Sunday, April 11, 2021

LA signing and the art of the translation


[Ventura Blvd, Encino with light traffic*]

I took a two-week break from posting blogs due to a family visit to Los Angeles. On my twice-daily trips to my mother’s house from the hotel in the San Fernando Valley, I had plenty of time to notice interesting billboards along the way and even consider how they would be translated. On the flight back, I realized how these signposts illustrate the craft of translation.

Mental Health Matters – This simple three-word text is subject to interpretation depending whether the word matters is a noun, verb or part of a name. In the first case, it would mean issues of emotional stability, which would refer to some counseling service, quite necessary in these Corona times. In the second case, it states that emotional health is important, which is obvious, without saying what should be done about it. In actuality, the text plays on the well-known group Black Lives Matters, and states the name of a charity. “Mental Health Matters” demonstrates why context and cultural knowledge matter.

Corky’s We Control Pets – The advertising message is completely clear in the American context but poses issues in translation. Since the company deals with rats and other nuisances, it is obvious that people pay Corky to get rid of their pests. Yet, the word “control” is translated in most languages as to limit, master or expertly use, none of which applicable in this case. The translator that sticks closely to the dictionary translation, at least in many languages, loses the main point of the message. Professional translation goes beyond word-to-word replacement and requires complete control of the vocabulary nuances.

Serious injury lawyers – The nature of the English language renders this sentence ambiguous, allowing a double meaning. In contrast with most languages, the only English nouns that have gender are natural, e.g., boys, girls, men and women. Thus, adjectives have only one form and do not reflect the gender or number of the noun they describe. In most other language, an adjective in a plural, feminine form must be used with plural, feminine noun, as in les grandes villes in French. In this sentence, we start with the adjective, serious, which is followed by a singular noun, injury, and a plural noun, attorneys, with no grammatical clue to which noun the adjective refers. So, it is possible that the attorneys handle matters of a serious injury, the attorneys are serious or both.  While the first is probably the primary meaning, as a marketing text, the additional implication of legal competence is vital to the message. Thus, the translator must be aware of the purpose of the text so as not to injure its message.

Thus, even a routine drive down Ventura Boulevard can provide food for professional thought. For purchasers of translation, it is vital that the chosen translator is aware of the cultural context, lexical complexity and intended purpose of any text. As for translators, they ignore any of those at their peril. By the way, it is good to be back home in Israel.

* Caption pictures to allow the blind full access to the Internet.

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