Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Collective Translation

Translations done in collaboration between several translators have long been commonplace in expert translation. Every time a translation agency or provider splits a long text up between several translators, it engenders a sort of collaborative translation. Looking back in history, one need only think of the enormous collaborative effort that went into producing the King James translation of the Bible (Bois, 1969).

Now, however, great new possibilities for CT have been opened up by software tools of the peer-to-peer or grid computing type that facilitate recording, modifying and managing the combined work of many translators with almost instantaneous communication between them. The translation industry is starting to take notice: Canada’s Language Industry Association recently held a study day on CT.

At the same time, the tools have also opened up new initiatives for non-professional, non-expert translators. There is a partial list athttp://www.plansphere.com/blog/?p=607, but you can find many more by Googling ‘collaborative translation’. An example of this new movement is the Traduwiki portal (http://traduwiki.org). Traduwiki posts up texts of varying length and complexity, but generally difficult enough that they would present a challenge even to experts. It then invites anyone to translate a small part of the text:

Each text is broken down into smaller chunks. To translate a portion of text, just click on the "translation icon" appearing close to the original text in the left column. Traduwiki has deliberately limited the size of text chunks to two phrases [sic, read as two sentences], because it's always easier to translate a short text than a lengthy text, and because moderately fluent users will also be able to contribute. A section that has been already translated could be rewritten, and you're welcomed [sic] to jump in if you spot a mistyped word or mistranslated term. (http://traduwiki.org/faq)

There is no remuneration and there are no prizes, so the people who contribute are doing so because they like the source text and want to make it more widely known – or for the sheer pleasure and challenge of translating and of proving they can do it.

Traduwiki itself poses the question, Could I contribute to the site even if I can barely understand a foreign language? And it answers,

Yes, in some ways. Text chunks are kept small to let you contribute at your level. You can opt for easy-to-translate text chunks. There always are many of them in any text. When you feel more confident in your language level, you could try to translate text chunks that are harder to understand. (ibid.)

Thus it implicitly recognises two principles of natural translation: (a) that all bilinguals can translate, but that (b) they can only translate to the extent that they know the two languages.

Are the Traduwiki translators true natural translators, i.e. completely uneducated in how to translate; or native translators, i.e. without specific training in translation but educated in it to some extent by their milieu and experience; or even, perhaps, expert, trained translators who, despite the lack of remuneration, contribute pro bono or for the fun of it? Unfortunately for researchers, the translators remain anonymous and no questions are asked of them. So we can only draw conclusions from their output. Here is an example, chunked and with the translation in italics.

Jeudi 21 avril. L’heure H avait été fixé à minuit.
Thursday April 21. H hour had been set at midnight. [Another contributor comments that some people would prefer Zero hour.]

Les dernières instructions étaient entre les mains d’une dizaine d’officiers encore inconnus, généraux, colonels, membres de réseaux formés depuis près de vingt ans, au temps de la guerre civile.
The latest orders were in the hands of a dozen unknown officers, generals, colonels, members of networks that existed for nearly 20 years, since the Civil War.

Les chars sont à l’heure. Leur bruit, dans Athènes, annonce l’arrivée de la dictature.
The tanks arrived on time. The din they made heralded the arrival of the dictatorship in Athens.

Ils prennent position devant le Parlement. La junte vient de prendre possession du pouvoir et le fait savoir.
They lined up before the parliament buildings. The junta had just seized power and were making it known.

Dans la nuit, premières arrestations: des femmes et des hommes de gauche, des communistes,des syndicalistes … A l’aube , l’Hippodrome, au bord de la baie de Phalère, le stade de foot du Pirée, partout les plus grandes salles commencent à se remplir des premiers détenus.
The arrests began at night: women and men of the Left, communists, trade-unionists ... By dawn, the Hippodrome, along the bay of Phaleron, the Piraeus football stadium, the largest public halls began to fill up with the first detainees.

The French source text is from Grèce: le Coup des Colonels by Jacques Coutard, a professionally authored work and beyond the level of language proficiency to be expected of natural translators. The translation is IMHO acceptable for publication even if there are some small points that could be disputed, so it is the work either of an expert translator or of an advanced native translator.

Here is another example.
Kindertagesstättengesetzes nach billigem Ermessen i.S.d. § 315 BGB die Höhe des monatlich zu entrichtenden Entgeltes, das sich insbesondere zusammensetzt aus dem Elternbeitrag und der Verpflegungskostenpauschale.(3) Die Allgemeinen Regelungen zur Betreuung von Kindern in städtischen Kindertagesstätten bestimmen insbe sondere die Offnungszeiten und den allgemeinen Betriebsablauf der betreffenden Kindertagesstätte.
Kindertagesstätte law reasonably iSd § 315 BGB, the amount of themonthly fee to be paid, in particular composed of the parentalcontribution and meal expenses. (3) The general regulations for thecare of children in urban nurseries determine and in particular itsopening hours and general operation of the nursery.

The text is not of a type a natural translator would be likely to tackle, nor be able to render so much of. On the other hand, the non-translation (Kindertagesstätte) and other imperfections, even the typos, argue against this being the work of an expert translator. So we are left with the conclusion that the translator is a native translator.

John Bois. Translating for King James: being a true copy of the only notes made by a translator of King James's Bible…. Translated and edited by Ward Allen. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1969.


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