Your copyediting questions answered

The American Translators Association recently asked me back to present another webinar. This time, we explored how to copyedit a text well without scrubbing out the original author’s unique voice. If you missed the live webinar, it will be available on demand here.

Live listeners came up with some great questions that I promised to answer. So, here goes:

  1. How do you differentiate between translating idomatically and respecting the author’s tone?

    This is where your specialized professional knowledge comes in handy! First of all, you will be familiar enough with your source text to recognize a cliché or common idiom. “Raining cats and dogs,” for instance. Those are characteristic to a language or culture, but likely not a particular author—so you can localize them at will.

    Second of all, if you read through your source text once or twice before you dig into the translation, you will notice words or phrases that the author reaches for often. For long texts, it helps to jot some notes on this as you go. The list you end up with will be your road map to the author’s style—and therefore, the pieces you must respect.

  2. I edit a school’s weekly newsletter. The current style is each division writes their own piece, and I compile them together. As a result, the reader can recognize different voices from different divisions. Should I edit all divisions’ texts so that they have a unified voice, or should I keep each division’s distinct voice as it is?

    The best answer I can give is, “It depends.” What is the goal of the newsletter? Is it a marketing product for a private school? An informative piece for parents? If the text leans more to the advertising side, unified is usually better—consistency in the writing builds a sense of reliability in the institution behind the newsletter. But if the piece is supposed to show parents what their kids have been up to, multiple voices would be a great way to demonstrate just how well rounded is their kids’ educational experience.

  3. How do you handle an ellipsis at the end of a French sentence?

    I had a lot of people ask about this! Strictly speaking, the French use an ellipsis (…) where American English writers use “etc.” Both of these feel clunky to me most times. If you are translating a technical or very professional piece, then by all means keep the “etc.” But if you can, consider rewriting the English a bit to, shall we say, imply the ellipsis.

    For example:

    Instead of this: Campers can try out activities like boating, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, etc.

    Try this: Campers can try out a variety of activities, such as boating, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding.

    For more formal writing, “including” is a good alternative to “such as.”

If you think of any other questions, ask away in the comments section! Until then, happy translating.

 

 

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