Category Archives: Text grammar

Translation is a function of writing

“What is it that you do, Mario,” asked my coworker, a software trainer with experience in rigging (as in venue rigging for shows, concerts, etc.).

I felt relaxed as I answered him: “My fancy title, localization specialist, means that I’m the company’s Spanish translator for software and documentation.”

We then briefly discussed our last exchange over some rigging terms like drops. In rigging, a drop can be a drop point or the point from where a load is dropped or suspended, or the load itself that is being suspended from a truss or similar structure. The reader may squint at this and say “Aha! You are talking about terminology in translation, not writing.” And the reader may be half right.

Due to the pressure of internet speed we think we have to operate daily, many of us translators and associated professionals assume that the key to a usable and appropriate translation is the use of industry-specific terminology. Let’s try a simple experiment to see if that’s true. The following was extracted from the Spanish Wikipedia article on radio a transistores:

Texas Instruments había demostrado varias radios completamente transistorizadas AM (amplitud modulada) el 25 de mayo de 1954​ pero su performance era muy inferior al de los modelos equivalentes a válvulas.

At a glance, correct terminology is being used in this paragraph but the observant reader will notice several solecisms, aside from the unnecessary anglicism performance. Texas Instrument “demoed” or demonstrated the operation of transistor radios, but the use of demostrar in the above paragraph means it exhibited or showed radios, now how they performed. The second glaring solecism appears at the end, “modelos equivalentes a válvulas,” to mean similar valve-based (radio) models.

A writer of any type of text needs to work from two distinct but related perspectives: the macrostructure and the microstructure. Put it another way, the author writing a handbook or a novel has to keep the larger picture of a chapter in mind while treading on the sentences, paragraphs or dialog bits on a page. A good writer, or translator, keeps the unity of texts, while the mediocre writer or translator segmentizes texts, forgets connectors, commits solecisms and other inexcusable writing failures. Strictly speaking of translation, a translator who is too dependent on the segmentized texts presented to her by CAT and TEnT tools is already failing in the writing task at hand, unless she works with the entire macrostructure: a previewed page or section of text, for instance.

Why this imbalance occurs should be of interest to all of us. In layman’s terms, the text macrostructure is the domain of text grammar and the text microstructure that of sentence grammar. Most of us were taught language and literature via sentence grammar. I contend that this is the main reason we overfocus on terms or single words rather than on the entire text structure spanning sections, pages and chapters.

Translation is a function of writing, and writing is a function of an educated mind.

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Filed under Grammar, Sentence grammar, Terminology, Text grammar, Translation as writing, Vocabulary, Writing skills