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Translation and Text Transfer. An Essay on the Principles of Intercultural Communication

Translation and Text Transfer. An Essay on the Principles of Intercultural Communication

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Published by apym
Revised edition of the book published in 1992. It provides a technical description of translational discourse and its historical settings.
Revised edition of the book published in 1992. It provides a technical description of translational discourse and its historical settings.

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Published by: apym on Dec 19, 2009
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09/24/2015

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Abbreviation and deletion are generally more difficult to justify than expansion
and addition. A trivial reason for this lies in the fact that quantity is commonly the
basis for determining the actual price of translated texts. Whatever the value of
their work, freelance translators tend to be paid so much per line or page. In such
circumstances, any translator who willfully seeks to improve a text by reducing the
initial quantity is simply going to lose money. The economy of this part of the pro-
fession habitually fails to recognize the labor of the file.
There are other reasons as well. Just as no one likes to be excluded from a se-
cret, the more one feels excluded from the implied second person of a text, the
more value one tends to attribute to that text. One of the rarely repeated secrets of
simultaneous interpreting is that, no matter how impenetrable the incoming Y text,
no matter how lost you are, you should try not to leave prolonged silences in the
outgoing TT: as long as the receivers are getting a fairly continuous non-
contradictory text, they will not be too worried about what they are missing. If, on
the other hand, the receivers are confronted by substantial gaps in the interpreting,
they will begin to doubt the value of the translation as a whole and will inevitably
feel frustrated at having missed out on precisely the part that would have most in-
terested them. As much as the interpreter’s silence might have been in the interests
of not conveying any false content, the silence itself is likely to do more damage to
the status of the TT than would a few reasonably informed guesses. For similar
reasons, when in real trouble, interpreters should blame all gaps on technical
faults. The social logic of secrets makes deletion very difficult to justify by any
other means. Overt deletion is likely to promote distrust.
The same is true of written dots, be they across the page, between brackets or
editing a quotation. Surgery scars create doubts about the health of the surviving
body—something must be missing.

QUANTITY SPEAKS

93

That is, since the citizens of democracies believe they have a right to know eve-
rything, it is usually better for undemocratic translators to delete unseen, or not at
all. But does this mean that there is no ideologically valid justification for abbre-
viation and deletion?

As reduction of waste, abbreviation is obviously not as difficult to justify as is
outright deletion. In a world of deadlines, complex bureaucracies and technologi-
cal text production, translators are increasingly called upon to write summaries and
reports, compressing source materials in accordance with the needs and interests of
highly specific receivers. At the same time, this inevitable restriction of the TT
public means that abbreviation often resembles simple deletion in that it provokes
potentially unhealthy phenomena of second-person exclusion.
Sigla and acronyms, to take the most obvious cases, are a cultural bane. Living
in Paris but excluded from the inner mysteries of French culture, I must have writ-
ten “Cedex” on several hundred letters without knowing that it was an acronym I
spent about three years catching an “RER” train without knowing what the letters
stood for.41

Then there are the virtually uncountable euronyms—524 of them are
listed in a 1990 EEC glossary—which separate the European Community from
most of its citizens:

“The European in the street is not thrilled to be told that this week two ICGs start—one that
could turn the ERM into an EMU, another that might bring EPC, and conceivably even WEU,
within the EC.” (The Economist, 15 December, 1990).

Zipf’s law may well allow frequency of use to explain abbreviation, but frequently
restricted use tends to justify no more than esoteric secrets, of dubious social vir-
tue. In translation, which presupposes transfer away from the centers of maximum
frequency, abbreviation must inevitably seek its legitimacy in terms of a second
person who is suitably informed. However, as a personal plea against a world of
opaque officialdom and stratified communication, I would ask that full and trans-
lated versions be given at least once in each TT, usually upon first mention of each
siglum or acronym.

Thus, although abbreviation has a certain economic justification, it should not
always be considered socially desirable.
As for deletion, the arguments are a little more complicated.

41

The Petit Robert has since solved these quotidian mysteries: Cedex = “Courrier d'Entreprise à Distribution Excep-
tionnelle”; RER = “Réseau express régional”, the suburban and regional extension of the Paris underground.

TRANSLATION AND TEXT TRANSFER

94

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