Attraverso… on translation. I had pictured reaching the leg of the Attraverso journey dedicated to translation with a different spirit and a ton of things to say about my profession, but instead I feel rather meditative, perhaps even a bit capricious.

The moment has come for me to dispel the legend of the translator, he or she who every day feels the sacred love for languages flowing in their veins: maybe it’s related to my extended isolation caused by the current epidemic, or the difficulty getting back to work after the long Easter weekend, but today is a boring, unworthy day, one of those I’m sure you all know well.

Image of Ryan Quintal from Unsplash

I confirm the output of the translation engine, here and there I add a key term to my term base, I check some oddities proposed by the machine translation and in some cases am surprised to find it’s correct… but not in the case of “sizing”, for which it suggests dimensionamento (defining the dimensions of something): in fact, the text concerns the paper industry, and here “sizing” actually means a type of surface treatment using glue applied to paper and cardboard.

Later I stumble upon a sentence without any MT at all, perhaps also for the rather poor quality of the original text (speaking of which, I hope the person who has to revise my work isn’t reading this article, as they’ll learn have a ton of notes in store for them!). Meanwhile, let’s see how I can improve this sentence: I take it, I turn it around, I take another moment to think about how it would sound better… I play around with it. Yes, it’s true, patent translation doesn’t offer any room for embellishments, but I will say in my defence that I’m working on the introductory part of the text, the most discursive part, and making it read more smoothly is certainly worthwhile.

While I go to the kitchen to prepare my moka for an espresso, I think perhaps this is my small attempt at a bit of “vindication”. Was I hoping to score a point in my favour and feel like I was better than technology? Or perhaps I really wanted to do something that I miss doing, that is, a beautiful translation, old-school style, in my own hand, without any sort of “help”?

The last time I translated like that was last summer, it was a short story. I had printed the full text, read it and reread it several times, took notes on the margins, and then translated it without the help of any MT. I corrected it and went over it countless times, and despite all that it still wasn’t entirely perfect. Without the intervention of an editor it would not have been publishable. For my more curious readers, the end result is here (and you can read the original short story here). I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but I doubt it’s something I could do every day.

As I sip my espresso and munch on some Easter chocolates, I come to the conclusion that machine translation and I make a great team: I wouldn’t be nearly as productive without it and I’d make a ton of typing mistakes, and the MT wouldn’t read so well and would let some really big translation errors pass without me. One could even say that our qualities bring out the best in each other.

There’s no sense changing a winning team, right? But above all: post-editing and translation are two disciplines that require, in equal measure albeit with different nuances, technique and talent. I’ll end my discussion here and get back to work, thankfully with the grit I had been hoping for this morning.

Cover image: me, drawn by Claudia Plescia.
English translation and adaptation by Sarah Schneider