Paul Kussmaul. Becoming a competent translator in a B.A. course. 1. Introduction

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1 Paul Kussmaul Becoming a competent translator in a B.A. course 1. Introduction Becoming a translator involves a process, and processes can be divided into stages. Stages play a central role in teaching and learning, and this paper can be seen as a contribution to the teaching and learning of translation. The stages to be described here represent a gradation from simple forms of awareness to more sophisticated ones. Since lexical items are usually the most common source of problems for translators, the aim at the first (naïve) stage is to develop an awareness for the differences between the lexical items of two language systems. The aim at the second (intermediate) stage can, for our present purposes, be defined as an enhanced awareness of the semantic complexities of lexical items, such as slight differences in the meanings of synonyms. At the third (expert) stage more far-reaching considerations come into play. At this stage textual items are seen to form a web of relationships. A text is regarded as a communicative event in a specific situation within a culture, and it is this communicative event that can form a framework for the decisions translators have to make. These decisions, it will be seen, take place on the word, the syntax and the speech-act level. I propose that going-to-be translators acquire a metalinguistic competence. It will improve their professional behaviour. It will help them find translations, discuss problems with colleagues and argue convincingly with their clients. Now, I could be straightforward and list the theoretical models that I find are valuable in a B.A. course. But just listing things is boring, and I shall therefore base my list on examples. The examples I am using are not taken from students translations but from translations of professionals in social survey translation. The point I want to make by this is that teachers of translation do not live in an ivory tower but regularly or at least occasionally go to the market place. 2. The naïve stage A widespread view held by the general public and many translators is that an engineer, lawyer, businessman, or sociologist with a reasonable knowledge of a foreign language and the help of a bilingual dictionary will be able to translate adequately. This view usually goes hand in hand with the notion that there are one-to-one correspondences between the words of two languages as seems borne out by apparently simple sentences such as 1) My brother is 18 years old. A German translation would be 1a) Mein Bruder ist 18 Jahre alt. Notions of one-to-one correspondences can produce strange and sometimes funny translation effects. A friend of mine found the following text in the changing cubicle of the public swimming baths in St. Johann in Tyrol:

2 2 Figure 1 Zum Öffnen der Türen BANK ANHEBEN * * You are kindly request to lift the bank for opening the doors Encouraged perhaps by the similarity of the words, the translator obviously thought that English bank corresponds to German Bank. Indeed, one of the meanings of the German Bank is a business that keeps and lends money and provides other financial services, but the other meaning, the one used in this text, is a long seat for two or more people. This should, of course, have been translated with bench. What we have here, is a typical case of false friends. The translation has further weaknesses and mistakes related to grammar and text type, which I am not dealing with at the moment. The person who translated the sign was perhaps not a professional translator. But with professionals, too, we can find these kinds of mistakes. In a social survey on national identity people were asked about their attitude toward the following statement: 2a) [Country s] television should give preference to [country s] films and programmes. The German translation ran: 2b) Das Fernsehen sollte mehr deutsche Filme und Programme zeigen. Here again the translator did not recognise a false friend. English programme refers to such things as news, current affairs or thrillers and should have been translated by Sendungen. German Programm would be channel in English. Thus one of the first things a translator should keep in mind is that similar forms may have different meanings, and that words, as in the case of bank, frequently have more than one meaning. Linguists talk of homonymy or polysemy when describing this phenomenon. One of the insights at this stage should be that the linguistic systems (here the lexical systems) of two languages are different. 3. The intermediate stage At a more advanced stage, translators are aware of the fact that there are no one-to-one correspondences. But this can lead to new kinds of problems. They are often faced with a large number of possible equivalents and find it difficult to choose. A questionnaire about social networks and support systems (ISSP 2000) has the following item: 3) Now, suppose you needed to borrow a large sum of money. Who would you turn to first for help? (Underlining in the original.)

3 3 For a large sum of money quite a number of translations suggest themselves in German. (I add tentative English translations in brackets): eine beachtliche Geldsumme (a remarkable sum of money) eine beträchtliche Geldsumme (a considerable sum of money) eine hohe Geldsumme (a high sum of money) eine große Geldsumme (a large sum of money) eine größere Geldsumme (a larger sum of money) ziemlich viel Geld (quite a bit of money. The German phrase does not sound colloquial though) sehr viel Geld (a great deal of money. Here again the German phrase is not colloquial.) viel Geld (a lot of money. The German phrase is not colloquial.) eine Menge Geld (lots of money. The German phrase is colloquial.) Large sum is, of course, not polysemous. But it seems that the translation variants are not quite synonymous either. There seem to be slight differences in meaning, and the translator s job is to recognise the differences and make a choice. First of all, there are slight differences between the adjectives referring to the amount of money, which I have tried to indicate by the English translations. Do these differences matter for the question? For instance, is there a difference between the variants as to the amount of money? Is beachtlich the same as groß, and is größer more or is it less than groß? Furthermore, sehr viel Geld is certainly more money than viel Geld. But then, is viel Geld more money or less than ziemlich viel Geld? Moreover, the German variants differ stylistically. Eine Menge is more colloquial than beachtlich or beträchtlich. And Geldsumme sounds more formal than just saying Geld. Can we answer these questions using an intuitive knowledge of German? Do we have to resort to dictionaries? Or do we have to ask a representative group of native speakers of German? Such questions and feelings of doubt are a sign that a translator is reflecting on language and recognizes problems. Problem recognition protects us to some extent from making real blunders and is the prerequisite to finding solutions. These kinds of intuitively felt problems can be clarified by making use of metalinguistic concepts such as referential and stylistic meaning. But do these concepts help translators make decisions? Here more far-reaching aspects come into play. 4. The competence stage It is our aim in training students that they learn to put their problem solving and decision making on a firm methodological footing; that they make use of translatology and linguistics. Translatology helps them become aware of their position in the act of bilingual communication, and linguistics provides the detailed procedural knowledge for their problem solving. The translator s position can be illustrated by figure 2.

4 4 source culture source text translator target culture target text Figure 2: The translator as intercultural communicator Figure 2 presents a web of relationships which I shall discuss shortly on the basis of a number of examples. I begin with a brief outline of what has been termed the functional approach in translatology (cf. Kussmaul 1995:64f.). Translators act (work) in two cultures and in this sense are part both of the source and the target culture. A translator is aware of the fact that texts are embedded in their respective cultures where they serve a particular purpose (or a number of purposes). It is within the target culture that the general purpose of the translation can be established, and the general purpose provides the overall frame of reference for the decisions the translator has to make on the various linguistic levels. Each word, sentence or speech act has a particular function serving the general purpose of the text. The general purpose of the target text may be different from that in the source culture; for social surveys as in our examples, however, the purpose normally remains the same. Still, individual words of the source text may have to be adapted to the target culture for a given purpose to be achieved. 4.1 The meaning of words As we saw at the outset, the word brother in example (1) can easily be translated into German; sister would not be a problem in this context either. The combination brothers and sisters, however, can pose a problem in translating the following survey question (ISSP 2001). 4) How many adult brothers and/or sisters we mean brothers or sisters who are age 18 and older do you have? adult brother(s) and sister(s) The German version of the question was: 4a) Wieviele erwachsene Geschwister haben Sie das heißt, Brüder oder Schwestern, die 18 Jahre oder älter sind? In German there is a generic term for brothers and sisters (Geschwister) used in everyday contexts in a way siblings is not in English. Since the question is about the number of siblings and about their being adult there is no reason to use the specific terms corresponding to brothers and sisters (Brüder oder Schwestern) for either the first mention of brothers and sisters in the sentence or the second mention. In fact, if we use Geschwister to begin, it sounds

5 5 rather odd to continue with the specific Brüder oder Schwestern, because the effect is as if the reader had to be told that the meaning of Geschwister is Brüder oder Schwestern. 1 It would be more idiomatic to translate the question as 4b) Wieviele erwachsene Geschwister (d. h. 18 Jahre oder älter) haben Sie? (How many adult Geschwister (that is 18 or older) do you have?) In addition, the age of maturity is, of course, culture specific. In Germany it is now the same as in Britain, but before the mid-seventies it was 21 years. Then one would have had to adapt the number of years. The next question in the survey ran: 5) Of your adult brothers and sisters, with whom do you have the most contact? With a brother With a sister Here it will not do to translate Geschwister; the translation needs to be more specific, because only one person, either a brother or a sister, is referred to. The question was translated as: 5a) Mit welchem Geschwisterteil haben Sie den meisten Kontakt? (With which Geschwisterteil do you have the most contact?) Semantically, the translation is precise, but stylistically it may be inappropriate, depending on the formality of the questionnaire. Geschwisterteil sounds very formal, very much like sibling in English. In order to choose, one has to decide what kind of relationship there should be between the person who asks the questions and the one who answers them. Should the questionnaire sound distant or more intimate? In some languages it would be essential to decide on the status of the participants too. Is the goal to express a higher-to-lower, a lower-to-higher or an equal-to-equal relationship? In German, to sound less distant, one could choose brother or sister rather than the formal Geschwisterteil. 5b) Haben Sie mit einem Bruder oder einer Schwester am meisten Kontakt? What is involved here is the degree of precision (cf. Hönig/Kußmaul 1982:58 64) in the rendering of meaning. Meaning itself can be either referential (i.e. referring to semantic concepts such as specific family members; for an application to translation see Kußmaul 1995:85-103) or stylistic (i.e. implying a situation, cf. Crystal & Davy 1969:passim, applied to translation Kussmaul 1995:55 60 and Kußmaul 1998). Referential precision is dependent on the function of a word within its context, and stylistic precision as used here is dependent on the situation in which the communication takes place. Adopting this functional perspective on translation allows us now to decide on the variants for the translation of a large sum of money in example 3. 1 The effect would be the same in English with the one difference that some might indeed need siblings to be explained. How many adult siblings do you have, that is, brothers or sisters who are 18 years or older. The actual English question is an example of what I have dubbed survey-speak. The unnatural repetition of elements in the hope of greater clarity is one of the characteristics of survey-speak.

6 6 The purpose (or function) of the question within the overall framework of the questionnaire is to discover whom one would turn to for support. We may say that the function of the phrase was to suggest a prototypical scene about borrowing money (see Fillmore 1977 for basics of prototypical semantics: and for an application to translation see Kussmaul 1995:13 15, 35 36, 94 97, Kußmaul 2000: , Hönig 1995: ). Now, the prototypical amount of money involved in a support scene is not just a few pounds, dollars or Euros but a larger sum, maybe several hundred Euro. Once we talk about borrowing in this kind of context, from the point of view of referential meaning it does not really matter which of the variants we choose because the scene implies that a relatively large amount of money is meant. In fact, it could be precise enough to say: 3b) Angenommen, Sie müssten Geld leihen. (Let s suppose you needed to borrow a sum of money) Seen from this point of view, the source question could even have been formulated as 3a) Now, suppose you needed to borrow money. Who would you turn to first for help? The other translation variants listed earlier are all stylistically distinct from one another. For instance, eine beträchtliche Geldsumme is more formal, i.e. implies a more distant authorreader relationship than the colloquial eine Menge Geld which implies greater familiarity. The individual functional steps to be taken in order to find a translation may be illustrated by the following figure which can be seen as a further specification of figure 2: culture situation text and topic passage word Figure 3 Here again, what translators working in a functionalist framework do with words is determined by the function of the words (here the topic borrowing money ) within a passage within a text that has a specific topic (here the support topic). The text is potentially seen as embedded in a specific situation (here the questionnaire situation) in a specific culture (here

7 7 the German culture). For instance, if the questionnaire had to be translated for a culture where borrowing money was improper, one would have to find another type of equivalent material which could be borrowed, such as perhaps food. 4.2 Syntax Words, as we have seen, mean in context, that is meanings of words must be considered within the preceding and subsequent context. When translating we take care to establish coherence between the various parts of the text. 2 This is true also for syntactic units. Consider the following somewhat problematic example (ISSP 2001). For the English version see examples 6a) and 6c): 6b) Menschen suchen in einem engen Freund / einer engen Freundin nach verschiedenen Eigenschaften und machen Unterschiede darin, wie wichtig diese für sie sind. Bitte kreuzen Sie an, wie wichtig oder nicht wichtig es für Sie ist, dass Ihre engen Freunde die folgenden Eigenschaften haben. Jemand, der intelligent ist und mich zum Denken anregt Jemand, der mir hilft, die Dinge anzupacken Jemand, der mich wirklich versteht Jemand, der unterhaltsam ist There is a flaw in the logical connection here. The qualities listed are dependent on wie wichtig oder nicht wichtig es für Sie ist (how important or not it is for you...) and this subordinate relationship in German is normally expressed by the conjunction dass (that). Thus, as an improved version one might consider: Bitte kreuzen Sie an, wie wichtig oder nicht wichtig es für Sie ist, dass Ihre engen Freunde die folgenden Eigenschaften haben: dass sie intelligent sind und mich zum Denken anregen dass sie mir helfen, die Dinge anzupacken dass sie mich wirklich verstehen dass sie unterhaltsam sind There might have been an interference with the structure of the English source text which ran: 6a) People look for various things in a close friend and can differ on how important or not some things are for them. Please tick a box to say how important or not it is for close friends of yours to be each of the following: Please tick one box on each line a) Someone who is intelligent and makes me think b) Someone who helps me get things done Extremely important Very Fairly Not too Not at all important important important important 2 Coherence is another central notion in translation theory and indeed in text linguistics (cf. Kussmaul 1995:64f.) Coherence can also be achieved by syntactic patterns. (For a more detailed discussion of some syntactical problems cf. Hönig & Kußmaul 1982: )

8 8 c) Someone who really understands me d) Someone who is enjoyable company In the English text the logic is correct. Still, one might consider simplifying the syntax: 6c) Please tick a box on each line to say how important or not it is for close friends of yours a) to be intelligent and make me think b) to help me get things done c) to really understand me d) to be enjoyable company Extremely important Very Fairly Not too Not at all important important important important What becomes apparent in this and in the preceding example is that translations not only reveal translation problems but also source-text problems. When creating surveys one might consider involving expert translators early on and drawing on their linguistic skills, and this may be a good idea for other texts, too, which are produced in more than one language. 4.3 Speech acts In the swimming baths example (figure 1) the translator added you are kindly requested. This is a speech act, in this case a request. The notion of speech act is used in linguistics to refer to the intention a speaker has when making an utterance. Here it is made explicit by a so-called performative verb (request). (For a more detailed description see Kussmaul 1995:61 65.) In our example the speech act is not adequate to the situation. Visitors do not have to be requested to open the door, because they do this in the normal course of events. What they need here is an instruction on how to open the door, and instructions are usually phrased with a simple imperative, as in the translation I suggested above: To open the doors lift the bench. Instructions are frequent in questionnaires, for example: or 7a) Please tick one box each line 7b) Bitte machen Sie in jeder Zeile ein Kreuz 8a) Please tick one box only 8b) Bitte nur ein Kästchen ankreuzen. Translators need to decide which if any of the two variants is most appropriate for the instruction in German, the infinitive construction as in 7): Please tick one box only; Bitte nur ein Kästchen ankreuzen or a construction not matched in English as in 6a): Bitte machen Sie in jeder Zeile ein Kreuz (the imperative + Sie, Please make you a tick...). The infinitive is conventionally used in German instruction leaflets, manuals and cookery books and situationally implies a distant author-reader relationship. The imperative + Sie (you) implies a closer relationship. Thus if the intention is to have the questionnaire sound less formal, as in an interview, using Sie could be more appropriate: Bitte machen Sie in jeder Zeile ein Kreuz! and if

9 9 it is used for or between young people one might consider Bitte mache in jeder Zeile ein Kreuz! Once the decision has been made, all instructions should be phrased in the same way, i.e. the text should be coherent in this respect. 5. Conclusion It is at the third stage, obviously, that translators become fully competent. And one might argue that the problems encountered at the first or second stage cannot be solved unless the strategies of the third stage are applied. Beginner students probably can t be expected to have a large knowledge in linguistics and translatology, and when presenting these fields to them it is perhaps wise not to start with very complex models. One could start with basic semantic models and then gradually carry on to functional ones. All this could, of course, be done in a one-semester course. Still, one may want to deepen this kind of knowledge by additional seminars with topics such as Semantics and comprehension, Testing the functional approach and Text-linguistic approaches. In my teaching, I have presented the functional approach in the Übersetzungspropädeutikum, an introduction into the nature of translating, in the first Semester, and I have done this for many years. Within such a course it is perhaps wise not to start with very complex models. One could start with basic semantic models and then gradually carry on to functional ones. One thing has become clear to me, namely that an introduction even with additional seminars can only be a beginning, and that we have to apply all the theoretical aspects in actual translation classes right through our students course of studies. It is this close connection between theory and practice that I would strongly recommend. I hope to have shown in my examples that practising translators can do with a bit of theory, and if they need it, our students surely do. Bibliography Crystal, David / Davy, Derek (1969): Investigating English Style. London: Longman. Fillmore, Charles J. (1977): Scenes-and-Frames Semantics. In: Linguistic Structures Processing. Ed. Antonio Zampolli. Amsterdam: N. Holland, Hönig, Hans G. (1995): Konstruktives Übersetzen. Tübingen: Stauffenburg. Hönig, Hans G. / Kußmaul, Paul (1982): Strategie der Übersetzung. Tübingen: Narr. (5. Auflage 1999.) Kussmaul (=Kußmaul), Paul (1995): Training the Translator. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins. Kußmaul, Paul (1998): Stilistik. In: Handbuch Translation. Hrsg. Mary Snell-Hornby / Hans Hönig / Paul Kußmaul / Peter A. Schmitt. Tübingen: Stauffenburg, (2. Auflage 1999.) Kußmaul, Paul (2000). Kreatives Übersetzen. Tübingen: Stauffenburg.

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