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By Robert Etches (Denmark)

Translation issues in the article “To translate or paraphrase: Is that the question?”


Having written this article I thought I’d check through for issues that a translator would have to bear in mind – over and above ‘just translating’ the text. My list is not exhaustive, but merely includes things that immediately drew my attention:

1. Header: echoes of Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be”. Should be easy enough, but might have to check the official translation if unsure. Can I work this reference in the same way in my language? Hmmm ... perhaps not. Wait until the end and translate the header in the light of the entire text.
2. Quote from Hamlet. Need to find the official translation. If translating into Danish there will be extra focus on this. Quote no doubt selected for the use of translate and understand as these form the point of departure for the entire discussion. Will be interesting to see whether these two words survived in the official translation. May have to change if they didn’t!
3. Gertrude, Hamlet, mother: hmmm … this is a text about translation so the author is no doubt making a veiled reference to mother tongue translators here. What other traps lie ahead!
4. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander – that’s the idiom, but it’s twisted here (not always good ...). What idiomatic phrase can I use in my language to capture this meaning? Will I have to paraphrase and take a completely new angle? What will the author say? Think he’ll be OK with this approach as he is breaking grammatical rules like mad in this paragraph, starting sentences with “But” and “And”. Wonder if he will do that again? Once is OK, twice is just sloppy!
5. oceans of hours – bit poetic/over the top! Most probably playing with onomatopoeia and alliteration. Should I follow him or just translate as "a lot of time"?
6. call a spade a spade: tricky. There are two meanings here: keep language simple is the first, but the author is using it about consistency of translation throughout an organisation. Can I mirror these ideas in my language?
7. lost in translation – is he making a veiled reference to the film Lost in Translation? Of course he is! Starts by saying Shakespeare has four layers of meaning in some phrases, so he's trying to squeeze in as many layers of his own as possible. But obviously no Shakespeare ;-)
8. Who is to review the texts? Why didn’t he write revise or proof? OK, again, this is a text about translation so he must be referring to EU standard 15038 that has a specific definition of review. Had better check this.
9. players – why players and not stakeholders? Reference to the ‘players’ in Act 3 of Hamlet? Yes indeed. He’s just used ‘play’ at the end of the previous paragraph. On the other hand, no-one is going to get this reference anyway: stakeholders will do!
10. Another phrase: “Don’t shoot the piano player." Know what he means (Don’t shoot the messenger), but this is a touch sexier. What to do in my language?! Wonder where the piano thing originates: Will just check Wikipedia. Aaah!” The Wild West. Of course! Hmmm … will translate as “Don’t shoot the messenger” as that is actually a better metaphor for translators and fits in better with Hamlet– always messengers appearing in Shakespearean plays and no piano players in Wild West saloons!
11. multifarious monster – OK, know his style now. Pure alliteration here, so I can definitely move away from the text. No need for monsters in my version!



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