Proofreading prompts — Part II grammatical glitches

January 26, 2024 by Alison Tunley

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In Part II of our proofreading checklist, we run through some obvious grammatical glitches that can afflict translated text.

Word order

Sticking ruthlessly to the word order in the source text can result in stylistic oddities. A text I recently reviewed contained the German phrase emotionale Negativmomente, and my instinct was that the phrase sounds rather odd when translated as emotional negative moments and is better reordered as negative emotional moments. A quick Google search confirms that hunch, with zero hits for the former compared with a couple of thousand for the latter. Grammatical order is not always explicable or logical, but in this case my hunch is that while you can clearly have an emotional moment that is either negative or positive, I am not sure how you could have a negative moment that does not involve emotion. (The same logic does not appear to apply to the German!).

Clunky phrasing

Jarringly inelegant phrasing is usually a sign that the translator has been overly influenced by the source language. For example, the German “Der Austausch zwischendurch ist goldwert” rendered as “The exchange in between is worth its weight in gold” rather than a more idiomatic rephrasing such as “Occasional conversations are worth their weight in gold”. These are perhaps best captured by repeatedly asking yourself whether a native speaker would ever express themselves this way. Another good trick is to explain out loud whatever message is being communicated, often that forces you to focus on the substance of the text without the tell-tale unorthodox phrasing.

Definite/indefinite articles

This is a common difference between languages and a surprisingly common stylistic flaw in translation given how easy it is to fix. For example, the German “Ein gelungenes Lichtdesign” sounds odd when translated literally as “A successful lighting design” and is much more likely to be written in English without the indefinite article, “Successful lighting design”.

Avoid tautology, even if they do it in the original

German seems to tolerate repetition within a sentence in a way that English does not, commonly throwing in a redundant auch (also/too) following another word with essentially the same meaning, e.g. zudem. Another good example of this cropped up in a recent review where the German sentence described the importance of “sorgfältige Planung …. in Vorfeld” which translates literally as “careful planning in advance”. This begs the question what kind of planning is not done in advance? Once planning is mentioned in English, the information provided by in advance is redundant and is best removed. Translated content should be subject to the same stylistic standards that would apply to any text, and meaningless repetition is unlikely to slip past an eagle-eyed editor.

Punctuation

Languages differ in their punctuation style, and it is easy for the translator to be overly influenced by the source text. The proofreading phase is a chance to eradicate “foreign” punctuation influence. In German texts, it is common to find excessive use of the em dash, where English might prefer a simple comma. German paragraphs also sometimes end with a colon to indicate that what follows is linked to the previous text. This looks odd in English, where a full stop is generally expected if there is an intervening paragraph break.

Using reviewing tasks as a chance to build up your own personal proofreading checklist is an invaluable way to improve the quality of your translation.

 

Image: Unsplash

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