS Jane's 360 posted a video entitled The UCAV Era presenting an interview with Derrick Maple, Principal Analyst, IHS Aerospace, Defence and Security.

Interesting overview of terms and acronyms.
Also interesting to note the way many acronyms are mixed and matched without significant concern for harmonisation or consistency. Perhaps technical journalists and their translators sometimes expend too much energy trying to harmonise their usage and impose consistency...

10 November 2014

New words, English 3.0, hyperbole and more

The title may be a little lame, but the links are worth exploring:
  • Learning new words activates the same brain regions as sex and drugs
    Quote: "No wonder there are so many bookworms and scrabble addicts out there."
    Comment: So this is what keeps translators going hour after hour.
  • The internet is actually making language better, not worse.
    Quote: "English 3.0 reveals that every time there's a technological innovation, 'it expands the expressive richness of the language in a way that wasn’t there before.' "
    Comment: Agree entirely.
  • It pays to keep up with the arms race of exaggeration by Sam Leith.
    Quotes: "It is not that anyone believes the hyperbole – it is simply that in an arms race of exaggeration, you cannot afford to fall behind." "Hyperbole is the baseline."
    Comment 1: This sensation (one cannot afford to fall behind) corresponds precisely to what I feel when tempted to add an adjective or adverb in certain contexts. It amounts, I suppose, to a form of peer pressure.
    Comment 2: The baseline that Sam Leith refers to may also explain another sensation that I often experience when drafting translations of technical journalism. I refer to what might be called baseline rhythms and patterns. Regular readers of, say, defence journalism get used to a certain sprinkling and density of adjectives and adverbs.
    I'll have to come back to this. It's a bigger topic that one might assume at first glance.

05 November 2014

Euronaval note: Of UAVs, UASs, RPAs, RPASs, drones and more

At Euronaval 2014, manufacturers, journalists, translators and others may have noticed a confusing plethora of terms for various types of unmanned aerial vehicle systems.
  • The British and European perspective on the topic is explained in some detail on the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association (UAVS) site.
  • The FAS (Federation of American Scientists) site has a long list of links on UAVs and UASs here.
  • The UAVS library page has a list of useful links.
  • The UAVS page entitled UAV/RPA or UAS/RPAS? provides much useful information, though some of it may be a little dated.
  • The position of US-based manufacturer General Atomics is explained in a Guardian article dated 17 December 2013 that begins:
General Atomics tells MPs the term drone is pejorative and the aircraft have a 'proven beneficial role in humanitarian crises'.
          Further on, it says:
General Atomics' submission, which is riddled with defence industry acronyms and euphemisms, says it prefers the term remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) to the word drone.
  • The General Atomics site on UASs and RPAs is here.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems are one and the same thing but come in many different shapes and sizes. Most have been designed for specific roles and applications but almost all of them can be reconfigured just through a payload interchange to perform a variety of other tasks.


  • unmanned or remotely-piloted (or remotely piloted)?
  • remotely-piloted or remotely-operated (cf. ROV)?
  • aerial or air?
  • vehicle (as in UAV), system (as in UAS) or vehicle system (cf. UAVS)?

Euronaval observations:

  • the distinction between unmanned and remotely-piloted appears to be increasingly important
  • unamnned appears to be losing ground to the clearer and more precise (also gender neutral) remotely-piloted 
  • uncrewed does not appear to be used at all in defence circles. Nasa mentions 'uncrewed aerial systems' here. (Google hit counts for 'uncrewed aerial systems' vs 'unmanned aerial systems' was, as of 04/11/2014: 80k vs 362k)
  • of the terms using unmanned, UAS appears to have overtaken UAV
  • in English drone and autonomous have acquired negative connotations when used in connection with armed unmanned vehicles
  • in French, drone remains very popular indeed and free of negative connotations. It is also more generic than any corresponding term in English.

Preferred equivalent

Save where earlier documents dictate which designation(s) should be used in a given translation, a short history of my preferred equivalents for drone aérien télé-opéré and the like reads as follows:
  • until 2013: UAV
  • 2014: UAS
  • henceforth and until further notice: RPAS.

Euronaval notes, #2

  • 'unmanned' is everywhere... but how long before 'uncrewed' starts to enjoy wider use? (Or am I 'unscrewed'?) Nasa mentions 'uncrewed aerial systems' here. (Google hit counts for 'uncrewed aerial systems' vs 'unmanned aerial systems' was, as of 04/11/2014: 80k vs 362k)
  • Jane's (e.g. IHS Jane's 360) is probably the only English-mother-tongue military publication to use 'antennae' as the plural form of 'antenna'. See 'radar antennae' and 'UHF SATCOM antennae' here
  • Google ngram for UAV, UAS, PRCA from 1960 to 2014 here (but the acronyms may have non-military uses...)
  • significant improvement in English-language documents and translations displayed by Nexter (compare French-language site and English equivalent), 

Euronaval note: Guerre des mines vs MCM

Wikipédia defines guerre des mines as follows:
En combat naval, la guerre des mines désigne toutes les opérations et tactiques relatives aux mines sous marines : le mouillage de mines, la lutte contre les mines (dragage et chasse aux mines), et les contre-mesures préventives.
The FAS (Federation of American Scientists) site has an article on mine warfare here.

Some observation made at Euronaval 2014:
Conclusion for translators and translation buyers: It pays to specialise and it pays to pay attention at trade shows.

Swimming terminology

Swimmers also use everyday words in special ways or with special connotations. Specialist terminology: it's everywhere! Here are just a few links:

Portuguese age-group co-champions Steve Dyson and Tony Bessone Basto

04 November 2014

DID, Cheap Bulk Translations

From DID, FRI OCT 31, 2014, under the subheading Cheap Bulk Translation:
  • DARPA wants to hear from organizations who can help lower the cost of automating the translation of less common languages. The fictional Klingon is available through Google and Bing, but many of the earth's 7,000+ languages are not, which by itself is a statement about Western priorities. DARPA shook their infamous acronym generator until it spat out Low Resource Languages for Emergent Incidents (LORELEI). Here's the Broad Agency Announcement [FBO], there's a Proposer's Day on November 13 in Arlington, VA.
  • Since Western countries, from the US to Sweden [The Local], cannot be bothered to properly handle visas for Afghan translators threatened by the Taliban, let's hope DARPA figures LORELEI out by the next conflict in faraway places. This gets even the reliably liberal British comedian John Oliver righteously angry [video] at the US government.

Euronaval notes, #1

Just back from a week at the Euronaval naval defence show in Paris. Here are some notes and observations of passing relevance (or note) to this blog.
  • English-language terms of note (and listed for more detailed analysis on this blog) include:
  • autonomy & autonomous
  • mine warfare & MCM. See my post here.
  • UAV, UAS, RPCA and a host of related terms and acronyms. See my post here.
Interesting, for a technical writer and translator, to observe that:
  • while I didn't notice any 'howlers' like those observed at Euronaval and Paris Air Show events a couple of decades or more ago, it is still surprising to see how many signs, slogans, web sites, videos, brochures and more still use wobbly or plodding English.... and often by the biggest and best funded companies too
  • the verb 'prep' (from 'prepare') is increasingly popular with English-language defence industry journalists
  • iXBlue, a spectacular rising star in the French defence and high tech sectors, boasts, in addition to cutting-edge technologies, products and marketing:
  • arguably best-in-industry English-language web site and product documentation
  • a management team that includes (and this is rare indeed among French defence contractors) foreign-trained and English-speaking executives who, I suspect, keep a close eye on the just-mentioned web site and product documentation. 

Love DID's humo(u)r

Defense Industry Daily, or DID, stands head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to humo(u)r. I don't intend to quote DID often, but thought I might give just one short taste:
Tailhooked (Not in Vegas)
An F-35C made its 1st arrested landing, aboard USS Nimitz (CVN 68).
If you got the joke, that's great. If you didn't, perhaps the video will help, at least with the navy interpretation of 'tailhooked'. If it's the meaning that might be associated with the term in Las Vegas, then see what the online slang dictionary has to say here.

A revolution in defence marketing?

Article: Eurofighter turns to social media with Indonesia pitch, FT, 4 November 2014 by Ben Bland and Peggy Hollinger.

Many defence companies focus their lobbying on governments but ... Eurofighter hopes to jump ahead of its rivals by taking its sales pitch straight to the young, social-media savvy population.
Comment 1: Amazing!

Comment 2: If this takes off it could have significant impact on the importance of pithy, punchy slogans and messages by defence contractors aimed at a completely new public.

14 October 2014

Order, qualifiers (same type, comma separated)

A quote from Defense Industry Daily of 12 October (my bold):
A $27.7 million firm-fixed-price, fixed-price-incentive, cost-plus-fixed fee contract for 7 GQM-163A Coyote SSST base vehicles, including the associated hardware, kits and production support for the U.S. Navy (3 / $13.7M / 50%) and the government of Japan (4 / $14.0M / 50%). All funds are committed immediately.
I wonder what the rule might be to determine the order of the three qualifiers in bold?

Later (17 November):

I have now found time to review what some of my grammars have to say on this and related issues.
In Practical English Usage, under 'commas' (ref. 14.5, p9) (2nd ed.), Michael Swan writes:
"Before nouns, we generally use commas between adjectives (especially in long sequences) which give similar kinds of information, for example in physical descriptions.
            a lovely, long, cool, refreshing drink
            an expensive, ill-planned, wasteful project

I suggest that this can be extrapolated to cover complex qualifiers like those under discussion.
If this is correct, then the DID writers were definitely right to include the commas.
Given that the qualifiers 'firm-fixed-price', 'fixed-price-incentive' and 'cost-plus-fixed fee' are all of exactly the same nature, I further suggest that the order in which they are presented is of no consequence whatsoever.

Concerning the multiple designators 'GQM-163A', 'Coyote' and 'SSST':
'GQM-163A Coyote' is the name of the system (see here)
and SSST (for Supersonic Sea Skimming Target) the type
here mounted on a vheicle called a 'base vehicle'.

12 October 2014

War-talk in the 21st century

The Life & Arts section of the FT's weekend magazine contained an article that I found remarkable relevant to my narrow niche as a translator specialising in naval defence.

War-talk in the 21st century, by Sam Leith, is dated 10 October 2014. Sam is an FT columnist and the author of You Talkin’ to Me? Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama. And boy does he know his rhetoric and his war-talk!

I was about to quote multiple passages when I realised that I had marked up nearly half of my copy as seriously quotable. If you're interested in the topic, I can only suggest that you read it and mark it up for yourself.

So here are just a few quotes to pique the curiosity of translators, terminologists, rhetoricians and the like:

  • the conventional public vocabulary of war
  • The passive voice and the absent subject give us casualties that “occur”; “tragedies” that “take place”; women and children who “have been killed”. These incidents are “regrettable”.
  • The rationale for avoiding “Islamic State” – “it’s not Islamic and it’s not a state” – has passed swiftly from witticism to cliché.
  • “martyrdom operations”
  • “Blue on blue” – US military slang for friendly fire 
  • Today the implied audience for any given speech can be assumed to be multiple
  • The wars we fight now are interventions, proxy engagements, counterinsurgencies, peacekeeping missions, police actions, asymmetric engagements and hybrid wars. You may sprinkle your sceptical inverted commas through that list according to taste.

I repeat: a fascinating read.

23 September 2014

Light before heavy

Here's an instantly applicable quote from yet another review of Steven Pinker's The Sense of Style. The review by Gary Stephen Ross appeared in the Books section of the October 2014 issue of Walrus magazine and is entitled Why Good People Write Bad Prose. Now to the quote (my bold):
It’s fascinating to learn the science that underlies the stylistic techniques good writers seem to intuit — for example, a list is most easily grasped if the bulkiest item comes at the end (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; or The Wild, The Innocent, and The E Street Shuffle; or Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!). “Light-before-heavy is one of the oldest principles in linguistics,” Pinker writes, “having been discovered in the fourth century BCE by the Sanskrit grammarian Pānini.” Why? Because the mind must hold the early items in suspension before incorporating the final one, and it’s easier to retain simple things than more complex elements.
Like that?
Here's a little more (my bold again):
Many experiments have shown that readers understand and remember material far better when it is expressed in concrete language that allows them to form visual images,” Pinker tells us. (This explains why white Econoline van is preferable to getaway car; and a mound of flowers, balloons, and teddy bears is more effective than impromptu roadside memorial.) Or this: “It’s good for a writer to work with the ongoing newsreel in readers’ minds and describe events in chronological order.” He showered and put on his new suit before he went to dinner is easier to understand than He went to dinner after he showered and put on his new suit. Similarly, positive statements are more readily grasped than negative ones, and so negation should not be used for no good reason. (That’s a joke.) And my favourite Pinkerism of all, the undisputed first rule of worthwhile prose: “a writer has to have both something to talk about (a topic) and something to say (the point).”
Note that many, though not all of these rules can be applied to a translation.

One more:
Syntax he describes as “an app that uses a tree of phrases to translate a web of thoughts into a string of words.”

Persuasive writing

The expression 'persuasive writing' may refer simply to writing that is persuasive.
It may also refer to writing that uses the art of rhetoric, propaganda (cf. Propaganda by Edward Bernays, aka the 'father of spin'), other long-established tchniques of persuasion (cf. The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard), or marketing. (Thanks to Rannheid Sharma for her input and feedback.)
Or, it may refer to writing that uses the more modern art of Persuasion Science.

Question: Is Persuasion Science an issue in technical journalism and its translation?
Question for all readers: Would you be able to detect it?
Subsidiary question for translators: Would you be able to detect it?
And if so how much would you need to know about its use in your target language in order to produce a good translation?
And finally, what, precisely, would 'good translation' mean in this context.

Having encountered the words 'Persuasion Science' only today, I have yet to form an opinion.
One thing I do know, however, is that it's the translator's job to identify the philosophical, cultural, fad-based and other underpinnings of any document that comes their way.

Some links:
In the political and corporate spheres we're talking about the work of spin doctors and the theories behind the methods they use.
If your answer to my first question was 'Never!', perhaps, like me, you're now having second thoughts.
Resisting the temptation to comment on the ethics or intellectual merits of these methods, let me say again that it is the translator's job to identify the underpinnings of any document that comes their way.

Starting to feel out of your depth? Me too.
Conclusion: If you're asked to translate a document that you suspect to be the work of a spin doctor or that is based on any of the techniques discussed on the above links say 'No thank you' unless you're quite confident that you can do the job with a clear conscience.

19 September 2014

Of journalism, PR and technical journalism and PR

The FT's weekend supplement for 19-21 September features an article entitled The invasion of corporate news by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson. The kicker* (one sentence; no full stop) reads:
The lines between journalism and PR are rapidly becoming blurred as business interests bypass traditional media to get their message across
The trend described may not yet be directly relevant to technical journalism (and the translation thereof), but it may be quite soon. The following quotes are particularly relevant (my bold):
Social media and digital publishing tools are allowing this strain of corporate news to reach vast audiences, with profound implications for the way businesses communicate with the public and for the media outlets they are learning to sidestep.
PRs are spinners of favourable stories, glossers-over of unfavourable facts and gatekeepers standing between us and the people we want to get to.
But as journalists bemoan such PR obstacles, they rarely admit an important fact: the PRs are winning.
As journalism schools pump out new generations of would-be Woodwards and Bernsteins, many of those not finding newsroom jobs have turned instead to the business of how to present the news in the most flattering light. They have been joined by laid-off reporters, editors, producers and presenters, with the skills to tell the stories brands want to be told about themselves.
Their efforts seem to be working. Cardiff University researchers estimated in 2006 that 41 per cent of UK press articles were driven by PR, a phenomenon known as “churnalism”. But PRs are now playing the news industry at its own game. They are discovering how to work around journalists, getting their own slickly produced stories, videos and graphics straight to their target audiences – often with the help of the very news organisations they are subverting.
... with the traditional press release came an “asset pack” that Microsoft PRs shot out to century-old newsrooms and influential one-man blogs alike.
It was a masterclass in PR spoonfeeding and news organisations simply had to drag and drop.
The FT was among those that embedded one of Microsoft’s videos in its reporting that week (noting that it had been produced by the company), linked to and analysed Nadella’s blog and used the company-issued photographs.
Sir Richard Branson ... Virgin’s one-man brand has more than 1.5m Facebook likes, 4.4m Twitter followers ... “Now we’ve got a way of reaching people who read what we say and we don’t have to rely on the Daily Mail,” he observes.
CEOs are finding that their unfiltered social media content is often picked up by the traditional media it has circumvented, PR Week’s Barrett notes.
Marketers talk about “paid media” (advertising they have to buy), “earned media” (from press coverage to word-of-mouth buzz) and a growing category called “owned media” (their websites, blogs and social media feeds).
This digital spin on traditional advertorials has been dubbed “one of the great euphemisms of our time” ...
Some publishers have gone further, enthusiastically lending their editorial expertise to help brands improve their content.
For PR Week’s Barrett, this point is at the heart of the debate over whether “brand journalism” counts as journalism.
* As regular readers will be aware, I often quote from the FT, one of my main sources of non-technical news. On 15 Setpember the paper ran a piece entitled New Look for Financial Times newspaper. It was only today however that I noticed that the 'kickers' (what the French call the chapô) no longer, as a rule, end with a full stop (US: period). I wonder why?

18 September 2014

Colour thesaurus

Translating the names of colours can be challenging. Sometimes a scientific approach is the only way to go, on other occasions, I suspect that Ingrid Sundberg's colour thesaurus could also prove useful. Sundberg's tool considers the subjective nature of color names used in lay contexts.

The ImageMagick and Color conversion links below present scientific approaches to colour coding and naming.
The Wikipedia article Linguistic relativity and the color naming debate gives an excellent overview of the topic and useful historical background. Along the way, it introduces key concepts spanning philosophy, linguistics, scientific method, ethnography and more.

The translator's first job is to work out whether the source text is using subjective lay language or professional terminology from an area where colour naming and coding are arts. Think paint, ink, artists' supplies, dyes, textiles and so forth.
Marketing names given to the colours of colour-sensitive products function as terminological interfaces between colour science, marketing and subjective considerations. See, for example, the discussion here.
Sometimes the translator may also need to know when and where the source text was written and whether it is an original or a translation.

If the context and colour terminology are professional, the translator may need to know which colour coding system is most relevant (links copied from Peter Forret's site):
Many others have, of course, tackled this and related topics as is quickly revealed by a quick Google search for 'translation color names'. Promising links, include:
Peter Forret adds the comment:
Just like language translation, color conversion is not always a straight-forward one-to-one mapping. Specifically, RGB has less degrees of freedom (3) than CMYK (4). Therefore, although one can convert any RGB to CMYK without losing information, the inverse is not the case. When a CMYK color is converted to RGB, some information is lost. When you convert that RGB color back to CMYK, you will in most cases get a different (but similar) color.
For an essay on the famous
But Achilles,
weeping, quickly slipping away from his companions, sat
on the shore of the gray salt sea, and looked out to the wine-dark sea.
—Homer, The Iliad
see A Winelike Sea.
A couple of quotes:
A translator’s task is to render into English both the plain meaning and the sensibility—the felt meaning—of a Homeric phrase or word, and so it is a duty, albeit a perilous one, to plunge deeper into this celebrated sea phrase, and grope for clarity. Impertinent questions must be floated: what does it mean—and is there possibly a better rendering?
Ancient Greek words for color in general are notoriously baffling...
To end on a something relating directly to translating technical journalism on naval defence/defense, note that the French gris moyen corresponds to 'haze grey' (and equivalents 'haze gray', 'hazegrey', etc.).
The meaning of the US Navy expression "haze gray and underway" is given here as shorthand for naval surface warships at sea.
For a discussion of the paint schemes and colour names used by the Royal Australian Navy see Australian Navy to Adapt a New Color Scheme for Surface Vessels.
For a Spanish translation, see Marina australiana nuevo color para buques de superficie.

Something different: 7 interesting language facts about colour.

Update on what was probably the first colour thesaurus

271 years before Pantone, Dutch artist A. Boogert mixed and described every colour imaginable in an 800-page book. For an article by Christopher Jobson, see here.

Update on Does Color Even Exist? (or What you see is only what you see)

Here is where Chirimuuta really excels, and Outside Colorbecomes truly exciting. She poses a new mode of thinking about chromatic perception: color adverbialism. Instead of a brown dog, Chirimuuta wants us to see the dog brown-ly. It sounds silly, but turning color into a process better fits some exceptional cases than the standard model. Color is a mode of interpreting information, and sometimes it tells us more than pigment. It can tell us about motion: a black-and-white wheel set spinning reveals the rainbow. It can tell us about depth: Long distances appear blue because higher wavelength red light scatters less. “Color is not an object of sight but a way of seeing things,” Chirimuuta writes.

11 September 2014

OSASCOMP revisited

Today, 11 September 2014, I used OSASCOMP to help me decide between
French new-generation heavy frigate 
new-generation heavy French frigate.

I chose the latter and now think it sounds better.
Conclusion: While sometimes difficult to apply, there are times when the OSASCOMPN rule really does help.

07 September 2014

Customer-centred is the way to go

For 50 years or more, technical communication theory has focused on reader-centred writing, or, in the case of documents intended for the client's customers, customer-centred writing. The basic concept was developed by technical communication departments and disseminated and promoted by professional associations. In the USA, the movement was led by the Society for Technical Communication which was especially strong and influential during the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

For 25 years or more, small but growing groups of translators have promoted 'transcreation', translation by emulation, reader-centred translation/adaptation, and the like. Many of these groups have striven to develop work methods and business strategies combining target-audience focused translation and reader-centred writing, or, again, in the case of documents intended for the client's customers, customer-centred translation/adaptation. Much of this thinking is summarised in 101 Things a translator needs to know.

On 5 September, noted FT columnist Gillian Tett wrote a piece entitled Where new ideas take root exploring the concepts behind, and the implications of, Syngenta CEO Mike Mack's decision to reorganise the group according to an organisation chart reflecting the viewpoint of the group's customers rather than that of its C-suite and scientists. The idea hinged on the realisation that Syngenta customers (i.e. farmers) do not ring up their agribusiness consultant and say: “I need fungicide” but rather “I want to grow better rice.”

Showing considerable sensitivity for her topic, Tett goes on to make a point that translators, interpreters and terminologists can fully appreciate:
As anthropologists and psychologists alike have often pointed out, human beings are hardwired to classify the world around them into distinctive mental and social boxes. This classification system tends to become so deeply ingrained that on a day-to-day basis we rarely question it. Hence the fact that most scientists think it is entirely normal and logical for agribusiness companies to mark a sharp distinction between “seeds” and “crop protection”; this is how business has recently been done.
Tett also points out that:
In the banking world, some entities such as JPMorgan have been trying to organise their operations according to client needs, rather than product specialities.
In the educational world, schools that work with the international baccalaureate programme are increasingly trying to promote a child-focused approach to learning, instead of one driven by traditional educational specialities.
In some corners of the American medical world, such as Cleveland Clinic, experiments are under way to reorganise hospitals according to diseases and medical problems, not doctor skills.
Customer-centred translators and terminologists know that there are times when the challenge is not so much to find a set of target-language terms matching the terminology used to classify and describe the client's key source-language concepts but to propose quite different target-language terms that reflect more accurately the viewpoint of the client's customers. (Note, I'm not claiming that this is common or that, once recognised, the translator is necessarily in a position to convince the client to accept this customer-focused thinking. Paradigm shifts are tough and the switch from company-focused corporate thinking to genuinely and profoundly customer-centred thinking is no exception.)

In the 239th issue of his Tool Box Journal, translation technology guru Jost Zetzsche -- also author of the Translator's Tool Box ebook -- wrote about a discussion he'd had with terminologist Barbara Inge Karsch about some of the differences between terminologists and translators:
One point we explored was how terminologists carry out a deep-level QA of the internal integrity of the product they are controlling and forming the terminology for. Non-bridgeable gaps in the terminology point to inherent flaws in the product's design. This is no news for a well-trained terminologist, but it was to me. And only later did I realize that translation does very much the same. Here's how I attempted to articulate this recently in Twitter-speak:
Translation of a product is like a puzzle. If there are puzzle pieces missing or you have to force pieces together, the product is faulty.
Gillian Tett concludes with two points that will be instantly understood by traslators and terminologists and that apply as much to her topic as the the broader one broached here:
... changing taxonomies is time-consuming and likely to provoke considerable resistance, not least because this process tends to end up threatening hierarchies or status and power.

But while it is tough to restructure an entire organisation, anyone can play a “what if” game – and try turning their classification systems upside down in their minds. The classification systems we inherit in the classroom or corporate life may be powerful but they can be changed. And that is a thought-provoking lesson to ponder as the western world returns to school (or work) this month; taxonomies can sometimes produce the seeds of change.
I've provided a rough chronology of developments and I believe that they are related to one another. Where might all this lead? For the moment, it leads at least to a number of questions:
How, precisely, are customer-centred thinking, management, organisation charts, communication and translation related?
What does this teach us?
What are the broad practical applications and implications?

If you have any thoughts on the matter, please comment or contact me directly.

Transcreating technical journalism, conference presentation

On Saturday 17 June, I at spoke at the TransLisboa 2017 conference organised by Aptrad . My presentation was entitled  Transcreating techn...