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An example of why study/living abroad is so important for a translator June 3, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings, Translation Sites.

Among other things, I’m translating a marketing survey at the moment. After being asked the same question several different ways, the respondent is understandably frustrated. His (I’m going out on a limb and assuming he’s male based on the language used) response is Das habe ich eben schon beantwortet. Ihr Pappnasen, checkt ihrs noch? Luckily I’m having an ongoing chat on Skype with a fellow translator about our day, our dogs, whether I can proofread a small text, etc. You’d think Pappnasen would be my problem, which is why she is surprised that I am asking her about checkt ihrs noch?. She’s from Baden-Württemburg and hadn’t heard the term Pappnasen very often. I explained to her that my friends in Bonn used to call each other Pappnasen all the time. It must be a Cologne/Bonn thing because of Karneval. Anyway, if I had been depending solely on a dictionary to translate this phrase I would have been stumped. Langenscheidt offers false nose for Pappnasen. Leo‘s a little better, because it offers fool and idiot in addition to cardboard nose and false nose. This is yet another example of why living abroad is so important to the cultural understanding needed to understand and therefore translate a text well. In the end, I decided to go with When are you finally going to get it, you morons! Thanks, Eva!



1. Corinne McKay - June 3, 2008

You are so right, what a great example! I remember doing a translation of an interview where the interviewee made several references to someone resembling “the Marianne.” Had I never lived/studied in France I wouldn’t have known that he was talking not about an actual woman named Marianne, but about the gal on the French coins, stamps, etc. who is roughly their equivalent of the Statue of Liberty. Plus the word Pappnasen is just cool! Good work!

2. jillsommer - June 4, 2008

Another example is from my days as a volunteer translator for German News/DE-News, which unfortunately closed up shop a few weeks ago after almost ten years. Most of the translators at the English version, DE-News, were volunteers who had full-time jobs or were even students, but most of the time they did a pretty good job with some really tough subject matter. Anyway, about six years ago I was proofreading a translation of an article about the German fighter planes (Tornados). The translator had misunderstood the term and thought they were talking about tornadoes (such as the ones that frequently whip through Kansas and Oklahoma – and occasionally through Ohio and Colorado). Needless to say, I had to completely retranslate the article.

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