Friday, 25 January 2008

Starting Up a Business, and The Meaning of Meaning


I'm thinking about making a go of this freelance translation malarkey. No overheads except rent and what it costs to keep my laptop running round the clock (and dictionary batteries), no boss, no overtime except what I schedule, lunch breaks when I want...this is the life. I remember watching an episode of The Apprentice once, when Sir Alan Sugar was reminiscing about his life (he's one of those self-made billionaire types from a background of absolute penury); one thing he said with surprising (to me, at the time) vehemence was that once he'd started his own business "wild horses couldn't have dragged [him] back to working for somebody else."

Now I see what he means.

What I don't like about translation is that if you don't have absolute faith in your knowledge of the source language, you can mess everything up. This is especially likely in Japanese, which tends to create neologisms which can convey meaning very efficiently but which aren't actually 'words'. It does this because of its writing system, which can communicate visual meaning outside of how it sounds. For example, I'm currently trying to translate the word dousatokusei, which isn't a real dictionary word but which you often find in technical documents. Dousa comes from the kanji for movement and making, and tokusei from those for special and having the property of [something]. The English phrases that I can think of that come closest would be Dynamic Characteristics or Motion Properties or some such, but I don't think those phrases really exist in the English language and have no faith that English-speaking readers would really understand what they even mean.

But then, thinking about these things is all part of the fun. One of the most enjoyable things about learning a new language - especially a non-Indo-European one if you're an English speaker - is the different perspective it gives you on not just the world, but what fundamental concepts like communication, meaning, and thought, even are. I recommend it.

6 comments:

zero_zero_one said...

Can you talk about who you're being employed by and what sort of thing you're translating? Or do you have confidentiality thingies that you have to abide by?

I think I understand what you mean by your closing statement (unless it lost something in translation, ho-ho!), and I agree with you. Language evolves with the way people see the world, and learning another language in itself gives you perspective on another world view.

Good stuff.

noisms said...

I think it might violate anti-trust laws, or something.

I'm not being 'employed' by anyone - it's freelance stuff for a direct client.

zero_zero_one said...

Yeah, I wrote it and thought, wow, someone's putting trust in him, which is a stretch to begin with...

Are you on MSN or anything like that?

zero_zero_one said...

EDIT: Not that I'm sure I can get MSN on here...

Bilbo said...

I've done some translation work (English to German and vice versa) in the past, and it seems that it is both easier and harder than your Japanese-to-English. That's what I love about the perspective linguistics gives you...as you point out, it gives you whole new perspectives on a lot of things as you look through the prism of other languages and cultures. Great post!

Andrew Fry said...

While I worked at Microsoft (years ago) there was an ongoing project to automate the translation of User Manuals between languages. You would think that given the constant reuse of terms like "select" and "Enter" and "right click on" etc would make it easier, but it seemed to be just as much work cleaning up the translated text as it was to just hire a fluent speaker to translate. You are translating from Japanese to English and not vice-versa, correct?

Good luck with the foray into contracting.