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Finding Your Style

Finding Your Style

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Published by rdjames
How to find your own writing style as a translator.
How to find your own writing style as a translator.

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Published by: rdjames on Dec 02, 2008
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07/30/2009

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Finding your style
"Keeping your clothes well pressed will keep you from looking har pressed." 
-Coleman CoxThe words people write are very much like the clothes they wear. Youcould say that the major role of clothes is to protect us from theelements. However, if we pause to think of the role they play, we will seethat keeping us warm (or cool) is only one facet. Just as it is importantto put a period at the end of each sentence, it is also important to weara tie to a formal event or a dark suit to a funeral. Likewise, if you aregoing to go swimming you would most likely wear a bathing suit. Inmany cases, the kind of clothes that we according to the occasion andthe way that we wear them can make all the difference.Like it or not, people judge other people based on appearances. A nattysuit at a job interview may not get you the job in and of itself, but it islikely to help rather than hinder you. If you button the top button of your shirt (at least in my country when I was growing up) you wereconsidered to be a nerd. So this might not help a young man on a date,even though the shirt and the young man are nice.Language works very much the same as clothes. There are usually manyways and many words to express your ideas. You may be understood if you use any of the options available to you. However, according to howyou phrase your thoughts and your intended audience, the impressionyou make may greatly vary. I clearly remember a sign on a coffee tableat an employee lounge in an office where I once worked. It said "
Kindly remove your clutter 
". Though I never left any "clutter" behind, I alwaysdisliked the use of that word. To me, it meant that staff were guilty of leaving things piled all over the table and not picking up after ourselves.I would have preferred to have seen something like: "
Please keep thistable clear 
", or even "
Please help us keep this table clean
." The messageof all three signs is more or less the same, and perfectlycomprehendable, but they are "dressed" differently and thereforereceived differently.We as translators are also writers, and as writers we are entitled to ourown style. Open any book and read any paragraph. You will immediatelyrecognize that the author has his or her own way of writing. We canwrite longish sentences broken up with semicolons and connectingwords like therefore, although and however, or we can chop them upinto smaller units that end with a period. We can choose whether we
 
want to use words that are cognates of the source language such asmarvelous for
maravilloso
, or we can decide to use a word such aswonderful instead. Sometimes we will have choices and other times weare constrained. Let us look at some different situations and how theymay be handled.How, then do we arrive at our own personal writing style whentranslating? I see three major elements that come into play: The originalstyle, the circumstantial style, and your own personal style as thetranslator. There must be a happy equilibrium between the three forthere to be a clear, concise and cohesive text.The original style is the most important one. It is the foundation for yourtarget text. Whatever is written in the source language will most likelyhave a similar and corresponding style in the target language. If thesource text is about 18th century Spanish art, you would not do well totranslate it so it would read like an informal conversation with a friend(Assuming that this were possible). If the source text is the script forWest Side Story, you couldn't very well translate it using legal languagefrom Spain or a dialect of Spanish that not everyone is familiar with.(You could, but it would not serve the purpose of what is generallyaccepted.)There is no point in translating a text if the target audience is unable tounderstand what you have translated. You are therefore limited by whatyour target language is capable of expressing and what your targetreaders are capable of understanding. This is what I call thecircumstantial style.Your personal style is the icing on the cake. It can either make or breaka translation. No matter how many dictionaries and software programsyou use to do your translation, you are the ultimate creator of the targettext. Just as everyone has his or her own way of speaking and writing,each translator has his or her own way of sorting out the source textand giving life to his or her translation.Why should you choose your own style? You as a translator are a one of a kind. You need to use your originality to your advantage and show theworld how well you can write and more importantly how well you canconvey the source language author's ideas. For the sake of consistency,it is important to always, or almost always translate a term or phrasethe same way according to context, of course. This is especially true if we are talking about the same document, as a sudden shift of gearswould be disconcerting to the reader.
 
Perhaps you are a busy translator like me and do not have much timefor jotting down strategies. However, whenever you do have a freemoment, write down some examples of your style. What words andphrases are you going to use and what words and phrases do youabsolutely not want to write? I like verbs that are packed with meaning,and I like adjectives that are crisp and concise.I don't like the word collaborate and all of its various forms. I am notsaying that it is not a valid word, but I did not hear it much when I wasgrowing up, and I find it is used too often in Spanish. I would advocatethe use of cooperate, work with, work together with instead. A phrasethat I would never use is: That said, or Having said that. There isnothing wrong with writing them, I suppose, but I have always thoughtthat it is understood that the writer had already said or writtensomething. I don't see a need to emphasize it that way.Why do you speak and write the way you do? The answer to thisquestion is key to defining your style. For speakers, I turn to my favoritehigh school teachers and university professors as well as famous peoplewho are featured in the media. For writers, I turn to great works of fiction, newspapers and magazines (and more recently web pages andblogs). I am also a big sign reader. I feel that if a message is posted ona sign, i.e. telling people either to do or not to do something, it is mostlikely representative of what a translator should write in his or hertranslations.As I said above, it is important to translate terms the same waythroughout a document. More subtly, it is also important to keep thesame style. You don't want to mix formal terms such a great deal withother more informal ones such as a lot. This would be like wearing a suitand tie to the office in the morning and coming back after your lunchhour in a T-shirt! Even within the same register, you have to decidewhether to use will or shall.As I was told long ago (and rightly so) at one of my 9 to 5 jobs, "
Lamemoria es frágil 
" (The memory is fragile). Time permitting, you needto jot down why you used a certain term, style or register for futurereference. Microsoft Word has the comments feature which is perfect forthis. These days, most CAT tools have a note feature that does notinterfere with the target text itself. Then, when you go over pasttranslations, you can use these notes as a reference.As a 21st century translator, you are probably already aware of how fastterminology changes. Do you have a shelf of paper dictionaries that you

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