The judges of the 4th annual JAT translation contest for new and aspiring translators have made their final decision, and the results are as follows:
The semi-finalists, in order of the numbers assigned to their entries, were:
33. Sarah Bull
39. Midori Nieft
51. Suzy Bates
52. Rossa O'Muireartaigh
62. Monica Farrell
64. Nathan Yeldell
After much deliberation, the judges awarded prizes as follows:
First place: No. 62, Monica Farrell
Second place: No. 33, Sarah Bull
Many thanks to everyone who applied. Choosing the winners was a difficult task, given the number of entries and their level. I observed the judges' deliberations via e-mail, and they they took their responsibilities very seriously. Even if you didn't win, I hope you found the contest to be a challenging and worthwhile exercise, and I hope that some of you will try again next year.
Commentaries from the Judges
The stated purpose of the contest is "to cultivate new talent in commercial non-literary translation." In judging, I was trying to find the person with the most talent to become a top commercial translator, not the person who produced the best translation at this stage. Simple misinterpretations are likely to disappear with experience, so I regard them as less of a problem than if this were an actual commercial translation. I'm much less willing, however, to be lenient on translators who submit a translation that doesn't seem to have got a final read-through, or who produce a translation that doesn't seem to have considered the document's context and purpose.
The passage for translation is part of a page giving plain language summaries of chapters of a government report. The Japanese is easy to read, well-structured, and quite accessible. I'd like to think the English could be, too. However, there are some paragraph-length sentences gave the translators problems.
Three of the finalists wrote their translations from a different time perspective from the genko, which was dated December 2001. Two of the finalists translated "要約" in the title as "abstract," but that’s not really appropriate for a chapter summary. Both of those errors could have been avoided by simply taking the URL at the top of the passage, looking at the full page on the Internet, and thinking more about the context of the part being translated. The "効果" in the title was also problematic. Four of the finalists used "effects," but two used "effectiveness," which seems a better fit with the rest of the passage. It's always a good idea to go back and do a reality check on the title when you reach the end of a passage.
Specific points for #33
I liked No. 33's translation for its clear writing, which makes it easy to understand. Examples include "the new curriculum guidelines to be fully implemented from the 2002 school year," and the treatment of Paragraph 3 (see comments on No. 62). However, there are places where this goes too far, sacrificing accuracy for readability. For example, "immediately after warning labels are introduced people remember their contents, but ... the percentage of people who still remember the contents after a month decreases" reads well, but the "still" shifts the emphasis and increases the risk of misinterpreting this phrase to refer to recollection after an interval of one month instead of recollection after a month of continual exposure. Contrast this with "consumers could recall the contents of a warning label immediately after its introduction, but one month after the introduction that percentage dropped." (No.64) There are also comprehension errors, as seen in "noticing the social factors that trigger smoking" and "in order to expand economic activity beyond the borders of multinational corporations."
No. 33's natural writing style is an excellent basis for translation, and I expect him/her to become a very good translator as experience brings greater comprehension of the Japanese.
Specific points for #39
No.39 was generally good, and read well, but suffered from grammar and logic problems in the English. Look at Paragraph 3: "Another study shows the correlation between increases in price and its affect on consumption. Raising the price of tobacco products exceeding the rate of inflation and growth in average income leads to a decrease in tobacco consumption, particularly among minors and lower income groups." The translation is correct, but it has the following problems:
- Word choice: "affect" should be "effect". (Interestingly, No.39 used "effect" correctly in the title.)
- Logic: There's always a correlation between an action and its effect, so perhaps this should have been "correlation between price and consumption"?
- Word choice: "Raising the price ... exceeding the rate of inflation" should be "... in excess of the rate of inflation"
On the other hand, there were some places where the phrasing was inspired, reading naturally, but still conveying the full meaning of the Japanese. "Programs focusing on developing skills to counteract the pressure from such social factors" is a good example. Also, No. 39 was the only finalist to actively acknowledge the way the last paragraph uses "各国" to signal a contrast between what's happening at the national level and what's happening at the international level.
Specific points for #52
I took an instant liking to No. 52 for being the only finalist to find a proper place for "cigarettes" in a text where the focus was on "tobacco."
However, there were a number of translation errors (for example, "According to healthcare providers and others, smoking cessation counseling" for "医療従事者などによる禁煙指導") and over-literal translations ("research and reporting being done").
I liked the phrasing of "this correlation is particularly strong for minors and low-wage earners," and the brevity of No. 52's treatment of Paragraph 3 (see comments on No. 62).
Specific points for #53
Although No.53 appeared to misunderstand the passage at several points, he/she had a nice turn of phrase, as seen in "Another device" in Paragraph 2. The translation was let down by poor checking, though. A proper read-through before submission would have caught the following errors in the English:
Para 2: "have been the focus much study" (should be "...focus of much ...")
Para 2: "warnings in form of photographs" (should be "... in the form of ...")
Para 4: "advice that direct targets the habits" ("... directly targets ..."?)
Para 6: "The prospects ... are well under way" (?)
Specific points for #62:
The overall winner, but tended to be wordy, which sometimes made the text a little less comprehensible. For example, compare three different versions of Paragraph 3:
No.62: Additionally, with regard to the effect of tobacco price hikes on tobacco consumption, reports indicate that tobacco consumption declines when the rise of the price of tobacco exceeds the rate of inflation as well as the income increase rate. This decline is especially connected to inhibiting tobacco consumption among minors and people in lower income brackets, according to reports.
No.33: Reports regarding the effect of prices increases on tobacco consumption claim that when price hikes for tobacco products exceed the rates of increase for other products and for wages, the result is a decrease in consumption; particularly among under-age smokers and people in low-income groups.
No.52: Meanwhile, it has been reported that when the price of cigarettes rises faster than the rates of inflation and income, cigarette consumption declines and this correlation is particularly strong for minors and low-wage earners.
For this paragraph, No.62 takes 30% more words than No.33 and 73% more words than No.52 to say pretty much the same thing. These translations are all 'correct' but take different approaches. No.62 would benefit from practice at editing his or her own translations to cut the number of words by 15% or so without sacrificing accuracy.
Errors included the logical error in "unless the format of warning labels changes, it is ineffective to change only the content of the warnings" ("only" introduces a contradiction), "the new Courses of Study that will be implemented as the standards for educational courses ..." ("standard"?), and there were over-literal translations such as "This decline is especially connected to inhibiting tobacco consumption" and "negotiations are currently in progress" ("currently" is superfluous).
I particularly liked the overall accuracy of this translation, and expect the translator to keep improving as experience brings more confidence to step away from a very literal approach.
Specific points for #64:
Had some nice ideas but poor execution. I liked the attempt to write the text in a readable manner, but there were too many places where the English would have benefited from a critical read-through before submission. Examples include:
Subject-verb agreement: Para 2: "an obligation ... are among techniques" (should be "obligations" or "is among techniques")
Subject-verb agreement: Para 5: "the new course of study ... stipulate ..." (should be "should be "stipulates" or "stipulated")
Word choice: Para 5: "stipulate that ... education be taught" (a lofty ambition, but inappropriate here)
Unnatural phrasing: Para 7: the ... WHO ... decided to request the initiation of the development the Framework ... (it's the string of nested structures that's unnatural, but I also marked this down for missing an "of" before "the Framework" and for mistranslating what was decided)
This translator would do well to practice reading with a critical perspective. Either persuade an experienced editor to give feedback, or, as one of the EJ division judges suggested, get someone else to read the translation out loud.
In 1954, two British physicians published findings suggesting a causal link between smoking and untimely death. Twelve years later, in 1966, the US Surgeon General required the first warning labels on cigarettes in the United States. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization announced that tobacco use could kill one billion people in the 21st century, up from a scant million in the 20th century. Once viewed as glamorous and even healthy (with claims of relieving stress and promoting good digestion, for example), smoking has been vilified by the medical community as a major health hazard for decades. This has given birth to a well established medical discipline of smoking cessation treatment and a public health campaign against tobacco use waged on national and international fronts. This in turn has spawned its own body of writing with its own unique jargon, an example of which was the passage for the Japanese-English portion of this year’s contest (namely, 「たばこ対策への介入事例とその効果」要約) .
The purpose of the JAT Translation Contest is “to foster, recognize, and reward excellence in commercial, non-literary translation between Japanese and English by new translators.” One method of assessing technical translation, proposed by the American Translators Association, breaks the translation process into three areas: source language comprehension, target language writing, and “translation technique.” (I simply cite the ATA’s approach because I am familiar with it.) The last, translation technique, includes proofreading to ensure the translator has avoided mistakes and research to ensure that the vocabulary and usage are appropriate and, especially in the case of Japanese, to help the translator interpret any vague passages.
The たばこ対策 passage used technical vocabulary sparingly (it had almost a general sound), but did contain some of the key vocabulary of the anti-smoking field. This included the terms smoking cessation, cessation counseling, warning labels, tobacco consumption, rotation (of warning labels), and the proper names of an organization and a publication. In fact, the publication (an agreement, actually), the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, adopted at a WHO World Health Assembly, was one piece of research material that yielded, in addition to its own proper name, the vocabulary and feel of anti-smoking public health writing. A little more Googling with the vocabulary available in the Framework Convention provides all of the information needed to set the right tone and employ the right vocabulary for the translation.
Monica Farrell (Entry 62) employed all of the field-specific vocabulary cited above, a low number of source comprehension errors, and workmanlike writing to win this year’s contest. Each of the six semi-finalists selected had his or her own strength, and some produced very likable English prose. However, Monica showed the willingness to do the amount of research that I would think would lead to consistently accurate and appropriate translations and serve as a basis for continued growth as a translator.
Sarah Bull (Entry 33) produced perhaps the most readable translation. However, the number of comprehension errors was comparable to that of Monica’s and Sarah took a more neutral approach, not employing some of the key terms of the smoking cessation field.
I, for one, could not see an immediately apparent winner among the six semi-finalists provided to the judges by the JAT screeners. Several readings and careful analysis of the texts were necessary to produce the finalists and the winner. Each contestant showed different strengths, and the judges found it difficult to select a winner. Considerable negotiation was necessary, with each judge presenting arguments for his selection. That serves as evidence of the competitive quality of all of the semifinalists’ translations.
Good translation is a little bit like pornography: very hard to define but easy to recognize when you see it. This is especially true for commercial translation, which unlike literary translation, is almost always compared side-by-side with the original in evaluating “translation accuracy.” Personally, I think that “translation accuracy” is an ill-conceived and poorly defined concept. For example, how does one quantify translation accuracy? Advertisements for translation software often cite translation accuracy as a percentage, but what does it mean to be “90% accurate” versus “80% accuracy,” and just where is the borderline between “usable” and “unusable” or “acceptable” and “unacceptable?”
While it probably isn’t possible either to fashion an axiomatic definition of or to establish quantitative standards for evaluating translation accuracy, it certainly is possible to list a few of the characteristics that are essential to a professional quality translation.
Perhaps the first thing that need be mentioned is that the translation should contain all the same factual information that the original does. Certainly no translation could be considered accurate or complete if an important piece of information was missing. There are times, however, when certain information explicit in the original need not appear in the translation if the conventions of the target language preclude its inclusion. An example very commonly found in Japanese to English translation might be the inclusion in parenthesis of the acronym for the name of an organization even though the acronym is not used anywhere else in the document. This occurs in this year’s contest text where the World Health Organization is mentioned in the final paragraph. Is there any real need to include WHO in parenthesis there?
The opposite can also be true in cases where information implicit in the original need be explained to the target readers. This year’s text, for example, mentioned a dairoku gakunen, which could be translated as “sixth year of schooling,” but given the diversity of nomenclature in the various school systems found in English speaking countries, I heartily concur with those who rendered this as “6th year of elementary school.”
Clearly, one of the first skills that a successful translator must develop is the ability to recognize what should or shouldn’t be translated.
Another characteristic to consider is whether the translation conveys the necessary information in the same tenor and tone as the original and as appropriate for the target reader. A good example of this from this year’s contest was the word youyaku in the title. Even professional translators will disagree over whether to include a word such as summary or abstract in the title itself, or perhaps to leave it out of the title altogether, and simply make clear in the topic sentence of the opening paragraph that what is being given here is a description of the content rather than a reproduction of the chapter itself.
In fact, one of the most difficult aspects of judging a translation contest is the fact that there is rarely only one “correct” translation. Rather, there are usually a number of possible approaches, and the question of whether a given approach is appropriate for a given problem is one that can only be answered in the context of what the translation is for, who the target reader is, and how much time can be allotted to translating the problematic passage.
One last issue I would like to comment on is the question of how literal a commercial translation should be. Translators who specialize in patents or legal documents, both of which are often subject to word-by-word scrutiny, understand the expediency of producing a commercial translation with a one-to-one correspondence to the original. Such an approach might not produce the most readable translation, but is an effective way to assuage a client’s fears that something is either missing or mistranslated, and in many cases makes it easier for the end-user to use both the original and the translation side-by-side.
This level of linguistic correspondence is in sharp contrast to the more figurative approach taken in commercial translations for publication, especially in documents where the use of idioms as well as hyperbole, parallelism, and other rhetorical techniques make word-by-word translation inappropriate. At this level, evaluating translation accuracy can be far more complicated, sometimes bordering on the subjective.
It may seem strange that “accuracy” can be considered to be something less than completely objective, but when editing for readability or when evaluating word choices, composition, and other stylistic considerations, the question of whether a translation accurately reflects the tenor and tone of the original is one on which even experienced translators can occasionally disagree.
There was much to praise in all of the final entries in this year’s contest, and one problem with a contest is that the need to pick a winner leads to excessive nit-picking of otherwise competent work. All of the finalists showed talent and are to be congratulated for their efforts.