Thursday, 14 May 2009

Freaks of the dicts – linguistic confusion all the way!

Equipped in three-volume Polish monolingual dictionary (Słownik Języka Polskiego), a bit outdated, published in the middle 80’s and my beloved English monolingual dictionary (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary), 2006 edition, I set out to track down the words, which “wipe the smile off translators’ faces”. I’ve compiled the list of 11 words or phrases and two “industry supplement” – an analysis of the English versions of the websites of Polish mobile telecom operators and banks.
Disclaimer: I’d like to stipulate that all my ideas below might not be correct, might need amendment or consultation and should be treated as constructive criticism.

1) W RAMACH – an expression overused in Polish these days. Poles love putting everything they can into a “framework” – w ramach projektu, w ramach organizacji, w ramach programu, w ramach funduszy, w ramach tradycji, w ramach działania, w ramach odchudzania, w ramach umowy, w ramach kontraktu, one can enumerate endlessly. In the terms and conditions / terms of use (regulaminy) on the website of my mobile operator the phrase “w ramach” can be find almost in every clause. The Polish dictionary defines it as “ograniczony zakres, zasięg czegoś ustalonego, przyjętego, granice” – this definition (I left out other meaning, e.g. frames of the painting, etc.) which surely does not cover the current use of the phrase “w ramach”, but justifies the phrase that can be found in older dictionaries “within the confines of” – it squares with the definition from Polish dictionary! Current use of the phrase should, in my opinion be translated as “within”, “under”, or “in”, depending on the context – because in some cases compiler used “w ramach” when they had had no better idea of formulating their thoughts…

2) RUCH WAHADŁOWY – referring to the temporary traffic arrangement. There are probably so many translations as many translators tackled the phrase. “Contraflow” doesn’t fully fit, with both its meanings from BrE and AmE. Shuttle run / traffic? Any other ideas?

3) REALIZOWAĆ – just like “w ramach” strays from its dictionary definition. In many cases might be translated into “realise”, but depending on the context words that can be used to render the meaning are: implement (if we refer to the future), execute, carry out (present), accomplish (past), and possibly a few more. Watch out folks, realise in English means also “upłynniać”. My jaw dropped a few weeks ago when I beheld a phase “liquidate the assets” as the translation of “upłynniać aktywa” (realise the assets) – liquidate makes sense, but means something different…

4) AKTUALNY – in many poor (Net) dictionaries still translated as actual (horrific!), depending on the context – present, current, up-to-date, but how should I ask in English “czy to ogłoszenie / oferta, itd. jest nadal aktualne”?

5) OBOWIĄZUJĄCY – most often translated as “in force”, “binding”, these phrases are not out of place, although for mean something slightly different, but why does almost every dictionary omit the word “effective”?

6) GROZIĆ – in a legal language – how to translate “mordercy grozi 25 lat więzieni”? “Twenty five years of imprisonment are threatening the murderer” – sounds more than awkwardly, “The murderer is under threat of twenty five years of imprisonment” denotes something different once again. Maybe transform it into: “murder carries a sentence of twenty five years of imprisonment”? Who’s to dispel my doubts?

7) PGR (abbreviation for “Państwowe Gospodarstwo Rolne”). Why does nobody use the term „collective farm”, but several other phrases, including “state owned farm”, “state land farm”, “state agricultural farm”? The English surely new the crazy ideas of collectivisation in the countries of communist bloc, so they must have come up with their own name for PGRs or could also used original names…

8) PAKIET – confuses translators hired by mobile telecom operators, mostly translated as “bundle”, I’d suggest “package”, or “pack”, “pakiet” is an invention of Polish operators trying to rip-off customers by offering them “bundles of 3700 minutes to Orange and landlines valid for nine days, seventeen hours and eight minutes for only 16,99 zł + VAT, to activate the bundle dial *123*88*11*2#, to check the balance dial *106*5#, bundle can’t be combined with bundles “500,000 messages within Orange”, “free weekends calls (between 1 a.m. and 2 p.m.)” and can not be activated from your top-up benefits. Orange – take a hike!

9) EKSPERTYZA – why do so many dictionaries translate it as “expertise” – the next false friend or am I so poorly educated no to know that “expertise” has another meaning than “proficiency”, “experience”, etc.? I don’t know which of the alternative equiavalents (expert’s report / opinion, evaluation, assessment) is the most appropriate, depends on the context once again I’d say.

10) REWALORYZACJA – the most common translation is “revaluation”, which for me, economist, stands for “ponowna wycena”, so shouldn’t the phrase “coroczna rewaloryzacja emerytur” be translated as “annual pension increment”?

11) AGD (abbreviation for “Artykuły Gospodarstwa Domowego”), dictionaries don’t include the phrase “white goods”, it seems to be more suitable than “household appliances / commodities (!)) – I don’t know, I got lost in the maze I had built with my own hands…

Undoubtedly languages permanently evolve, their users continually create new expressions, change meanings of the words, apply them in new contexts, etc. Dictionaries should keep up with this evolution, that evolution requires constant upgrades, revisions, adjustments.

People often poke fun at the infamous Great Dictionary by professor Jan Stanisławski, infamous for its literal translations of collocations and lack of upgrade. I’ve never seen it on my own, but my most knowledgeable English teacher would say: “On no account should you buy Stanisławski’s dictionary, unless you have some money to throw around”…

Is there any recommendable PL->EN dictionary at all? The ideal one should be compiled by the clued-up natives, whereas editorial teams of the dictionaries published hitherto consisted mostly of Poles, a Pole has always been a chief editor…

To my bewilderment I discovered that out of 4 Polish mobile operators only one has a well-developed English version of its website. Play doesn’t have any, Orange has some information for visitors who use its network as a roaming one, Plus provides extract of its website’s content. Only PTC got it right (partly). The English version of Heyah website is impressing, but the section “for visitors” of Era website has let me down – are the strange phrases like “fixed line” (landline), “promotion” (bargain, special offers, perks – false friend), “recharges” (top-ups).

In case of banks I noticed that translators were probably attempting to convert the content word for word. The English versions were perhaps prepared by either linguists with little notion of banking, or by bankers over-relying on dictionaries.

My piece of advice for the ones translating specialised text – your task is much easier than twenty years ago – in the era of Internet the best and most simple way to get the English equivalent of specialised terms is to refer to the websites of enterprises operating in the same industry. If I were to translate (I almost certainly never will – maybe it’s even better – I’m just an economist!) the website of a mobile operator or a bank the first thing I’d do would be studying thoroughly the web pages of as many mobile telecom operators or banks from English-speaking countries as possible.
The next my piece of advice would be to avoid intricate translations. We, Poles, by using too many words, building complex sentences, are trying to prove our wisdom – the more convoluted the text is, the more educated the reader is. The most eye-popping it is in academic textbook, which are generally full of “viel gesprochen, nichts gesagt” (literally – spoken a lot, but nothing said), as the German say – in case of books authors write a lot, but from my experience I can say that the content of 600 pages long wordy book could be fit into 200 pages long, concise book. But academic workers are verbose, or just the publisher pay them depending on the number of pages they’ve produced…

The conclusion “too few natives around” seems to be painfully true. With our rehearsed English we (Poles) will never match up to them.

To conclude, there are too few people who can eat the humble pie. If I’m wrong – challenge me, I’ll concede my mistake…


Michael Dembinski said...

An excellent post. As a native who, among other things does the odd bit of translation, you hit the nail on the head. Unless you've had many years exposure to the rhythms, idioms and peculiarities of a language, you cannot hope to translate from source to target without sounding stilted. Ruch wachadłowy is indeed contraflow, AGD is white goods or household appliances. Rewaloryzacja in the context of pensions is indexation (ie raising the value of the pension to take inflation into account).

I could go on for hours on this subject, but I won't - I will, however, give you a link to an excellent blog on the subject of PL->EN translation:

Bartek Usniacki said...
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Michael Dembinski said...

Two other favourites of mine - test of a good translator:


Na przełomie (maja i czerwca)

Translate those into English and remain fashionable!

Bartek Usniacki said...
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Michael Dembinski said...

The secret of these phrases? That there's more than one secret. Kilkanaście is more than several but fewer than many. "Ten or more" is one alternative. Na przełomie can be 'at the turn of the 19th century (for example), although in the English the context makes it clear whether we're talking 18th/19th or 19th/20th centuries.

bumelant = slacker, someone who bunks off work, idler.

przydupas = arse-licker, brown-nose, crawler.

gruchot etc, = banger, jalopy, heap

dziadowstwo You got me there! Your suggestion for this excellent Polish insult?

Michael Dembinski said...

I'm 'head of policy' - try translating that! (głowa politiki?) Job titles tend not to translate - yesterday I met a podinspektor in Warsaw City Hall - underinspector?? Polish job nomenclature borrows from the German, entirely different from the English speaking world.

My Micra, I will have people know, has just had 2,200 zlotys worth of bodywork done to it and looks like it drove out of the showroom 16 years ago and still delivers 41 mpg around town.

Bartek Usniacki said...
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Michael Dembinski said...

Dziadowstwo - PWN Oxford has 'rubbish, junk, povery, trash'. None is right. Dziadowstwo comes from Dziad, grandfather,but with a set of pejorative meanings which PWN Oxford gives as 'gaffer' (GB) 'old coot' (never heard that one!); beggar, panhandler, creep, jerk.

English does not have a sufficiently insulting term for old person as does Polish, suggesting a greater reverence for age. In Poland, with its historical lack of inherited wealth, old = poor, hence a dziad is poor, squalid, tight with money, rubbishy, etc, by virtue of his age.

To make up for the linguistic 'white hole' in English, we've anglicised the word as 'Jad' - as in 'what a complete and utter jad'.

And therefore dziadostwo is 'jaddery'.

Within 30 years, it will be a common word in English as a new generation of UK-born Poles start anglicising Polish words (unlike their parents who polonise English words).

Bartek Usniacki said...
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Michael Dembinski said...

PWN Oxford is what I use (plus Getionary). Stanisławski has "passed on to the junk room" (przeszedł do lamusu). Before buying, check all the pages are there. My wife bought our copy not noticing that the last 32 page section is missing (nothing beyond zwalisko, or beginning with Ż or Ź).

One thing that's often lost in translation is humour. Over-literal translation for a humorous effect is commonly used in our house (and indeed among the bilinguals at the Chamber). Examples:

"About what is it walking?" (O co chodzi?)

"Thank you from the mountain" (dziękuję z góry)

Bartek Usniacki said...
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pinolona said...

uhhhhh... ok, here goes: (bear in mind I'm not all that experienced with Polish)
AGD, yep, white goods is right, but you can also say domestic or household appliances (and it's actually less confusing for a lot of anglophones, including me until I started renting)
a 'pakiet' is indeed a bundle in the telecommunications sense. You get a text bundle (but incidentally a data bolt-on - for PAYG mobile internet access).
PGR - in my GCSE history class we learnt about collective farms so you're right here. However, as a translator you might have to specify (for readers/listeners not familiar with Polish history) that the farm is state-owned because a kibbutz for example is also a collective farm.
'Grozić' - those found guilty of murder are liable to a 25 year sentence? There's a 25-year sentence hanging over him (informal, descriptive)?
obowiązujący - my dictionary has 'effective' (and it's a pretty crap dictionary). When translating I normally use the regulations currently in force/applicable in the Member State or whatever.
Aktualnie and realizować - these are French, not English borrowings and I think that's where the confusion comes in when translating into English. From French I would say 'current' for actuelle and produce/create/bring about/carry out/perform for 'realiser'. I suspect this has too much of an influence on my understanding of the Polish versions though.
I don't know anything about traffic or finance!!
For 'w ramach' I reckon 'in the framework of' normally only applies to regulatory texts so I'd say under, within, in the context of. Again it sounds distinctly Gallic to me :)

Bartek Usniacki said...
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pinolona said...

theory?!! I never studied any translation theory. No point it reading about it: translation (and indeed interpreting) are better explained through practical examples. Not a big fan of theory I'm afraid :)

Bartek Usniacki said...
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Andrew Nathan said...

"Ruch wahadlowy' - one lane with "alternating traffic flow".
"Contraflow" refers to traffic being directed against the usual direction on a lane. It's common on UK dual carriageways, where one side of the road is closed for repairs or due to an accident and both directions share the remaining lanes.