How creative is a concert pianist? Just like a translator, she does not create anything new. She just translates notes that were written by somebody else and that she sees on a sheet of paper into music, the way a translator translates words from one language into another.
Unlike concert pianists, most people do not read notes, all they see are meaningless symbols. Branka Parlic sees symbols and hears the music in her head. But still, she does not really create anything new, does she? Oh, wait, she does. Leopold Stokowski, Svjatoslav Richter, or Mstislav Rostropovich would not play this piece by Philip Glass the way Branka Parlic is playing it. Every pianist, or every good pianist, creates new meaning for the notes on a sheet of paper every time he or she touches the keyboard. The meaning of the notes cannot be programmed into a digitized language, only the result of the playing can be recorded and then reproduced a million times. Why can’t we create a software program that would play music as well or better than humans? Or can we? (No, we can’t because we are not God seems like a good answer).
Creativity, or creating meaning where there was none, is a part of translation that is not understood by non-translators. Before a long patent claim is translated into English, only relatively few people, something like a mere hundred million, could read and understand a long sentence in a tricky Japanese claim. After I am done with it, at least a billion people will be able to read it, and some might even understand it.
In fact, I do feel like a concert pianist when I translate, especially when I translate long and complicated Japanese claims. Although unlike European and American patents, Japanese patents start with claims, I usually translate the claims at the end because at the beginning I am still trying to establish the correct terminology, the correct meaning of the notes, you could say. I touch the keyboard lovingly and longingly, just like a concert pianist. But unlike a pianist, I can go back and change the meaning of the words, and then often change it back to what it was originally.
I have my own playing technique too: I use a yellow highlighter to highlight と, (to, which means “and”, with a comma after that), then start from the end of the claim, jump to the beginning, divide the sentence into と(to) sections, and look for を(wo, which designates an object in Japanese). Perhaps other translators have other techniques, but vain as I am, I do believe that my technique is the best one, at least for me. I know that if I don’t highlight the to sections, I might forget one of them if there are 8 or 12 of them in one claim and the sentences are repetitive, which they always are.
I usually listen to music when I translate claims, this piano piece (Metamorphosis 2 by Philip Glass) would be very suitable for translating patent claims. Hip hop music would not be suitable for my purposes. You can’t really be hopping in your chair when you are reading Japanese characters and typing at the same time. I don’t think I will even try doing that. But opera works for me too, unless it has a heavy beat to it. New Age music is perfect for patent claims.
I like to translate patent claims early in the morning, just after I’ve had my first cup of coffee for the day and after I have quickly checked the news on the Internet to make sure that the world is still there. The meaning of the Japanese claims that I see in English in my mind, combined with the music that I hear with my ears, create a parallel kind of universe that is there just for me, early in the morning before everybody else wakes up, as I listen to my own music of the spheres, which may or may not be heard by other people when I am liberating the meaning of words that up until this point were hidden in a long string of Japanese characters or long German compound nouns.
One reason why I don’t use computer memory tools such as Trados is that I value my own creativity, the act in which I give meaning to Japanese characters that are meaningless to most people, but very meaningful to me. The artist and craftsman in me finds the whole concept somewhat barbaric. I don’t think that cutting and pasting sections of text from my old translations and jumping between two software programs on the screen would give me the kind of supernatural high that I experience early in the morning when I create something new in my own version of the universe, after I’ve had my first cup of coffee, just before I hear the thud of the newspaper hitting my porch as the night starts receding back to where it came from and a new day is dawning again.