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Re: havel's speeches

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  • Michal Ginter
    Matej, I ve done a few translations and have had quite a few interpreting gigs for Havel. I ll read your work when I have a moment, and we can compare notes.
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 4, 2003

      I've done a few translations and have had quite a few interpreting gigs for
      Havel. I'll read your work when I have a moment, and we can compare notes.

      In the meantime, a few general comments:

      1. The Castle has always paid me (and, as far as I know, other colleagues)
      CZK 500 per page. They don't tend to be very generous when it comes to
      paying interpreters. ASKOT has been trying to change this, with little
      success, for years. As the new crew comes in, we'll get another opportunity
      to negotiate, I'm sure.

      2. Havel's office employs a native speaker who edits any document before it
      gets published. At times I thought his/her suggestions were
      counter-productive, but oh well. So if you're paying your NS editor, don't

      3. Just out of curiosity: who's your girlfriend? I thought I knew everyone
      who interpreted for Havel. :-)

      Greetings from Harlem, everyone!


      Message: 8
      Date: Thu, 2 Jan 2003 18:35:02 +0100
      From: "Matej Klimes" <mklimes@...>
      Subject: Re: Havel's speeches, WAS [IS GOING TO BE] FAQ: How to translate

      Hmm, the second posting with additional info made it online before the first
      with the original....

      here it is again, sorry if this makes a multiple posting...

      Hi list,

      I translated a couple of things for Havel's office recently (incredible how
      skimpy they are) - an article for The Finnancial Times, a NATO Summit Press
      Conferrence, and now his last NY address (how many of you watched?)....

      While the two former were straightforward enough (if such a thing exists
      with Havel speaking or writting) and the only thing I had to do was to think
      of how an English-speaking journalist would write them and go into
      media-cliche-mode, the latter one was a bit difficult...

      As always with Havel, it was very wordy and intellectual, although not as
      good as his early speeches. I choose the approach I somethimes use when I
      want to make sure the target text will not suffer from me inserting false
      (non-native speaker) English ideas in it - I translated it fairly close to
      what it said in the Czech version (not verbatim, but not changing the
      sentence structure or logic as much as one should do in order to make it
      sound natural English) - and then had a NS proofread and edit it - hoping
      that we'll end somewhere between Havel's complicated and wordy version and
      what would be a natural English-speaking politician's speech.

      Just before I did the final edit and sent it off on 31st, I panicked and
      started thinking that it still sounded too Czech and complicated. We had a
      somewhat heated discussion with my girlfriend (who often interprets for
      Havel) over how much should one change:

      - Her approach would be to only use sentences/way things are said that an
      English NS and a politician would use in a speech, i.e. the closest
      speech-bits-one-hears-often to what Havel was actually saying (or what we
      thought he was saying:) - which, in my opninion, while it would make the
      speech sound better, would also make it a "Bush-speech" (written by someone
      on his team, good and professional, but full of buzzwords, pathos, a bit
      predictible and boring - unless he gets carried off during one of his "holy
      war" proclamations, or makes a silly mistake, but that's another story)....

      - I argued that would be going too far. I do use a similar technique when
      translating most of my stuff - technical docs, journalism or PR pieces
      (think of how a NS working in the relevant field would say something the
      Czech doc is saying and then write it, no matter if I end up with quite a
      different sentence structure, etc. - the meaning and "correct style" for
      that field is the most important thing - of course it doesn't work for all
      areas, certain types of legal stuff, for example...).

      I do think that a bit more could have been done to the "Czechness" of the
      speech, but it was difficult because Havel hardly ever uses sentences
      shorter than one paragraph and since he usually builds them up to a
      gradation, they are extremely difficult to break up and still retain all the
      meaning. I didn't do much in the end as it was due in a couple of hours and
      I'd probably end up changing every sentence and it would require another
      proof.... All we did was to get rid of Havel's favourite multiple "dear
      friends, dear fellow citizens, etc. etc." and, thanks to the proofreader,
      changed the way we said some things English speakers wouldn't understand...

      The speech doesn't seem to have been published much in its entirety,

      I would appreciate comments on what you think the correct approach would be
      and/or examples of better translations of parts of the text.

      Czech Version:

      English version:


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