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Friday, July 29, 2005

Guidelines for writers (and translators)

The Small Publishers Association of North America lists the following guidelines for writers in general:

• Communicate; don't try to impress
• Select appropriate words; unfamiliar jargon confuses the reader
• Avoid ambiguity; rewrite anything that is unclear
• Guard against cliches; replace worn phrases with more original phraseology
• Eliminate redundancies and needless words
• Use the active voice rather than the passive to achieve better readability
• Make smooth transitions between sentences, paragraphs and chapters

Many English translations of the Bible would be more natural and clear if they were more diligent in applying these guidelines.

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At Fri Jul 29, 02:42:00 PM, Anonymous Funky Dung said...

I have never been much impressed or pleased with rules against passive voice. An overabundance of active voice sentences sounds juvenile. To me, passive voice is a flourish. Some would argue that it be used as infrequently as Ornamental caps in illuminated texts. I'd rather see its use as similar to calligraphy and other forms of artful handwriting; that is underappreciated and largely forgotten.

At Fri Jul 29, 05:43:00 PM, Anonymous Funky Dung said...

How emabarassing and ironic. In my feeble attempt to discuss proper English, I've butchered it. It seems I changed ideas in the middle of the last sentence. It should read, "On the contrary, I see its use..." or something more sensible like that.

At Fri Jul 29, 06:36:00 PM, Anonymous rich shields said...

It is amazing - we live in a world drenched with "communication" devices, yet we fail to communicate. If we want to insure "communication" we send a fax, call on the landline, call on the wireless, send an email, write an IM, and just to be sure, we stop by the person's work place to check whether the person received our "communication". And we wait impatiently for the next technological advance to make communication faster.

It isn't the technology of communication, but communication itself that is the problem. Writing/communicating is such a challenge that most people give up before really communicating. We make assumptions about what others know but we often fail to communicate. Perhaps we can learn from the great letter-writers of the past, not just specialist writers, who knew language, structure, and nuances so as to communicate effectively.

Some of the advice in the list is good for translation, but some items need modification. For instance, if ambiguity is part of the original language text, then the target/receptor language should include that ambiguity in translation. To try to remove all ambiguity in translation forces the translator(s) to present only one possible (English) translation, and in that very process, the translation may miss the significance and role of ambiguity originally intended. On the other hand, a translator must be careful not to unintentionally introduce ambiguity when the original language text does not have ambiguity.

Ah yes, 'tis a challenge, eh?


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