Clarity in Translation

By Adriana Adarve – Owner of Adarve Translations & Donnamarie Leemann – Head of Marketing at Adarve Translations

Clarity in Translation
Is this clear enough?

Much of Adarve Translations’ business concerns fairly straight-forward translations of technical, legal, medical, insurance and immigration matters. Adriana’s advanced degree in chemistry doesn’t automatically confer comprehension of other scientific disciplines, but her expertise in the scientific method gives her a key to understanding many other fields. Other Adarve Translators have different areas of expertise.

Scientific understanding and technical expertise are only starting points. Each translation is also embedded in the language and culture of the item to be translated, and must be accurately transferred into another culture and language. It sounds easier than it actually is.

Consider the linguistic and cultural problems that confronted journalists and translators in the early 1980’s with the advent of HIV/AIDS. The disease was first known to infect French-speaking Haitians and English- and Spanish-speaking American gays. The condition developed to epidemic proportions in Africa, where it was reported on in English, Afrikaans, Swahili and Xhosa, among many other languages.

In the USA and other First World countries, scientific research went into over-drive to try to find ways to prevent, vaccinate against and/or cure the infection. In Africa, the stigmatization of infected people went into high gear. Media translations of reports as to how the malady was progressing varied wildly, depending upon where they were disseminated.

Translations were problematical because in one place HIV/AIDS was a question of public health and scientific research, while in the other it was considered to be a social problem having to do with sex, which subject was taboo. Never the twain shall meet. But eventually the two totally different perspectives had to come together if anything meaningful was to be achieved. An easy translation is an exchange of words. A tough translation involves the exchange of ideas and differing perspectives. It took a very long time before Africa and “the West” managed to get on the same page.

Further questions and problems arose when First World countries developed and patented anti-viral medications, which were too expensive for Third World people who had contracted HIV/AIDS. Knock-off drugs weren’t hard to make and the international debate about intellectual property rights was off and running in a plethora of different languages.

The question of illegal immigration is also one that requires a lot of translation: in the media, in and between governments, and in private life. In North America, it’s mostly a matter of Spanish-speakers flooding north over the USA’s southern borders into California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Europe and Australia should have it so easy. Illegal immigrants to Australia come from all over Asia and they mostly come, perforce, by boat. The massive movement of people from Africa and West Asia into Europe come by boat, they come over-land, and some even come by air (two young Iranians who went down with Malaysian Flight MH370 were trying to immigrate, illegally, to Germany).

There is no way at all that North America, Europe or Australia can absorb all the would-be immigrants. Many of them are economic migrants seeking to leave abject poverty behind. Others are fleeing famine, war and religious persecution. While we First-Worlders can understand both their motives and their desperation, it is not incumbent upon us to resolve the problems of the countries from which they are fleeing by permitting unregulated immigration.

While the same situations are translated, the resulting translations say very different things. It is hard to believe that Central American officials and American ones are talking about the same subject when immigration is the subject. (As an aside, it is interesting to note that Japan is not an illegal immigrant destination even though it is, in theory, as attractive a destination as other industrialized countries. Japanese society is nearly ethnically pure and has been traditionally regulated for a very long time—to the point of xenophobia. Illegal and ethnically different immigrants are shunned and are not absorbed. While there is no destabilization of Japanese society due to illegal immigration, one must wonder if the on-going stasis of the Japanese economy might have something to do with its lack of societal change and intercultural input.)

Another example is the insurance industry. Climate Change deniers can blather on but the monsoon rains in India this year are less than half of what is needed to ensure a good—or indeed any—harvest. There are record-breaking droughts across the USA, leading to comparisons of the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. Parts of both China and Australia have been hit with a double whammy of both record-breaking droughts and equally record-breaking floods in different areas, leading to massive crop losses in both countries, historic dust-storms in China and bush fires in Australia.

Australia reports its problems while China classifies statistics as state secrets. But in our inter-connected, satellite-surveyed and multi-lingual world secrets can no longer remain secret for long. It no longer matters what language you speak or try to prevent people from speaking. The information is out there, and there are a multitude of translators busily turning that information from one language into another.

Most of Adarve Translations’ clients simply want to sort out medical or insurance claims, resolve immigration debacles, patent questions and other problems of daily life. In order to put these “local” matters into perspective, the translator must be aware of the larger issues and questions.

An able translator must also be able to appreciate the minutia of linguistic differences. Take, for example, the French phrase “Tu me manques,” or “tu manques de moi. A literal translation would be you (tu) me (me) miss (manques), or tu manques de moi:  “you miss me.” In fact, what the phrase means is “I miss you.” Why? I have no idea, that’s just the way it is. An expert translator has to know the way it is.

Come on! Be serious. Which way is south now?
Come on! Be serious. Which way is south now?

Of course, only human beings require translations. For whimsy’s sake, let us take a bird’s eye-view. Northern people are wont to say that “Birds fly south for the winter.” From the bird’s perspective, this is the opposite of the truth. The bird flies south for the summer. Migratory birds never experience winter. They leave the north in the fall and fly into the southern spring. In the southern autumn, they return to the northern spring to breed and raise their young during the northern summer. An expert translator must often take a different perspective in order to arrive at the true meaning of what is to be translated.

To demonstrate to people who only speak one language how easy it is for linguistic confusion to arise, we present the following two examples:

An English woman was filling out (or “filling in” as Brits say) insurance forms pertaining to the baby she was due to deliver in two weeks’ time. She was using a pencil, planning to ink in the answers with her husband when he returned from work. She made a mistake and realized that she didn’t have what she needed to correct the error. The expectant mother went to her American neighbor and asked if he had a rubber. Looking at her distended middle, he said, “Lady, I think you’ve left it too late for that,” because, in American English, a “rubber” is a condom, while in the UK it is an eraser that “rubs out” pencil marks.

Meanwhile, at a Christian Fundamentalist high school in the Bible Belt, a teacher assigned her class to write a paper on euthanasia. About half the class duly turned in papers discussing the ethics of assisted dying. The other students turned in papers that mostly praised the work ethic, technological savvy and use of social media by….  It was at that point that the teacher realized that she should have written the word on the board because half the class had misunderstood her saying “euthanasia;” they thought they heard her say “Youth in Asia.”

The potential for confusion exists even with a single language. It is, incidentally, this potential for the misunderstanding of the spoken word that is one of the main reasons why recorded items to be translated are more expensive than written ones. Recorded items are much easier for the client, but much harder for the translator.

Whether your translation needs be easy or hard, straight-forward or confusing, Adarve Translations can provide you with what you need.

All the best,

Donnamarie Leemann, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, & Adriana Adarve, Asheville, NC

Adriana AdarveDonnamarie

About the Authors:
 Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as multi-cultural. Donnamarie Leemann is an artist and writer who has for many years contributed to the BBC and to many other public forums, and who collaborates at present with Adarve Translations as Head of Marketing.

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Published by Adriana Adarve

I’m Adriana Adarve, a multilingual, plurilingual, multicultural and pluricultural English to Spanish freelance translator. My primary interests—besides my passion for languages—are in science, chemistry, and medicine. That is the reason why I concentrate on medical, scientific and technical translations. I am also passionate about cultural diversity, which means that my translations always take into account my clients’ culture, as well as that of the audience for which the translations are intended.

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