Translate mind stuff please

| Work and play | 1 Comment

The many woes of translation work have kept me occupied for the last couple of weeks. You see, since there is no work available which is relevant to me, that is one matching my knowledge and background, I have assumed the role of "junior" translator type of person. At least I am being productive, I hope. As a native English speaker, I have been invited (asked in panic and desperation) to help out with a number of so-called important documents that need to be written in snappy attractive flowing sentences. By tomorrow. Should have already been done yesterday.

The average Dutch person is pretty good in written English but misses out in the subtle writing style required to catch ones attention and pull the reader along to the desired conclusions. This is the company for you! Selling by using the written form is an art in itself. Now that that rumor has spread through the company grapevine, I get called by tons of people all the time. You see, I am an experienced senior project manager, NOT a (junior) technical writer. How dare you! However, I am expected to remain productive during very difficult times, so it is difficult to say no. The ironic thing is that all this internal activity I work hard at and occupy myself with is not valued very highly by my employer. No, not in the very least. He is greedy and only wants money, more and more money.

In the meantime, I am expected to search out and land a so-called "paying" assignment somewhere, a lucrative project, or I am out of there! See you later, man. See you in prison.

Now, translating is okay for a while. It does involve some creativity and it can be quite challenging receiving scraps and pieces of input from everyone every which way and trying to collate varying writing styles into one coherent piece of majestic art. In Dutch, there are many many words that consist of many many words put together, at times exceeding thirty to forty letters, believe it or not. These humongous word forms represent one concept that cannot be easily translated into English form without producing some mangled spaghetti sentence. Take for example the following words:

omgekeerdevenredigheid - inversely proportional.
huishuidelijke aangelegenheden - domestic affairs.
matigheidsgenootschap - temperance society.
onfatsoelijkheid - indecency.
fijngevoeligheden - niceties.
samentrekkingsteken - circumflex.
onverschoonbaarheid - inexcusable.
ontwikkelingsgeschiedenis - history of development.
openbaargemeentevervoer - public transportation.

The last word in the list openbaargemeentevervoer is especially interesting as it reminds me of the very first week I was living in Holland. I decided to take a bike trip to the countryside north of Amsterdam. In order to get there, I first had to take a ferry behind the train station. As I stood waiting for the ferry to return from the other side, I could not help seeing the large thick yellow letters spanning the full length of the ship. Even today I can see the clearly as if it was yesterday:


As a non-native Dutch speaker (who just happens to come from America where the conversation consists at most of a bunch of short and choppy sentences) such a long word is impressive to say the least. How can people in this country read and think and talk all at the same time? Does the human mind first have to collate the whole length of twenty-four letters before it is known what is implied? Or is there some kind of intuitive foresight that after the second or third syllable, combined with some contextual reference mode, where the mind can already jump into the future and figure things out. This is the very same with the construction of passive tense where the verb forms do not appear until the end of the sentence. How does one know what the action is when the verb does not appear until the end of the sentence?

Put this way: How does one the action when the verb until the end of the sentence know does not appear?

So should I continue this translating stuff? No thanks but thanks. I have no choice now, so just make the best of it. Yes, thanks.

1 Comment


The red and white ferry to "amsterdam noord" hasnt got the stickers anymore, there is a space between the words now:( i think i can catch it on camera tomorrow, ill post the url somewhere.

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This personal weblog was started way back on July 21, 2001 which means that it is 7-21-2001 old.

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Graduated from Stanford 6-5-1979 ago.

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