The Linguist

The Linguist 52,2

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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Page 27 of 35

OPINION & COMMENT Email with your views © ISTOCKPHOTO Change of law Cultural encounters I enjoyed the article, 'A Tricky Business' (TL52,1) by my colleagues on the BPG Division Committee. I, myself, realised the importance of learning languages and other cultures when I was in my teens. When I was 16, my father brought me to England to see my brother and to spend my holidays here. I felt quite confident about my knowledge of England, its history and traditions: kippers and porridge, Morris dancers and Scottish reels. I soon had my test. My brother's English friends invited us to dinner and, when it was over, the charming hostess went round offering chocolates. When she came to me, as a nicely brought up girl, I declined with a smile. The box of chocolates came round a second time but, to my utter dismay, it did not stop by me. Shocked at this apparent lack of manners, I looked across at my brother, who was trying to control his giggles. It was a lesson I learnt straightaway, never to be forgotten. In Portugal, it's polite to refuse second helpings or after-dinner goodies, so as not to give the impression of being a glutton. The role of a good Portuguese hostess is to insist. I committed another faux pas soon after that, when other friends invited me to hightea. That sounded promising! Tea arrived with scones, boiled eggs, salad and biscuits. My hosts kept offering more and I accepted. 28 The Linguist APRIL/MAY After a while I said, quite innocently: 'They are delicious, but I had better leave some space for the next dish.' My hosts looked embarrassed and I realised it was time to take my leave. Kind heart and good intentions may differ from culture to culture. During a summer holiday from university, I went to meet my daddy, who was then in the Middle East. That was another culture I thought I understood fairly well, as I had been reading about Islamic history and its traditions. I received quite a few invitations from the generous and hospitable people of that country. One such invitation was to the wedding of one Mir's daughter. We arrived a few days before the wedding. Since they were all busy with the wedding preparations, I walked around the compound area. A young goat walked up to me and I stroked him. Over the following days, he would come running as soon as he saw me and I would hug him. On the wedding day, in the early hours, I went to see my lovely golden goat and was horrified to see him being killed. At the wedding party in the evening, I couldn't eat the meat. My European sensibilities would not allow it. On the other hand, I had offended my kind hosts, an error which weighs on my conscience to this day. Maria F Allen FCIL A big thank you to Karen Rückert for daring to open up the debate about the validity in all circumstances of the native speaker principle ('A New Rule of Law?', TL52,1). For most of us working in the UK, this long-established principle is sacrosanct. Both translation agencies and translators abide by it. Indeed, the most dreaded criticism from a client is 'This clearly was not done by a native speaker', which is only slightly less damning than 'This must have been done by Google Translate.' The question 'whether the native speaker principle is essential for a perfect translation' is perhaps misleading. With the sole exception of the literary realm, it makes much more sense to aim for an adequate or useful translation, or, as we like to put it, one that fulfils client expectations. If the client is happy s/he is not going to inquire about the mother tongue of the translator. In a very real sense, therefore, it doesn't matter, as long as the translation fulfils its purpose. In Germany and the Scandinavian countries many translators work in both directions, even if the outcome is often less than 'perfect'. With highly specialised texts it is, as Ms Rückert says, much more important that the translation is accurate and uses the correct jargon. I agree that a lawyer who is not a native speaker might produce a more useful/ meaningful translation than a native-speaker translator who is an amateur in legal matters. Of course, there are plenty of situations where a native speaker is called for. Texts that are intended for publication or for communicating with end-users, employees or customers – where style, register and tone are essential – need a native. In fact, any text that is for more than purely informational or private purposes should have a native-speaker reviewer/editor to polish it and change any clumsy phrases – ie, to make it read like a well-written text rather than a translation. Overall, we should be a little more tolerant and less defensive. As Ms Rückert says, the native language of the translator is not directly linked to adequacy. Put more bluntly: You don't have to be a non-native to screw up a translation. Or, more positively: Even a nonnative (with a little help from a good editor) may produce a perfectly adequate translation. Isabelle Weiss MCIL

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