Sunday, December 29, 2019

Like pearls to swine?

Wordsmiths value words. It is part of the job description of writers, playwrights, copy editors, transcreaters, translators and editors, to name a few, to care deeply about the quality of writing and content.  Otherwise, there is no point in investing so much time and effort.  Unfortunately, two of these professionals often face a certain dilemma since they have no control of the actual initial writing process and thus often receive material that is poorly written in terms of language, problematic in content and/or poorly structured. Since their mandate is not to rewrite the material but instead to respect the desire of the writer, the question arises whether it is appropriate to improve the material.

Since many writers, especially scientists and foreign students, lack thorough knowledge of language, editors and translators often receive texts whose grammar and syntax are atrocious. It is clear that the language errors are not intentional.  Therefore, it is common practice to polish the language, eliminating errors and rendering the sentences correct in terms of grammar and syntax. Occasionally, for reasons of style or ignorance, a writer uses highfalutin terms or the wrong register.  Since the goal is a proper text, it is acceptable to rain on the parade and rein in the language to a certain degree, while of course trying to maintain the voice of the writer as much as possible. In these two cases, the editor or translator actively intervenes to improve the text as required.

In regards to content, regardless of pain suffered, the rule tends to be “garbage in, garbage out.” Since editors and translators are language, not content, experts and are ultimately paid by the hour, they have no choice but to faithfully transmit the poor content. For example, when a writer applies exaggerated academic style to attain the required number of pages and restates each and every idea a copious number of times, it may be painful to read but that is what the writer wants. Likewise, when the text essentially has no content but is filled with beautiful sentences, as in much modern French writing, laissez les bon temps roulez, as they say in New Orleans. In these cases, it is necessary to hold your nose and work only on the language.

There are cases where it is impossible to accept the material blindly.  If the writer insists on inserting incorrect or misleading information into the text, the editor or translator should not be an accomplice to this act. The best policy is to refer the issues to the writer.  On a language level, if the structure of the work in terms of paragraphing and sectioning is inappropriate or non-existent, the correction process is too time consuming to be part of the assigned task. Once again, the writer should be made aware of the problems.

These guidelines are, of course, my opinion.  I personally know many translators and editors that would disagree with me regarding any of the above statements. Passion and opinion are part and parcel of wordsmiths. You could say that some porcine look good with fancy necklaces and are intelligent enough to appreciate them.

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