Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Minimalism in translation revision

This comment by Alison Hughes in the May/June issue of the ITI Bulletin caught my attention: The late Sue Young (known as ITI’s revision guru at the time) always recommended “changing as little as possible” in the revision of translations. I agree it is a simple concept: straightforward, efficient, and effective.


Don’t ask if a sentence can be improved but whether it needs to be improved!

Intrigued by the minimalist nature of Sue’s advice, I have dug up my own notes from a revision workshop given by Sue at UWE in Bristol on 12 April 2008 and have come across a few more (minimalist) revision principles which Sue advocated. Note they are based on Brian Mossop's book "Revising and Editing for Translators".

Minimize the introduction of error by not making changes if in doubt about whether to do so.

Make only small changes to a sentence rather than rewriting it completely.

Don’t ask if a sentence can be improved but whether it needs to be improved.

Should you come across a large number of errors as you begin revising, consider whether the text should be retranslated rather than revised, and point this out to the client.

Do not impose your own translation approach or linguistic idiosyncracies upon the work of others. To quote Sue (see also ITI Bulletin May/June issue 2006, page 15): “Tempting though it may be, it is not part of the reviser’s brief to change the style."

According to Sue, it is your responsibility as a reviser to research any (remaining) problems. However, if you are unable to solve a problem, admit it to the client.


Always change as little as possible.

Obviously, a lot more aspects should come into play in revision projects, but I found these particularly noteworthy. I don’t revise translations often myself, but once the next revision job lands on my desk, I shall bear the principles above in mind!

Check out my blog article on the revision workshop with Sue Young back in 2008 here. It is based on Anna George’s write-up of the event and includes more useful information on the revision of translations.

I'd also like to draw your attention to Sue Young's article "Handling client demands", which can be downloaded from the ITI website here.