Monday, October 23, 2023

Audiblilizing translation – the art of legal (and other technical) translation


[Quarterback before snap*]

In American football, one of the major differences between experienced and inexperienced as well as effective and ineffective quarterbacks is the ability to audibilize, which means to adjust the play called by the coach as they survey the defense right before the snap. It takes knowledge, judgment and confidence to understand that the given play call will not work and what to do about it.

Likewise, effective technical translators, especially legal experts, know how to correctly take a sentence in one language and render it in another language and culture, making the necessary changes while neither subtracting or adding content. Literal translation of the text can lead to awkward sentences at minimum and fundamental miscommunications at worst.  When translator works properly,  the resulting text may seem noticeably different in terms of sentence structure and even vocabulary but is quite loyal in terms of content.

Simply put, each language has its unique way of expressing itself and framing sentences. Depending on the language combinations, word-for-word translation can lead to simply awful results. The causes for this asymmetry between languages are many and include:

·         Syntax – Word order varies from language to language in terms of placement of subordinate phrases, time expressions, adjectives and even grammatical subjects.

·         Passive/Active – While in certain languages, the passive form is considered more academic and therefore higher level, such as in Hebrew, in other languages it is considered confusing and poor writing. Therefore, in many cases, the translator must change the whole structure, including the form of verb.

·         Punctuation – There are no universal punctuation rules or even rules of what constitutes a sentence. Dostoevsky and lawyers in many languages can get away with whole paragraphs linked with commas and ending after in a period after a half of page (or more). Other languages, notably English, have much more rigid sentence structure and/or stylistic norms, requiring the chopping of sentences in multiple sentences

·         Vocabulary – Languages and cultures vary in terms of terminology development, meaning similar terms may carry more limited or expanded meanings. Moreover, certain terms many not exist in the target language, requiring more creative solutions. Legal, like all technical, translators must understand the exact meaning of a term in both the source and target language.

·         Legalese – Some legal cultures have instituted “plain language” rules intended to render the text intelligible to a greater number of persons. Others view use of the highly specialized phrases as a sign of an erudite writer.

·         Poor source text – The sad fact is that many legal and other technical writers produce poorly written text. While “garbage in, garbage out” may be easier, professional translators try to render the text into proper language.

A truly proficient translator grasps the meaning of the source sentence and creates a clear, well-written equivalent in the target language even if it involves significant changes to the sentence structure and syntax. By contrast, a poor translation may be loyal to the original structure but sounds like a translation. If you wish to judge the result, audibilize it, i.e., read it out loud. It should sound like a native writer wrote it. If so, the legal  translator has properly audiblized the text and is worth hiring again.


* Picture captions help the blind fully access the Internet.

Picture credit

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