Translation’s more than just words…


Language has come a long way from the pictographs of 5000 years ago (above), with the development of grammar an integral part. You wouldn’t think much of reading a piece of text littered with grammatical errors, as much as you wouldn’t were it soiled with spelling mistakes, right?

I read somewhere that, back at the turn of the last century, some Bolshevik print workers from St Petersburg refused to carry on with their jobs unless they were paid, not only for each letter they printed, but each punctuation mark, which seems fair…(note to self: do not let a translator hear that, we’ll have all manner of trade unionists on our backs: those printers arguably precipitated the first Russian Revolution!)

My point is that, paid for or not, grammar is as important as anything else, which is why translations should not be edited by anyone other than a trained linguist, despite what your intuitions may tell you.

An example or two:

French colons (of the grammatical rather than physiological variety) require a space before, and after, them. The same goes for question and exclamation marks, and anything other than this could be considered of the same gravity as an incorrect spelling.

So, too, have clients mailed me demanding an explanation for all the << and ¿ (quite rightly) littering their French and Spanish translations.

The moral of the story is to have faith in translators, they do actually know what they’re on about. Most of the time.

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