31 July 2014

The perils of corporate euphemisms and their translation

The perils of corporate euphemisms is the subtitle to Why Taco Bell Likes to Call Its Workers 'Champions' by Joe Pinsker in the latest issue of The Atlantic.

The topic immediately attracts the translator's attention given the obvious challenges of translating or finding reasonable equivalents for corporate titles and euphemisms in general.

Pinsker's article links to others including Should Your Job Title Be More Creative? on the Mashable site. This too provides good background information on what it terms 'creative titles'.

Pinsker refers extensively to a 2006 paper by Stephen Fineman, a professor at the University of Bath’s School of Management, entitled On Being Positive: Concerns and Counterpoints, or, in everyday language, overly cheery corporate practices. (In passing, Pinsker defines 'positive psychology' as a school of thought holding that everyone has a latent ability to bloom and flourish, and that companies can tap into this by throwing the occasional party and giving employees nice titles.)

Pinsker concludes powerfully with:
... in one of his sharpest observations, Fineman points out the obfuscation involved in companies’ happy-go-lucky language: “Positiveness is self-limiting because it is constrained by structural inequalities in power: the paradoxical process of management taking action to empower others, when that is itself an exercise of power.” In this context, Fineman seems closer to genius than most ...
Now there's food for thought.

11 July 2014

Brain-crafted translations

On 14 June Schumpeter wrote in the Economist:
“ … the more disruptive innovations like the internet boost the overall productivity of the economy, the more room there will be for old-fashioned industries that focus on quality and heritage rather than novelty. Sometimes the best way forwards is backwards.”
Specialist translators should focus on niche markets where price and customer-imposed tools are less critical, in a word on niches where 'brain crafting' is a plus.

Bilingual taglines along the lines "Life is Magnifique"

My short post dated 15 November 2011 on the Sofitel slogan Life is Magnifique continues to attract a good number of hits.

While the Sofitel tagline is bilingual in the sense that it contains words in two languages, I'm actually looking for a word to describe taglines for global and/or English-mother-tongue target audiences that use one or more words in a language other than English, but where the tagline writers have assumed that the said word(s) will be accessible to or will have an otherwise positive impact on the target audience.

For a long list of taglines and slogans for global and English-speaking target audiences, see here. But very few are of the type I'm interested in today.

Bilingual taglines like Sofitel's pop up here and there, otherwise the concept seems to be confined to the European automotive industry.
Examples include:
  • VW: Das Auto (The car).
  • Opel: Wir leben Autos. (We live cars.).
  • VW: Fahrvergnügen (driving enjoyment; from fahren, to drive and Vergnügen enjoyment)
    (used by VW in the US in the 1990s) (Wikipedia article).
  • Citroen (Citroën): Créative technologie (English syntax + French spelling) (+ French accent in advertisements and infotainment videos) represents a further step change in the process.
  • Audi: Vorsprung durch Technik (advancement through technology).
  • Airbnb: new logo/symbol called a Bélo. (Nancy Friedman, who blogs at Fritinancy, informs me that Bélo is a coined word based on 'belong' with an accent for garnish.
  • Los Angeles Dodgers (the baseball team): Nancy has written about Los Doyers (the LA Dodgers for Spanish-speaking fans).
  • Jarritos (a Mexican softdrink now making inroads in El Norte (i.e. the USA): Nancy reports Jarritos' use, in an outdoor-ad campaign in California, of the bilingual pun Por flavor! (also tweeted here).
Can anyone suggest any others?

Renault's Créateur d'automobiles (Thanks John) is different in that it is pure French but uses words that make the meaning perfectly transparent to English-mother-tongue readers as well as many others. The YouTube video here features a pronounced but clear French accent, presumably deliberately.

There is a book of bilingual (English-Spanish) slogans listed on the Amazon site under the title 1000+ Bilingual Slogans. The author also calls it a bilingual advertising handbook. The author is using the term 'bilingual' for a book in which each slogan is presented in the two languages, with many looking (to me) like close translations.

Update (27 September 2015)

Striking quote from Seven reasons Volkswagen is worse than Enron by David Bach (my bold):
For years, Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Volkswagen have used German slogans and tag lines in their English-speaking advertising to link their products to the country’s engineering prowess. Expect to see “Das Auto” and “Vorsprung durch Technik” to be wiped off billboards as fast as value has been wiped off German car manufacturers’ market caps.

Update (14 January 2016)

An interesting insight from The little book of transcreation, Insight into the world of creative translation by London-based transcreation agency Mother Tongue:
Car maker Volkswagen is using its “Das Auto” line worldwide. It highlights the fact that the cars come from Germany – a country known for high-quality engineering. But in Brazil the strategy has backfired. The VW Beetle was made there for decades, and the brand was seen as an “honorary Brazilian”. This was reflected in its previous slogan, “você conhece, você confia” (“you know, you trust”). By emphasizing its foreignness, VW threw away an emotional bond built up over many years.

09 July 2014

Goldhammer's contribution to Piketty's success

Following my post of 10 May 2014 on an Arthur Goldhammer interview -- Goldhammer being the translator of Thomas Piketty's runaway success Le capital au XXIe siècle, or, in English, Capital in the Twenty-First Century -- I want to say a few words about the explanations being put forward for the book's amazing success.

First, while the reviews, critiques, appraisals and more of the English version continue apace in both the specialised and lay media, it's interesting to observe that the original French only attracted a modest specialised readership.

The explanations put forward by these reviewers for the English version's staggering sales include the extremely timely date of publication, the clarity of Piketty's writing, the freshness of his discourse, his transparency about the assumptions and the fact that he put all of his data and spreadsheets on a public-access website so that anyone interested can check and double-check his work. All of which is perfectly true. But what a pity that so few have noticed just how much praise translator Arthur Goldhammer deserves...

But then again...
Given that seamless fluency renders the translator invisible, a (monolingual) reviewer is unlikely to go beyond a passing observation about seamless fluency, if that.

David Zweig's book Invisibles asks: "What do fact-checkers, anesthesiologists, UN interpreters, and structural engineers have in common?"
(He could, of course, have replaced 'UN interpreters' by 'translators and interpreters'...)
Answer: When they do their jobs poorly, the consequences can be catastrophic for their organizations. But when they do their jobs perfectly . . . they're invisible.

An aside: Piketty's innovative methods led Cory Doctorow to post on BoingBoing a piece Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century includes the following:
... Indeed, one of the most entertaining episodes in the debate so far has been The Financial Times affair, where the FT's Chris Giles pointed out a bunch of "errors" in Piketty's work, only to have the normally even-keeled Piketty come back with a long, detailed rebuttal that boiled down to "Hey, asshole, if you'd bothered to look, you'd see that I documented every one of the decisions you're characterizing as an error, and if you want to disagree with me, then argue with my explicit, detailed assumptions instead of sloppily assuming I didn't even realize I was making them."


02 July 2014

Dictionary of Untranslatables -- More than a quick review

Princeton University Press's new Dictionary of Untranslatablesedited by Barbara Cassin, sounds like a remarkable work. It is certainly exceptional in that it is a translated dictionary. The English translation from the French was edited by Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra and Michael Wood.

Wikipedia has an article in French on the original here. It was entitled: Vocabulaire européen des philosophies (sous-titré Dictionnaire des intraduisibles).

Information on passages translated into other languages is available here.

Concerning the translation, the PUP site says:
Originally published in French, this one-of-a-kind reference work is now available in English for the first time, with new contributions from Judith Butler, Daniel Heller-Roazen, Ben Kafka, Kevin McLaughlin, Kenneth Reinhard, Stella Sandford, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Jane Tylus, Anthony Vidler, Susan Wolfson, Robert J. C. Young, and many more.The result is an invaluable reference for students, scholars, and general readers interested in the multilingual lives of some of our most influential words and ideas.
Concerning the editor and translation editors, it says:
Barbara Cassin is director of research at the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) in Paris. Emily Apter is professor of comparative literature and French at New York University. Jacques Lezra is professor of Spanish, Portuguese and comparative literature at NYU. Michael Wood is the Charles Barnwell Straut Class of 1923 Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Princeton University.
*******
The scale of this project is more than impressive. Comment by a technical translator who thought he knew something about large challenging translation projects, but suddenly realises that there are others who know more...
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Matthew Battles' review 

Matthew Battles' review in the Language section of the Barnes & Nobles Review is not only interesting in its own right but also for the succinct summaries of current viewpoints on several basic concepts in linguistics, lexicography, translatology (aka translation theory) and languages in general.

On etymology:
Defying the threat of unintelligibility, words emigrate quite happily from language to language. Loanwords ... take root in a new language without much modification, retaining the flavor and frisson of their original tongue. Sometimes words find their way by assimilation, taking up residence as "calques" or direct translations from one language to another; "scapegoat" is an example. "Calque" is one such loanword; "loanword" itself, from the German Lehnwort, is also a calque. 
On lexicography:
Although purists and prescriptivists are always seeking the aboriginality of language, the tongues themselves are promiscuous, happy in one another's company. "All words are fossil poetry," Emerson declared, and by the same light, all words belong to someone else. Any cosmopolitan discourse makes use of the untranslatable, comprising a buzzing, evanescent community of idiolects, jargons, and lingue franche.
On translatology, Battles quotes from Cassin's Preface (my bold):
Nothing is exactly the same in one language as in another, so the failure of translation is always necessary and absolute…. This proposition rests on a mystification, on a dream of perfection we cannot even want, let alone have. If there were a perfect equivalent from language to language, the result would not be translation; it would be a replica. And if such replicas were possible on a regular basis, there would not be any languages, just one vast, blurred international jargon, a sort of late cancellation of the story of Babel.
On Babel and languages:
The Myth of Babel is a story told by states, which tend to prefer their citizenries monolingual. And yet polyglossic diversity is the habit and the habitat of languages. ... we might add that a language is a dialect not only with an army and a navy, but with an academy as well. 
Again on translation (my bold):
Narrowly considered, "translation" itself is a calque, also carried over from the Latin, where translatio is "to carry over." The uncanny, necessary impossibility of translation has long fascinated philosophers. "The greatest translation," wrote Walter Benjamin, "is destined to be taken up into the growth of its language and perish as a result of its renewal".

Glossary. Too little research.

Following this exchange on the Facebook  FR<>EN Translators   forum Catharine Cellier-Smart shared a link to the group: FR<>EN...