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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