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!

Question and answer (June 2023)

This month, I am discussing another translation example taken from Michael Elliott’s article “Shifting On Its Pivot” (Time.com, 18 June 2009), which deals with several historically important events that took place at the beginning of June 1989. One aspect arising from these events is the burgeoning Islamist terrorism: “With the benefit of hindsight, it was worth asking: What will those fighters do now? The answer would come soon enough, as radical Islam spilt out of its heartland and took the shape of international terrorism.”

In German: “Im Nachhinein, war es die Frage wert: Was werden diese Kämpfer nun tun? Die Antwort kam früh genug, als der radikale Islam aus dem Landesinneren ausströmte und die Gestalt eines internationalen Terrorismus annahm.” There are more mistakes in this translation than just the misplaced first comma.

The expression “war es die Frage wert” does not make sense in the context in which it occurs – not primarily because of the choice of words, but rather because of the inappropriate mood: instead of the indicative, the subjunctive is called for, since here we are dealing with an alternative consideration for the past. Similarly, the main clause “Die Antwort kam früh genug” makes little sense. It is true, “früh genug” like its English equivalent “soon enough” can have several different meanings: (1) in a positive context, it can mean “in time” (something happens soon enough for something else to happen); (2) “in due course” or “when the time is ripe” (something happens soon enough so that there is no use in thinking about it now or waiting for it to happen); (3) in a negative context, “earlier than expected” or “sooner than you think” (something is going to happen soon enough, i.e., someone will have a negative experience sooner than they would like to). The respective meaning arises in the context. Yet, while the third meaning suggests itself in the English expression, the German translation fails to convey a clear meaning. Compare, for example, a slightly modified translation: Die Antwort bekam die Welt früh genug zu spüren. Finally, there is the rendering of “heartland” by “Landesinnere”. Even given the definition of the English term in the Concise Oxford English Dictionary as “the central and most important part of an area”, “heartland” does not refer to the central part of a country because the preceding possessive pronoun “its” refers to “Islam”.

The problems discussed above can be resolved, for example, with the following translation: Im Nachhinein hätte man sich die Frage stellen sollen: Was werden diese Kämpfer nun tun? Die Antwort folgte auf dem Fuße, als der radikale Islam sich über sein Kernland hinaus verbreitete und die Gestalt eines internationalen Terrorismus annahm.