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Timeliness

But it is not enough for the user of a translation that both it and its creator be reliable;

it must also be timely, in the sense of not arriving past the time of its usefulness or

value. Timeliness is most flexible in the case of literary or Biblical translations, which

are supposedly timeless; in fact, of course, they are not timeless but simply exist in

a greatly extended time frame. The King James Version of the Bible is still in use

after almost four centuries; but even it is not timeless. It has been replaced in many

churches with newer translations; and even in the most conservative churches it is

Just to speak from the agency end of things: I have on

file plenty of resumes of translators in all kinds of

languages. Who do I send the work to?

1 the person who keeps phoning up and nudging me if I

have any work for him. He shows he wants to do work for

me so that means more to me than someone who just sends

a resume who I never hear from again.

2 the person who accepts a reasonable rate and doesn't

badger for higher prices.

3 the person who does (a) great work, (b) quickly, and

(c) needs little if no editing work on his translation.

4 the person who has the main wordprocessing programs

used by most clients, a fax and preferably a modem.

5 a pleasant, nice to deal with person.

(1) is usually important for me to take notice of a

translator. (2,3,4,5) are necessary for me to keep going

back to that person. Of course, if you need a certain

translation combination in a certain topic and have

few translators who can handle it, you'll turn to those

translators notwithstanding their faults.

Miriam Samsonowitz

* * * * *

We might work differently, Miriam, but I would hate to

be disturbed by someone who calls me continuously. I could

tell fairly well how good the person is as a translator,

and if I want to use her/his services, I would often send

her/him a sample (and pay for it).

Sincerely Gloria Wong

* * * * *

Maybe it's a cultural question. In some countries,

Miriam's position is not only dead on, but essential for

the survival of the person doing the nudging. In such

cultures, both parties accept that and are used (or

resigned) to it. In others, such "nudging" would

definitely be seen by both parties as pestering, and you'll

get further by using the "humble" approach. I think Canada

is somewhere near the middle — you can nudge a bit, but

not too much. The U.S. is perhaps a bit more towards the

nudging end —

and persistence

you

is

a positive response

as obnoxious.

Werner Maurer1

have to really go after what you want,

considered a virtue and

. But even there,

tends

there is such

to get

a word

A provincial governor in Finland is entertaining guests from Kenya, and wants to

address them in English; his English is inadequate to the task, so he writes up a

one-page speech in Finnish and has it translated into English. Clearly, if the

translation is not timely, if it is made after the luncheon engagement, it is useless.

As often happens, the governor is too busy to write up the speech in good time

before it is to be read; he finishes it on the morning of the luncheon, and his staff

immediately start calling around to local translators to find one who can translate

the one-page document before noon. An English lecturer at the university promises

to do the job; a courier brings him the text and sits in his office while he translates,

waiting to carry the finished text back to the governor's office.

A Chinese iron foundry is seeking to modernize its operations, and in response

to its queries receives five bids: one from Japan, two from the United States, one

from Spain, and one from Egypt. As requested, all five bids are in English, which

the directors can read adequately. When the bids arrive, however, the directors

discover that their English is not sufficient; especially the bids from Japan, Spain,

and Egypt, since they were written by nonnative speakers of English, pose

insuperable difficulties for the directors. With a ten-day deadline looming before

them, they decide to have the five bids translated into Mandarin. Since they will

need at least four days to read and assess the bids, they need to find enough

translators to translate a total of over 20,000 words in six days. A team of English

professors and their students from the university undertake the task, with time off

their teaching and studying.

1 All of the boxed translator discussions in this book are taken from Lantra-L, an Internet discussion

group for translators. To subscribe to it, send a message to listserv@segate.sunet.se saying

only SUBSCRIBE LANTRA-L YOUR NAME. The Lantra-L archives are stored on the World

Wide Web at http: //segate.sunet.se/archives/lantra-l.html, and all of the passages quoted

here with permission from their authors can be found there. For subscription information to

other translator listservs, see Appendix.

difficult tO imagine it Still in use a thousand or two thousand years hence. Sooner

or later the time will come when it too will have had its day.

Timeliness is least flexible when the translation is tied to a specific dated use

situation.

One of the most common complaints translators make about this quite reasonable

demand of timeliness is that all too often clients are unaware of the time it takes to

do a translation. Since they have written proposals or bids themselves, they think

nothing of allowing their own people two weeks to write a forty-page document;

since they have never translated anything, they expect a translator to translate this

document in two days.

The frustrating slowness of translation (as of all text-production) is one of several

factors that fuel dreams of machine translation: just as computers can do calculations

in nanoseconds that it would take humans hours, days, weeks to do, so too would

the ideal translation machine translate in minutes a text that took five people two

weeks to write. User-oriented thought about translation is product-driven: one

begins with the desired end result, in this case meeting a very short deadline, and

then orders it done. How it is done, at what human cost, is a secondary issue. If inhouse

translators regularly complain about ungodly workloads before critical

deadlines, if agencies keep trying to educate you regarding the difficulty and slowness

of translation, you begin to shop around for machine translation software, or perhaps

commission a university to build one especially for your company. The main thing

is that the translations be done reliably and quickly (and cheaply — more of that in

a moment). If human translators take too long, explore computer solutions.

It is not often recognized that the demand for timeliness is very similar to the

demand for reliability, and thus to the theoretical norm of equivalence or fidelity.

Indeed, timeliness is itself a form of reliability: when one's conception of translation

is product-driven, all one asks of the process is that it be reliable, in the complex

sense of creating a solidly trustworthy product on demand (and not costing too

much). We need it now. And it has to be good. If a human translator can do it rapidly

and reliably, fine; if not, make me a machine that can.

This is not to say that a product-driven user-orientation is pernicious or evil. It

often seems callous to the translator who is asked to perform like a machine, working

long hours at repetitive and uninspiring tasks, and expected not to complain (indeed,

to be grateful for the work). But it is important not to become narcissistic in this.

Translators are not the only ones working long hours at uninspiring tasks. Indeed

the people who expect translations to be done reliably and rapidly are often putting

in long exhausting hours themselves. The reality of any given situation, especially

but not exclusively in the business world, is typically that an enormous quantity of

work needs to be done immediately, preferably yesterday, and there are never

enough hands or eyes or brains to do it. Yes, in an ideal world no one would have

to do boring, uninspiring work; until someone builds a world like that, however,

we are stuck in this one, where deadlines all too often seem impossible to meet.

What we can do, as translators and translation teachers, is to reframe the question

of speed from an internal viewpoint, a translator-orientation. How can we enhance

the translator's speed without simply mechanizing it? More on this in the next

chapter.