raw output

Above the Spanish translations and other unpurposes

By jacobo, on 2006-11-17 at 14:42, under Translation

The last fashion in certain channel of IRC is disemboweling the Spanish translation of subversion. I refer myself to that is so strange and twisted and full of anglicisms, that it gives laughter.

In an opinion poll improvised, nobody has wanted to recognize that they use Linux in Spanish. I, personally, do not utilize those translations because my refined sensibility excites itself (negatively) at the time of seeing certain barbarities.

To share the pain, especially among the monolingual English speakers who never have seen software translated, I have written this story in Spanish and later I have translated it semiliterally to English utilizing techniques as advanced as the employed in the translation of subversion.

If wishes to rip your eyes out have entered you, I have accomplished my objective.

(It sees itself that I know the English too much well, for that my first sketch was too much correct and I had to revise it various times).


There are 15 comments for this post.

  1. Comment by Javier Candeira, on 2006-11-17 at 15:01 | permalink

    I feel myself offended of that you have decided no to use the title that I suggested to you:


    Also I think that to write so bad is very difficult, and I no know how some translators of software can no realise that they no are writing in nothing that resembles itself to their mother language. To write in this style is very difficult, as you have given yourself account for yourself.

  2. Comment by Stoffe, on 2006-11-17 at 15:35 | permalink

    Swedish translations are too often like that too, not a small part of the fault lies in the fact that a few individuals at a university once formed a group called “datatermgruppen", roughly the “data terms group” (should be “datortermgruppen” for “computer…") which then proceeded to make up a lot of anglicisms and even flat out making shit up from nowhere.

    For some reason these dabblers and amateurs got a reputation of being official and authorities on computer translations… which in turn makes a huge part of Swedish translations unusable and/or laughable. As you can imagine, it’s also well nigh impossible to point this out to people who for no good reason, but solidly, believe that this is correct. A hacker or computer professional can get by, because it’s somewhat understandable language if you know the English counterparts, but normal users don’t stand a chance.

    Rant mode off. :)

  3. Comment by Vorbote, on 2006-11-17 at 18:21 | permalink

    It is incredible the hubris that most of us native Spanish speakers display when it comes to the knowledge of our language, on both sides of the Atlantic; knowledge that most of us evidently don’t have because, first most among those of us with a college brushing are functionally illiterate –just thing of the great majority that barely have a secondary education!– and second, most of us do not speak real Castillian but some dialectal form or corruption of an indigenous language, where indigenous goes from Basque to Quechua and everything in between, that we pretend to make do as real “Spanish".

    Take for example vim’s Spanish i18n files. When I first came across them, they were horrendous. Whoever did that translation evidently speaks worse than a cantaor flamenco after drinking 3 gallons of the cheapest wine you can find in Sevilla harbor’s whorehouses. Not that the present translation is better, I am entirely guilty of that one, and after some incredibly rude comments from Javier Fernández-Sanguino Peña, who in fact approached me with the attitude of “I am a turd of the sacred cow, I am the most powerful Spanish speaker in Debian", and trying to teach me Spanish to me, whose Spanish writing teacher was a correspondent member of the R.A.E… Ludicrous! I decided that first, vim 7’s Spanish translation wasn’t a priority for me and it still isn’t. You are welcome to apply for the job).

  4. Comment by Jacobo, on 2006-11-17 at 18:38 | permalink

    Vorbote, I wasn’t speaking about dialects of Spanish. I was speaking about bad translations. As in full of unnecessary anglicisms, inconsistent, incorrect.

    For example, I can accept that you translate “to access” as “accesar” if you are from Latin America, but I cannot accept that you translate “invalid command” as “comando inválido”, because that’s a disabled commando, not an order which is not valid.

  5. Comment by John Cowan, on 2006-11-18 at 00:22 | permalink

    As an anglophone, it seems to me entirely appropriate that English-language technical prose is translated into rubbish in other languages. After all, it starts out as rubbish.

    Rather than devising new terms for our new concepts, as the other special subjects have done, we computerists have appropriated and repurposed existing ordinary English words – file, open, close, save, edit, cut, paste, copy, move, print (in the sense of “display on the screen") etc. – and given them new senses only vaguely related to the originals; in effect, a bunch of broken metaphors. This gives our conversation a pseudo-familiarity that in my view actually makes it more difficult for the mundanes to understand; instead of speaking in Latin, like the doctors to conceal our meanings, we speak in something that techno-peasants feel they should grasp, but cannot.

    (I owe this insight to one of Primo Levi’s essays; in the same essay, he compares learning about computers without using them to learning how to swim while never having seen water, only having heard vague talk about it.)

  6. Comment by Vorbote, on 2006-11-18 at 00:27 | permalink

    Jacobo, I see your point. Yet, I think you miss mine. Most bad translations are the result of dialectal corruption and barbarisms besides total ignorance of the subject at hand.

    Your example is just the tip of the iceberg, nothing makes me cringe worse than hearing and reading most translations done in Mexico. Mind you, I’m not saying that I reject the way they speak and write. In fact I find it beautiful when read in XX Century literature and quaint in the use of the vernacular in TV dubbings but it is not the same to read the exploits of El Santos than finding the verb “plotear” in a doctoral-level textbook, which I have. (Oh yes, I’m South American).

    What I was trying to convey, while oozing all the bad blood I have about it sorry, is that we cannot expect to find good translations from any language to Spanish (and vice versa) if the translator isn’t literate in both languages and has some basic undertanding of the jargon used in the actual knowledge domain. To be a good translator from English to Spanish you don’t necessarily have to be Juan Ramón Jiménez, but you need to at least be able to read and understand whatever is written in everyday language as in, say, a newspaper plus the jargon used in the area of specialty of the text in question.

  7. Comment by Javier Candeira, on 2006-11-18 at 03:04 | permalink

    As an anglophone, it seems to me entirely appropriate that English-language technical prose is translated into rubbish in other languages. After all, it starts out as rubbish.


    Yours is a very valid point, and Vorbote’s could be too if it weren’t a personal attach on a Debian member on issues completely unrelated to Jacobo’s complaint. Jacobo’s cry of pain didn’t happen because the Spanish in those translations is rubbish, or because high priests of translation projects make arbitrary decisions about terminology.

    The point is that the translator of SVN writes Spanish like a foreigner that is translating with a phrasebook. It simply does not sound like anything a native speaker would utter, ever. It goes beyond mistakes (like Vorlon’s example of a Portuguese translation that took “restart X” and output “") and mere barbarisms. This is, and I quote Jacobo, strange and twisted. The badly chosen metaphors of the original English (if that were true, I am not sure I fully agree with you on that point) have nothing to do with the result.

    For a Gedankenexperimente, we can take some good prose, let’s say the essay by Primo Levi that you reference, and imagine its translation from Italian to English made by an eager Korean schoolkid with a roomful of dictionaries, attention issues and a deadline. The result would be like what Jacobo decries, and on reading it you would not think “this is wrong", or “the original was rubbish", or “bloody arrogant lexicographers, shamans of italian-english dictionaries". To quote Sarah Silverman, your first thought would be “what the cock is this shit?".

  8. Comment by Javier Candeira, on 2006-11-18 at 03:16 | permalink

    Erg, I need to proofread more carefully. I meant to write this:

    (like Vorlon’s example of a Portuguese translation that took “restart X” and output “reboot computer")

    Hope this makes my earlier message clearer.

  9. Comment by John Cowan, on 2006-11-18 at 08:50 | permalink

    Ah, one of those things like English as she is spoke. Much clearer now.

    I once took on the job of tech reviewing a book on XML that had been translated from German, or rather not translated from German, with disastrous results. For example, “muß nicht", which idiomatically means “need not, is not required to” in English, came out literally as “must not". Aaaakkkk!! I sent a huge rant reflecting just a tiny fraction of the errors, and telling them that they had to get the book retranslated by a competent translator (not merely one who knew the subject matter, but one who knew English) or the results would be disastrous. I never heard about it again, nor was I paid my promised 100 euros.

  10. Comment by Javier Candeira, on 2006-11-18 at 13:43 | permalink

    Ah, one of those things like English as she is spoke. Much clearer now.

    Totally as she is spoke. There is an intentionally comical Spanish version of English as she is spoke. It is a series of boosk spearheaded byFrom lost to the river. It is indeed a purported course of English for Spanish speakers in the form of a collection of the most literal and incongruous mistranslations of idioms, I have not read them, but the titles are very illustrative:

    From lost to the river ("de perdidos, al río"): meaning that once you are lost, you might as well brave the waters. In English one would say: “nothing to lose now, let’s push ahead".

    Speaking in silver ("hablando en plata"): “not mincing words".

    Shit yourself, little parrot: ("cágate, lorito"): “eat your heart out” (with so many different subtleties that I could write a whole paper about them).

    Like fish in the water ("como pez en el agua"): this one is understandable by English speakers, just unidiomatic. “He takes to it like a fish to water” would be a fairer translation, or maybe “she is in her element". The first implies adaptation to a new environment, the second is closer to the original nuances of the Spanish.

    What’s funny is that those books are very good teaching books… for learners of Spanish wanting to acquaint themselves better with traditional Spanish idioms and proverbs, and some more modern slang. Still, one shudders at the thought of translators everywhere going through the same motions as and calling it work. The From Lost to the River authors have a very appropiate tagline: “Don’t drink and translate", or rather “if you drink, no you traduce".

    Regarding the “muß nicht” episode, I am reminded of the time I read the first draft of the Spanish version of the Creative Commons licenses. Someone had taken the part where DRM was forbidden, and had made it mandatory by pretty much the same mechanism. But that was just a misunderstanding of English: the translation was otherwise in fine Spanish, and amazingly good in other respects.

    /*SNotD), I guess.

  11. Comment by Vorbote, on 2006-11-18 at 14:04 | permalink

    Vorbote’s could be too if it weren’t a personal attach on a Debian member on issues completely unrelated to Jacobo’s complaint.

    Javier, you come across as thinking that the fact that a Debian’s member derided my work while displaying ignorance about his own native language invalidate my opinions automátically. Do you deny that everyone including you and I have the right and privilege of choosing who we like and who we want to work with and what we want to work in, particularly if we are doing voluntary work?

    I’ve given that example, because it supports and proves Jacobo’s point: Most people doing i18n and l10n translations from English to Spanish (or whatever language as Stoffe has pointed out for the case of Swedish) are doing a half-cooked job at best. And are being arrogant at it.

    John’s example about his review of the XML book proves my point further. It is not enough to know the subject, it is imperative to know both languages, whatever they are. It is entirely possible to do techncal translations that are scientifically accurate and linguistically precise at the same time. I know teachers of mine and colleagues who can – I’d like to believe I can measure up to them doing that kind of work as well – but most of my peers, having PhDs and all, cannot because they simply have not read enough literature in their lives to be able to distinguish between book grammar and live, everyday, idiomatic language. I thing we agree in that, when you say “The point is that the translator of SVN writes Spanish like a foreigner that is translating with a phrasebook.”.

  12. Comment by Jacobo, on 2006-11-18 at 14:20 | permalink

    From my POV, the main problem lies in that the people the most qualified to do the job (of translators) are the ones who need it less, so they are the least motivated.

    Some weeks ago I criticised in my Spanish weblog a fansub of a popular TV series, because the translator had seen an idiomatic expression (“to get high”) and had translated it as “to go to a high position”. It is not but a different instance of the same problem…

  13. Comment by David Glasser, on 2006-11-19 at 15:17 | permalink

    (Sorry if this double posts — I didn’t see it show up the first
    time, but maybe it is moderated.)

    Jacobo, I’m sorry to hear that you’re disappointed with Subversion’s
    Spanish translation. Unfortunately, though I’m a Subversion
    developer, I can’t do anything directly to fix this problem, since I’m
    a lowly Anglophone. It looks like we only have one Spanish translator
    right now, which is a shame — in fact, we generally try to have
    multiple translators per language, to help keep the quality up. If
    the situation is as bad as you describe, I’m sure we’d be happy to
    accept any help you can give. Please do send us patches at
    dev@subversion.tigris.org, or even volunteer to be a new translator!
    Any patch, however small, can be helpful — even if the translation
    is entirely broken, just one or two retranslations here and there is
    useful. More information is at
    http://svn.collab.net/repos/svn/trunk/TRANSLATING. Thanks!

  14. Comment by Jacobo, on 2006-11-19 at 16:10 | permalink

    David, thanks for your comment. There’s currently an effort on the debian-l10n-spanish mailing list to improve the Spanish translation (it was set up just while I was editing the post, as we were commenting on it in an IRC channel). You should receive an improved translation soon :-)

  15. Comment by David Glasser, on 2006-11-19 at 16:12 | permalink

    Great! I love a good rant as much as anyone else, but constructive solutions are even better.

    (In fact, it looks like .es was our first translation, dating from before our multiple-translator policy. Looks like that policy is a good idea…)

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