ADDING UP THE NUMBERS
January 2014 marked a milestone—NCTA’s first webinar! This new chapter in NCTA’s history was kicked off by David Jemielity, Senior English Translator and Head of Translations at Banque Cantonale Vaudoise in Switzerland.
BY SARAH LLEWELLYN
I first came across David Jemielity at the ATA conference in Denver, where he was the Distinguished Speaker for the French Language Division, delivering two terrific presentations on how to make financial translations sound less like… translations. When I asked him last year if he would be willing to adapt his presentations into a webinar for us, I was thrilled when he said yes. His presentation had never been offered as a webinar, so we also had a world first!
David entitled his webinar A Numbers-Based Guide to Where French to English Translators Go Wrong. The reference to “numbers” was important because David had conducted comparisons (frequency studies) between a corpus of native “Anglo” reports and a corpus of translated annual reports, and quantified how frequently the two languages parted ways.
David began by explaining that a given structure or turn of phrase can overlap in the two languages, but that there is a huge stylistic, rather than grammatical, difference in that “middle ground.” So while French and English could say the same thing in the same way, they tend not to. The trick is to recognize the common middle ground and know when, and under what circumstances, to avoid a literal translation.
David then produced a text that had been translated from French into English and invited attendees to guess what word commonly found in French had been unnecessarily carried over in the English translation. Participants could type their answers in a panel on their screens and I, as moderator, read out the results. The word in question was “decided,” which is frequently found in French, such as: Le Group a décidé de freiner l’évolution des charges d’exploitation. You would never come across “The Group decided to hold down operating expenses” in English. Instead, you would just say, “The Group held down…” To prove the point of the overuse of this word in English translations, David showed us a two-column chart, with one column representing the average occurrence of “decided” in an English language report and the other the average occurrence of the same word in a translation. The numbers for the translated report were seven times higher.
David then talked about the use of the first and third persons in Anglo reports versus in translations. Take the chairman’s letter to shareholders, for example. In a French annual report, the chairman would talk about his company almost exclusively in the third person, whereas in an English- language report, the first person would be used. David and his research colleagues took a sample of 60 US and UK annual reports and 20 translations and compared them for use of the first person versus the third person. From the numbers, French to English translations are clearly “egregiously under-using the first person.” (Or over-using the third person, depending on which way you want to look at it!) Of course, departing so radically from the source text can be a bit of a tough sell to clients, but David said we were free to use his data if we needed hard evidence to convince them.
Next David illustrated some very under-used words in English translations such as “deliver.” In a sample of 65 Anglo reports, the word “deliver” appeared an average of 13 times, versus just 3 times in translated reports. Other underused words were “experience/-s/-ed/-ing” and “drive/-s/- ing/drove,” and again he illustrated the numbers with a chart.
He also discussed differing frequencies in different sub-fields of finance, taking an example of a sentence where coût du risque had been literally translated as “cost of risk.” However, as David explained, it would sound more natural if the phrase was recrafted as “new provisioning needs.”
Then there are what he called “over-caffeinated verbs,” found all too often in translations, such as “soared/jumped/skyrocketed” instead of “increased” or “up by.” On this latter point, he said to avoid at all costs the temptation to use positive adjectives and adverbs with numbers, which is routine in French (fortement augmenté de 6.2%, for example) but redundant in English. The numbers have to do the talking, he stressed, otherwise it sounds like you are spinning them.
There were plenty of very interesting questions at the end of the webinar, and although there wasn’t time to answer all of them during the live event, David kindly answered them later by email. Clearly he still has numerous insights to share with French to English translators so we hope to have him back for another webinar soon! SL