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 
and
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.

02 September 2014

Bulk vs. Premium and more

Kevin Hendzel latest post on Word Prisms is entitled, oddly and lengthily (and with my preferred capitalisation): It was the best of times, it was the worst of times:How the premium market offers translators prosperity in an era of collapsing bulk-market rates.

Excellent article featuring useful clarifications of key terms, including:
Bulk vs. Premium
We have found it useful to distinguish between what is referred to as the “bulk market,” where translation is essentially a support function – where knowing what the text or webpage or software dialog generally means is good enough – and what has come to be called the “premium market,” where getting the translation exactly, precisely, elegantly, authoritatively and compelling right is necessary because of the enormous stakes involved at that level of the market.
Kevin goes on to say, however, that "the 'premium vs. bulk' dichotomy is a form of shorthand only".

A few more quotes:
In the premium market, the cost of failure is dramatically higher than the cost of performance.
While bulk-market translators’ heads are buried in dictionaries, premium market translators are buried inside their clients’ heads.
We see that the premium sector of the industry is continuing to expand – and rates are rising – which is in stark contrast to the realities of downward rate pressures in the bulk market today.

(Commercial & technical) Translations that sing

Translations that sing by Ros Schwartz is, IMHO, the best attempt to date to describe and discuss the quintessential difference between translations that "accurately convey what the source texts says and are grammatically correct ... but somehow clunky" and, well, "translations that sing".

Ros hits the nail squarely on the head (or perhaps one of the several possible heads) when she points out that really effective translations have their own rhythm, heartbeat and a coherent voice.

As I have attempted to point out in other posts, these concepts also define top quality translations of commercial, technical and technical journalism documents intended to convince or persuade.

I do not claim -- and I suspect that Ros will agree -- that these qualities are as critical to all types of translation as they are to that of great poetry or the most 'musical' authors. But they help to explain the quintessential difference between the "good but somehow clunky" and truly excellent translations.

Readers might also like to explore other posts on The Pillar Box section of the ITI website, ITI being the United Kingdom's Institute of Translation & Interpreting.

Night Jasmin and L'arbre de nuit

Following the two posts below ( Night Jasmin and L'arbre de nuit ), my colleague and reviser Graham Cross wrote: Just out of interest...