Posted by: patenttranslator | June 12, 2010

Stepping Into the Same River Again/Einstein’s Last Words

I wrote about the weird feeling I experience when I am retranslating an existing translation in a previous post here.

This post is about something else. Quite frequently I am asked to translate several patent applications, for instance three or four, that have been filed with the same title by the same company and with the same inventors listed. For example, the same design of a complicated device can be changed so that two parallel edges of the mechanism are now arranged at a diverging angle, but otherwise, everything else is pretty much the same. Many Japanese corporations will file several patent applications that are based on the same idea with relatively minor modifications. It is dangerous to use cutting and pasting in these cases because you could easily miss relatively minor differences, especially in Japanese. After a while, you work as if in a trance, like a robot on auto pilot pumping out memes or anagrams, and if you make a mistake, you tend to keep repeating it without noticing anything.

And every now and then I am asked to translate into English a patent application that was originally filed in another language, for instance German, and then translated into another language, for instance Japanese or Czech. I always try to look up the original German or Japanese text and I can usually I find it. I don’t like these re-retranslations because they are often hard to understand. The thing is, the patent agent who wrote the original text may not have been a very good writer, the next patent agent may have butchered the translation some more and it’s up to me now to make sense out of this mess. Plus, something happens when a text is translated into another language, even by a good translator. The natural feeling of the original is often lost, sometime along with the meaning. Sometime, instead of stepping into the same river three or four times, it feels more like stepping into something else, brown, less liquid, and more smelly.

Sometime I have to look at the Japanese translation of a patent that was originally filed in English and  compare it to the English text to try to figure out what this combination of Japanese characters or a strange formulation means in Japanese. It usually takes me a while to find the correct paragraph in both documents. And then I find the wording in the original language ….. and I go, oh, I see, this is what it means. Poor translations and strange formulations in different languages invoke a different kind of sensation in this patent translator. A poor or really strange Japanese formulation feels kind of silly (baka mitai). It never is silly when it is in German, in German it is more like … impenetrable (typisch Deutsch). And if it is in Czech, it’s just a stupid, careless mistake (typical Czech).

It is a good thing that I can find the meaning of the text in the original language when the meaning is hidden in a poorly worded translation. A translator who knows only two languages would not be able to do what I am doing. At least I’m good for something. I found my place in the universe.

They say that Einstein was trying to say something important when he was on his deathbed, but, unfortunately, the nurse who was taking care of him did not understand German, and German speakers tend to speak in German when they are on their deathbed. So we will never know what Einstein’s last words were.

I must try to remember to say my last dying words in the correct language, depending on the country, and without too much of a foreign accent in my last words.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: