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The Simple Life: Using Plain and Controlled Language to Improve Translation Quality and Consistency

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The Plain Language Movement, aimed at promoting straightforward writing that focuses on the message rather than the complications of inflated language and complex sentence structure, has become increasingly prevalent, having trickled down from the government level to the legal, medical, and business sectors. This presentation will explore how this affects translations, particularly when interlinguistic register and usage differ. Writing techniques, readability scores, linguistic obstacles, and specific tools and glossaries will be covered. Before and after texts will be dissected to illustrate how to effectively apply the principles of plain language to improve the quality, consistency, and leveragability of translations.

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The Simple Life: Using Plain and Controlled Language to Improve Translation Quality and Consistency

  1. 1. © Erin M. Lyons, LLC 2011
  2. 2. A Plain Language Primer1 Applied Interlinguistic Principles 2 A Plain Language Toolbox 3 Applications and Examples4
  3. 3. “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do. ” - Thomas Jefferson
  4. 4. What is “Plain Language”? Communication the audience can understand the first time it is read Language that is plain to one set of readers may not be plain to others Plain language is defined by results—it is easy to read, understand, and use1 - A Plain Language Primer
  5. 5. What isn’t Plain Language? Baby talk or an attempt to be playful or PC Stripping out necessary technical and legal information Editorial polishing and clean-up Easy1 - A Plain Language Primer
  6. 6. Plain language examples Original Plain Language Counsel Lawyer Equilibrium Balance Restrained/enjoined from Must not Writ of possession Eviction order Lessor/Lessee Landlord/Tenant Exempt property Protected income/assets Renal Kidney Statutory Legal, by law To declare true; make To warrant legally binding1 - A Plain Language Primer
  7. 7. Milestones in the movement o 1970 Plain English movement starts as a grassroots campaign to fight “gobbledygook,” i.e., legalese, small print and bureaucratic language o 1978 Carter issues Executive Order on plain language o 1982 British government issues White Paper ordering Plain language for the 1st time o 1998 Clinton creates PLAN1 - A Plain Language Primer
  8. 8. Milestones in the movement, cont. o 1998 EC Commission EN translators found Fight the Fog EC Translation Service writes How to write clearly o 1999 Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations o 2010 Plain Writing Act requiring US federal agencies to use plain language in all covered documents1 - A Plain Language Primer
  9. 9. Why is PL important for translators? o Cuts bloat shorter, simpler text cuts down expansion factor in other languages (average of 25% out of EN) o Strategic vocabulary selection prevents interlinguistic pitfalls (faux amis, semantics, implicature, etc.) o Countries with multiple official languages and simultaneous drafting are more susceptible to unclear writing1 - A Plain Language Primer
  10. 10. 2009 EC Commission survey1 - A Plain Language Primer
  11. 11. PL and translation The problem! Very few writers have translatability in mind when drafting their documents BUT In a multilingual context, this is an extremely important issue.1 - A Plain Language Primer
  12. 12. EU language drafting trends1 - A Plain Language Primer
  13. 13. EU language drafting trends, cont.1 - A Plain Language Primer
  14. 14. EU language drafting trends, cont.1 - A Plain Language Primer
  15. 15. PL made simple o No one wants to waste a lot of time trying to translate difficult, wordy documents Eliminate barriers Communicate effectively LESS IS MORE!1 - A Plain Language Primer
  16. 16. “If you cant explain something simply, you dont understand it well. ” - Albert Einstein
  17. 17. The problem with translation… o Linguistically equivalent notions may get lost (especially in legal, bureaucratic contexts!) Translation metalanguage covers all facets and implications, but can be incomprehensible to the reader o Interlinguistic mediation requires the accommodation of linguistically and culturally dependent elements Equi-legitimate translations sacrifice readability2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  18. 18. How PL can help translations o PL requires a concrete—rather than abstract—message Forces translators to avoid ad verbum translations o Helps minimize negative transfer False friends, jargon, and borrowing displace the burden of comprehension from the translator to the reader2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  19. 19. Translator becomes interpreter Equivalence Meaning shift Plain Language Structural & Functional Linguistic Textual Elements Discourse purpose and register analyses2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  20. 20. PL obstacles: Faux amis FF What’s wrong What’s right? “to elaborate” draft, develop, élaborer elaborate means “to go into produce detail” “to respect” means respecter respect comply with, meet “to value or honor” “opportunity” opportunité opportunity advisability means “chance” “attribute to” means attribuer attribute to allocate to, assign to “help” “foreseen” means provided for, prévu foreseen “predicted” planned2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  21. 21. PL obstacles: “Euro jargon” and “Euro-speak” o Euro jargon: Language used by insiders/specialists that cannot always be understood by outsiders (comitology, habilitation, European construction, etc.) o Euro-speak: Potentially useful language coined to describe EU inventions/concepts with no exact parallel at the national level (subsidiarity, codecision, convergence, economic and social cohesion)2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  22. 22. PL obstacles: Jargon, cont. o Try to avoid jargon or make it explicit via definitions, in less abstract terms Remember! Linguistically equivalent notions often have different connotations in different languages/locales2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  23. 23. PL obstacles: A historical example Treaty of Versailles: o “legal or equitable interests” (EN) translated as “droits et intérêts légitimes” (FR) o EN corresponds to a well-established legal concept in the US/UK, while there is no definite legal idea in French2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  24. 24. PL obstacles: A historical example, cont. Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: o Codifies procedure with a possible recourse to the original language when meaning cannot be removed by ordinary interpretation “the meaning which best reconciles the texts, having regard to the object and purpose of the treaty, shall be adopted” (Art. 33, para. 4 VCLT)2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  25. 25. A major linguistic challenge! o It is very difficult to make a good joke in a foreign language (subtle humor, irony, etc.) o PL is a similar challenge: How to convey linguistic subtleties with limited vocabulary and grammar? o How can we avoid BSE (“bad simple English”)?2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  26. 26. When EN is a lingua franca o There is a new audience of non-native English speaking professionals using EN as a lingua franca Any alteration in style is more than compensated by an improvement in clarity and readability o Translators need to examine the “big picture” of EN-language communication => communication is king2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  27. 27. Interlinguistic dilemmas o English is a relatively simple grammatical language to begin with o Grammatical and lexical differences between languages entail shifts in register PL is based on “dynamic equivalence” Pragmatic transference aimed at the receiving audience2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  28. 28. Expected shifts o Shift in structure Change in grammatical concept o Shift in class Change in part of speech (ex. denominalization) o Shift in unit or rank Breaking sentences apart o Shift in terminology Non-corresponding terms2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  29. 29. Shift in structure o EN favors S-V-O structure, using short sentences without embedded clauses o NL tends to “frontally overload” sentences (reverse EN flow) o Ambiguous modifiers/subjects in non-EN o Subjunctive is virtually non-existent in EN (constitutes 10% of constructions in IT legal texts!)2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  30. 30. Shift in class o EN is more active, favoring verbs that are otherwise nominalized in Romance Languages o EN can juxtapose adverbs (“amazingly slowly”), which is impossible in many other languages o Prepositional and phrasal verbs are extremely commonplace in EN2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  31. 31. Shift in unit or rank o DE is infamous for its use of nested sentences, involved periods (Schachtelsatz) o Finnish favors more impersonal expressions Extensive use of direct address could be perceived as officious & patronizing o Legal ES (ES) still contains remnants of archaic and rigid structures inherited from style under the dictatorship2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  32. 32. Shift in terminology o Gender vs. gender-neutral writing EN is generally*** a gender-neutral language o Inherent hierarchical and structural differences FR has 2 terms: “cour” and “tribunal” for 1 equivalent EN term o Sublanguages/locales (DE for DE, CH, AT, etc.)2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  33. 33. Antidote for translator myopia? “Writing clear language can be difficult…since much of the subject matter is complex and more and more is written in English by (and for) non-native speakers, or by native speakers who are beginning to lose touch with their language after years working in a multilingual environment.” - European Commission Directorate-General for Translation, English Style Guide2 - Applied Interlinguistic Principles
  34. 34. “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil. ” - Truman Capote
  35. 35. PL reminders for translators o Eliminate the passive voice where possible o Keep prepositional phrases concise o Eliminate unnecessary modifiers o Avoid circumlocutions or intentional ambiguity3 - A Plain Language Toolbox
  36. 36. PL strategies for translators o Opt for translations with Latin word roots, which will be accessible to a wider audience beschleunigern >> translate as “expedite” rather than “speed up” o Avoid unnecessary preambles it is interesting to note that… it may be recalled that… it is important to add that…3 - A Plain Language Toolbox
  37. 37. PL strategies for translators, cont. o Abstract words are a barrier to understanding (several nouns + adjective) “implementing a skills mix adjustment” “negative economic growth” (recession) o Beware of language-specific traps Translating JP “tadashi” with a fragment in EN (“provided, however, that”)3 - A Plain Language Toolbox
  38. 38. PL takeaways o Field – subject matter o Tenor – author and intended reader o Mode – form of the text o Presupposition – assumed prior knowledge of the audience3 - A Plain Language Toolbox
  39. 39. Readability and assessment tools o Reading Effectiveness Tool (http:www.eastendliteracy.on.ca) Assign grade level o PMOSE/IKIRSCH Document Readability Formula Rating scale inclusive of non-prose documentation (labels, signage, etc.) o SMOG Online Calculator3 - A Plain Language Toolbox
  40. 40. PL resources: General o PLAIN (http://www.plainlanguage.gov) How to guides Before and after examples o Plain Language Network Association International (http://plainlanguagenetwork.org) Language for law, business, science Dead words list3 - A Plain Language Toolbox
  41. 41. PL resources: General glossaries o The A-Z of Alternative Words (http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/files/alternative.pdf) o Plain English Lexicon (http://clearest.co.uk/files/PlainEnglishLexicon.pdf) Includes terms, alternatives, grade levels, commentary, and caveats3 - A Plain Language Toolbox
  42. 42. PL resources: Health glossaries o Plain Language Thesaurus for Health Communications (http://www.nphic.org/files/editor/file/thesaurus_1007.pdf) o PRISM Readability Toolkit (http://www.grouphealthresearch.org/capabilities/re adability/readability_home.html) o Michigan Library Plain Language Medical Dictionary (http://www.lib.umich.edu/plain-language-dictionary.com)3 - A Plain Language Toolbox
  43. 43. PL resources: Legal and financial glossaries o Glossary of EU jargon (http://www.lga.gov.uk/lga/core/page.do) (http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/glossary/) o Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary (http://www.nolo.com/dictionary/) o A Plain Language Handbook: How to Create Clear SEC Disclosure Documents (http://sec.gov/pdf/handbook.pdf)3 - A Plain Language Toolbox
  44. 44. “Making the simple complicated iscommonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, thats creativity. ” - Charles Mingus
  45. 45. Example 1 – Legalese “Lawyers have two common failings. One is that they do not write well and the other is that they think they do.” - Carl Felsenfeld, Attorney and Law Professor4 - Applications and Examples
  46. 46. Legalese: Before and after Before After I give, devise and I give the rest of my estate bequeath all the rest, to my Trustee, who is residue and remainder of named below. This trust my property of every kind shall be known as The and description (including Sampler Family Trust. The lapsed legacies and trustee shall hold, manage devises) wherever situated and distribute the and whether acquired remaining trust property before or after the as follows: execution of this Will, absolutely in fee simple, to my Trustee hereinafter named. This trust shall be known as "Trust B" and shall be held, administered and distributed as follows:4 - Applications and Examples
  47. 47. Legalese: Before and after, cont. Before Redundant After I give, devise and I give the rest of my estate bequeath all the rest, to my Trustee, who is residue and remainder of named below. This trustRedundant my property of every kind shall be known as The and description (including Sampler Family Trust. The lapsed legacies and trustee shall hold, devises) wherever situated manage and distribute and whether acquired the remaining trust before or after the property as follows:Jargon execution of this Will, Passive absolutely in fee simple, to my Trustee hereinafter to named. This trust shall be Active known as "Trust B" and shall be held, administered and distributed as follows: 4 - Applications and Examples
  48. 48. Example 2 – Financial “Plain English is like pornography. It’s hard to define, but you know it when you see it.” - Nancy Smith, SEC Senior Official4 - Applications and Examples
  49. 49. Financial: Before and after Before After These securities have not Neither the Securities and been approved or Exchange Commission, disapproved by the nor any state securities Securities and Exchange commission has approved Commission nor has the or disapproved these Commission passed upon securities, or determined if the accuracy or adequacy this Prospectus is truthful of this Prospectus. Any or complete. Any representation to the representation to the contrary is a contrary is a criminal offense. criminal offense.4 - Applications and Examples
  50. 50. Financial: Before and after, cont. Before After These securities have not Neither the Securities and Passive been approved or Exchange Commission, to disapproved by the nor any state securities Active Securities and Exchange commission has Jargon Commission nor has the approved or Commission passed disapproved these upon the accuracy or securities, or determined adequacy of this if this Prospectus is Prospectus. Any truthful or complete. Any representation to the representation to the contrary is a contrary is a criminal offense. criminal offense. Abstractions4 - Applications and Examples
  51. 51. Example 3 – Medical “Now, Doc, I can take it. Tell me in plain English what is wrong with me.” “Well, in plain English, you’re just lazy.” “Okay, now give me the medical term so I can tell my wife.”4 - Applications and Examples
  52. 52. Medical: Before and after Before After During the birth process, a During birth, a baby’s eyes baby’s eyes may be can get infected with contaminated during the bacteria from the cervix and birth with organisms that are the vagina. This can cause shed from the cervix and a condition called vagina. This can cause a conjunctivitis. If this injection condition known as is not treated, it can quickly conjunctivitis. If this lead to blindness. conjunctivitis goes untreated, it can rapidly lead to blindness.4 - Applications and Examples
  53. 53. Medical: Before and after, cont. Redundant Before After During the birth process, a During birth, a baby’s eyes baby’s eyes may be can get infected with Jargon contaminated during the bacteria from the cervix and birth with organisms that the vagina. This can cause are shed from the cervix a condition called and vagina. This can cause conjunctivitis. If this infection a condition known as is not treated, it can quickly conjunctivitis. If this lead to blindness. conjunctivitis goes untreated, it can rapidly lead to blindness. Verbose4 - Applications and Examples

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