ATA 56th Annual Conference Session J2
Thursday, Nov 05, 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Session Summary by
As you probably already guessed by the allusion to the famous poem by Robert Frost, Session J-2 dealt with choosing between the possible options when translating from Japanese into English. It was presented by Professor James (Jim) Davis, director of the Technical Japanese Program in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s College of Engineering.
To begin with, Davis broke down translation into two aspects: comprehension and expression. Comprehension is your understanding of the source text, which would include things such as being aware of field-specific uses of words or special contexts. Your comprehension of a source text determines how you generate choices. Expression determines how you choose between the choices that you’ve generated, in an effort to be accurate, consistent, or write something with a natural “feel.”
Davis then walked through no less than fifteen examples of phrases which could be translated in a few different ways. The first example, taken from an article about Turkey trying to purchase air defense systems, presented two translation challenges in which one might choose between a few alternatives.
Let’s look at the first example:
Davis presented three alternatives for放っておけばand three alternatives for the rest of the sentence. For 放っておけばthey are:
“If the situation continues as it is,”
“If steps are not taken,”
“If NATO does nothing,”
Davis’ choice here was the third option. “I prefer an active subject if I can identify one,” he said. It should be noted, however, that the other two options were not labelled as explicitly ‘wrong,’ per se.
Moving on, three alternatives were presented for the second part of the sentence:
“it is possible that secrets related to NATO’s air defense systems will be leaked to China.”
“secrets related to NATO’s air defense systems could flow to China.”
“China could obtain secrets related to NATO’s air defense systems.”
Davis chose the second option here, and walked through his reasoning. The first option is a literal translation, and it was “long and clumsy.” Davis indicated throughout the presentation that he tends to prefer writing shorter sentences in English if he can. The third option reads smoothly, but makes an omission because “could obtain” is technically true, but doesn’t convey what the source text says about information being leaked. The second option was the ‘compromise’ option, and Professor Davis’ choice.
Aside from a couple exceptions, none of the proposed options throughout this presentation were said to be ‘wrong’ or ‘bad.’ Just as it’s possible that both of the roads in Robert Frost’s poem could conceivably lead to the same destination, translation challenges almost always offer more than one acceptable ‘solution.’ But it would have been a cop-out to leave things at a wishy-washy conclusion like that, which is not what happened. Davis explained how to go about choosing options that will best translate the meaning of the source text. “I’m interested in translating meaning,” he said. “I’m not wedded to the words. “When indicating his reasoning behind the choices that he thought were the best, he kept bringing it all back to comprehension and expression, and the various attributes they consist of. What are the connotations of this particular word? Will one choice early on limit the available choices later in the passage? Think about who or what you’re translating—what kind of language would a young hacker use when talking about himself?
In other words, there are a lot of factors to consider when deciding which ‘road’ to go down in your translation. But Davis finished by saying: “Choice isn’t a bad thing, it’s managing choices wisely that matters.” This presentation gave us a brief glimpse into how one of the best of the best in our field makes his own translation choices.
(P.S. I’d like to thank all the members of the JLD for being so welcoming and helpful during my first ATA conference!)