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This week, work has consisted of a variety of tiny jobs, $45 here, $35 there, everything in a “post-machine translation editing” format. I haven’t delved deeply into any particular scientific subject. Maybe it's the season, the coronavirus, or even the nature of the translation industry at play. It's definitely a game of patience for me, the freelance translator.
I DID work on two separate projects that, when compared, got me reflecting on the impact of the source on the outcome of literal translation.
The first job involved an informed consent form where literal translation was clearly the name of the game, from conception of the source to end product. The client, when creating the original ICF in French, took the time to choose clear, easy-to-understand words. It wanted to ensure that the potential participant would understand the text, no matter their reading level,* and that the translations in English (perhaps other languages??) would be as literal as possible, leaving only a small margin for generating differences in meaning. This job was a pleasure to translate, as a result.
The other was a back-translation for, what appeared to be, an excerpt from a speech or presentation. The way a back-translation works is that I read the translation (this one was from EN to FR) without the source and I translate it back into English. Afterwards, the agency and client compare the end result to see if the translation introduced any errors in meaning or omitted information.
After performing my translation, I read the source and quickly assessed that it was not meant to be taken literally, word for word. As I said, it was from an oral presentation, and the speaker had used colloquialisms; he/she had taken a very conversational tone. So, my translation, being quite literal as per the job’s instructions, sounded much more formal than the source. More like a scientific article. Luckily, there were, in my opinion, no major deviations apart from the tone. With this type of job, that’s what matters most to the client.
All translators know that literal translations have their place, but are not always necessary. Ultimately, the meaning must be consistent with the source. Aside from that, the client and agency will haggle over subjective differences.
* The client stated that the translation would be for a 12-year-old reading level.