Sometimes one wonders

just quite what the point is.

Take today’s little task. I am engaged in translating the blurbs for some films to be shown at a German-speaking cinema. The cinema is clearly quite excited about showing these mainly American films (a couple of French, one Italian) to the international audience it hopes to attract.

Your bewildered translator sometimes wonders if a) she has completely lost the plot or b) if she actually understands German any more.

The blurbs have been largely translated from American English into German. I am now translating them back into English. This raises little questions such as “shall I write ‘contract killer’ as the German says, or check out the film’s official website to see if they use the word ‘assassin’?  (They do… if you’re interested…).

All this checking would be all well and good ***if*** it were going to serve any purpose. But I suspect it isn’t. Why? Because in their breathless introduction about their programme, the cinema tells the film fans that these films will all be shown in German… i.e. dubbed. So not in the original language with German subtitles… or even in German with English subtitles.

It makes me wonder why I’m bothering. If their non-native-German-speaking audience can speak German well enough to understand a film in German, they will hardly need the blurb in English. If the foreigners don’t understand German well enough, the few sentences of blurb will not be enough to see the audience through the twists and turns of the plot to make it worth their while sitting through the film.

Ho hum. Another pleasant Sunday afternoon spent in front of the computer screen.

I started a new pad of Garfield post-its today. The previous batch showed Garfield saying “Everyone’s entitled to my opinion.” It always made me smile. Today’s batch made me laugh out loud: “I might as well work, I’m in a bad mood as it is”.

I’m not in a bad mood exactly; just a tad exasperated.

5 thoughts on “Sometimes one wonders

  1. ha! here’s the thing… you’re doing what you were hired to do, and they’ll use your work in the manner in which they choose to use it… so instead of exasperation, what if you thought of 101 potential uses of these (re)translated passages? 😀

  2. Unless the non-native speakers have seen the films in their own language and, knowing the plot, will improve their German? And as Mrs Pedantic, it should only be assassin if the killings are for political reasons!

  3. Oh Agatha. The translation world is a pedant’s heaven (or hell). I’m sure many PhDs have been written on the subject of what is “correct” translation. With almost every word one is faced with the decision of whether to write the “correct dictionary definition” or what the author really means in the idiomatic target language or what the translator thinks the author really means. Translations are sometimes better versions than the originals because the translator has tidied up the author’s woolly argument/grammar/style.

    You would not believe the sort of “complaints” I’ve had to field in my time where clients think you have missed words out or added words. In the case of a back translation (as this is essentially what I was doing in this task), I have to weigh up the accuracy of someone else’s translation into German and my translation of the text back into English – and the risks I am going to take calling someone an “assassin” (as the original) or “contract killer” as the German says. Will the client complain because the original says “assassin” and there is a subtle difference or will they applaud my accurate dictionary definition? It can be a minefield depending on the brilliance of the original text, the German translation and my translation. And when you are paid by the word, it is not lucrative to spend too much time pondering the nuances. 😉

  4. If you are paid by the word then you should definitely use contract killer – twice the price!

  5. Sadly, Agatha, payment is by the source word, and contract killer is only one word in German. Hey ho.

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