Neues im Bücherregal

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A recent “article of note”, in the terminology of Arts and Letters Daily, focusing on Haruki Murakami on the eve of October 25, the release date of his monumental 1Q84 in the US (I never realized the book was not officially existing until today, considering many, and in many languages, pirate e-book versions already available on the Internet), contains the word “translator” (or its derivatives) not once, but quite a few times. It appears both natural and remarkable that translation as such would deserve being repeatedly mentioned in an article on a translated book. However, it is not specifically the translation of the book which Sam Anderson, the author of “The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami” in New York Times refers to when writing about (and interviewing) the enigmatic Japanese writer.

“The relationship … is far more complicated than I ever could have guessed from the safe distance of translation”. “The act of translation — shuttling from one world to another — …is in many ways the key to understanding Murakami’s work.” “You could even say that translation is the organizing principle of Murakami’s work: that his stories are not only translated but about translation.” Yet, it was another instance of the key word “translator” which drew my attention and sort of got me going.

“Murakami speaks excellent English in a slow, deep voice. He dislikes, he told me, speaking through a translator.

In my own experience, he is certainly not the only one. Quite often, when doing an interpreting job, I hear the starting apology of the person I translate for (negotiator, lecturer, presenter…) about his/her not speaking the language of the counterpart, thus having, regrettably, to resort to an interpreter. There is a certain consolation to reflect that each profession results from the need to compensate for deficiencies and insufficiencies of the others (was it not Plato who observed that the division of labor lies in the natural inequality of humanity?), but nevertheless… It is certainly not unusual to dislike something you can do only through a proxy. So, if you earn money as a principal’s proxy, how to cope with the principal’s dislike (i.e. justify yourself, for this matter)?

The answer may be not far to seek. “When Murakami sat down to write his first novel, he struggled until he came up with an unorthodox solution: he wrote the book’s opening in English, then translated it back into Japanese. This, he says, is how he found his voice.” “(Murakami’s) entire oeuvre, in other words, is the act of translation dramatized”. It might sound a little bit artsy, but I am growing fond of the word “transcreation”. It is certainly the added value when it comes to something outside the mere need to overcome constraints and deficiencies of somebody who just doesn’t speak the language of his/her audience. Actually, transcreation is something that I have been doing for many years, not necessarily only when working with advertising or PR agencies. (Remember the slogan “Better than the original”.) It is something which boosts your morale or gives you some justification, if you need to guard yourself against likes and dislikes of your customers.

Well, no need to dramatize things. Our reality is far more prosaic. Another quotation from the above article brings me back to facts and figures: “Some bookstores are planning to stay open until midnight on (the) release date, Oct. 25. Knopf (the publishing house) was in such a hurry to get the book into English that they split the job between two translators, each of whom worked on separate parts.” Split the job… Such a hurry… Worked on separate parts… Sounds more familiar, doesn’t it?

Diese krimimäßige Frage in der Überschrift stellt sich vor Protagonisten eines empfehlenswerten Buchs (kein whodunit, kein Krimi), das ich in diesem Blog kurz vorstellen möchte.

Selbst wenn ich mich mit einem Buch rein privat beschäftige (als Leser oder Hörer, denn ich gehöre zu den Fans von Hörbüchern, Audible & Co.), so ist es für mich als Übersetzer immer interessant, die Übersetzung mit dem Original zu vergleichen, soweit gleich mehrere – am liebsten eine deutsche, eine englische und eine russische – Fassungen vorhanden sind. Außerdem finden sich häufig genug Parallelen zwischen der beruflichen und privaten Realität. Das Buch, das ich in diesem Blog erwähnen möchte, stellt so einen Fall dar.

Selten nimmt das Übersetzen so einen wichtigen Platz in einem Roman ein, selten tauchen so häufig (verziehen sei der Widerspruch) Dolmetscher (dazu noch bei der Ausübung ihres Berufs) als Protagonisten auf. (So befasst sich z.B. der Übersetzer in „Perlmanns Schweigen“, die Hauptfigur eines ebenso wunderbaren wie spannenden Romans von Pascal Mercier, eher mit kognitiven Wissenschaften und Psychologie, als mit dem eigentlichen Übersetzen.)

In „The Thousands Autumns of Jacob de Zoet“ von David Mitchell (so heißt das Buch, das mir das obige Zitat als Überschrift lieferte), werden nicht nur Übersetzer, sondern auch das Übersetzen als solches thematisiert. Es geht um einen jungen Holländer, der im Auftrag einer Handelsgesellschaft 1799 nach Japan reist, um wegen des Verdachts von Diebstählen und Korruption unter seinen Landsleuten auf der fernen und dazu noch stark von der ganzen Welt abgeschlossenen Insel zu ermitteln. Dabei lernt er unter anderem sich mit und ohne Hilfe von Dolmetschern zu verständigen, verliebt sich, erlebt, entdeckt und erfährt vieles, worum es in diesem spannenden Entwicklungsroman, Abenteuerroman, historischen, philosophischen Roman oder einem Roman über die Liebe, je nach Betrachtungsweise, geht …

Es vermischen sich die Genres genauso wie Stimmen, Sprachen und Kulturen. Insbesondere wegen verschiedener sprachlicher Eigenarten – Aussprachen und Akzenten – ist das englische Hörbuch besonders empfehlenswert. Dem Sprecher Jonathan Aris gelingt es, verschiedene Akzente und Idiosynkrasien – Holländisch, Japanisch, Malaiisch und natürlich Englisch, mit allen möglichen archaischen „methinks” und „ay“ – so wiederzugeben, dass man sich zuweilen wie ein Dolmetscher auf internationalen Konferenzen fühlt, wo die englischen native speakers (insbesondere die aus Irland oder Schottland) am schwierigsten zu verstehen sind.

Vor ein paar Monaten schrieb ich in diesem Blog über Audiomedien, die mir hilfreich erscheinen, das Simultandolmetschen zu trainieren und sich zu einem Dolmetschereinsatz vorzubereiten. Einige Dialoge aus „The Thousand Autumns“ als Hörbuch eignen sich bestens dazu.

Und so wiederum bereiten sich die Dolmetscher zu ihrem Einsatz in diesem Buch selbst vor, so recherchieren sie nach der Bedeutung fremdartiger Begriffe, unter denen der Begriff „Hanseatisch“ zu den schwierigsten zählt:

Each interpreter has a list of items that evade the Guild’s collective understanding. These he reads out, one by one, and Jacob explains as clearly as he can, with examples, gestures and synonyms. The group discusses an appropriate Japanese substitute, sometimes testing it on Jacob, until everyone is satisfied. Straightforward words such as ‘parched’, ‘plenitude’ or ‘saltpetre’ do not detain them long. More abstract items such as ‘simile’, ‘figment’ or ‘parallax’ prove more exacting. Terms without a ready Japanese equivalent, such as ‘privacy’, ‘splenetic’ or the verb ‘to deserve’ cost ten or fifteen minutes, as do phrases requiring specialist knowledge – ‘Hanseatic’, ‘nerve-ending’, or ‘subjunctive’. Jacob notices that where a Dutch pupil would say, ‘I don’t understand,’ the interpreters lower their eyes, so the teacher cannot merely explicate, but must also gauge his students’ true comprehension.

Die in der Überschrift gestellte Frage betrifft Jacobs Ermittlungen im Zusammenhang mit Macht, Betrug und Korruption. Dazu tragen auch die in diesem Roman vorkommenden Dolmetscher bei. Interessanterweise wird die Frage nach Macht und Korruption der Dolmetscher in einem Interview von Leonard Lopate mit David Mitchell auf WNYC (New York Public Radio, The Leonard Lopate Show so aufgeworfen:

Leonard Lopate: It is interesting that Japanese interpreters are some of the most powerful people on the island and also the most corrupt. Because having the ability to translate between the two cultures gave them also some form of political power…
David Mitchell: It does. Language IS power…

Alles in allem, ein großes, spannendes Buch voller Sprachmacht und starker Bilder. Die deutsche Übersetzung ist noch nicht erschienen (Stand: Oktober 2011). Auch die russische Übersetzung fehlt, obwohl drei andere Bücher von David Mitchell (unter anderem „The Cloud Atlas“) ins Russische schon übersetzt sind. In den russischsprachigen Rezensionen auf „The Thousand Autumns“ wird der Name „Jacob de Zoet“ in verschiedenen kyrillischen Schreibweisen transkribiert. Ich bin gespannt, welche Entsprechung die verschiedenen sprachlichen Eigenarten, Akzente und Aussprachen in der künftigen russischen Übersetzung finden werden.

Hónesty Book - Picture from Review of Tutorial on InDesign for Translators
A lonely „honesty book shop“ in Fjaerland – Mundal, Norway, where used books are put for sale at 10 Norwegian krone (€1,25), with no seller in sight (July 2011).

“I definitely want my money back!” This was the first thought which sprang to mind, after I, upon long deliberation, finally signed up for Chris Phillips’ e-book , downloaded the PDF and had a thorough look at it. As of late, I was often asked to help a translation agency with InDesign jobs – preparing InDesign files, importing the translations into InDesign and readjusting the layout afterwards. I am no novice in the field of desktop publishing, I used to work with QuarkXPress quite a lot until the early 2000s and then moved on along with some clients from the advertising and publishing industry to InDesign. I acquired some practical skills but remained largely self-taught and hence slightly insecure, which in my case was probably a side effect of this learning-by-doing process.

In hindsight, I guess, this made me susceptible to the kind of sales pitch on the indesign4translators site. Although I never experienced any serious problems when working in InDesign in the limited capacity of a translator, the impressive list of problems stated there (sleepless nights… missed deadlines… wasted hours…) might have been effective. It is representative of an “insurance agent’s pitch”, which first dwells on all kinds of dangers only to offer the right indemnity protection that, up to now, you somehow inexplicably managed to do without. The Russian word for insurance (strakhovaniye) stems from “fear” (strakh) and, in my opinion, conveys very well the essence of this approach. The pitch is also a variation on the “buy now or regret later” theme. As is often the case with this theme, “or” very rapidly turns to “and”, so “buy now or regret later” becomes “buy now AND regret later”.

Well, I regretted almost immediately having bought this PDF, but still didn’t claim my money back. Instead, I had another thorough look and found out that the tutorial actually exactly lives up to what the pitch promises. The problem is rather what the ad omits to describe. So what, precisely, is this “ONLY GUIDE YOU’LL EVER NEED…”, to cite the claim of its author?

It is a PDF file of 69 pages, sparsely populated with lines and screenshots. Some 6,000 word per 69 pages, approximately 90 words per page – as a translator, you can easily do your own maths and get a picture. The price is not €27 (“a special release promotion” instead of €37), but €27 plus tax which amounts to €32.13. To continue with the figures, which the website keeps silent about, the tutorial features InDesign CS2/CS3 and SDL Trados 2007, so not exactly the latest versions.

Now what is the content about? It is about how to open a file in InDesign (if you ever double clicked on a file, you already know a lot), checking the file, making some changes if need be and exporting the file in INX format for processing with TagEditor. I still have the old training materials by Jerzy Czopik (SDL Trados Training 2007 in Budapest). This half a page by Jerzy Czopik:

Präsentation von Jerzy Czopik über Bearbeitung von InDesign-Dateien mit Trados

roughly corresponds to some 30 pages of Chris Phillips’ indesign4translators tutorial. It is “a step-by-step guide”, after all. The remaining pages are about the guide itself (“Thank you for choosing InDesign for Translators (A step by step guide to preparing InDesign files for translation)”), the InDesign workspace, master pages and layers. At the end of the PDF tutorial, you will find a short list of CAT tools (as of 2007), a word on getting help and two last blank pages. This sums up Mr Phillips’ 69 pages strong manual, still promoted as the “latest news” at his corporate site (“Chris Phillips launches his book InDesign for Translators – a step by step guide to preparing Indesign files for translation”).

I really don’t want to indulge in sarcasm and, conceivably, I am not the target group for Chris Phillips’ tutorial. Moreover, I feel very positive about Mr Phillips. I think he is very good at marketing, with his talent for precise descriptions and a hand at delivering a smart sales pitch. In fact, I’d rather have Mr Phillips on my side. I’d rather see him describe, advertise and sell something for me, not to me.

 

Update from August 14, 2011:

After publishing the review here, I posted the link to it on the Proz website. The thread, originally started in 2008 by Chris Phillips, who announced his ebook asking for reviews and “unbiased feedback”), fizzled out from initial requests from colleague translators to sporadic questions about whether the book is worth paying for (as no reviews followed). The subsequent events are summarized in my next post to the thread as follows:

“Since I expect this post to be one of the last on the thread I would like to recapitulate some facts and recent developments and possibly find a positive conclusion. My post about the review of the book, published on my blog, was followed by a reaction of Chris Phillips, the author of InDesign For Translators and “topic starter”. He confirmed what was already assumed in this thread months ago (April post: “I guess it was written for InDesign CS2/3, we’re now on CS5”) and what he obviously preferred not to disclose up to now, for two plus years, as long as not expressly stated otherwise. He also admitted to his book being “a little outdated now” and, after I posted my review on the thread, offered offhand the book free for download (“if anyone thinks it may help them”). In the meantime, I received three emails thanking me for the review which helped not to waste €37 or €27 (“promotional rate for a limited time only”) on a book that the email senders, provided there would be some more specific information available, not just a genuinely tempting ad, would rather refrain from buying anyway. I also received an email from Mr Phillips, the author, who kindly offered me a complete refund for the book. (Payment received, thank you very much.)

Well done indeed. I am far from believing my photo of an “honesty book shop” in Norway might be some inspiration for the author to immediately offer the book free of charge, even if someone like me may feel “ripped-off” or perhaps just puzzled (no longer) at the consistent absence of any reviews, testimonials, details about this “best selling guide”, “the only guide you’ll ever need” (Chris Phillips). No matter whether the photo might be inspirational or not, the whole InDesign for Translators story has been an inspiration for me. It opened my eyes on how simple and, yes, effective it might be to throw together several pages of “easy to follow” and presumably useful instructions, set up a website and promote this “guide” on a forum where, incidentally, people also “enjoy helping people” (Chris Phillips), but without offering a promotional rate for a limited time only or even suggesting donations for helpful, consistent advice. Some 300 buyers, with only tho who claimed their money back, make quite a nice return for this guide, or rather, its promotion. But really, once again, a very good marketing job, very impressive, even if this seems to be the only positive conclusion I manage to make right now (aside from the nice return for the author and a PDF that, from now on, you can download for free (link above), even if only to decide for yourself whether it is worth what the ad still promises)”.

 

Update from August 17, 2011:

One day later, both the last message and the previous one (which appeared as response to Chris Phillips’ statement that he cannot see my review and hence cannot comment on it) were removed from the thread. The forum moderator referred to the forum rule no. 8 which both messages were allegedly “not in line” with:

“Outsourcers may not be discussed specifically. Posts or comments regarding a specific outsourcer (identified by name, reference, link or other means), whether positive or negative, are not permitted. (To indicate their likelihood of working again with a given outsourcer, site users should use the ProZ.com Blue Board.)”.
In her personal email the moderator confirmed that the messages had been removed due to the complaint from Chris Phillips and that the rule certainly doesn’t apply to my postings and was chosen for the sake of convenience (the thread, to remind, was opened specifically by the ebook author – not an outsourcer in this case – to announce his ebook and ask colleague translators, all language professionals with an interest in the subject, for reviews and “unbiased feedback” on the ebook). Later on, Chris Phillips also phoned me to demand that everything pertaining to the company he works for be removed from my posts. It is worth pointing out that in my review the company was mentioned only once, stating a plain fact about Chris Phillips’ ebook still promoted on their website as the “latest news”. Would Mr Phillips be really keen on dissociating his book from the company he works for or afraid of publicity, he’d rather start with his own postings on the thread which are all furnished with his company logo, not his personal countenance.

So, I must admit I fail to provide a really positive conclusion. Any conclusion is just fine, though. It would be pointless to continue with arguments so long as someone prefers to exert pressure to censor unfavourable feedback instead of responding to it within an open, fair discussion. So long then, Proz.

 

Update from August 28, 2011:

Concerning ProzKevin Lossner’s post you may want to check out.

 

 

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