Things I learnt from a journo about translating culture-specific terms: (3) Good translations from collective bouncing-off

This is the third on a series of posts on what I took away from the final talk at the METM14 conference (part 1 and part 2).

In his talk, Martin Roberts got down to the nitty-gritty of his job with respect to writing about Spanish things in English, showing us, for instance, some recent translations of the tricky-to-translate term imputados — a culture-specific legal term if ever there was one.

He recognised that journalists may not have always got it right and showed us some bad and better attempts at translating this term in the press.

It was insightful to get his take on this term as it was one I’d tracked in the news and had even written this post about.

While it’s true that journalists did often get the translation of this term wrong, I do remember noticing an improvement over time.

When all the corruption cases started coming out, particularly the high profile one involving the present King’s sister, just about all the news media got it wrong and simply translated imputada as “accused” or “charged”.

But as time went on and new corruption cases came out, and the King’s sister’s case dragged out, more nuanced and descriptive translations appeared in the press. The journalists seemed to be learning off each other and gradually improving their translations of the term in its various forms.

Martin at least partly confirmed this by showing there was obviously an awareness that they were getting something wrong. In this sense, journalism seems more dynamic than translation.

The journalist’s attempts at translating tricky terms are out there for all to see. And while they may not get feedback directly from readers (although I’m sure it happens), other journalists will surely take notice of and improve upon your effort if there is any room for it.

The translation world seems more static in this respect. Translators do help each other with tricky terms, in different places on the Web, but you rarely get to see the final solution in its context, and thus don’t really get a chance to see how it works or doesn’t and maybe improve on it in the same way.

There also appears to be a tendency to place more faith than may be deserved in existing translations found in one place or another (dictionaries or answers to previous questions in help forums), which may or may not reflect the same context as the present problem and may or may not have been dealt with adequately in the first place.

Either way, it’s good to be able to take advantage of the work journalists do in their more dynamic world when the opportunity arises (i.e., when a news item means they have to translate a tricky term of interest) and look to see how they handle things we may have been struggling away with for years without going anywhere very interesting. At the very least, they may provide a different perspective.

Written by Rob Lunn

Rob Lunn is a freelance translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English and specialises in legal translation.

2 comments to “Things I learnt from a journo about translating culture-specific terms: (3) Good translations from collective bouncing-off”
  1. Excellent post. I also translate these difficult and often long drawn out legal Dockets. I was stumped when I came accross Imputación Principal which I translated as the Main Charge in a number of additional charges filed against a large number of defendants or suspects (imputados) as you well put it.

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