Saturday, October 26, 2013

Naive and Not So Naive Readers

 This is the continuation of the previous post, which please read first.

Before leaving the Expert Readers, there's one kind that I probably wouldn't have listed, because the texts that they read are so different, if it weren't that there's an in-depth study of how they think by a well-known German translatologist, Hans Krings. Krings is best known for his use of think-aloud protocols (TAP) in translation studies (see References). His book is about the readers and revisers of raw machine translation output, called post-editors. His fundamental assumption is that the post-editors must themselves be translators, because only experienced translators can judge the accuracy of a translation. McElhany and Vasconcellos, quoted in the Krings book, have this to say about them:
"The translator is the one best able to pick up errors in the machine translation (e.g., misparsed or unparsable ambiguities), he has a fund of knowledge about the cross-language transfer of concepts, and he has technical resources at his disposal which he knows how to use in the event of doubts... An inexperienced translator to say nothing of the non-translator is apt to waste precious time unnecessarily reworking passages or trying to deal with a problem whose solution would be obvious to a seasoned professional."

Let's go now to the opposite end of the spectrum of competence: the Naive Translation Reader (NTR). NTRs know nothing about translation; they haven't been taught anything, and they're probably monolingual. Even if they're bilingual, they're not so in the languages of the translation they're reading. They may even be unaware that what they're reading is a translation. I had no idea the legends and adventure books I was reading as a child - from the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to the travels of Marco Polo and Sven Hedin - were written by foreigners in another language or adapted from translations of them. The blog has commented earlier on people who think the Bible was composed in their own language (enter rednecks in the Search box). That kind of  mistake is encouraged by the publishers who still don't mention that the publication is a translation or don't name the translator. NTRs are therefore obliged to read translations as original writings in the receptor language and to judge them by the literary and stylistic canons of that language. It can lead to serious misconceptions, for instance that The Arabian Nights, because of the way it was bowdlerised by 18th and 19th century English and French translators, is a collection of stories for children. But for the NTRs, ignorance is bliss.

Between the NTRs and the Expert Readers there's an Intermediate class. Let's call its members ITRs. They're a mixed bag but they have some characteristics in common. They know translations exist and what they are. They may be able to tell a translation when they read one, notably by conceptual features or because it contains segments of translationese, i.e., hangovers from the vocabulary and phraseology of the source language. For instance, when I was at this stage at school, I constantly wondered why so many sentences in the King James Bible began with And when we were being instructed in our English class not to do so. I realised it wasn't a native English text.
ITR's are often interested in translations only for extraneous reasons. Take the case of the publisher's readers whose job it is to select among manuscripts submitted to them for publication. The translations that come to them are declared as such. But their selection criterion won't be the quality of the translation. They read translations with an eye to whether the work will sell to their employer's market.

The authors of reviews of new publications often fall into this category. For example, an article appeared recently in the New York Times Review of Books purporting to review four English translations of contemporary foreign literature. The title of the article is 'Chronicle: fiction in translation'. So the reporter was certainly aware of translation; what's more the names of the translators are given. However, while there's a description of each story there's not a single word about the translations. In one case it's clear that the original language was Chinese; in the other three cases we're left to our own devices to work out  what it was. The reviewer certainly didn't know all the languages. And that's The New York Times.

Finally, before this post becomes too long, there are the readers, voluntary or captive, of the masses of translation that are produced as official documents or announcements by governments or by law. Often the original and the translation of such texts are displayed side by side. If the translation is well done, it takes an ETR to detect which is the original. ITRs know one of them is a translation because the law (as in Canada) dictates that government documents must be translated, but no more than that. The page layout conventions help too.

And so on.

As a reader of this blog, you're probably an ETR or at least an ITR. But let's not underplay the NTRs. They're the ones who are mainly responsible for Professional Translators lacking recognition and appreciation. Yet without them, the market for translation would be much smaller.                                                                        
Silvia Bernardini. Think-aloud protocols in translation research: achievements, limits, future prospects. Click here.

Hans P. Krings. Repairing Texts: Empirical Investigations of Machine Translation Post-Editing Processes. Translated from the German Texte reparieren by Geoffrey S. Koby, Gregory M. Shreve, Katja Mischerikow, Sarah Litzer (another collaborative translation!). Kent OH and London: Kent State University Press, 2001. 633 p.

Sven Hedin. From Pole to Pole: A Book for Young People. Translated from the Swedish Från pol till pol by an unnamed translator.. London: Macmillan, 1912. The Project Gutenburg e-book edition is available here. "This remains the single most exciting adventure travel book written in the early twentieth century." (Amazon). There's a Wikipedia article on Sven Hedin.

Alison McCulloch. Chronicle: fiction in translation. New York Times Sunday Book Review, 1 September 2013.The article is here.

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