Sometime I have to spend a long time looking up a single technical terms in different resources on the Internet. I have a list of some of those resources on my website. According to Google Analytics, 34.86% of the visitors to my website were last month repeat visitors. I am assuming that many of them were other patent translators, or perhaps patent lawyers and paralegals who need the same resources as I do.
Yesterday I spent about 20 minutes looking up the Japanese word すえ切り (suekiri). Kenkyusha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary, also referred to as “The Green Goddess” by some translators, which is at this point pretty old, did not have an entry for this word, and neither did technical dictionaries that I own.
Google Translate translated it as “porcelain cut” because the character 陶, pronounced “sue”, means porcelain, and the characters “切り” mean “to cut”. But because the first word “sue” was written in hiragana, one of the Japanese alphabets, or more precisely syllabaries, rather than with a meaningful character, the actual character was missing in this case. It could also have been the character 据 (sue) which can mean “to set, install”, or “defer”, or 末 (sue) which usually means “end”, or 饐え (sue) which means “to turn sour” or “go bad”, and a number of other things.
“Porcelain cut” was actually a pretty good guess by Google Translate if the Japanese word is interpreted without any context. The problem was, the patent was about car technology which normally has nothing to do with cutting of porcelain, except perhaps when somebody drives a car into a shop window full of porcelain dishes or figurines, which does occasionally happen in car chasing scenes in American and French movies.
Online dictionaries in Japanese also had a whole range of various interpretations of the term “suekiri”, from something to do with swinging a hammock from the standstill position to something to do with Freud’s theory of female orgasm. I am not kidding, Sigmund Freud was a devious fellow who had all kinds of theories that were translated into just about every language. Remember “ego”, “id” and “super-ego”? That was our friend Sigmund too. I wonder how they translated it into Japanese.
But none of the translation appeared to be related to automotive technology, not even remotely or indirectly.
So my next step was to go to the World Intellectually Property Organization (WIPO) website to run a search for English translations of this word in patents published in Japanese. The WIPO website is an excellent resource for patent translators such as myself. The problem is that since the people in Geneva who must have put this website together are not Japanese, the search machine interpreted the word すえ切り (suekiri) as four words, namely “su” + “e” + “ki” + “ri”. Each of these sounds could easily represent a Japanese word, but because in this case there were only two Japanese words meaning a very specific technical term, the website was completely useless as it gave me thousands of “hits”, even when I put the word すえ切り (suekiri) in parentheses.
This website is an excellent resource when I am looking up English words for terms in French, German or Russian, but although it has a clean and fast interface, much faster than the one used by the Japan Patent Office website, it is often useless when it comes to Japanese patents.
My next step was to try to find the term “suekiri” on the Japanese Patent Office (JPO) website. A big problem with the JPO website is that it is really designed as two separate websites, one in Japanese and one in English, and since the guiding concept seems to be that “the twain of East and West shall never meet”, I have to click about 12 times on different tabs before I can find an answer to a simple question.
When I put すえ切り (suekiri) in the search field in the Japanese search function, I got back 21 hits. However, because the English summaries on this website are prepared by Japanese speakers, unusual terms are often left untranslated, or worse yet mistranslated. I could not find anything that would make sense in the first 8 summaries, but then I finally saw that this term was translated in two summaries as “stationary steering”, which made perfect sense in the context of my translation.
So that was the right term right there, and it took me only 20 minutes to find it. If you think about it, the Japanese explanations of the term that I found online, namely swinging a hammock from the standstill position and female orgasm, kind of make sense too, although in different contexts, of course, unlike the reference to cutting of porcelain helpfully suggested by Google Translate, which would only make sense in a dumb car chasing scene as I already noted.
Next morning I had a request from a translation agency that occasionally sends me Japanese patents for translation to quote them this time a price for editing a Japanese patent that was translated by somebody else. It took me only a few moments to establish that the translator was obviously not a native English speaker. The language was unnatural and ridiculously stilted, even for patentese, the translator kept using weird words like “equipments”. It was clear to me that he has probably not studied Japanese formally at the college level because the structure of Japanese sentences was slavishly copied in English, which makes translations from Japanese very hard to understand. There is a method to the madness of each language, and this translator simply did not understand how to transform a structure that is normal in Japanese to what looks normal in English.
Japanese has a fixed word order – the qualifying part always comes before what is being qualified, regardless of the length of the sentence, and the verb is always at the end, which often makes it really difficult to match the correct verb with the correct noun in long, rambling sentences with many verbs.
English too has a fixed word order, which is much less rigid compared to the rules governing Japanese grammar in some respects, while it is in fact more rigid in other respects. The translator who translated that patent knew enough Japanese and enough English to be able to come up with a translation that made more sense than machine translations of Japanese patents, but mostly because machine translation of Japanese patents usually make no sense whatsoever.
It would still take me hours to edit that translation, almost as long as retranslating the patent from scratch.
And that is one reason why I don’t edit other people’s translations, except when they work for me – it so happens that I know how to pick translators whose translations can be edited fairly easily. Also, I would be a fool to be willing to train my competition.
If you pick an experienced patent translator, somebody who has the education and the experience to be able to do good work in a given field, and who actually knows both languages very well, you could probably train a dachshund to find mistakes that even highly experienced translators will make, mostly omissions and typos.
(OK, it would have to be a highly intelligent dachshund who can read at a seventh grade level).
But if you pick somebody who may be able to produce a strange but understandable translation as the translator in my example did, at least compared to massacred and butchered translations that I have seen, probably at a fraction of what I charge, don’t ask me to “fix some minor problems”.
As the saying goes, you get what you pay for.