This is a guest post by Paul Hacker.
Paul Hacker was born in New York City in 1946 and is a graduate of the City College of New York and Columbia University, from which he received a Ph.D. degree in political science in 1976. You can read more about Paul at his author’s page at Amazon.
One interesting question in translation is how concepts get translated – rightly or wrongly –into another language.
I recently went through the agony of translating an article by two Goteborg-based researchers dealing with why emergency services here have such a hard time cooperating ran across the term “prestigelöst samarbete.” Apparently, the Swedish writers expected the term to be simply transferred as “prestigeless” in English. This is how the term is often used when Swedes, but not Brits or Americans, use it. Prestigeless is rarely used in English and connotes such ideas as “powerless and prestigeless,” meaning a group of people way down on the social totem pole. People in Sweden sending in CVs in English also point to their admirable characteristics as including “prestigelessness.”
But, an American employer looking at such a CV would mostly likely toss it out, believing that the applicant is a shrinking violet with no self-concept. The matter becomes more serious when employers in Sweden start asking for “prestigeless” people. Thus, the use of the term “prestigeless” in Swedish English is an entirely culture-bound concept. An American would more likely use the term “team player,” as it has a positive ring to it and suggests a person who works well with others.
I might add that the same people who insisted on the use of “prestigeless” then turned around and complained that the translation was “too Swedish.” While we know that the customer is always right, we need to keep a watch out for these kinds of anomalies because in the last analysis, we have to protect the client’s interests by not agreeing to terminology that doesn’t make sense to the foreign language reader.
Boca Raton FL