Dr Bittner Business English

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Presenting you the most interesting translation solutions


Why Like-Blog? Now, first of all, this blog is a blog that you should like (and read regularly) – at least, if you are interested in translation. Then, the topic discussed here is one in which the meaningful likeness between a text and its translation in the language pair English-German plays a key role. On this page, I will take a close look at some interesting translation solutions that I have come across in the course of my work as a translator and translation scholar.

A translation solution is only as good as the arguments that support it. This means that any translation criticism, whether positive or negative, needs to be justified. The quality of a translation solution shows only when we compare it to other possible translation solutions in a given translation situation. Therefore, a translation critic should not only say why a translation solution is bad, but also demonstrate what a better solution might look like. I will try to stick to these principles of translation criticism. So if you have any questions regarding my line of argument or if you disagree, please, let me know your opinion by phone at +49 4171 6086525 or by e-mail to bittner@businessenglish-hamburg.de. So much for the introduction. I hope you’ll enjoy reading this blog!

Grammatical ambiguity (November 2019)

You can read a text in different ways: scanning it to get a rough idea of what it is about, skimming it to establish its content in more detail, and perusing it to be able to trace and understand the linguistic nuances of the text. Translators need to be masters of the last reading technique.

The August issue of Business Spotlight includes an article from the Guardian written by Harriet Swain. This is not unusual: articles from the Guardian feature regularly in Business Spotlight. As Business Spotlight is a magazine for German-speaking professionals who wish to improve their business English, all articles come with an English-German vocabulary list prepared by an editor. It highlights important or interesting words and is convenient because the reader doesn’t have to consult a dictionary. This selective translation service is offered particularly for those words or expressions that are used in the text with a meaning different from their most common meaning. Such special translations are marked by an introductory “hier” followed by a colon.

The above-mentioned article deals with the situation of disabled university students and how technology can help improve their learning experience. At the end, Harriet Swain quotes Piers Wilkinson, who is actively campaigning for the cause of disabled students. He points out that virtual reality can be useful when it comes to giving students who are confined to a wheelchair the opportunity to experience certain natural environments:

“It can be incredibly difficult for a disabled student to get a wheelchair on to a salt marsh,” he says. “But if the learning aims are being immersed in an environment, and making discoveries, VR can achieve that.” (Business Spotlight 6/19, p. 64)

Do you get the last sentence of the quote? If your answer is a clear “Yes”, I would ask once more: does what you read really make sense? If again you answer in the affirmative, then you are one of the happy individuals who immediately interpret the grammar of the sentence correctly. Make no mistake, what Piers Wilkinson says is perfectly correct – at least in Harriet Swain’s version as published in the Guardian. Still, there is a problem because, here, an oral quotation is rendered in writing. The text, thus, has to forgo intonation as an important structural marker.

The Business Spotlight editor remarks with regard to “immersed in”: “immerse sth. in sth. ‣ etw. in etw. eintauchen hier: einbetten, verankern”. The reason why the learning aims are now being embedded or rooted (rather than immersed) in an environment is probably based on the assumption that the original meaning of “immerse” seems to be a little out of place in the context. (That “immerse” can actually have these suggested meanings is not really confirmed when we consult a dictionary; but, then, a dictionary is just a graveyard of meaning – as one of my lecturers in Cardiff put it.) While this change of meaning might still work for the first verb form, it fails to do so for the second: how can learning aims make discoveries?

The solution to the problem is: rather than considering the verb form in the if-clause to be the present continuous passive of “immerse” and the present continuous of “make”, the -ing forms are seen as nominalised verbs with “are” as the finite verb of the if-clause. In this way, neither the adventurous interpretation of “immerse” nor the personification of “learning aims” is necessary. Wilkinson talks about two learning aims: being immersed in an environment and making discoveries. In the spoken quotation, a slight pause after “are” is likely to indicate the correct grammatical interpretation. Different punctuation would ensure the correct interpretation also in the written text. “But if the learning aims are: being immersed in an environment, and making discoveries; VR can achieve that.”