Lingserve language solutions

Ten years of the LingServe blog

Space oddity

In praise of Lexico

Never waste a good crisis

A little Christmas reading







News & views

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Ten years of the LingServe blog (3 May 2022)

It has been ten years this month since we first posted a blog on our website. Our first entry, when we had no subscribers and no notion of how long we might end up blogging for, was about the need for care when using dictionaries, and you can read it here. Since that very first, very short blog, we have widened our scope to report on internal goings-on in the company, to offer our take on topical events*, and to provide translation tips. We have found the latter particularly useful as ready-made responses to certain common customer queries. Interns and new recruits are also encouraged to peruse our entries for specific advice to gain a more rounded sense of how we work.

Tangible and tenuous links to the world of German to English translation included in our blogs range from Marie Kondo's tidying techniques and Brian Eno's oblique strategies to the finer points of translating even the most innocuous of German words. Other highlights include a post declaring our love for wordplay, and we obviously also feature that stalwart of online content, a listicle! A look back at our older entries is like taking a walk down memory lane.

Documenting our musings and thought processes in this way has served as a form of journal for our work, and we are immensely proud of our perseverance. Our aim at the outset was to publish around once a month, and though that has not quite been possible we have still managed to post around 80 blogs in the 120 months that have passed since we began. Sometimes it has simply not been possible due to staff absences and a lack of capacity during our busy periods, but at times inspiration has simply not struck! Having a blank screen or sheet of paper and just the germ of an idea presents us with a very different challenge to translation. We can confirm that writers' block is very much a thing!

A big benefit to the blog from our perspective is that it sharpens our writing, editing and indeed translation skills. Since the arrival of Jana in 2017 many more of the blogs have been published in German, and she has proven an excellent resource, usually meaning that the German version of the blog - when we have time to produce two versions - is often superior to the original, or at the very least inspires us to make one or two changes to the English!

Over the years, we have built up a small but loyal band of subscribers, enough to give us the motivation we need to continue recording our reflections and methods, keeping you abreast of our news, or just chewing the linguistic fat. Thank you for your feedback and kind words, but most of all thank you for reading.

*In a very Boris Johnson-esque move, we had two blogs written on the day prior to the Brexit referendum.

Space Oddity (31 March 2022)

It's hard for a linguist to ever properly be off duty. Every sentence we read, every utterance we hear is consciously or subconsciously scanned for changes in how our particular native tongue is written and spoken, however subtle those changes might be. And that's OK. A lot of our work is journalistic in register, so it's important that the language we use remains authentic and contemporary. We like to discuss our observations in the office, seeking corroboration and perhaps planting the seed for others to begin noticing what we have. Discussion and debate frequently ensue. Only when outsiders eavesdrop on us dissecting the nuances of contemporary language is it brought home to us how pedantic we must seem to non-linguists. We recall, for example, back in the early days of the company, asking an engineer from our IT service provider for his thoughts on whether 'internet' should be written with a capital 'I' or not. He had no opinion on it at all, and couldn't understand why on earth we thought it mattered. But again, that's OK. Pedantry, and a keen eye for the shifting sands of language, are essential traits for translators. Not so much for tech-heads.

We often mean to write blogs about certain linguistic tics and trends that we pick up on in our day-to-day interactions with non-translators or on the radio, TV or internet (yes, like the rest of the world, and finally even the New York Times, we ultimately settled on lower case 'i'). But what tends to stop us is our natural disclination to weigh in on matters when we do not have the empirical evidence to back up our suppositions, or indeed the time or inclination to collect such evidence. And sometimes the changes are simply quite hard to articulate. But let's make an exception with this post. And so to the observation in question, namely how we are increasingly encountering the word 'space' being used in an entirely figurative sense to describe some kind of intangible field, area or dimension. That's quite a nebulous description, so here are some examples by way of illustration:

"... here are lessons we could learn from analyzing 10 years in that space, including how startups have covered / performed alongside the value chain ..."

"... and operates sensitively once again in the space between 21st-century ethnographer and enlightened genre director."

"I think there are some new moves afoot in that space, and it's something I know that [the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office] are looking ..."

"The possibilities for partnerships and advertising in that space are limitless."

"COVID and lockdown have increased the focus on digital banking, remote payments, digital payments and so on. Companies that had good solutions in that space have done really well." 

We're not saying that 'space' has never been used in this abstract way before. But we do get the impression that it is being used more often and in more diverse ways in its figurative sense. Indeed 'space' is now even being adopted in preference to the undeniably more physical word 'place' in clichés such as: "I'm in a bad space right now", "We're in a good space in our relationship". And a desire to avoid sounding clichéd - to mix it up and sound fresh - is one reason why language does change over time. People get bored, and if you can add a touch of novelty to proceedings while still communicating the intended message, then subtle changes like the one we have sketched out above are no bad way to do this. Part of our job as a provider of top-notch translations that don't read like translations is to reflect on these changes, and then reflect them in our work where appropriate.

In praise of Lexico (25 February 2022)

Many years ago, we wrote a blog entitled 'My kingdom for a Duden', a plea for a truly authoritative dictionary and grammar reference work in English. Yes, authoritative sources did exist at the time: Collins and Oxford, for example, and (for US English) Merriam-Webster. But none had - and they still don't have - the oracle-like status of Duden in Germany. Not long after we penned that article, however, Oxford launched a new website for its dictionary, initially featuring its own branding, and then in later years under the name Lexico. We initially found the change of name slightly puzzling, as it swapped a respected name in the dictionary world for a new and unfamiliar, albeit quite catchy moniker. But we have since discovered that this is probably because the offering is actually a collaboration between Oxford and dictionary.com. Fair enough. And anyway, now that we have relied on Lexico's straightforward service for so long, the new name has very much become a brand in itself.

We took a decision around the time of this name change to begin using the site as a definitive source for any cases of doubt or ambiguity when it comes to orthography. Not really for spelling as such. Without wishing to blow our own horn too much, our spelling is more or less impeccable! Would you expect anything less from translators? No, Lexico really comes into its own for decisions relating to the hyphenation of compound English words. For example should it be 'handmade' or 'hand-made'? 'Lowdown' or 'low-down'? We had previously relied on a patchwork of sources, which was problematic as you might imagine. It's fine for everyone to have their own preferences or favoured reference works, but not when you're trying to ensure consistency across an organisation!

There are some Lexico entries we disagree with, of course. 'Well-being' and not 'wellbeing' springs immediately to mind. But, on the whole, it has been a game changer* in terms of enabling a quick-and-dirty check that is accepted by all members of the team. If we had to be picky, we would suggest that including suggestions for where to break a word across lines and columns (e.g. hy·phen·ation) would be a useful feature. For this, we currently defer to the suggestions offered by www.thefreedictionary.com. A further benefit of Lexico from our point of view is that our style guide has now become much more streamlined, enabling us to focus more on our grammar and style preferences and the idiosyncrasies of translating between German and English.

So, thank you Lexico for heeding our call! It's really helpful that we can now refer our customers to a single definitive (and digital) source. Obviously, if a particular customer has a preference for the spelling or hyphenation of a word, or uses an invented term to serve a particular purpose, we are of course happy to accommodate this and will document it in our internal processes as necessary.

*As if to prove my point, the team member that translates our blogs into German pointed out to me that Lexico says that what I had originally written, 'gamechanger', should actually be two words!🤦‍♂️

Never waste a good crisis (28 January 2022)

The translator working between German and English should be aware that there are certain words used in the two languages that are more or less equivalent in meaning but appear with much greater frequency in one or the other. Erfolgreich and insbesondere spring to mind, and we’ll touch on those in future, but the subject of this particular blog is Krise. Now, you don’t have to be a successful and highly qualified German-to-English translator to realise that Krise in English is ‘crisis’. But is the word really more common in German? If you’re looking for cast-iron proof, we’ll have to disappoint you. Our assertions are generally based more on gut feeling than empirical evidence, which would of course be prohibitively time-consuming to obtain. We have translations to do, after all! Nevertheless, we are avid readers in both languages and a medium between the two, so we are perhaps better placed than most to make such claims.

For as long as we can remember now, the world has been in some kind of crisis. Indeed this writer’s time as a translator began roughly when Angela Merkel – the Krisenkanzlerin – first came to power. The financial crisis of 2008* seems a long time ago now, but its effects were felt for years. Indeed the quantitative easing that it heralded was still ongoing when the pandemic broke out, which triggered an even more massive injection of money into the economy. Note that we said “pandemic broke out” here. Ausbruch der Pandemie is used in German, but you’re equally likely to come across Corona-Krise. And the events have of course had all the makings of a crisis: death, suffering, economic collapse, etc. But, after a while, depressing as that may be, it just begins to feel like normality, not a crisis as such. And, after a while, we as translators begin to tire of reading Krise. It stands to reason then that the people reading our translations might too. So, occasionally, we render Corona-Krise as simply ‘pandemic’. Provided the context is clear, no one will be in any doubt about what virus we are talking about here.

Of course, Corona-Krise rolls off the tongue far more easily than ‘coronavirus crisis’. Despite its obvious advantages in terms of rhythm and syllable count, ‘corona' has not really taken off as an abbreviation for coronavirus in the same way it has in German. We tend to just say ‘COVID’ (often without the ‘-19’) or ‘lockdown’. It’s hard to say exactly why. Could it even be the relative popularity in the English-speaking world of the beer brand Corona, or something more prosaic? Either way, you’ll see Corona-Kind, Corona-Speck and Corona-Frisur in German, whereas we are perhaps more likely to encounter ‘lockdown baby’, ‘lockdown belly’ or ‘lockdown haircut’.

Again this is not a scientific view, just more an observation in our tireless attempts to produce the most fluent and natural sounding translation possible. It’s always worth questioning the obvious choice and putting yourselves into the shoes of your reader.

*From a translation perspective, the language used to describe this crisis is also interesting because of the use of the suspended hyphen in German. The suspended hyphen in Wirtschafts- und Finanzkrise and its variants (Banken- und Finanzkrise etc) and in similar phrases does not give any scope for ambiguity. In other words, it is clear that the word Krise relates to both Wirtschaft and Finanz. But this is not necessarily the case for equivalent formulations in English. ‘Energy and environmental management’, for example, can be understood as the ‘management of energy’ and the ‘management of the environment’ but also just as ‘energy’ and ‘management of the environment’ as two separate concepts. Energie- und Umweltmanagement does not have such ambiguity. The suspended hyphen is only really used in English, and even then not often, when one of the existing words in the phrase is hyphenated. So ‘short- and long-term’ would be a permissible and unambiguous truncation of ‘short-term and long-term’. Returning to Wirtschafts- und Finanzkrise etc, the optimum translation for these particular phrases is usually simply ‘financial crisis’, leaving the banking and economic side of it unsaid. Most people will probably not need any reminder of the role that certain banks played in this crisis!

A little Christmas reading (17 December 2021)

In terms of subjects to riff off in our blog intros, our current government really is the Christmas gift that keeps on giving. We can confirm we definitely didn't hold a party last year and that no rules were broken! This year though, before the emergence of Omicron, we did have a small inhouse gathering, which included a festive quiz. We can confirm that no rules were broken this time around either, i.e. none of the home-based participants Googled the answers (as far as we know …).

But, joking aside, when we as translators used to attend non-work Christmas parties in pre-pandemic times, small talk would inevitably lead us to reveal what we do for a living, which led to the inevitable question: “So, you must be fluent in German, right?” Which would be the most obvious requirement from a non-translator’s point of view. And, yes, it is definitely needed for conversing with customers etc. But actually the most important skill for translators is being able to write elegantly and coherently in the language they are translating into, usually their native language.

One way of keeping our written English in tip-top condition is to read authentic target language texts. Of course, as providers of high-quality German to English translations, our services are in great demand, so it’s sometimes hard to find time! And there’s an element of a busman’s holiday feel to spending the evening or weekend reading. But it is possible to make it quite a targeted exercise, the benefits of which are twofold. Not only can you confirm that the existing creative translations in your toolbox are actually used in the field, but you can also mine the texts for new ideas to employ in future translations. Essentially, you can mentally back translate certain choice phrases and commit them to memory – or to a digital dictionary – ready to retrieve when needed.

We are experts in financial translation, and the subject is much less dry than people might imagine. In fact, it’s one of the areas where we can be at our most creative. Especially when the subject matter is developments in the capital markets, which often simply reflect what is going in the wider world.

Here are a few examples of the kind of phrases we mean, taken from an article about FAANG (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google) stocks in a UK-based investment company’s magazine:

“Boasting some of the loftiest price to earnings (PE) ratios on the market …”

“Lofty” makes a great alternative to “high” when it comes to prices and the like. It’s quite a journalistic word, but fortunately that ties in well with several of our briefs in this field.

“But we think the FAANGs have more room to run …”

The suggestion with “room to run” is that these stocks are already at an elevated price level but have potential to go even higher. It makes a good option alongside “upside potential” as a translation for the German word Gewinnchance, among others.

“But the draw of the FAANGs has always been growth …”

“Draw” as a synonym for “appeal” is something that we have often used in tourism translations in the past, but going forward (more on that phrase later) we’ll be keeping it on file for texts related to the financial markets too. The talk there is often of stocks’ Attraktivität or how interessant to investors they might be.

“But to retain its seat at the high-growth table …”

“Retaining a seat at a table” (“high-growth” being a context-specific addition of course) is a lovely phrase that can be used in all sorts of contexts from sports to music. No German equivalent immediately springs to mind, but it nonetheless pays to keep a mental inventory of these kinds of idioms for when an opportunity does present itself.

“Apple’s service arm, which includes subscription-based offerings like Apple Music and App development fees …”

Some of the best locutions are figurative and can really help paint a picture. “Arm” is a case in point as a more interesting and concise way of translating Segment, Geschäft or Sparte than “segment”, “business”, or “division”, say. A nod here to “offerings” too as an often overlooked (maybe for some too obvious) translation for Angebot(e).

“If Apple is to remain a hot growth stock …”

Somewhat counterintuitively, we’ve chosen our final item not because we do like it but because we don’t. Perhaps – staying on the theme of painting a picture – the combination of “hot” and “stock” conjures too much of a culinary image, and not an especially appetising one. The point is that sometimes we do have to use phrases that are not to our taste (see “going forward” from earlier!). What matters most is that a translation should always read authentically, i.e. not like a translation.

With any luck we’ll have a chance to do a little reading during what will be a well-deserved Christmas break – and maybe some fiction instead of financial literature! It has been another strange year and we wish for better, and more normal times next year. We hope you all stay safe and we look forward to hearing from you again in 2022.

The LingServe office will be closed from Thursday 23 December this year and will open again on Monday 3 January. Have a fantastic Christmas and a great start to 2022, and we look forward to working with you all again in the new year.

Merry Christmas / Frohe Weihnachten