Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Little Essays on the Rules (8) Translators and Computers

Philip Harvey

Hans Küng ; [possibly translated by author].

Is this Statement of Responsibility allowed by RDA? It appears in the download record for his new book called ‘Can we save the Catholic Church? We can save the Catholic Church!’

Hans Küng’s personal note in ‘A Word of Thanks’ (p. xi-xii) reveals a web of intrigue all its own: “I am deeply grateful to Collins for publishing this English edition; many of my most important books since the early 1970s have been published by Collins. My thanks go especially to Andrew Lyon, Editorial Director, Religious Publishing, who cared for this publication with tremendous competency and energy. The Sprachendienst Dr Herrlinger, a translation company in Tubingen, provided the basic translation. Dr Thomas Riplinger, a theologian and native English speaker, reworked and amended the text with extraordinary diligence in close collaboration with Andrew Lyon.”

Is Sprachendienst Dr Herrlinger’s translation work done by a computer, a human, or both? The answer is not much clearer when we visit its site and read its Teutonic claims for Translation Quality:
 A top quality translation demands more than outstanding linguistic ability and experience in the relevant specialist field. It demands an exceptional degree of empathy and creativity too. As we see it, an expert translation is one in which the intention of the message is internalized and expressed in another language to reproduce the spirit of the original so that the reader would never guess it was a translation at all.
For us, quality is a plannable attribute. Our procedures provide the assurance of no-compromise quality right from the start: Including careful selection of the most suitable specialist translator – always a native speaker – and the provision of all the necessary technical and company-specific terminology for the job. And an exceptionally painstaking final checking process allows the identification of any inconsistencies and ensures an optimum end result. In this way we are moving ever closer to the achievement of our ultimate goal: Zero defects.
For us, another aspect of quality is the assurance of security for our customers: Our services are fully insured. Just in case. We consider this part of our all-round service package. If you have any questions about our insurance cover, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
To judge by Hans Küng’s words, the company on this occasion did not meet its stated ambition of zero defects.

This tangled web still leaves unclear the author’s role in the English translation. Was the book “possibly translated by author” with the aid of all sorts of other entities, human and otherwise? Or is the cataloguer just guessing, having not read pp. xi-xii? And does RDA allow cataloguers to write claims in square brackets like that? Or should all the garble about translation be placed in a Note?

A message to this effect on a couple of e-lists inspired responses.

Stephen Morton of Christian Heritage College in Queensland assures us that “quite apart from the intrigue of the truth Vs. “possibility” of the words in the square bracketed statement that is provided as an example, RDA not only provides for the use of square brackets, it also encourages the use of such words as “possibly”” Stephen copied some examples of just such a presentation.

Mark Hangartner of the University of Auckland Library wrote:

Hi all,

A quick look in WorldCat reveals other cataloguers including mentions of this computer based service, as well as other technology assistance eg photoelectric sensor.

The fields used: Responsibility, Note(s):,


Light beam switches : technology and applications

Reinhard Huschke;  Thomas Reinecke


German Book Book 70 S. Ill., graph. Darst. 19 cm

Landsberg/Lech Verl. Moderne Industrie


[Transl.: Sprachendienst Dr. Herrlinger. Visolux]

As to Philip’s question is it done by a computer or a human:

On this page they list the file formats that they can deal with:

and on this page they explain how the technology works including use of translation memory (TM).

Essentially there are still human beings involved but the bulk of the work is done by an automatic process.

But perhaps the nuances in Theology are such that even allowing for specialist vocabulary you need a theologian to render the ideas into English.

Mark’s and Stephen’s research is very useful.  It seems that with translations produced by outfits like Sprachendienst Dr. Herrlinger, the reader may never know which lines of the translation were machine-produced and which ones resulted from human editorial intervention. The company does not disclose the names of its “native speakers” on staff, leaving both reader and cataloguer at a loss as to who may be responsible for details of the text. The company name and its impressive modern technology are all cataloguers have to go on.

This is an interesting literary situation, unimaginable say twenty years ago. Hans Küng, by his words of explanation about the translation process, has exposed the quandary inherent in such a process. The computer is fallible. Humans are fallible too, but sentient beings with fine linguistic tuning. This is especially useful when translating newfangled German compound theological terms (that would be one word in German) into meaningful English. Translation memory ™ may know the words, but not the context or the verbal inventiveness of the great Swiss theologian. Some people believe that none of us are infallible.

Mark’s parting words about ‘nuances’ are absolutely right. Hans Küng and his two colleagues have sat down with the output of Sprachendienst Dr. Herrlinger to do what academics nowadays call nuancing. He doesn’t say that he has anything to do with the finished translation, but if he was working with them then it is true to say, at least in part, that the book is [possibly translated by author]. It was also translated by at least two other human beings of advanced theological intelligence, albeit fallible in their humanity.

Today I will attempt to write up all of this complex teamwork history into a Note. This Note will include hints that the author himself “possibly” had a hand in the English translation.

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