Revision: a Can of Worms?


When does a revision go too far?

When is a translation not a translation?

Revision is a very thorny subject, as I mentioned in my previous post on the topic. It can generate a lot of bad feeling if you think the changes made to your work were unnecessary and if the reviser’s opinion could mean you lose a client.

But what if the reviser screams “too literal” at every turn and changes the sentences so drastically they not only no longer resemble the original translation, but barely reflect the author’s ideas either?

This recently happened to me. The author had been slightly poetic, conjuring up images in our minds to paint a picture of a place and an event that I actually found quite appealing for once, which is why I kept all her original ideas. Spanish can be horribly flowery sometimes and a lot of fluff does need to be chopped out before presenting texts for an English-speaking audience to digest. But in this case, I got what the author was talking about and thought the words spoke for themselves. They didn’t need altering, they just needed to be couched in English-sounding sentences, a job I thought I had done quite well.

the reviser stomped all over my translation with his hobnail boots

The reviser, however, stomped all over my translation with his hobnail boots and changed every single one of these images. He even changed one from negative to positive, much to my horror, dismay and utter incredulity. The author’s words had been airbrushed to create a far blander scene, paraphrased into trite sentences found all over the Internet. I can only assume this second translator revised the text in a hurry, didn’t refer much to the source, didn’t really understand what the text was talking about due to no research and seriously lacked imagination.

collaboration is key to arriving at a successful outcome and the best possible rendering of the original text

By the time I got the text back, it had been edited almost beyond recognition, some serious errors had been introduced and it had already been published. Because no one thought to ask for my opinion. The end client had obviously decided to trust the reviser implicitly and me not at all. And I think this is generally a huge mistake, as I touched on in my previous post. Collaboration is key to arriving at a successful outcome and the best possible rendering of the original text.

Given that I had kept the author’s metaphors and analogies since I believed they all worked well in English in this case, but the reviser had not and obviously did not, I consider my version to be a faithful translation of the original and the edited version not actually a translation at all. Of course, if that is what the end client wants (not the author in this instance), who I am to argue? But given that this was an article signed by an author, I felt it was important for her voice to be the one heard, that it was not appropriate for either the translator or the reviser to come along and put their own stamp on it and think they know better.

When does a revision go too far? When revisers are overzealous and arrogantly believe their opinion is the only one that counts. When they show a total lack of respect for the author’s and translator’s styles. When they just want to cover a revision with red marks to prove they deserve their fee and ensure the client will come to them next time to do the translation.

I realise this is a can of worms. Other times I’ve had my knuckles rapped by authors because I’ve strayed too far from their original words, because in my attempts to make their text flow better in English, I’ve changed expressions and sentence structure in a way they didn’t appreciate. Which brings me back to the other question I posed at the beginning of this post. “When is a translation not a translation?” is an issue I frequently ponder over while I work. Should I translate what the author has said or should I improve it where I can? And if by improving the text, it is no longer a translation as such, does it really matter as long as the one holding the purse strings is happy?

If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, please see the list of other posts on the Revisions page.

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14 thoughts on “Revision: a Can of Worms?

  1. I’ve been pondering this recently as I’ve just finished a ginormous proofreading job! I realised that I had to stop myself from changing some sentences because they weren’t actually incorrect – they just weren’t the way I’d phrase it (which is wrong of me)! Fortunately, this wasn’t a creative text at all, so there was little room for interpretation. And it was a great translation overall 🙂
    You’re right – sometimes the client will trust the proofreader over the translator, just because they’re the fresh pair of eyes. But the translator tends to study the text much harder and should always be allowed the chance to defend their translation choices. There’s rarely one black-and-white correct answer in translation!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. There are usually many correct ways of translating any one sentence, with some choices obviously better than others. But the main point I want to make is that the translator should be given an opportunity to see the revisions and point out any that make the text worse/don’t work. Revision should be a collaborative process.
      I’m actually not against changes that improve the style/flow of a text, even if they’re not strictly necessary. And I do this especially when I was asked to do the translation but couldn’t due to lack of time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Of course the translation should have the last word, AND the role of the revisor should be to apply their red pen as less as possible. I am both a translator and revisor, and whenever I have to wear the revisor’s cloak, I like to start by thinking the text I am working with is perfect, and I should only change what is objectively wrong. My personal preferences when translating or writing have to be left aside. It is not my translation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s not really feasible, especially if you work for agencies, as many (most these days?) will revise translations as a matter of course. And when you work for direct clients, it’s a good idea to have your work revised as well. If you’re the one paying for the reviser’s services, you get to choose who revises your work. I always find that I learn a lot from revisions (both doing them and being on the receiving end). Revisions are not the problem, it’s how people sometimes go about them that is.


  3. I completely agree with your last comment, Nikki.
    The problems come from the way some clients see the revision step, the way some agencies organize it, the way some revisers behave and the way some translators react when receiving feedback ;-).

    Liked by 1 person

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