New Year’s Resolutions

Published 6th January 2011
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So what’s yours? You are going to quit smoking; lose twenty pounds; go to the gym every day; stop watching reruns of CSI and finish George Steiner’s After Babel instead; meet all your deadlines, and finish those tricky technical translations; not max out your credit card ever again; never lose your temper with your young children or aging parents; cheat neither on your partner nor your tax return; run a marathon; learn three new languages and become a super hero – right?

Well, here’s mine: In between moaning and bitching about heavy workloads and impossible deadlines, I am occasionally going to spare a thought for the translators of yesteryear … say, around 1990. Just imagine: They didn’t have Google. Let me repeat this so it sinks in: They did not have Google.

I don’t know about you (actually, I can hazard a pretty good guess) – but when I’m given a text on an unfamiliar topic, I often start by quite randomly googling terms and phrases just to see if my search throws up anything useful: a thread from an online translation forum perhaps, or a multilingual website which covers similar material. Even after I’ve looked a word up in one of my dictionaries, I usually do a Google search to make sure it’s actually being used – who would ever trust a dictionary, after all? Next, I’ll tap various online resources and if I still have open questions, I might post them in a discussion forum myself, or send an SOS e-mail to some of my translator friends.

Of course, as I’ve said before, the internet can be a mixed blessing because it allows bad translations to proliferate and you have to use your own judgment to filter those out (not to mention all the distractions it provides). But it most definitely is a blessing, especially when it comes to technical translations, and I really wouldn’t want to work without having all this information at my fingertips.

Still, life wasn’t all bad in the pre-digital age. Here is a description of the daily routine of Hunayn Ibn Ishāq, one of the caliph’s star translators at the House of Wisdom in ninth-century Baghdad, who also insisted on being paid by the weight of his output – in gold. May he be an inspiration to us all: ‘We are shown Hunayn, after his ride every day, going to the baths. There he would lie at his ease while the attendants poured water over him. On emerging from the bath he put on a bedgown, drank a cup of wine, ate a biscuit and lay down to rest – sometimes falling asleep. The siesta over, he burned perfumes to fumigate his person and ordered his dinner. This generally consisted of a large fat fowl and a cake of bread. He would sup the gravy and eat up the fowl and the bread. Then he resumed his sleep and on awaking drank four pints of old wine, to which he added Syrian apples or quinces, if he felt the desire for fresh fruits.’

What do you think? Personally, I think this sounds like a fairly good arrangement.

If you would like any further information about our technical translations, please contact us.

So what’s yours? You are going to quit smoking; lose twenty pounds; go to the gym every day; stop watching reruns of CSI and finish George Steiner’s After Babel instead; meet all your deadlines; not max out your credit card ever again; never lose your temper with your young children or aging parents; cheat neither on your partner nor your tax return; run a marathon; learn three new languages and become a super hero – right?

Well, here’s mine: In between moaning and bitching about heavy workloads and impossible deadlines, I am occasionally going to spare a thought for the translators of yesteryear … say, around 1990. Just imagine: They didn’t have Google. Let me repeat this so it sinks in: They did not have Google.

I don’t know about you (actually, I can hazard a pretty good guess) – but when I’m given a text on an unfamiliar topic, I often start by quite randomly googling terms and phrases just to see if my search throws up anything useful: a thread from an online translation forum perhaps, or a multilingual website which covers similar material. Even after I’ve looked a word up in one of my dictionaries, I usually do a Google search to make sure it’s actually being used – who would ever trust a dictionary, after all? Next, I’ll tap various online resources and if I still have open questions, I might post them in a discussion forum myself, or send an SOS e-mail to some of my translator friends.

Of course, as I’ve said before, the internet can be a mixed blessing because it allows bad translations to proliferate and you have to use your own judgment to filter those out (not to mention all the distractions it provides). But it most definitely is a blessing and I really wouldn’t want to work without having all this information at my fingertips.

Still, life wasn’t all bad in the pre-digital age. Here is a description of the daily routine of Hunayn Ibn Ishāq, one of the caliph’s star translators at the House of Wisdom in ninth-century Baghdad, who also insisted on being paid by the weight of his output – in gold. May he be an inspiration to us all: ‘We are shown Hunayn, after his ride every day, going to the baths. There he would lie at his ease while the attendants poured water over him. On emerging from the bath he put on a bedgown, drank a cup of wine, ate a biscuit and lay down to rest – sometimes falling asleep. The siesta over, he burned perfumes to fumigate his person and ordered his dinner. This generally consisted of a large fat fowl and a cake of bread. He would sup the gravy and eat up the fowl and the bread. Then he resumed his sleep and on awaking drank four pints of old wine to which he added Syrian apples or quinces, if he felt the desire for fresh fruits.’

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