This article by Dr. David Petersen originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of the Tsuyaku-Honyaku Journal. Reprinted with permission.
Aside from a few volunteer projects, my start in translation profession was with a private school in Hiroshima where I was employed as a teacher. The English department had taken on responsibility for a visiting author who was writing a novel about the atomic bombing. She had amassed a series of transcripts taken from interviews in Japanese with atomic bomb victims, and came to us looking for a clean English version. The project was to take 6 months. Although the department accepted the work, this was its first venture into translation, and there was no one available to deal with the task on a full-time basis. Knowing of my interest in becoming a translator, I was given a portion of the responsibility, and eventually the better part of the material ended up on my desk.
The opportunity was exciting and the material meaningful, but the pragmatics were daunting. The problem was the mismatch between my sterile textbook Japanese and text in front of me, with its fits and starts, colloquial grammar, incomplete sentences, and emotional tone. Under pressure for time and not wanting to embarrass the school, I ended up organizing a kind of team-translation situation with several of my Japanese study partners: I would read the transcripts for gist, and discuss with my mentors what I felt the speaker was trying to convey. They would correct my intuition, which tended to stray from the text particularly in the more idiomatic passages. I would then take my notes from these meetings, and through comparison with the original, arrive at an English equivalent at a later date. The structure of the product we ultimately delivered reflected the choice to focus on conveying the main ideas as clearly as possible in colloquial English, rather than preserving the structure of the transcripts. I think of this as target language-based translation because of the distance from the source text, particularly during the production of the final draft.
A full-time opportunity eventually opened up at one of the larger translation agencies in Hiroshima. Accepting this offer provided my first exposure to the work methods of professional translators, the start of a valuable and sometimes painful exposure to a completely different perspective on dealing with text. The key aspect of the approach was what I refer to as source language-based translation, because of the degree to which the terminology and rhythms of the final product were constrained by those of the original document. The conservative emphasis on preserving as much of the structure of the Japanese as possible in the final copy yielded work that, while not always aesthetically pleasing, could rarely be faulted for accuracy. It was a conservative style, reflecting years of dealing with customer expectations.
It became evident in discussion with the writers that source-based translation is closely associated with thinking in terms of mapping - the notion that there is always an equivalent in the target domain for a given word or phrase in the source language. Less convincing was the implication in office practices that such correlations should be considered invariant and largely unaffected by context. (Hofstadter takes a diametrically opposed position in discussing the need for evolutionary models if machine translation is ever to offer a realistic alternative to human expertise.)
In fact, company policy dictated that the same word in Japanese should be translated with the same choice of word in English regardless of how many times the phrase appeared in the same document. There is a good lot of repetition in Japanese, particularly in technical articles, and not surprisingly, following this rule inevitably produces materials that seemed stilted and lacking in authenticity. Yet more natural copy was dismissed as barabara (inconsistent) because of the violation of the mapping principle. In defense of the agency, assuring consistency was important given the nature of the material, which primarily consisted of patents, company standards and instruction manuals. As far as the customer was concerned, overuse of synonyms implied a nonexistent variance in the source text, something that could potentially mislead the reader. From their perspective, the artificial tone of the final product was a small price to pay for clarity.
Other aspects of the office organization also implicitly favored production of source language-biased copy. Each translated document was reviewed by at least one other person (usually Japanese) before delivery to the customer. Selection of more natural turns of phrase in English, and particularly the use of colloquialisms, increased the likelihood that the checker would be unfamiliar with the material and would thus flag the sentence for confirmation. The ensuing “hassle factor” was even worse in the case of client reviewers associated with certain companies, who could be counted on to reply with a list of detailed questions on word choice and syntax requiring an extensive explanation (in Japanese). The concomitant loss of time and stream of thought could be avoided by ensuring that the structure of the translation never strayed far from that of the original text.
Additionally, office promotion of computer-assisted translation (CAT) was wholly congruent with the focus on source language structure. As those familiar with TRADOS and other such products are aware, the software provides a database for comparison of previous translations both within and across documents. The active sentence is compared with all previous material. Anything judged sufficiently similar is recalled for the user, along with its corresponding translation. The previous work can typically be modified to suit the present case with only a substitution or two of nouns, thus speeding up the handling of documents considerably.
In gradually adapting to the way in which the software deconstructs the text, I found that my “conceptual space” was contracting from page or paragraph down to the level of the sentence, a factor which curtailed any temptation to read for gist and then paraphrase. It was difficult to build up elaborate explanations in the target language because of the constraint of providing approximately one English sentence per Japanese sentence. Working with CAT also tends to promote a kind of abstract thinking with respect to the material, focusing attention squarely on the syntax of the source language. Nouns take on a disposable quality thanks to the recycling of previous sentences, and the text becomes somehow less about content and more about form – primarily the abstract pattern of particles and verbs.
This I believe was responsible for what I see as the largest benefit of source language emphasis, i.e. the ability to adapt quickly when faced with technical materials in fields outside of one’s own areas of expertise. Learning to ignore the complexities of the placeholders in favor of the essential form - "A acting on B during C” for example, made it easier to visualize what the writer was attempting to convey, and to then fashion an equivalent in English.
The arrival of a new recruit provided an opportunity to examine the question of source/target emphasis anew from a more objective perspective. This person's background included no use of CAT: their process involved an initial reading for meaning, followed by an intuitive translation guided by the principle that the finished product must sound as if it had been produced originally by a native English speaker. The approach was hardly radical, but quickly led to friction with the other staff.
Fidelity to content for example was frequently an issue. Particularly in business Japanese, there are long stretches of prose tied to levels of politeness not normally utilized in English correspondence. If it is difficult to find an equivalent image or tone, there is a tendency to abbreviate, a habit which can betray the tone of the original if not used sparingly. In fact, the new recruit’s “authentic sounding document” rule was gradually augmented by a concomitant and less commendable rule of thumb – i.e. “if in doubt, leave it out.” Use of the latter heuristic was further reinforced by inevitable time constraints arising from stylistic concerns.
Target language emphasis was also problematic given the diversity of source materials. While a translator must of necessity be committed to continuous study, the ideal of operating only within one’s field of expertise is rarely an economically viable option. During the course of a typical day at the agency, it was not unusual to be faced with a private letter, a financial statement, specifications for semiconductor production, and an overview of the municipal water supply, all in quick succession. In this kind of triage situation, stylistic concerns become less important than providing as accurate and unambiguous a text as possible in the time available. This means keeping a close eye on the syntax of the original, and assuming that the result will make sense in the specialist context in which is it will be read. My peer’s commendable attempts to match the writing to each field in question meant being constantly under the gun as far as deadlines were concerned.
My circumstances have changed, and I have returned to working a more manageable schedule. Reflecting back the experience at the agency, I am left with a sense of the importance of balance. The policy of source-based translation was a pragmatic one, intended to maximize the throughput of material and hence profits. The results were often stilted, and there was certainly no comparison with the stylistic quality of my peer’s work. Yet there are times, particularly in unfamiliar fields, where the best assurance of correct interpretation is to internalize the grammar of the original and to give it precedence in the writing. In fact, I find myself now using computer assisted translation even with literary texts in which there is no chance of repetition. The reason is that focusing on the level of the line and its syntax helps to structure intuition. Staying close to the grammar of the original provides cohesion, thereby grounding the aesthetic choices that constitute the creative process in which we are all involved.
JAT Board Face-to-Face Meeting Minutes
October 24, 2008, 1:30pm to 7:00pm
27th floor of the Horizon Mare building in Ariake, Tokyo
Chair: Manako Ihaya (MI)
Directors in attendance: Chris Blakeslee (CB), Manako Ihaya, Jamie Phillips (JP), Phil Robertson (PR), Mike Sekine (MS), Nora Stevens Heath (NSH), Jed Schmidt (JS)
Auditors in attendance: Wolfgang Bechstein (WB), Kiyoshi Chimasu (KC)
Directors represented by proxy: N/A
Minutes kept by Jed Schmidt
WB: IJET committee needs to release financial statement, summary of attendance stats.
MS: Committee misinterpreted JAT loan of 1,000,000 yen as a grant, but ended up 920,000 yen in debt. Will have financial report done by end of 11/2008.
PR: Led by Michael Hendry, IJET20 is now four months away, aiming for 100+ attendees. Committee will not need more seed funding from JAT. Smaller fees from PayPal mean commissions will be less than expected. Some worries about repaying JAT loan due to falling AUS$, and that hotel is less than efficient. Details here: [link]
PR: Will be held on 4/24-25 at Miyazaki Kanko Hotel in Miyazaki. Participants estimated up to 120, with the theme of “Improving the quality of the translator’s life and strengthening translation abilities”. Details here: [link]
MI: Preliminarily considering Seattle or LA as venues, currently recruiting potential hosts.
PR: Chaired by Ben Davis, will be held at Tokyo Convention Hall in Hamamatsu-cho. Program is already filled, with many non-members and people from outside of Kanto signing up. Themes include “Translation as a business” and “Starting out as a translator”, attendance currently at 80. Significant promotion activity, both online and offline. Worries about reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses for volunteers outside of Tokyo. Details here: [link]
NSH: New members in Q3: +10, +8, and +3 in July, August, September ‘08, respectively. PayPal growing in usage over furikomi, with less friction after last year’s automation. Most non-renewing members leave because they are no longer translators. Domestic/Overseas split steady at 67% / 33%. Nora is on last term as membership secretary, looking for a smooth handover.
JP: JAT needs to know the real names of its members, to avoid situations in which JAT is responsible for unmemberly behavior, such as libel and business fraud. Manako proposed to add the following to the sign-up form. The motion was passed unanimously:
Manako Ihaya proposes the following changes in membership signup wording:
Japan Association of Translators requires members to sign up with their legal name and full address.
Full Name (English)
Full Name (Japanese)
Displayed full name (English) (optional, this can be used as a pen name)
Displayed full name (Japanese) (optional, this can be used as a pen name)
Mike Sekine suggested that the board add a disclaimer such as the following to the membership application: “By submitting this form I agree that JAT shall not be held liable for damages resulting from any actions or opinions expressed by its members.”
JS: The JAT site renewal has started again, and the new site could be ready as early as the end of the year. The site will be largely the same, but on one framework, integrating the member directory and content into a single site, running on Expression Engine. Archives will also be added, with older archives added later. Jed is also considering using his possible upcoming candidacy as a referendum on moving jat-list to a web-based forum.
MS: We got 82 entries (36 J>E, 46 E>J) this year, and they’ve already been pre-screened. They are currently waiting to be judged.
MI: With 480,000 yen budgeted for screeners and judges for 82 entries, does the budget make sense? Screener payment is an issue: is it enough or too much?
CB: JAT has seen more red ink in the past term than any other recent year, but only because we’ve finally managed to allocate our budget towards things that matter, and also that the past few IJETs have run a loss (possibly as a function of being held in more remote locations). JAT still has quite a cushion of funds that are collecting minimal interest, prompting some to wonder whether it should be invested elsewhere.
Jed proposed that III (3) 2 be changed to: Each member shall be able to vote “Yea”, “Nay”, or “Abstain” for each director or auditor. Passed: 6 for, 1 abstain.
MI: Need to put together an election committee in time to get candidate statements by late March.
WB: The full election results should be published for the sake of transparency.
MI: Do the bylaws need to be changed to accommodate JAT members that want to run for the board, but let their membership lapse and do not meet the one-year requirement? Board decided on “No” for the time being.
MS: Activities over the past year will be summarized at the AGM, as well as the TAC meeting tomorrow.
MI: Should JAT submit to present at ATA in New York next year? MS: JAT should consider hosting a party there, to drum up new possible member.
The Board decided that JAT would pay for the nijikai cost for the speaker at the October Tokyo TAC meeting.
PROJECT Tokyo 2010 Videos
September 11, 2010
Common Password: malplaquet
日本翻訳者協会と通訳翻訳ジャーナルの「～英語翻訳のプロたちが綴る～後進への招待状」連載企画ですが、2008年秋号（本日発売）にはDavid Petersenさんが「Source Language Versus Target Language Bias in Translation」という記事を寄稿しました。
This article by 佐藤綾子（Emily Shibata-Sato） originally appeared in the May 2008 issue of the Tsuyaku-Honyaku Journal. Reprinted with permission.
Google という言葉が前述のHonyakuに初めて登場したのは、99年1月19日、”Yakkers [=Honyaku subscriber] in search of authenticity may like to check out a new search engine: http://www.google.com/ “ という書き込みです。 同年9月7日には ““It's[Google is] more up to date than AltaVista, and if you search for two terms, it gives you context for both.” とあります。当時の検索エンジンでは１つの単語からしか検索できないのが普通でした。さらに12月2日には、「”my apology” と “my apologies”のちがいは? 」という議論が続くなか、「Google検索したら、前者が2,859件、後者が3,538件ヒットした」と報告されていました。今ためしに両方をGoogle検索＝「ググって」みましたら、それぞれ約59万件と410万件ヒットしました。いったい情報は何倍に「爆発」したのでしょうか。
上記3件のメールは、1995年以降のメール約22万件が保存されており、今も更新され続けているHonyaku Archive http://honyaku-archive.org/から発掘しました。
私は、2004年からJAT新人翻訳者コンテストに関わっており、最近の第4回コンテストでは審査員の一人を務めました。今回、審査にあたって一番感じたのは、せっかくGoogleという便利な道具があるのだから、応募者はもう少し背景情報を調べたり、自分の訳文をチェックしたりすればよかったのに、ということです。英日部門の課題文 ”Protect The Merger Or Sale Value Of Your Business: What You Can Learn From The DaimlerChrysler Debacle” （約900 words）から２つ例を挙げます。
原文１ When Daimler purchased Chrysler, Chrysler was having record revenues of 61 billion dollars and net earnings of 2.8 billion dollars.
原文２ Exciting new product lines were eagerly accepted by the market.
This article by James Phillips originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of the Tsuyaku-Honyaku Journal. Reprinted with permission.
People that are considering a career in patent translation often seem to have exactly the same questions. In this article I will attempt to answer those questions, give some hints as to how you can study for free, and give some useful advice regarding how to get work once qualified.
The following is a list of questions I am asked most often.
1) Is there a demand for patent translators?
2) Do you think I would make a good patent translator?
3) What is the best way to become a patent translator?
4) Can I really study for free?
5) Should I work in-house, or freelance?
6) How can I get freelance work?
1. Is there a demand for patent translators?
This question is easy to answer. Yes, there is always a demand for GOOD patent translators. A good translator will usually have the following:
a) An excellent understanding of the source and target languages.
b) A detailed knowledge of the subject being translated.
c) Specialist knowledge relating to how to translate patent specifications.
d) A meticulous approach with regards to quality and deadlines.
If you already have a) and b) then you have an excellent chance of achieving your objectives as c) and d) can be picked up with relative ease (at least compared to a) and b)!). Having a specialist subject that you know inside-out is an enormous advantage. It will make the task of translating much more straightforward and it will also be much easier to sell yourself as a translator. The translation work itself will also be more interesting for you because if you have an in-depth knowledge of the subject it is probably something you like (hopefully!). If you do not have any kind of specialization then it will be more difficult to sell yourself to potential customers and the fees you can command are likely to be lower than a specialist. However, if there is a subject you have a strong interest in that you feel you can pick-up with relative ease, then maybe it will be possible to turn that subject into your specialization.
2. Do you think I would make a good patent translator?
All good translators have one thing in common: a willingness to ask questions and to never stop learning. If you have a willingness to learn and preferably some kind of specialist subject then there is every chance that you will be able to become a successful patent translator. You should be aware though that this will require a relatively sustained amount of effort over a reasonable period of time. Like most skills worth having, it is not the kind of skill you can pick up overnight.
3. What is the best way to become a patent translator?
I obviously have a vested interest in this subject as I provide courses in patent translation via my site at horsefrog.com and there is a bewildering array of courses offered by a wide range of translation schools. However, such courses will often serve merely as a springboard for entry into the business, but what approach should then be taken to gaining the right kind of experience that will help you to become a high-quality patent translator? The most common route is to join a patent office or the patent department of a company as a junior translator. When choosing such a job, take care to be sure that you will be tutored in an effective manner by the staff of the company. The level of expertise offered by a patent office or company patent department will often be higher than that offered by a translation agency but you may find that entry is more difficult as a result so a translation agency may also be considered. If, for example, you have already had a career spanning a number of years as an engineer, you may find that you can skip this step altogether and go straight to being a freelancer by making use of your specialty.
4. Can I really study for free?
Yes, self-training is possible to a certain extent. The big advantage with the Internet is that it provides a wealth of information that can be harvested for the purposes of study. For example, it is possible to search the USPTO for a US patent that has a corresponding Japanese patent and then search the JPO for the equivalent Japanese patent. This will often yield two almost identical documents that can then be used for the purposes of studying. You can also get documents in the exact field you wish to study by searching in a manner corresponding to this field. Detailed instructions of how to do this are provided on the horsefrog.com site. We also run free online patent translation workshops on the horsefrog site once a month where you can have a short translation evaluated for free and we provide free translator level evaluations. Free glossaries and a forum are also provided. The JPO, USPTO, and WIPO sites themselves are also excellent free sources of information regarding patents and how they should be written.
One suggestion I would have if you are studying by yourself though is to be very careful not to study simply by memorizing sentences. A much better approach is to read the document you are intending to translate very carefully, gain a full understanding of the invention first, then translate the document in the manner that you yourself would actually have written the document had you actually been the author. Finally, compare your translation to the actual original document. This will give your translations a much more natural feeling than attempting to translate a document word for word. Joining a translation organization such as JTF or JAT will also enable you to share your experiences with others in the same situation and pick up a great deal of useful information that would otherwise be extremely difficult to acquire. The more enthusiastic amongst you may consider attending the upcoming IJET-19 conference to be held at a beautiful location in Okinawa on April 12th/13th. This will be a particularly valuable opportunity for those new to translation to pick up lots of useful information and will include several presentations on the subject of patent translation.
5. Should I work in-house, or freelance?
This really very much depends on the kind of person you are. If you are a social person that likes to be around other people all the time then you are probably more suited to working in-house. If, on the other hand, you put great value on independence, would love the freedom to make your own schedule as you please and don’t at all mind being by yourself a lot, then freelancing may well seem like heaven to you.
6. How can I get freelance work once I feel I am ready to become a patent translator?
There are many ways to get work once you feel you are equipped to complete the work effectively. There is, of course, the traditional approach of applying for jobs through the various media. However, a more proactive approach is likely to meet with much more success. For example, make a list of the companies that you would most like to work for (companies that most closely match your field of specialty, for example). Then find some material by the company of your choice (for example, a short section of a patent belonging to that company). Translate the material and send it to the company concerned, together with a letter explaining who you are, what you do, and why you would like to work for that particular company. This approach is much more likely to meet with success and is widely considered by people in the translation business to be the most effective. It naturally involves more effort than the more traditional approaches, but the company can see the quality of your work immediately and is likely to be more interested in somebody who has shown such an obvious interest in their company rather than somebody who has simply sent hundreds of general-looking resumes to lots of different companies.
I hope you have found the content of this article of use. If you have any further questions please feel free to either post them on the horsefrog site or send them to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I always go to great lengths to answer any questions I receive as soon as possible. In the meantime, good luck to anybody who is considering becoming a patent translator. Maybe I will see you in sunny Okinawa!