The Misery and the Splendour of Translation III: Of Speech and Silence

José Ortega y Gasset

Speech and SilenceIn this third part of his landmark essay, Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset discusses the limitations of language, which is characterized as much by what it cannot say as by what it can. These limitations on the expressible differ between languages, a fact that poses a great challenge for translation, but which also underlines its importance in the greatest human endeavour of all: to fully understand what it is to be human.

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Cold Emailing: What Not To Do

Martin Boyd

spamfolderWhen novice translators ask me how they should begin establishing a client base, cold emailing to potential clients is rarely one of the strategies that I suggest. As a general rule, unsolicited emails are much less effective than responding to job postings, attending conferences, establishing a solid online presence or simply being available at the right time (i.e., all the time). As a freelancer I have had only very occasional success with cold emailing (indeed, it has been many years now since I last employed the strategy), and as the director of a small translation agency I receive hundreds of unsolicited emails a month from freelancers offering their services, the percentage of which I actually retain for future reference is negligible. Nevertheless, there are occasions when cold emailing may yield results, provided that, as a bare minimum, the following basic guidelines are followed. Most of these points may seem obvious to any freelancer, yet I can assure you, based on the many cold emails I receive, that they are all too often overlooked.

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The Misery and the Splendour of Translation II: The Two Utopianisms

José Ortega y Gasset

Two UtopianismsIn this second part of José Ortega y Gasset’s essay “La miseria y el esplendor de la traducción”, the Spanish philosopher delves deeper into the question of untranslatability. The fact that translation is impossible, Ortega y Gasset argues, does not mean that it should not be attempted, but it must be approached with an attitude that he describes as that of the “good utopian”: the translator who tackles the task of translation in full awareness of its impossibility.

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The Misery and the Splendour of Translation I: The Misery

José Ortega y Gasset

JoseOrtegayGassetThe essay “La miseria y el esplendor de la traducción”, written in 1936, is to this day one of the most widely quoted essays on translation ever written in the Spanish language. In the essay, the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955) sets out his highly insightful perspective on the significance of translation for revealing the semiotic gaps that exist between different languages. Many of the ideas expounded in this essay have become key issues in the field of translation studies, particular since the “cultural turn” of the 1980s. Over the next few months, my translation of this landmark essay will appear here, split into the five sections into which the author himself divides his reflections. In the first part, “La miseria”, Ortega y Gasset explores the concept of “untranslatability”. Ortega y Gasset’s extremely personal writing style is both a pleasure and a challenge to translate. Hopefully, my translation is bold enough to subvert the great philosopher’s rather uncharitable description of translators as “timid individuals”.

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Raising the Bar

Martin Boyd

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the most thought-provoking presentations I attended at last year’s ATA conference in Chicago was the talk titled “Why Raising the Bar on Your Own Translation Quality is about to Get Deadly Serious”, delivered by Chris Durban, Kevin Hendzel and David Jemielity. The session was something of a wake-up call to freelance translators, alerting them to the increasing stratification in the industry between what they call the “bulk sector” of high-volume, medium-quality translations and the “premium sector” of high-quality work by genuine subject-matter experts. As rates continue to decrease in the bulk sector, the presenters argued, translators are faced with a perilous professional future unless they can distinguish themselves as masters of their craft, specialists in their chosen subject-fields and exceptional writers.

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The Translation Rate Conundrum

Martin Boyd

RatesPricing is a delicate topic in the translation industry. As a general rule, translators are averse to discussing their rates, and translator organizations generally avoid publishing data on rates due to concerns that such data may be viewed as price-fixing. The industry standard is to charge by the word, but while this standard is an extremely helpful tool for clients to be able to forecast how much a given project will cost, a one-size-fits-all per-word rate is problematic for those of us who know that not all words are created equal: one word may be translated in a second, while for another hours of research and deliberation may be needed to determine its best equivalent in the target language. Some texts have more of the latter kind of word than others, which is why most translators (myself included) do not publish a “standard” per word rate for all projects and all clients, opting instead to assess each project on a case-by-case basis. We thus tend to speak more of rate “ranges” than specific rates. But for novice translators who want clear advice on what they should be charging for their services, this kind of vagueness can be frustrating. So how can new freelance translators determine what rates they should be charging?

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A Smorgasboard for Translators: ATA Conference 2014

Martin Boyd

ATA conferenceEvery November, the American Translators Association’s annual conference brings together close to 2,000 professional translators from around the world to socialize, exchange ideas, and benefit from some of the best professional development sessions offered in the industry. By far the largest conference for translators and interpreters in the Americas, the ATA conference is always an extremely enriching experience for professionals in our sector, and this year’s conference, which took place last week in Chicago, was certainly no exception.

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Freelance Translators: Tips for Socializing and Networking

Exequiela Goldini

Traductores independientesWorking as a translator can sometimes be pretty lonely. A high-speed internet connection at home, a professional business e-mail account and a reliable computer is all that a qualified translator needs on a daily basis. If you’re not careful, you could easily turn into a kind of prisoner, feeling isolated from the rest of the working world in general.

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Context

Martin Boyd

ContextQuestion: How many translators does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: It depends on the context.

The above joke is probably only funny to translators and people who interact with them on a regular basis, and specifically, to anyone who has ever had the frustrating experience of asking a translator how to translate a particular word and has been met with this same answer. But the fact is, when replying to your deceptively simple question as to how to say “echar” in English, the familiar refrain “it depends on the context” is not merely an attempt to be evasive, because it really is important to know first whether your intention is to “echar algo a la basura” (throw something into the garbage), “echarme una llamada”(give me a call) or “echarme la culpa” (put the blame on me), among many other possibilities.

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Professionalizing Translation

Martin Boyd

St. Jerome, patron saint of translators, apparently never obtained certification

St. Jerome, patron saint of translators, apparently never obtained certification

Practically since the dawn of history, translation has been of vital importance to human society. All manner of interaction between different communities, whether for trade, cultural exchange, for waging war or making peace, has depended hugely upon the work of translators and interpreters. And yet it is only relatively recently that translation has begun to be consolidated as a profession. And even now, the persistence of the popular misconceptions that translation is an activity that can be mastered by any person with a working knowledge of two languages and a good bilingual dictionary, or that machine translation is effectively eliminating the need for human translators, suggests that we still have a long way to go before translation receives the respect it deserves as a profession.

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