FOSDEM 2011

I'm going to FOSDEM, the Free and Open Source Software Developers' European Meeting

Le programme du FOSDEM est en ligne ! Cette année, pas mal de présentations sur l’éthique du logiciel libre et l’attitude des politiques à son égard. Wikileaks et le rachat de Sun sont passés par là…
Une seule présentation sur la l10n : la localisation de Libre Office.

The FOSDEM schedule is live! Apparently no talk about l10n or l20n this year except for this talk on localizing LibreOffice, but a lot of interesting talks on politics and the ethics of free software.

“You’ve just missed a job opportunity”

The young man looked sincerely disappointed as he told me this. We were drinking a pint with other people after having danced our hearts out at the Beiaard bal (a nice opportunity to practise Dutch and learn folk dances at the same time). We had started talking; he was looking for a translator. To his surprise, I, a freelancer, turned down an opportunity to work for him, a direct client.

He wanted a Dutch to English translation. In the biomedical field. For a text he’d written.

He had just obtained his PhD, just to give an idea of his level.

Never have I been so relieved to turn down a job opportunity.

He then complained that previous translations he had got were lousy.

« This is not supposed to happen » I said. « Translators are supposed to be knowledgeable about their field. »

« Yes, but how can you choose a translator when all you have is a phone book and a list of names? » He replied.

« Many translators have websites, where they list their specific skills and language pairs. » I said « And there is a new network called The Research Cooperative designed to bring researchers and translators together. You need a specialised translator, and you might just find the right one here. »

It always surprises me how little people know about translation and freelancing . Informing them offers mutual benefits: first, for you as a translator — even if they are not looking for someone with your skillset you come across as helpful, and they might pass on your name to somebody else — but mostly for them. It helps them select the right LSP.

Glossaries: a Treasure Chest of Words

My favourite TenT tool is cross-platform, straightforward, light, customisable, and I use it every day.

Want to know what it is?

A glossary.

To be more precise, a series of glossaries, divided by field (legal, general, medical…). They open with Notepad on PC or TextEdit on Mac — in both cases, it is the free and basic word editor that is already included in your computer when you buy it. No need to buy a software suite like Microsoft Office or iWork.

I use this format because it is simple, and I believe in simplicity. No need to pull out all the bells and whistles if you can do the job strictly with the strict minimum. It saves time, stress, concentration. This is not to say one never needs to use sophisticated TenTs — especially for complex formatting — but in most cases, one can keep it short and simple.

« So, wouldn’t it just be great if we could spend a couple of hours before a large project either harvesting terminology from existing projects of the same subject matter or quickly creating lists of source terms that are relevant to our project and translating those ahead of time? » Joel Zetsche, The Translator’s Toolkit, 158th edition

This is exactly what I do. Before I start actually translating an assignment, I read it through and take note of every word or expression I will have to look up. Then I research those words and include them in the glossary. I sometimes include a brief comment: context in which the word should be used (for instance, ‘caucus’ may be a political meeting and thus translate as ‘réunion’, among other meanings, but in the field of improv theatre, it is the moment when players briefly talk about how they are going to deal with the improv theme, and it does not translate).

But it does not stop here.

I read a variety of material on my fields of interest and my working fields. Whenever I come across an unfamiliar or new word, I look it up, find its translation/s, then I include it in the glossary. The glossary becomes then both a working tool and a word treasure chest, containing delicious phrases, suggestions for future translations or newly-coined terms. Entries may range from official translations of UN bodies acronyms to everyday expressions like ‘I’m just saying’ (‘Je dis ça, je dis rien’).

I have divided my glossaries by theme and by language. The glossaries are not only for work; I have moved to Belgium (Flanders) at the end of last year and have now opened a little but steadily growing woordenschat — a treasure made of Dutch words.

The famous & infamous ‘you’

A few years ago, when I was in my first years of English studies in college, one of my lecturers was this bright American PhD student. She knew she was bright; she was also beautiful and she happened to be aware of that fact, too. Combine this with her young age, barely a few years older than the rest or even younger in some cases, and you will understand why most people in the class did not like her.

“She’s so pretentious,” students would sniff “and have you noticed the way she speaks, too ? ‘Not your average novel’, ‘your expectations’, ‘you’, ‘you’, ‘you’! As if she were above us.”

Indeed, when this lecturer wanted to refer to something generic, she used ‘you’, as Americans do. Yet to untrained French ears, who were still getting used to having all of their classes delivered in English, ‘you’ was one more mark of arrogance; one more way of setting herself apart from the rest.

Use of the second person is so much less frequent in French that a translator needs to be careful when dealing a source text containing ‘you’. One does not want to risk sounding arrogant or even peremptory: using ‘you’ may feel like the author is giving orders to the reader. Yet is it always so?

Marketing copy can and does use the second person. The reader is directly engaged in the copy’s message and this is a way to hook their attention and to convey the point that the company is truly user-focused. Yet there is a fine line that must not be crossed, here again, between engaging the reader and pushing the goods too aggressively in their face (both copywriters and translators take it into account).

Self-help & personal development texts, if they use the second person, must be especially careful not to sound bossy : nobody wants to sound like a new-age scammer, not even new-age scammers themselves.

As for literary texts, if you find one where the narrator uses ‘you’, it is either a classical novel addressing the reader (as in ‘Reader – I married him’, Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre) or used as an experimental technique (as in Michel Butor’s La modification or the titles of the slightly more mainstream Guillaume Musso).

To decide whether to keep every use of the second person in the target text is thus to analyse the source text to determine if ‘you’ points out to a shared experience (in which case ‘nous’ or ‘on’ for instance, would be used) or if it is really meant to address the reader only.