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Hristo Boev


Q: How can I judge the quality of ALT's translations if I don't know the languages being translated?

A: Well, trust does play a big role when working with a translation vendor, but it helps when steps are taken to guarantee quality every time. For example, ALT only works with translators who translate into their native language. This ensures that the resulting translation reads naturally in the target language. The draft translation is then edited by a native-speaker editor whose job it is to confirm that the translation is complete, accurate, uses appropriate style and does not contain grammatical or typographic errors. The translation in its final layout is then proof read by a native-speaker to check the translation in its final form. In addition, ALT chooses your translation team according to their subject matter expertise. This also helps guarantee quality. Last, ALT allows for one cycle of client/in-country review at no extra charge. You can have your overseas reps, partners, or even customers review our translation and suggest changes.

The above excerpt of an advertisement on the internet clearly poses the problems facing anyone translating into a language other than one’s mother tongue.

Translating into one’s second language is tolerated in some parts of the world as the passage below shows:

Stuart Campbell. Translation into the Second Language. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1998


Stuart Campbell's study provides a comprehensive discussion of translation into a second language. The author is primarily concerned with translation as the product of a process of language learning projected onto an interlanguage framework. Therefore, translation skills should be evaluated according to the state of learners' interlanguage in any stage of its development. This study necessarily raises issues concerning the status of translation into second language in comparison with translation into mother tongue, which has always got the lion's share of applied linguistics and translation studies. In fact, the problem of language development has frequently been disregarded, "tacitly assuming the existence of a perfectly bilingual translator".

The primary difficulty when translating a text into a second language is to produce a natural-sounding target text. Therefore translation competence has to do with a special type of second language ability, which corresponds to the learner's stage within the process of language learning. Furthermore, high levels of proficiency in L2 entail good command of stylistic varieties. With his case study the author intends to trace a profile of the "textual component of the translators' second language competence" (p. 60), which includes subtlety in mastering both registers and naturalness. Once he has established the notion of textual competence, Campbell also rejects the traditional way of assessing translation, and, more generally, students' productions in the second language. His central, and in my view very convincing, thesis is that correct evaluation of output in the second language should not be based on deficiencies only (mainly morpho-syntactic mistakes), but on the authentic-looking quality and situational appropriateness of target texts.

The author claims that translation competence consists of different components: target language textual competence, disposition, and monitoring ability. Campbell repeatedly underlines that an essential element in second language competence is textual competence, that is to say awareness of structural elements in relation to genre variation.

A Bulgarian translating into English will have some extra difficulties getting a job as a translator because of the fact that English happens to be not the second language for the translator but his/her foreign language, hence the trust in him/her on part of the public reading in the target language will be greatly diminished.

I have translated a novel into English fully aware of the opinions stated above drawing on the knowledge I have acquired from my work at University and also from my experience as a sworn translator. Some interesting meanings of the verb translate are given below, which accounts for many of the problems translating inherently contains.

Definition: The American Heritage Dictionary: trans·late (trІns-lіt“, trІnz-, trІns“lіt”, trІnz“-) v. trans·lat·ed, trans·lat·ing, trans·lates. --tr. 1. To render in another language. 2.a. To put into simpler terms; explain or interpret. b. To express in different words; paraphrase. 3.a. To change from one form, function, or state to another; convert or transform: translate ideas into reality. b. To express in another medium. 4. To transfer from one place or condition to another. 5. To forward or retransmit (a telegraphic message). 6.a. Ecclesiastical. To transfer (a bishop) to another see. b. Theology. To convey to heaven without death. 7. Physics. To subject (a body) to translation. 8. Biology. To subject (messenger RNA) to translation. 9. Archaic. To enrapture. --intr. 1.a. To make a translation. b. To work as a translator. 2. To admit of translation. 3. To be changed or transformed in effect. Often used with into or to: “Today's low inflation and steady growth in household income translate into more purchasing power” (Thomas G. Exter).

One is used to seeing the name of a native speaker of the target language as the translator of a book. It is always interesting, however, when the opposite happens - when the translator of the book is a native speaker of the source language. I have read some Dostoevsky’s novellas translated into English by Russians and I found the language to be something that could have been used by Somerset Maugham - that is it was correct to a point but lacked the colloquial idiom. There could be other minor problems as well since this isn’t a big problem provided that the personal traits of the characters that distinguish them from one another are given by way of other compensative means.


1. Standardization of dialogue.

Edgar Allan Poe is an American writer one could never distinguish as such if one didn’t know that beforehand. There are many reasons for that - one of them is the fact that he uses standard English to an extent very few other Americans do. Naturally, he does that for a reason and the reason is that the setting of his stories is very rarely defined in terms of location - his characters could be placed anywhere - dialogue is not important with him as it reveals nothing about the characters’ background or social status. This is so because the above mentioned are of no significance in his stories. The stories aim at creating an atmosphere, which Poe achieves with standard adjectives. In the novel I translated dialogue was not important, either since the characters could have been placed anywhere. All I knew was that the setting wasn’t Italy as one of the characters commuted from the location of the novel to Italy to see his relatives there. One could assume that the location of the novel was the USA, but again that is of little importance as origin did not play any role at all in the story. The dialogue, therefore, in Bulgarian was standard and could be easily converted into standard English. What should one do then with, say Shopski dialect in the source language? The important thing here is how Shopski sounds to the speaker of standard Bulgarian. In my opinion we take it as substandard and tend to think low of the people who use it in their everyday talk. The thing is that we are language-conscious to a big extent and are impressed by dialects in a way that makes us judge people’s erudition and learning on basis of that. I remember, for instance, how as a student, I had a female colleague with a very strong soft accent. Obviously she came from Eastern Bulgaria. I admit I was put off by her accent and often caught myself desperately wanting her to speak in English where that accent disappeared.

The question then remains - about how we should deal with an instance of Shopski dialect to be translated into English. What kind of English should we choose? I think that we should seek such an accent that brings about the same or similar reaction on part of the native speaker of English upon hearing it. David Jenkins in “Modern Times Plain and Simple”, a short story by Stratiev demonstrates how this is done - he has used the standard street talk of low-educated English speaking people and as I was reading the story in English I laughed as much as I did when I was reading it in Bulgarian. A dialect in the source language, therefore, does not necessarily have to be converted into a dialect in the target language. Moreover, Shopski is the language of low-educated people in Sofia streets and Sofia is quite representative of Bulgaria. In the novel I translated the characters spoke standard Bulgarian and I even felt forced to make some further differentiation in their social status by making the talk of some of them more colloquial and substandard than it was in the original. Social status wasn’t very important in the novel, but still the importance it carried was worth rendering in a relevant way. The liberties I took in that direction were consistent as I aimed at giving more life to the novel, which was otherwise somewhat stilted:

(quote from the speech of a cop compared to the one of the main character)

- Пълен комплект - избоботи. - Събирал ги е и често ги е препрочитал. Бяха на бюрото в кабинета му. Ето, и бележки си е водил.

- Не съм ги събирал и не съм ги препрочитал - възрази Ник. - Днес ми ги донесоха. Досега не бях чел нито един, запомнете това.

“It’s the full set. Nothing’s missing.” he boomed. “He’s been collectin’ ‘em and readin’ ‘em over. Even been takin’ notes.”

“I’ve been doing nothing of the kind,” Nick objected. “They were brought to me today. I hadn’t read a single article about the killings, not one. Remember that.”

As can be seen from the above excerpt, it is very unlikely that a cop will use the word препрочитал. It is much too long for the practical colloquial speech of policemen especially when they are reporting to one another. In the situation above the cop is reporting to the lieutenant in charge. Aiming at authenticity in the target text one has to make the speech of all characters appropriate to their social status unless it distinguishes them in some way from the same social status. With the example above this is not the case as Randy is just a cop we see featured in all action films possessing all cop characteristics we know.

Standardization of dialogue can be seen in the reverse process as well - when we have a translation from English into Bulgarian where Negro’s talk can be rendered in standard Bulgarian street talk, that is very much the Shopski dialect as I have explained above, which has been imposed upon the Bulgarian literary scene by modern Bulgarian writers like Vezhinov or Stratiev who have written predominantly about Sofia. What I have in mind when saying this is Confederacy of Dunces by Toole, which is translated exceedingly well in Bulgarian. Standardization of dialogue from the aforesaid goes in two directions - first translating dialects in the source language into standard street language in the target and second translating highly substandard talk specific for a region into a less substandard language in the target - again street talk, which is widely understandable as the idea of the translation shouldn’t be obstruction in the understanding of the text. Of course, the conclusions I am drawing here are highly general but as they were formed on basis of particular translation cases I think are highly applicable.


2. Moderation of utterance.

The second part of my presentation deals with a very important problem. It is well known that desemantization of offensive words has not been carried out in our language to the extent this has been done in the American version of the English language for instance. We are more discriminate in using offensive language as it is largely so and words don’t change their meaning depending on the intonation or the situation in which they are used the way they do in English. A translator in Bulgaria should be aware of that. We have seen gruesome literal translations from English into Bulgarian, some of which have already entered the standard Bulgarian expression and which would have meant nothing to anyone some five or six years ago. Here are only a few of them: правя любов, вземам душ, Как ви се харесва? Да отидем да поритаме малко задници. Той е задник.The list could continue. The corresponding phrases in English are: make love, take a shower, How do you like it? Let’s go (and) kick some asses. He’s such an ass/asshole. It has never crossed the minds of the translators of these expressions that the above mentioned ones in English are highly standard street talk expressions and while the first ones puzzled people here as we used to say different things, the offensive ones left people flabbergasted at the thought that Americans could swear at each other so intensively. Again, the same translators have never checked the frequency of the used phrases and have never bothered to elucidate to themselves the fact that the first are examples of the usage verb plus noun/noun in the singular uncharacteristic of the Bulgarian expression while the second are examples of a synecdochical use, which is typical in English, but not in Bulgarian - that is ass and asshole are used as parts for the whole body.

As a result of these literal translations young people in Bulgaria have begun to use the same in their everyday talk without noticing how unnatural they sound. It’s a small price they pay for being modern according to their own understanding of the word.

Moderation of utterance, therefore deals with using entities instead of parts of the body when translating from English into Bulgarian and what’s more, those entities are the semantic correspondents of the parts, again not the literal ones. When translating from Bulgarian into English a Bulgarian translator will be faced with a similar problem - apart from some notions having no correspondents in the English language, there are also examples of dialectic speech that need to be moderated and rendered in the street talk of people in the English speaking countries. It’s good to know in situations like this in which country the book is going to be published and translate into that version of the English language. If that is not clear, then some standard street talk widely used in all English speaking countries will do.

Speaking of lack of correspondence of notions I’ll draw on the novel I translated - in it the main character reminisces memories from his early childhood when his younger sister used to call him батко. There’s no such corresponding vocative in English so I translated this as brother being completely aware of the fact that there can be vast differences in the emotional content of the two. Still what one should do here is use the item closest in meaning in the target language. Such differences arise from the fact that the English and the Bulgarian people differ so much in their background and lifestyle. If the Bulgarian translator feels that he/she has robbed the English reader of something so emotional in the source language, then there is the possibility of slightly increasing the emotional tone somewhere else in the translation to make up for it.

Moderation of utterance, therefore, affects not only dialogues, but also the whole writing in the source.


3. Formalization of Narrative.

Formalization of narrative combines the two stated above as well as taking on a distinct tenor of rendering the text into the target language in order to achieve a distinctive tone for the style or styles employed in the text. In the novel I translated there was a variety of styles - excerpts from newspapers - that is journalese, tales in the future tense, where I had to use a manner of utterance typical for the fairy tales. All these different styles as in my case or style should be present in the target language text to make it a readable unity that leaves the reader with the sense of reading one entity with a distinct style. Here again, the translator should synchronize all parts of the text so that some of them don’t stand out as patches. In other words one should stick to the chosen mode of rendering the source language into the target one and even upon finding some incongruity in the source, smooth it out, except for the cases where that incongruity is meaningful. The resulting text can be even better than the source. As Prof. Shurbanov said while reading his poems in the conference - that may not even be the same text - it may be even better or pretend to be better. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with that. Translation in my opinion, should aim at presenting the source text to the reader in the target language in such a way that the reader in the target language likes the text and wants to read it. If there is something stylistically wrong in the text or inadequately used phrases or words they should be rendered in such a way that the whole text makes much more sense to the reader than it would in the source language. From my experience as a translator I have resorted to this means many times the idea being creating a harmonious meaningful text in the target language.

In conclusion I’d like to say that I have used all the enumerated three means as a way of presenting a novel written in Bulgarian into English. I hope the resulting text is as good as the original and perhaps even better just like Byron is notoriously known to be better in translation than in the original, or as one may like Valerie Petrov’s version of Shakespeare’s sonnets better than Shakespeare’s one, or as Prof. Shurbanov said half in jest yesterday that the translation of one of his poems was better than the original.

The text should have a life of its own in the target language and in as much as it should be close to the source, it should also strive for perfection and even try to achieve the perfection the text in the source couldn’t because of various reasons. Again quoting Mr. Shurbanov yesterday who said that whereas a translator of prose is a slave to the author, a translator of poetry is a poet oneself, I will dare disagree - in the case of translating documents one is bound to be a toiling slave, but as far as a short story or a novel is concerned one should try to do as well as or even better than the author in presenting the source text in a form better understood by the reading public in the target language. In other words, the translator here becomes a co-author oneself as prose itself has a life of its own and it very much depends on the translator if that life will be given or taken.



© Hristo Boev, 2002
© E-publishing LiterNet, 22. 07. 2003
First edition, electronic.

10 Year Anniversary Conference at the University of Plovdiv in 2002.