What I am saying in this post may or may not be applicable to other translation fields, but I can clearly identify three distinct phases of patent translation. I compare them to the three phases of dating for the obvious entertainment value of introspection, but also because the similarities are real and obvious.
Phase One – Getting To Know You
During the first phase, I am trying to quickly establish what is it that I am dealing with here. I read a summary or claims of the patent if they are short and I look at the drawings and try to remember the shapes and arrangements. I need to establish the technical terms that I will be using, which means that I have to place the patent in a meaningful context. I am mentally comparing it to other patents. This is not a very productive stage, I am mostly wasting a lot of time without really getting much back in return. But unlike at the beginning of a relationship, I don’t have the option of deciding to get out of the situation. Once I accept a project, I have to finish it. Some patents are very short, just a few hundred words. One could compare them to one night stands. Some are tens of thousands of words long and may take weeks to finish. The average length of a patent is about 3,000 words, the average length of a more or less serious relationship is 3 years, at least based on my experience.
Phase Two – Learning About What You Know and What You Don’t Know
Every more or less serious relationship that I ever had taught me something about myself – mostly about the many deficiencies of my personality, character and physique that I was blissfully unaware of prior to the onset of said relationship. Every time when I have to look up for the hundredth time the same Japanese character or German word in a dictionary or on the Internet, I can’t believe that I have forgotten it already. I feel like slamming down the dictionary in frustration (but I don’t do that, of course). I don’t use computer memory tools because no matter what anybody says, I happen to know that they really are not suitable for patent translation. Just like every relationship, at least every meaningful one, every patent is special and the terms that were applicable to the previous translation are not necessarily applicable to the new translation.
Once most of the terms that I want to be using have been established, the productive phase of the relationship starts. It will hopefully last until the end of the translation unless I get sidetracked by some unexpected variables that will force me to redefine the terms of the relationship. This is the productive phase, I am able to finish a lot of words per hour or per day once I understand the patent on my own terms. I can feel that I have made a connection with an invisible undercurrent of universal meaning of concepts and ideas that were up until now disguised and hidden in long strings of characters in Japanese or compound nouns in German. I can keep translating while listening to music, sometime from Internet radio, sometime from my iPod. Finally, things are beginning to make sense to me.
Phase Three – The Mystery is Finally Unraveled During Proofreading
Although I don’t make any money during proofreading, the third phase is in a way the most interesting phase because it is the revealing phase. It is usually too late to make any major changes during this phase – it would take too long and it would be just too painful, but many minor changes can and should still be made. It is best to proofread translations after some time, for instance after a good night’s sleep.
I like to proofread early in the morning, but I feel that I need plenty of daylight for proofreading. With only 2 lamps turned on, there is too much darkness around me and I need to be able to see everything. I still look up characters and words sometime during proofreading, but mostly I correct typos, mistakes and omissions. It is much easier to correct mistakes and omissions in a translation than in a relationship because we can’t go back in time in life. But you can go back in time during proofreading, all you need is a keyboard.
The words that I have translated will now be embedded somewhere in a hidden part of my brain and they will be hopefully accessible to me and I will recall them when I need them again, just like past relationships, at least the meaningful ones, become embedded in our memory for the years and decades that are still left to us to ponder over everything that happened and everything that did not happen.
They say that everything happens for a reason, which would have to mean that everything that does not happen does not happen for a reason too.
Which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, just like most of my posts and some of my translations.
The song below has a very interesting history. Bob Dylan wrote it when he was only 17, but he did not really write it, he modified the music and added some lyrics. It is said that the song was played only once by Dylan in 1961 and then forgotten until it was released again in 2005. The same lyrics are also in the song Five Hundred Miles (also known as A Thousand Miles) which I have with The Brother Four on my blog here. According to a Wikipedia article, “The song may have its origin in a Southern American fiddle tune called “Reuben’s Train”. This version of the song by Anthony reminds me of “On The Road Again” by Canned Heat from 1965, which is another song that is based on folk tunes that don’t seem to have a single author. And so on, and so forth. Everything is connected to everything else.