Sunday, April 19, 2020

Je ne sais. Quoi!

[the word "what"*]

One occasional and regrettable challenge for translators is highly ambiguous source texts. Specifically, the text allows for many different interpretations, says nothing or is so busy implying only those in the know can understand. In the first two cases, the solution is relatively simple: ask the source of the article and “elegant garbage in, elegant garbage out”. Examples of these include technical texts written by engineers that never learned how to write and descriptions of art, respectively. The third case is much trickier for the translator as the writer does not want the general public to understand.  The experts of this type of intentional vagueness are lawyers and politicians. Fortunately, in English speaking cases, the Plain English movement has gained influence, forcing English-speaking legislatures and administrations to at least attempt to write clearly, resulting in much clearer laws and government directives. As for politicians, their case is hopeless.

Unfortunately, the movement seems to fear large water barriers, specifically the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean as cryptic writing has even attained official state-of-the-art status in France. As an example, in an article titled « Le profs ensevelis sous le jargon” [The teachers buried under jargon], the French magazine Le Canard enchainé from the February 12, 2020 edition cites the official site of the French Ministry of National Education in regards to the ongoing dispute with the teachers over salaries. I quote [italics in original]:

Le site gouvernemental de “modernisation de l’action publique va plus loin.” Selon lui, les “tiers lieux éducatifs” servent àfaire émerger un patrimoine informationnel commun : mutualiser des outils libres and open source et des dispositifs de documentation est la seule garantie d’une non-enclosure d’une circulation des savoir.” Comme dans les bibliothèques, quoi…

Xavier Marand, secrétaire général adjoint de Snes – première organisation syndicale dans le secondaire -, apporte sa traduction : “Il apparait clairement que la revalorisation salariale sera conditionnée à l’acceptation de nouvelles tâches : coaching d’élèves à distance ou missions de replacement dans les autres lycées, par example. Quant aux 10 milliards promis bar Blanquer sur quinze ans, il n’a pour l’instant mis que 500 millions sur la table pour 2021…”

Chapeau l’artiste !

Translated into English:

The government website for “modernisation of public action goes further.” According to it, “educational third-places [neither home or work]” act to “create a common informational asset: sharing the free and open source tools and information services is the only guarantee of unblocking of a circulation of knowledge.” As they say in the library, what?

Xavier Marand, assistant general secretary of Snes, the leading secondary school union, provides his translation: “It is obvious that that the proper restoration of salaries will be conditional on the acceptance of new tasks: distance coaching of students or replacement assignments in other high schools, for example. In regards to the 10 billion [euro] promised by Blanquer [the minister of National Education], he has only committed 500 million for 2021...”

We take our hat off to the artist!

I do too. I had no idea what the French text actually meant. While a bit extreme, this use of code words combined with the unsaid succeeds in rendering the translation of this text an extremely difficult task, crossing the border into interpretation. By the way, this example should also make it clear why subject knowledge is no less important than language skills in translation. If the translator “does not know” the subject, the customer may end up saying “what?”.

* Help the blind by adding a picture description. Picture credit: Image by <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2730753">Gordon Johnson</a> from <a href=";utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=2730753">Pixabay</a>

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