Put your adjectives in the right place!

by James Kirchner

People who are just starting out in translation often have problems breaking free of the exact words and syntax used in the original text they are working on. It takes attention and practice to learn to translate from image to image, idea to idea, or intended effect to intended effect.

And translating the words as you see them can cause some rather unintended meanings.

When you work on larger projects with CAT tools, such as Trados, DejaVu or MemoQ, you get a look at how other translators before you have rendered various segments, and it can be like watching sausage being made, as the saying goes.

One client told me this about this mistake: Materials originally written in English referred to a substance as being in the form of a “blue solid”.  In other words, it was blue, and not liquid and not gas.  However, an inexperienced or perhaps tired translator described the substance in French as being solid blue. The translator was temporarily confused by the difference in French and English adjective placement and simply mistook one for the other.

I worked on a Czech job last week in which the translation memory showed that someone working on the account before me was unaware of the subtleties of English adjective placement.  He or she had written:

Measured levels of acoustic output based on the used engine…

This meant that the measurements were being done on an engine that had been “previously owned”, as car dealers like to say.

However, the sentence in the original Czech made it clear it was a brand new engine.  “Used” in that case was supposed to indicate the engine selected in the vehicle design. The translation should have been this:

Measured levels of acoustic output based on the engine used

Subtleties are everything.

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