Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Translating The Translator

I am in the midst of a translation job and it is driving me nuts. The deadline's a couple more days but with the grace of God (and extended hours, plus copious mugs of steaming kopi-o), I think I should be able to get it done in time.

Let me rephrase the above statement for it is not entirely correct. I am in the midst of overhauling someone else's translation job, after which I have to proof-read the entire work - all 187 pages of them - and this is driving me bonkers.

I always end up with this sort of thing; such is my karma. This book on management has been translated - English to Bahasa Melayu - by someone else. The client isn't happy with the end result and has asked for it to be reviewed.

To be fair, they had approached me months ago to do it but I was about to leave for the Hajj, so I declined. Seems like it's my baby after all ...

What was to have been a once-over has turned out to be a complete revision of the translation, just because the erstwhile translator had committed the absolute travesty of translating - being literal.

Some samplings: "Although I did not have the benefit of working with".. came out as "walaupun saya tidak mempunyai kepentingan bekerja dengan" ....

Here's another one: "I have built on many great authors" ... became ... "saya telah bina atas usaha ramai penulis terkemuka"...

At this very moment I am taking a much needed break; I have been squinting at the laptop for the past three hours and a slight headache is developing.

Please God, don't let it be migraine. All I can take now is the garden variety kind of headache. I need all the time in the world to get this work over with.

Ask any translator worth his/her salt and he/she is likely to tell you translating any written work is no walk in the park.

Translation is part and parcel of my PR job and I have been at it for 19 years now, yet I have never started a job without trepidation.

It doesn't matter what you translate - a press release or a speech, an advertorial or an advertising copy, a financial statement or a company prospectus, or even a book (which I am doing right now), the onus is on the translator not to stray too far from the original text.

Sticking close to the original copy is the hardest part when you are on the roll. I have always preferred translating Bahasa Melayu to English than vice versa, perhaps because my comfort level with English is higher.

Above all, however, I still prefer writing - especially copywriting - because it gives one a lot of leeway to be creative with the language.

The most fun I had with copywriting was years ago when a client supplying in-flight gifts for a local airline asked me to pen words describing each and every item that they created for the airline.

The range of items was a delight to work with - silver bookmarks in the shapes of miniature wau (Terengganu kite), pending (traditional oval-shaped belt buckle), labu sayong (earthenware water jug) and kebaya nyonya, among them.

It made work seem like play then. Unfortunately, there isn't an iota of play in whatever I am doing now. But there's money to be earned, so I am not complaining.

The mind has been idle ever since returning from the Hajj that it is in danger of becoming the Devil's workshop.

Thus it is good to jolt the grey matter (whatever's left of it) back into service ..... Oh, I'm veering off-course.. time to get back to work....


Desert Rose said...

Kak Puteri,

Have u ever watched chinese or even english movie in d cinema? Try read d subtitle, hillarious nak mati. I love to read them and wonder sapa la dua orang tu (Mr seomething tak ingat)

e.g 'Aku telah terhilang dia sejak 5 tahun'

Msybe the character was saying (I agak la kan sb ckp cina)his brother had left 5 years ago.

Try la kak, that is my hubby & I punya activity sometimes and we had a good laugh in d panggung although the story was an action thriller or even heavy drama yg tak lawak langsung, but we all melayu 2 ketul yg gelak dalam panggung and all the time, heads turned to find out sapa la mangkuk yg gelak di kala adengan perang yg serious tu

Kak Teh said...

Puteri, oh dont i know what you mean! Sometimes, there are indonesians who must have claimed that they can translate into malay, and apart from the wrong translations, words like karena, bisa appear in th etext - it is usually an unenviable task and to back translate or edit is just not worth the time nor the hair that you lose. Good luck.

Let me see, the most fun i had was to do voice work for children's books and also for the movie Entrapment. They paid us to have fun.

Anonymous said...

i guess that's what PPSMI for right?

Adam said...

Kak Hajah,

Off topic.Are you on translating?Need a translator for a project.Been delay a couple of years.
A tip!'cuba Kak Hajah brows Buya's Hamka classic -'Tenggelamnya Kapal Van N'Vick or 'Tuanku Rao'.
Have tickle bout'it and will get back to you.May I have your email address pleased?

Pak Tuo

Rose said...

Salam Kak Kama...
Heh..heh..macam yang kita selalu kena buat masa kat Allfield dulu jer... :) Perbetul keje orang. I ada kena beberapa kali, yang paling tension - annual report Tourism Malaysia. Tah sape la translator dia, literal dan sebiji-sebiji dia translate. And I remember those in-flight gift description yang Kak Kama buat dulu tu. Banyak kenangan waktu tu. Anyway, I owe it to you dan Abg Boon for "mengasah" my language capability. BTW, takziah atas pemergian your brother.

wanshana said...

Kak Puteri,

One of the many translations which will stay with me until I die -

The title of the movie was "The Day After Tomorrow", and it was translated as....



All the best with translating the translator! :)

Zendra said...

There was a scene in a film where 5 blindfolded POW's were lined up in front of a firing squad. The command was given, "Ready, Fire!".

The sub-title read "Sedia, API!".

Just had to laugh...


Kama said...

DR - This is one of my favourite pastimes, Rose, baca subtitles and twittering at the hilarious ones. And there were so many!

Kak Teh - Be that as it may, this is a satisfying way of cari makan, kan Kak Teh? especially when you see your work in print..

Anon - I hv always supported the teaching of more subjects in English in school. In fact, if I hv a say in the education system, I'd bring Sekolah Menengah Inggeris back.

Adam - Tq for the interest, Adam. Opah hv read a few of Hamka's works; the one that left a lasting impact on me was Dibawah Lindungan Kaabah. When I was in Mekah baru2 ni, teringat kat buku tu semasa melihat Kaabah. Btw, do drop me a line.. at

Rose - Ah, my dear cousin and anak didik! Thanks for visiting. Indeed our old PR outfit banyak memory, eh. I am glad you are still doing translation work fulltime till today. Berbaloi jugak tunjuk ajar I kat you Rose.. LOL.. Alhamdulillah.

Shana - OMG, this is sooo funny! Pak Abu sampai terbahak2 gelak! even in this current work I am doing, the translator pi terjemah Shakespeare's "As You Like It" to "Seperti Yang Anda Suka"... manaaalah tak haru I!

Zendra - A perfect example of half-past-six punya kerja, kan? I once saw "Holy cow!" being translated as "lembu sakti!"

ray said...

Komen Pak Malim kucing ray yg alim.

Saya boleh tolong, kata Pak Malim sambil melolong, kalau Kama janji tak hantar saya ke SPCA. Pak Malim melolong bila dengar cakap2 nak hantar dia ke klinik! (Kelihatan Pak Malim sedang berpeluh panik). Dia takut kehilangan 'aset' berharga yg penting dalam usaha mengayat Cik Minah Gayat.

Naz said...

Kak Puteri,
You have my sympathy :) ... translating the translator is one helluva job! With your keen sense of humour, I bet you have had quite a few good laughs already.

subtitles...the best comedy ever :D

Pi Bani said...

Another subtitle... "serial killer" translated as "pembunuh bijirin". I guess the translator sendiri tak faham English and got confused betweel serial and cereal. Duh!

Kak Teh said...

pi bani, pembunuh bijirin...hahahahah! sorry I terspill my nescafe! I heard of this one, : That's it, idont want anymore. Period. Sudah. Aku tak mahu lagi. Menstruasi.

Oh, dear...what a morning.

Oldstock said...

Salam Kak Aji Kama,

Wow... this must be karma. You posted about your translation task while I just posted about doing an impromptu translation of a Malay song.

When I first started working, I was involved in translating an engineering contract document from English to Bahasa Melayu. Mak oi... susahnya! But after completing it, I felt confident of other tranlating work.

Could not help laughing when I read Kak Teh's comment above. Period = Menstruasi. Hahahaha!

Pak Tuo said...

'sang bulan menghinggap di jendela mu tapi malam,
siapakah dia yang ingin duduk setara dengan mu,Bonda?

Kak Hajah how to translate the phrase to English?

elviza said...

Oh, you poor you, Kakak...

Here's a big HUG for you.

Back in my chambering days, we ran miles away whenever lawyers or partners wanted a translation done. No m'am, it is certainly not a walk on the park.

A rather well known judge (no need to mention name here) of Chinese descent read out his judgment in court: "Kita tidak boleh menghalang litigan dari menikmati buah-buahan litigasi beliau"

He was translating from: "We cannot prevent the litigant from enjoying his fruit of litigation."

Of course, nobody dared to laugh, it was HIS courtroom after all. Later at the canteen, we laughed so hard, some of us choked on coffee and teh tarek!

Anonymous said...

Mak Aji,
Am not a DR but just a pilot turned pirate, for your migraine, just take fresh honey in the morning and drink lots n lots of water !
Try this out,,,,it works !!!.


Pp said...

Puteri Kama :-)

saya terbahak2 ketawa...nasib baik bukan sedang minum kopi ..hahaha.
so funny!! Some of the comments are also hilarious....
tak tahan baca wanshana's comment tu..hahaha!!

Apa2 pun teruskan usaha murni Putri Kama! Saya salute...


Kama said...

Ray - Eh, jangan melolong, malu!
Kata kama sambil makan baulu
kama janji sambil gosok gigi
ke spca kita tak pergi
'toncet' kucing ray kekal abadi
kat minah gayat buleh 'tabur budi'

Naz - it's true what you say, tapi the fun is packaged with penin!

Pi - oh wow, bijirin pembunuh! mintak2 bukan Frosties sbb I love Frosties! hehehe

Kak Teh - I wonder sometimes these ppl yang dok translate ni; do they really baca para by para and rephrase in our own words(as we were taught do to) or pakai bantai word for word?

Oldstock - I used to write and translate corporate songs as well as translate songs to be sung at international festivals by our penyanyi those days, oldstock. Mostly I worked with composer manan ngah, a fellow terengganuese..

Pak Tuo - this sort of translation nak kena buat pukul 3 pagi masa renung bulan dan dengar burung pungguk mendayu2, pak tuo.. pagi2 inspirasi tak datang.. hehehe

Elviza - hahahahaha.. Wowo! nikmati buah? this is funny! must be one of those 'forbidden fruits' lah tu..

Capt - tq capt, I nak cuba your remedy, Inyaallah it works.

Pp - memang sometimes funny betul, tak kering gusi dibuatnya. Like Desert Rose kata, subtitles are the worst culprits..

─╣aptop™ said...

If you can recall R Azmi's....

Hitam manis, hitam manis
Yang hitam manis,
Pandang tak jemu, pandang tak jemu.
Yang hitam manis, pandang tak jemu.

Black sweet black sweet
Oh black sweet
Looking tak fedup, looking tak fedup.
Oh black sweet looking tak fedup.

Anonymous said...

Baa, baa kambing hitam,
Ada bulu tak?
Ya Tuan, ya Tuan
Tiga beg penuh
Satu untuk Tuan
Satu untuk Puan
Satu lagi untuk budak lelaki
Yang duduk di hujung jalan

Ok tak Auntie?


Pak Tuo said...

hehe..Kak Hajah,how could'Getaran Jiwa' become 'Wisper in the Wind'
by Lobo


Enjoy it with Abang Aji.heheh