Dr Bittner Business English

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Why Like-Blog? Now, first of all, this blog is a blog that you should like (and read regularly) – at least, if you are interested in translation. Then, the topic discussed here is one in which the meaningful likeness between a text and its translation in the language pair English-German plays a key role. On this page, I will take a close look at some interesting translation solutions that I have come across in the course of my work as a translator and translation scholar.

A translation solution is only as good as the arguments that support it. This means that any translation criticism, whether positive or negative, needs to be justified. The quality of a translation solution shows only when we compare it to other possible translation solutions in a given translation situation. Therefore, a translation critic should not only say why a translation solution is bad, but also demonstrate what a better solution might look like. I will try to stick to these principles of translation criticism. So if you have any questions regarding my line of argument or if you disagree, please, let me know your opinion by phone at +49 4171 6086525 or by e-mail to bittner@businessenglish-hamburg.de. So much for the introduction. I hope you'll enjoy reading this blog!

On biofuels and deforestation (June 2019)

In “The Clean Energy Scam” by Michael Grunwald (Times Magazine of 27 March 2008), we find the following sentence: Several of the most widely cited experts on the environmental benefits of biofuels are warning about the environmental costs now that they've recognized the deforestation effect. It was translated into German as follows: Mehrere der am häufigsten zitierten Experten zu den Vorteilen von Biokraftstoffen für die Umwelt warnen, jetzt, da sie die Folgen der Waldzerstörung erkannt haben, vor den Umweltkosten. This may seem plain sailing at first. At a closer look, we can see, however, that not only does the translation fail to properly reproduce the meaning of the original, it also fails to make sense as a stand-alone text.

What is problematic is the rendering of “the deforestation effect”. This noun phrase could be re-written as: “the effect of deforestation”. Here, the translation error consists in the interpretation of the of-genitive as a subjective genitive – a form of the genitive rather common in German and English, in which the genitive assumes the role of an acting subject: deforestation has an effect. There are two reasons why this interpretation is not correct: On the one hand, the meaning of the translation is not quite plausible in the given context; on the other hand, number (i.e. the distinction between singular and plural) must not be neglected. However, first things first. Typically, large areas of forest are cleared to cultivate plants that are suitable for the production of biofuels. Deforestation is itself an effect of the biofuel boom. The text is, then, not about the effects that arise from deforestation. (They could be the topic of another article.) What is more, for the latter meaning to prevail, the author would have used the plural of “effect”: deforestation effects.

It looks as if the translator followed an otherwise virtuous translation strategy. Detaching him- or herself from the original as required by circumstances (a direct rendering of “deforestation effect” as “Waldzerstörungsfolge” or “Waldzerstörungsauswirkung” would at least detract from the journalistic style appropriate in the context), the translator failed to recognise the significance of the singular (“effect”) used in the original and fell into the above-mentioned trap suggested by re-writing the noun phrase with an of-genitive. The corrected translation might run: Mehrere der am häufigsten zitierten Experten zu den Vorteilen von Biokraftstoffen für die Umwelt warnen, jetzt, da sie erkannt haben, dass Waldzerstörung die Folge ist, vor den Umweltkosten.