Lost in Translation

lostOne of the common challenges of recent years is the growth of Asia and the impact on international publications. It is not unknown for a simple editing job to become infinitely more complicated because through no fault of the client the source text is not as advertised. Then we are in a scenario where one is not so much editing text, but entirely rewriting or even researching it.

The difficulties here are obvious. Quite apart from the increased danger of inaccuracies, one suddenly finds there is less time for a job than had been allowed for. Then there is the issue that the author is particularly proud of his or her efforts and wants to see their own words in print or on a web post.

The trick here is to make the text appear to be more or less the same body of work, with the same tone and voice, but with grammar and factual errors ‘clarified;’ sometimes extensively.

The most common cause of these problems is that the text can be written by someone who not only doesn’t have English as a first language, but barely has any real English at all above the conversationally level.

Sometimes it is obvious that text has been run through Google Translate, so what began as artistic and well-crafted copy can end up as potential nonsense. One client had to contend with interesting assertions like ‘the company will float like a stone’ and ‘progressing into a noble and historical past.’

Then there are the problems that arise from the differences between American, Standard and some versions of International English. The latter being a kind of hybrid of US and British English that seems to be common in some European style books.

Once we worked until midnight checking and rechecking a text for a particular fussy customer only to come in the next day to face a memo about all the errors. Luckily the customer had faxed over his copy with the ‘errors’ circled. We had spelled it colour and flavour, as per the style book and the well-educated German gentleman had assumed that ‘color’ and ‘flavor’ were the correct usage.

Of course one cannot make the customer feel stupid; after all it is an easy enough mistake to make, and a rather diplomatic email had to be sent to explain the usage and to apologise for the confusion.

More challenging still is that there are often political or cultural issues to be sidestepped. Here we are talking about factual interpretation or even a diametrically opposed understanding of what is acceptable to say.

Sexist and racist terminology are obvious pitfalls, but often certain clients will make casual assumptions about the status of certain territories, notably where there are military occupations or border disputes. This can happen even when the author knows that citizens from these countries will be present at a relevant event or will be a recipient of the text.

Never is carefully editing more important.

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