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!

Time references (September 2023)

Time references can occur at different places in a sentence – often without changing the meaning. English is much more flexible in this respect than German: while an English time reference can occur at the beginning of a sentence as well as in the middle and at the end, a German time reference usually goes at the beginning or in the middle of a sentence. Thus, anyone translating from English into German will place a time reference that, in the source language, occurs at the end of a sentence either at the beginning or in the middle of the sentence in the target language. The following example shows that in some cases the choice between the middle and the beginning of a sentence is not arbitrary.

In “Project Green: The Race for Survival” (Newsweek.com, 31 May 2008), Jerry Adler writes about young polar bears: “The one-year survival rate for new cubs has dropped to 40 or 45 percent from 60 to 65 percent two decades ago [...].”

In the translation, the time reference was put at the beginning of the sentence: “Vor zwanzig Jahren fiel die Rate der Eisbärenjungen, die ihr erstes Lebensjahr überlebten, von 60 bis 65 Prozent auf 40 bis 45 Prozent.”

This shift of the time reference, however, also changes the meaning of the sentence: all of a sudden we have a survival rate of 40 to 45 percent already around 1988, which at that time had rapidly declined – that is, from 60 to 65 percent in an unspecified period before 1988. In the English original, the survival rate in 2008 is only 40 to 45 percent, whereas twenty years earlier it was still 60 to 65 percent.

Repositioning the time specification such that it can refer to the 60 to 65 percent solves the problem: Die Rate der Eisbärenjungen, die ihr erstes Lebensjahr überlebten, fiel von 60 bis 65 Prozent vor zwanzig Jahren auf nunmehr 40 bis 45 Prozent.