revision, translation, viticulture

Girona m’ha conquistat

Health warning: If I had written this post sooner, it would have been much shorter. Roughly 4,700 words follow.

We linguists of the twenty-first century converged on the city of Girona that had some sort of heyday in the fourteenth, and saw nothing unusual in taking photographs with our smartphones of city walls, churches and convents and intricate wrought-iron work of centuries past.

Conferencing on the state of the art and science of editing & translation against a spectacular backdrop of history intertwined with cultural interest is something of a METM tradition, and METM18 was no exception. I was pleasantly surprised by the modern sculpture exhibition in the quadrangle of the former convent, now known as Centre Cultural Le Mercè, as well as various interesting pieces populating other spaces.

An equally pleasant surprise was the bowl of fruit greeting my hungry eyes on the way to my first workshop on Thursday, 4 October 2018. I do hope it was not someone’s preparation for a still life composition; it’s not every day that you get a free banana, you know.


Quadrangle at Centro Cultural La Mercè, Girona. Photo credit: Virve Juhola, Cape Context Oy/Ltd.


One could say that I crossed the better part of the Iberian Peninsula via a series of non-synchronised modes of transport from a sleepy little village near Faro, Portugal to attend METM18 in Girona, Catalonia, a place, which as the title of this post suggests, won me over completely. More than 170 attendees travelled from further afield, and willingly, moreover, to immerse themselves in the intense learning from and exchange with their peers and, of course, the social catch-up with many who have become friends over the years.

The three-track programme means that each participant has a slightly different experience of METM.

At MET Meetings, I make a concerted effort to plug gaps in my knowledge, and use the weeks and months afterwards to draw parallels and weave what I learn into the already fragmented and somewhat eclectic body of knowledge that life has presented to me thus far.

With the getting of knowledge in mind, I kicked off my METM18 with what seemed like forbidden fruit in the form of a well chewed banana, a slug of cold water, and a front row seat in Alan Lounds’s workshop on the subject of Research Article Abstracts and Introductions: A genre-based approach to editing and translating. I felt like—and probably was—the least experienced participant in the workshop, which meant that I learnt a lot both from the presentation and the exercises we did in groups, as well as the discussion among more learned participants after each exercise.

You might well wonder why research article abstracts and introductions would be of any interest to me at all. It so happens that I have been translating rather a lot of material for a legal academic this year (and I have had my fair share of editing non-native Masters theses written in English in the past), but there is only so far I can go relying on innate pernicketiness backed up by hours of unguided study on my own. Such focus on territory relatively uncharted by me led to my having several light bulb moments, and by the end of Alan’s workshop, to continue the electrical metaphor, I was beaming with such radiant intensity that I could have sworn my complexion changed briefly to the bright yellow of that long since discarded banana skin. Be that as it may, I was certainly on the right wavelength to squash myself into the lively translation slam which followed.


Here some are of us at the translation slam, looking studious; arguably, our natural way of being. Photo credit: Cesc Anadón ©2018 MET


My knowledge of Spanish is sketchy at best, and propped up chiefly by my knowledge of Portuguese, with a few rusty Latin nails for good measure. Fertile ground for very interesting discussion came from the Spanish to English translations prepared by slammers Maéva Cifuentes and Tim Gutteridge of a short text chosen by moderator Kymm Coveney, with the slam itself coordinated ably by Aisha Prigann. But, wait, I am getting ahead of myself.  I settled into my seat with all the excitement I invariably feel when I receive a new text to translate. This year, I am pleased to say, there were more than enough copies of the text for everyone, so before the proceedings got under way, I was able to read the Spanish undisturbed and think about possible translations of my own into English before performing two quick comparative analyses from the typewritten offerings of the respective slammers. I guess that is what everyone else in the above photo was doing too.

I have attended the translation slams at all three METMs I have been to (15, 16 and 18), and would not miss this Off-METM activity for anything except, perhaps, a translation slam in a language pair with which I am more familiar. The Spanish text came alive for me when Carlos Mayor read it aloud, for it gave me a better sense of extra-linguistic elements which needed to be conveyed in the target English. The beauty of translation slams lies in the marked differences between the translations each slammer has prepared – and then, through audience participation, the potential third, or even fourth possible rendition of the prose in question. I love this aspect of rolling up one’s sleeves and getting stuck in; I love it even more when esteemed colleagues do the same in a positive spirit of focused collaboration that produces concrete results.

METM differs from other translator conferences in that we are not there merely to be educated and entertained: we are there to participate. As one of the lazier worker bees to date on The Hive, a MET archive of tools and resources (see RHS sidebar on the MET homepage), I left the translation slam inspired, and buzzed off to a nearby restaurant to The Hive’s Off-METM dinner, which doubled up as a meeting by way of final preparation in advance of The Hive’s panel presentation two days later. We had an hilarious time, and the fact that we got to the end of the agenda is due solely to Queen Bee Emma Goldsmith’s sheer determination. Emma also managed to photograph us in one of our more serious moments.

L to R: Allison Wright, Kymm Coveney, Wendy Baldwin, Alan Lounds, Ailish Maher, Heather Hamilton. Photographer: Emma Goldsmith

I had not registered for any workshops on the Friday morning, since the only one I was interested in was fully booked almost immediately registration for the conference opened. That was Translation Revision and Beyond, a workshop facilitated jointly by Simon Berrill, Victoria Patience and Tim Gutteridge. Nevertheless, I am gratified to see that the translator-revisor collaboration idea is spreading, and has become part of mainstream discussion among translations professionals. This type of workshop has the potential to grow in usefulness and impact, especially when narrowed down to specific language pairs, both within MET and beyond. My informal sources of information have given me the impression that there is nowhere near enough translation and/or revision practical components in translation degrees currently offered my most universities. This, together with the fact that a high proportion of MET members had a different career before becoming translators or editors, makes the concept of interactive learning while working together all the more attractive.

It is pertinent here to remind readers that all abstracts submitted for presentations at any METM are subjected to two blind peer reviews before being considered for acceptance. These are not revisions, but reviews on content and suitability. I will confess here that the abstract for my own presentation was given a rigorous going over by one very kind and knowledgeable soul. It was only thanks to her help and vigorous questioning that I was able to whip my blurb into shape so that it passed muster. Such a process is both humbling and educative. And that is how is should be. All content on the MET website, and content for individual METMs undergoes a similarly rigorous process: it benefits from the sharp eyes and professional experience of many before being published.  I feel precocious and cheeky—as well as honoured—to call such MET members my peers but will do so, since, in principle, we all strive to attain and maintain standards of editorial excellence in the texts we produce. And that, too, is how it should be.

Another best practice that I heartily support is the “sign your work” movement, first thrust on to the translation landscape a good fifteen years ago by Chris Durban, and this imperative has been almost a mantra of hers ever since. As I mentioned obliquely earlier, we are all at different stages of development, so it is worth reminding people regularly why putting your name on work you have done is a good idea. I touched on this in my presentation, but I might well have been preaching to the converted if the “Show and share” table is anything to go by.  All participants had the opportunity to display samples of their work on the table. Their portfolios were available for anyone and everyone to scrutinise. My intention was to spend much longer perusing the material on display, but each time I started looking at something interesting, I would see someone else I needed to greet, and we would end up chatting instead. I am sure that those who participated in this initiative, originally proposed by Valerie Matarese, would agree that the chief benefit for them came from the act of preparing material to put on show. This was certainly the case for me, since I needed the permission of several clients in order to get my portfolio together. I came to MET buoyed by their good wishes.

Show and share table. Photo credit: Jackie L. Senior

The METM Choir practice at Friday lunchtime meant that I could not participate in any Off-METM lunches on specific topics, but after giving our vocal chords some exercise, I shared a pleasant tapas lunch with four other choristers, and reacquainted myself with the pleasures of vermut. Translators are never short of conversation topics, in my experience.

The complexities involved in obtaining acknowledgement for your work, and how language service professionals are perceived, particularly in the academic sphere, was the subject of panel discussion moderated by Valeria Matarese, with panelists Wendy Baldwin, Mar Fernández Núñez, Jackie Senior, and Kate Sotejeff-Wilson. It confirmed my experience in non-academic spheres: each situation, and each client, is different, and while a certain amount of flexibility is desirable, acknowledgement is always something which should be part of the discussion before taking on an assignment. I twinged privately, since it made me realise that I had not had this discussion with the legal academic I mentioned above, so it was enlightening to learn of the various strategies that panelists had employed.

I was somewhat disappointed with John Linnegar’s presentation on modal verbs, possibly because I had so enjoyed his presentation at METM16 on what constitutes a “light edit”. And perhaps because early mastery of modal verbs is essential for any German-English translator, I felt that I had been transported back to some dingy “O”-Level classroom on a hot summer’s day.  It was, however, worth hearing John confirm my own observations of the recent shift in usage from “shall” to “will”, and from “should” to “must”, where the latter in each case now signifies what the former always has. Reference to the abstract at the time of writing this blog reveals that John did intend this session to be particularly instructive to those for whom English is a second language. This presentation might have been better as a mini-workshop, in that case.

I spent the coffee break after that in a “meeting” discussing a potential collaboration with another MET member. Arranging such things before METM is useful, and in-person meetings always have that little something extra that is lacking in other means of communication. That “something extra” more than makes up for all the tasty-looking snacks I missed out on because of the meeting, but it might also have been penance for having pinched that banana the day before.  While on the subject of consumption, I applaud the strategically placed water coolers in the quadrangle. Definitely an excellent addition to METM!

Rose Newell’s emphasis on communication with one’s clients to ensure their content transcends cultural difference when either writing, editing or translating copy made a whole lot of sense to me. Being the person to bridge that gap as part of the service you provide is an aspect to which many translators fail to devote sufficient attention. All translators, especially those living in the country of their source language, should highlight these matters with clients when appropriate – and yes, this can and does apply to so-called technical texts too.

Daniel Hahn, as one of two METM keynote speakers, wowed the audience by his sheer breadth of achievement and his thoughtful and wide-ranging address. What I was unprepared for, but loved all the same, was his generous, gentle and elegant sense of humour. His speech, entitled In Praise of Editors (the translator’s view), had me riveted. It was hopeless taking notes, so I simply enjoyed listening attentively.

The riveting Daniel Hahn, with Kymm Coveney looking on. (Do I really want credit for this photo I took?)

He left pretty smartly for the next engagement in his busy schedule, so I was unable to tell him that his founding of a translation prize that also gives recognition to the book’s editor had already had an impact on my professional life. So, I shall tell the story here.

In January 2018, a translator whose work I have often revised over the last seven years got in touch with me asking whether I would like to be her revisor for the Portuguese to English translation of a novel by Cristina Carvalho. Naturally, I said I would, since I do like the collaborative experience with this translator. Discussion immediately turned to the issue of price, since the author herself was initially going to pay for the translation and its pre-publisher revision (by me). Via the translator, I suggested that the author contact Daniel Hahn (with a link to the article announcing the founding of his prize) to discover whether there were any other funding possibilities. In the event, I do not think the author contacted Daniel Hahn, but it did motivate the author to seek funding elsewhere, in this case from the Instituto de Camões. The surprising upshot was that the Institute agreed to pay 60% of the costs of translation and revision, with the remaining 40% (paid as an advance to the translator and myself) being paid by the author, at a rate that was acceptable all round. One further benefit was that the Canadian publisher has now made an important business connection with the Instituto de Camões, and this augurs well for the future. I am therefore grateful to Daniel Hahn for more than his excellent speech.

After the welcome reception at the impressively decorated Saló de Descans at the Teatro Municipal, a group of us who, for the most part, had only known each other online, went off to find a bite to eat, and spent more time than was sensible having a jolly entertaining conversation. For those of you who are interested, I still have not got the knack of sleight-of-hand with wine corks. At this point, I could launch into a monologue in praise of taxis after midnight, but shall refrain.

Suddenly, it was Saturday, and in consecutive presentations, two of my favourite speakers, Valerie Matarese and Joy Burrough-Boenisch, examined slightly different aspects of acknowledgement and contributions to research articles. Two somewhat surprising facts to emerge from Valerie’s presentation were that crediting authors’ editors is a very recent development, and that the struggle to standardise giving credit, thereby ensuring greater transparency, is by no means over. Some of the results from Joy’s survey (to discover the answer to the question, “Do freelance editors for non-native-English academic and scientific researchers seek acknowledgement?”) were startling: Only 14.5% of respondents always seek acknowledgment. 76% of respondents in the Social Sciences never seek acknowledgement, and 45% in Science are similarly averse to proactive behaviour. Overall, when those in the Humanities are included, the figure evens out to a depressing 58% of respondents who never bother to ensure that they are duly acknowledged.

It would not be entirely unreasonable in my view to speculate that a broader survey of a much greater sample than freelance editors who are MET, SENSE or NeAT members working for non-native-English academic and scientific researchers would garner similar results. The clear message to be derived from the two presentations above, and others on offer at METM18, is that language professionals (in all sorts of areas of specialisation) need to step up to the plate and at least try to hit the oncoming ball before calling it quits because in their eyes the innings is already lost. In other words, each language professional needs to become part of the solution, and not simply sit back and watch the problem grow in size and complexity. A basic METM message, I suppose: Do your bit!

I went to David Cullen’s A translator’s decalogue out of curiosity. There is an overabundance of advice for (young) translators splashed all over the internet about what they need to bear in mind when practising their craft. I had no argument with any of the points on his list, and was enormously amused, once contributions were invited from the audience, to see that this list cannot possibly be confined to a mere ten, or even twenty, basic points. I did like the piece of advice regarding the need for translators (who work for agencies, in particular) to realise that solving translation difficulties is not “someone else’s problem” and to “take ownership of their work”, and not simply give up and lump the Project Manager, or someone else, with the unsolved problem. I cannot remember, but I might have applauded when David made that remark.

The idea of transparency and clarification of the rules of authorship in what could sometimes be described as a hostile, competitive environment in the academic “publish or perish” arena was expertly and comprehensively dealt with to a packed auditorium by keynote speaker Iria del Río in her call for an ethical publishing culture. At least that is what I thought, as a relative stranger to academic circles. Even so, it is good for someone like me to be aware of the dynamics involved as a translator or editor when occasionally nibbling at the periphery of this mountain of paper that I loosely refer to as academic research.

Based on the idea that hunger serves to sharpen the mind, and shorten the meeting, the programme coordinators had a stroke of genius in scheduling the MET General Assembly after a keynote address and in the middle of the day, immediately before lunch. It was sad to see Chair Anne Murray step down after thirteen years of service, and Alan Lounds leave Council. What is encouraging, however, is that the new Council comprises eight MET stalwarts, including new MET Chair, Kim Eddy. Collectively, they give members the assurance that MET affairs continue to be in good hands. Anne’s last official duty, as I recall, was to make sure we all followed her on a winding route to the top of a hill where lunch was served in the cloisters of the Faculty of Arts of the University of Girona, and a jolly good job she did of that, too!

Our clients in the world at large also need to know that they are in good hands, and this was the core message contained in Karen Neilson’s presentation, To oak or not to oak… profiling the wine translator. It was refreshing indeed to hear her stating that there is a whole lot more to being an effective translator in the wine sector than merely getting the terminology right. Key points included selling yourself to the client on your knowledge of all aspects of wine making, from the vineyard to the final product and the markets for which the wine is destined. Clients need to feel confident that you, as the translator, know the ins and outs of their business. Clearly at home in this terroir, Karen covered a lot of ground in this twenty-minute presentation: she pulled out a bunch of production and export statistics; touched on the influence of climate and soil and how they relate to wine tasting; recounted how she has watched expert oenologists at work in the vineyard selecting before harvest which grapes would go to oak and which not; retold with some humour and suspense of the hunt she pursued, when discussing rootstock, for the English term “crown”, referring to the basal region of the trunk slightly below and above the soil level, and she emphasised the need for knowing a good deal about gastronomy, as well as cultural differences between two languages and how these impact on consumer attitudes towards wine and determining appropriate approaches to marketing. She mentioned the necessity of communicating  with clients when a straight translation of their Spanish text would result in negative connotations in English as being one of the many reasons for the sensitive adaptation of a text. It was a treat to listen to Karen advocating quality translation in the real “world of wine”.

No one is quite sure how it happened, but somehow the wine translators at METM18 managed to get together for another brief moment around midnight at the closing dinner long enough to have their photograph taken against what is known for its blankness in current parlance as a “selfie wall”.

Back row, L to R: Linda Turner, Elizabeth Garrison, Allison Wright, Simon Berrill, Karen Neilson. Front row, L to R: Ruth Simpson (Ruth Gicqueau-Michel), Aisha Prigann, Karin Rockstad Photo credit: Tim Gutteridge

After my presentation on Marking your digital territory and the rapidly vanishing rules on acknowledging one’s source in the crazy copy-and-paste culture of the Internet Age, I missed out on yet another coffee break – but did help myself to a pear (legitimate fruit – as was all the fruit so considerately on offer in the Centre during the conference, so I discovered later), on which I managed to break a filling in a back tooth, before a brief interview with MET member Lisa Agostini and her radio producer partner, Julian Mayer, of Yada Yada. The two volunteered to produce a podcast of a few of the presentations at METM18, and more observant participants would have noticed them in action, albeit mostly in the background.

That treacherous but juicy pear provided me with sufficient sustenance to hurl myself back into the old convent building to listen to Nigel Harwood speak on Using metaphors to explore the role of the proofreader of L2 student writing in the UK context. The sample of proofreaders at a UK university who were interviewed was small, and his focus entirely academic. As stated in his presentation abstract, “Fourteen proofreaders in a UK university were interviewed about their practices, speaking to a prompt card offering definitions of the proofreader’s role as a cleaner or tidier, a helper or mentor, a leveller, a mediator, and/or a teacher. Some informants were institutional insiders (e.g., lecturers, PhD students); others were freelancers with no connections to the university.” The body of his presentation, and research results, did indeed show that very few guidelines for such proofreading exist, and the playing field is by no means level. Not being a native of this particular planet, I was taken aback that someone in the audience expressed “shock that some L2 students had paid for proofreading services”. For those of us in the commercial world, it makes perfect sense that someone should pay for the benefit of our native linguistic expertise. I understand that one has to consider the entity known as “academic integrity”, but if L2 masters and doctoral theses are revised—or even translated—as a paid service, and, from without the walls of the ivory tower at least, this is common knowledge and seemingly accepted practice, then why can the same not apply to L2 master’s essays?

As a freelancer who makes a living from not only my translation abilities, but also my skills as a revisor, editor, or proofreader – and primarily in non-academic contexts, I hasten to add, I baulk at the idea that I should be expected to waive my fee simply because the client is a student. Indeed, whenever I hear in conversation that someone is embarking upon a master’s degree, I advise them to get a part-time job at the same time and start saving money to pay for a native English editor for their master’s thesis. I realise that there might be a lot of worms in this particular can, and that many students probably do not finish writing their thesis in sufficiently good time for their supervisors to give them proper advice (this is the impression I have received from several such texts, and my impression alone), but I do have to question whether universities in general are doing their students justice if radical editing (including the pointing out of factual error, mathematical errors when calculating percentages, graphs that are not consistent with the interpretations given, omissions in bibliographies, etc.) by a freelance language professional is so obviously required three or four days, say, before the thesis submission deadline. I am also very much aware of the fine dividing line that exists between producing comprehensible English and improving the quality of the thesis, thereby potentially influencing the grade such a thesis might obtain, and I am careful not to cross what I imagine that dividing line to be. I voiced none of this during Nigel’s presentation; I was tired, and anything I might have said at the time in response to the shock expressed that some L2 students pay for the proofreading of their essays could well have come across as fractious at best. If anyone can point me to substantial literature on the matter, I would be very grateful!

Speaking of resources, my final session – not before a quick refill of my water bottle at one of those wonderful water coolers, was one in my role as laziest worker bee to date: a review of The Hive – one year on. The session took the form of a panel presentation, with Emma Goldsmith, Wendy Baldwin, Alan Lounds, Kymm Coveney and Ailish Maher each taking a few minutes to review what The Hive is about, what is in it, and what is Beside The Hive. Heather Hamilton (my lovely presentation moderator) and I were the only other members of The Hive Team at METM18, and neglected to bring pompoms all the way to Girona for the purposes of cheerleading. Suffice to say, the session had the desired effect: more MET members have entered the Hive as worker bees, and we now number twelve in total. The Hive is a resource base and platform for MET members only. I would urge you head on over to the relevant page on the MET website and read all about it, browse around, and remember to contribute as appropriate. Like any good METM, The Hive has something useful, and something of interest for everyone.

There were several presentations at METM18 that I was sorry to have missed for one reason or another, but that is how it always is. All that remained at this point was to enjoy a jolly good final dinner, and the final bit of fun: singing in the impromptu METM Choir – not bad, after only two hours’ worth of riotous practice!

METM18 Choir singing “Jave Jive” and a Catalan song, “Himne dels pirates” Video credit: Julian Mayers of Choir director: Christina Koch, Choir assistant: Ruth Simpson. Click on the image above to go to the video on Youtube.

My week’s holiday after the conference, followed by almost two weeks of solid work, is the reason it has taken me so long to publish this post. I don’t know yet whether I will come to Split, Croatia next year; if I do, I plan to enjoy it every bit as much as I did this year. Thank you to everyone who helped make this event a success and a true pleasure!

©2018 Allison Wright











revision, translation

Revision and the Quality Crate

Re-hashes of older blog posts and various guest posts I have written will appear here with a #flashbackfriday tag.  I cannot promise I will always publish on a Friday, but the fricative-heavy hashtag will serve to indicate that the blog contains archived material. This blog on revision originally appeared on Nikki Graham’s blog on 30 August 2016.  Fresh discussions recently in social media forums on how to find a suitable revision partner prompted me to haul this blog out of the archives.

Revision goes beyond

This post cannot possibly say everything about revision and does not need to. Nikki Graham has already grouped together a number of revision-related blogs worth reading here for your convenience.

This means I am free to skip all the usual definitions and give you instead a hotch-potch of impressions and experiences which might give you some food for thought about how you approach revising your own work, how to refine your response to revisions by others of your work, and how you, perhaps, perform revisions on the work of others. I have written from the perspective of a revisor; a revisor whose own translation and revision work has come under harsh scrutiny where some revisions made and conclusions drawn have been justified, and others not. I continue to hope that insights thus gained serve to make me a better translator and a better revisor.

judging quality remains subjective in nature despite numerous attempts by humankind to enclose this dynamic, amorphous beast in a big crate

Far from being rules to follow, the considerations below are intended to prompt you to pay attention to areas where you realise you could enhance your own revision methods in order to improve and sustain the quality of the (target) texts you have a hand in.

Nikki - pic3 - computers

The quality spectrum

In his TED talk on cognitive surplus, Clay Shirky made a secondary remark which caught my attention and had me pondering – certainly not for the first time – on the range of quality in our performance, hence our work, on a daily basis. He said:

There is a spectrum between mediocre work and good work, and as anybody who’s worked as an artist or a creator knows, it’s a spectrum you’re constantly struggling to get on top of. The gap is between doing anything and doing nothing.

Apart from competence – which I shall leave you to define – most translators would agree that it takes a good deal of hard work to produce indisputably good quality all the time. A host of internal and external factors conspire against our achieving this tall order. And that is before anyone else has even seen the text we have produced!

By and large, I am not given to using superlatives. When I refer to “a good translation”, I most often mean “an extremely good translation”, but am hesitant to say so because there could very easily be, and very often is, a better translation which simply has not surfaced yet. I am not alone in this view.

This brings me to an important point: judging quality remains subjective in nature despite numerous attempts by humankind to enclose this dynamic, amorphous beast in a big crate (labelled QC, QA, LQI or EN15038, EN17100, or whatever), with a packing list as long as your arm and lots of little checkboxes which are systematically ticked.

A far more erudite professional than I by the name of Gérard de Angéli wrote a detailed article in the Translation Journal in 2008 which poses the question, “Do We Really Need Translation Standards After All?” After a rigorous comparison of standards for translation services in Europe and the USA, he makes the observation that focusing too much on the quality control process and not enough on the text (the translation) itself may not be entirely desirable or, indeed, result in the quality so very much desired in the first place.

In a similar vein (or perhaps tangentially), despite our attempts and those of others to maintain a reasonable degree of objectivity when we approach the practicalities of revision, there are many instances where we fail to, or choose not to, adopt such a clinical methodology.

There are situations where the Quality Crate loses relevance because the far more nebulous, intuitive but useful adjuncts of experience and savoir-faire take precedence.

Subjectivity, I would argue, has its place in the revision spectrum, in that one has to employ judgement and discernment to keep that creature we call Quality alive. As an echo of that famous line in the film Calendar Girls, I think we need a bigger Crate.

Nikki - pic4 - books translated or revised


All of these factors make the subject of revision a very tricky one, chiefly because the other factor which splays itself out on a spectrum is that of expectations. A girl at school once walked into the classroom and asked her fellows, “Does anyone have Great Expectations for me?” She did not get the response she expected.

To illustrate a point about expectations – and, at the same time, the inappropriate, tight-arsed use of the subjunctive – I shall tell you a joke in what purports to be a Yorkshire accent*:

A Yorkshire farmer owned a sow*. His neighbour had a boar. Every once in a while he took the sow in his ‘barra’ (barrow) to be covered.
Every time after natural insemination had occurred, the next door farmer would say,
*If she be took, tomorra mornin’ she’ll be eating grass. If she baint eating grass, she’ll not be took. Bring her back and they can ‘ave another go.”
The farmer took his sow back home.
The next morning at breakfast the farmer told his wife to look out the window, and asked her, “Be she eating grass or baint she eating grass?”
“She baint eating grass,” replied the farmer’s wife.
So the farmer bunged the sow back in the barrow and carted her off to his neighbour’s boar again. They had at it a good long while to make sure she were took.
The following morning the farmer had the same conversation with his wife, and made a third trip to the next door farm, now getting quite impatient at having to push the sow in the barrow all the way up the road.
On the third morning, again at breakfast, he asked his wife to look out the window.
“I can’t bear it,” he said, “Tell me quickly. Be she eating grass or baint she?”
His wife turned to him with a look of utter surprise on her face.
“Weel,” she said, “she baint eating grass —she be in the barra!”

*For ease of understanding, not all features of the stereotypical Yorkshire dialect have been graphically reproduced.

Strictly speaking, the use of ‘be’ in the above story is not in the subjunctive, with the arguable exception of ‘if she be took’. Be that as it may, please bear the above joke in mind while you cast your eye over the following random bit of text I came across while researching something a couple of weeks ago, and which I have redacted to minimise interest in its source:

The […] methods […] have been conceived in such a way that they are compatible with the [xyz], whether this be a few units for pilot [projects] or more significant numbers [for large] commercial [operations].

I don’t know which is funnier or sadder – the joke about the randy sow or the sentence above. You be the judge.

For revisors like me, before you can say ‘she be in the barra!’, the highlighted words jump out at us even if we have American sensibilities when it comes to the subjunctive.

Straight away, our eyes dart back to the source text to see what prompted such pedantry on the part of the translator, although we already have a fair idea: it is not only the start of the subordinate clause which has got our goat (pardon all the animals in this here blog), but all the other literal expressions preceding it. They have all the lightness of a ruddy great sow as she lands with a thump in the barrow.

One can argue that

The methods have been conceived in such a way that they are compatible with the [xyz], whether this be a few units for pilot projects or more significant numbers for large commercial operations.

is a perfectly good sentence.

The translator who wrote that can readily defend this sentence by saying that it can be understood, and most importantly, she (an arbitrary assignment of gender) has employed the subjunctive mood exactly as it should be in the best of all possible worlds, apologies to Voltaire and Leibniz and all that. Fair enough. Let’s accept, for the moment, that it is a passable sentence. Except that you might already have forgotten about the swathes of guff I removed for the purposes of providing an example. This abridged sentence has 33 words. The original target text was 46 words long.

Clearly, the translator and revisor are not quite on the same page. The translator’s text should be eating grass; instead, it has taken up residence in the barrow. The revisor, somehow, has to persuade the text to return to nibbling the green stuff.

It seems that the translator and the revisor do not have the same expectations of what a sentence in English should look like, and more than likely have understood the expectations of the client differently.

A revisor, however, is not a casual reader. A revisor makes it possible for other readers to be casual readers.

And that is part of the point, and part of the problem. This sentence is part of a rather long (translated) article which is already in circulation on the Internet: this is the final product. The point is — and this is conjecture on my part — that this article has not been revised. Checked and proofread, yes. Checked and proofread by a person other than the translator? Possibly. If the translation went through an agency, have all the Quality Crate boxes been ticked? I bet they have! Revised? Not really.

Nikki - pic2 - bookshelf

Interior monologue

Casual monolingual readers of the target text place comprehension, appropriate word choice and something called ‘readability’ high on their list of things that determine the success or otherwise of a text. A revisor, however, is not a casual reader. A revisor makes it possible for other readers to be casual readers.

Revisors correct translation, terminological and typographical errors, insert omissions, punctuate, make essential stylistic changes, and so on, and ask that very important question, “Yes, but does it mean anything?” From feedback I have received on my own work over the years, I suspect that most revisors do something else, as I do, before they reach that stage in the revision process: they look at the bones — the structure — of things.

What I see is not consciously step-wise so much as occurring almost simultaneously. I am happy to reveal my thoughts purely because they will probably strike a chord with many of you. Here is that sentence again:

The methods have been conceived in such a way that they are compatible with the [xyz], whether this be a few units for pilot projects or more significant numbers for large commercial operations.

And here is my stream-of-consciousness response to those 33 words with my special revisor spectacles on:

… subject of the main clause immediately grabs onto a passive verb, blah, blah, followed by a conjunction… plus a demonstrative pronoun in the singular instead of the plural (‘this’ instead of ‘these’, referring to ‘methods’ and ‘they’)… and cherry on the cake, a verb in the anal retentive subjunctive!… ‘few’ versus ‘more significant numbers’… source text has subjunctive… yes, word for word, how quaint!… why ‘conceive’?… why is everything so, you know, productive?

Then, without changing a thing, I continue reading, because the same thought (about compatibility) may be expressed differently elsewhere in the text, and may trigger a more constructive revision than the one I am currently capable of making.

It is also possible, when dealing with other types of translations, that I would continue reading the source text on its own, to get additional impressions of my own from it, without interference from the target. There are lots of approaches. That is one I use when I need to.

Why, why, why?

Let us pause here to speculate why the translator (to whom I have arbitrarily assigned the female gender) chose to write this sentence this way.

Possible explanations:

  1. She always writes this way, and is convinced that this is the best she can do, since it is near-perfect anyway.
  2. She is afraid to depart from the source text and venture into the real world of the target language.
  3. She is working for peanuts and therefore is pressed for time because so many thousands of words need to be churned out every day.
  4. The peanut factor means she gave up long ago on revising her own work thoroughly and might not have read this sentence more than once before hitting the Send button.
  5. She is lazy. The work is for an agency; the revisor can fix it, if so inclined.

Something is wrong with this picture. If you are primarily revising texts like this, the chances are that you are very unhappy. How about suggesting to the agency that you translate the texts instead? There are many translators who refuse revision work because they end up asking themselves “Why, why, why?” far too often.

A while back, I was sharing my own frustrations as a revisor within that intimate space known as a chat box, and a colleague known for her competence and precision in translation had this to say:

Translator training these days seems devoted primarily to learning to use software. Translators are unable to translate without the benefit of any tools, meaning they are unable to see a text as an integrated whole, not a grid in which they only see disembodied segments. They are unable to intuit a rendering based on the context and not resort to dictionaries to piece their translations together word by word. They don’t bother to edit their translations in the final formatted form (Word, PowerPoint, etc.) and leave their mess for someone else to clean up.


My response at the time was to say that not only do I find a lack of placing the text in context worrisome, especially in work revised for agencies which insist on the use of a specific CAT tool, I also find the broken feedback loop problematic. All the Quality Crate processes in the world serve no useful purpose unless the translator has the freedom to offer some feedback on the meticulously provided feedback created as part of the agency revision process – because sometimes the translator is right, and the revisor needs to know this.


I take feedback on my work very seriously indeed. Having said that, I do not think I devote enough time to examining revision changes. In the context of work I have done for one agency in particular, where institutional uniformity of style is often at loggerheads with ‘the better translation’, it has taken over four years for me to gain perspective on all the red ink returned.

If I do not earnestly examine the feedback I get, then I cannot improve.

I do not like some of the things one particular revisor at this institution does to ‘my’ texts, although I can see the reasoning. In the early days, I used to reply occasionally, especially if, during the process of revision, an error which was not present in my original translation had been introduced. I stopped doing that about a year later when I discovered that my translator feedback on this feedback was not being forwarded by the agency to the institutional revisor. It should be noted here that the agency has never used the profusion of red ink to penalise me financially.

It is with discipline and a certain weariness that I open the bilingual feedback files from this agency, but I do it because I am aware that in order to become a better translator, I have to modify the way I think; I have to make adjustments in my thought process on the treacherous path between source text and target. If I do not earnestly examine the feedback I get, then I cannot improve.

Sometimes the agency includes in its covering e-mail a brief comment made by the revisor, which might include such dry comments as ‘Note plural noun in Segment 123’. At the beginning of this month, however I achieved a three-word breakthrough: “Allgemein gute Übersetzung.” (Generally, a good translation). Finally, a positive comment from the revisor I do not like, but whose revisions of my work I have studied for over four years. Upon opening the file to see what fabulous things I had done, I had a good old belly laugh: the text was covered in just as much red ink as it always is!

tramping through semantic fields

Collaborative feedback

Whereas realisations on feedback from agencies can take years, collaborative feedback in translator pairs where each revises the work of the other is instantaneous – and if both parties play the game, offers the possibility of a continuous feedback loop, which no agency in my experience has ever been able to provide.

there are translators who crave feedback on their work and are either not getting any or not getting enough of it

I know that a big biography I revised last summer benefited enormously from the mere fact that the translator and I already had around 200,000 translated and revised words under our belt before we started. How do I know? Because last night I re-read two or three chapters in particular that I recall as having required extensive revision. How beautiful it was to note that I could not see where my revisions were (even though I have a memory of what they were). The collaboration between us achieved a good result: a stylistically consistent text with one voice. This kind of result can, of course be achieved on much shorter texts too.

At the other end of yet another spectrum, there are translators who crave feedback on their work and are either not getting any or not getting enough of it. Even in this age of social media, many, many translators are finding it hard to identify colleagues with the same language pair, the same or similar specialist fields, and a similar degree of competence. These are basic prerequisites for a translator pair, to which a whole lot of other criteria have to be added, such as similar work ethics and a similar sense of humour. If you have not yet found someone to match up with, keep looking, keep asking.

Pairing up with colleagues for mutual revision is, as someone recently said to me, ‘a hit and miss affair’. Even if we want it to work, sometimes it does not, or it does not work in the way that we may originally have envisaged. This does not mean that we should stop trying to find someone with whom such an arrangement would work to better advantage. There are lessons to be learnt from every experience.

by far the greater risk lies in not having someone revise your work

With any new association, there is a risk for both parties. That’s one more risk to add to the bucket-load we already have to consider as translators. From my relatively short experience in working in various collaborative pairs (to cater to my strange group of subject fields and different language pairs) over the last few years, I am firmly of the opinion that by far the greater risk lies in not having someone revise your work. I am all for a honing of my craft in a mutually supportive environment under the hyper-watchful gaze of a colleague who, in turn, is only too glad that I have ‘a good eye’. (Yes, we still joke about the way she said that.)


All the best translators I know all work with revisors. All the best translators I know would not think of working without one. All the best translators produce work of consistent good quality because they have an extra pair of eyes on the text at hand, and exchange insights and criticism in ways which most often lead to learning on both sides, and most certainly lead to better quality texts. I am talking about the kind of quality texts which have little use for the metrics applied in translation standards, because the standard of the texts produced in collaborative revision far exceeds the benchmarks set in such standards.

Here’s the thing: Not only do all the best translators have years of experience translating; they also have years of experience in honing their craft. Don’t you think it is time you did something to get to that level too?

©2016 Allison Wright
In the spirit of revision, Simon Berrill – a translator, revisor and former journalist by trade – kindly agreed to revise and comment on the above article before publication. I thank him for his insights and contribution. Other anonymous colleagues, quoted and otherwise, also helped me focus and produce a better text, for which they have my respect and gratitude. I like collaborating on blogs, by the way.

revision, translation


Aside from the Vine Atlas of Spain and Portugal, it seems that I have amassed a small pile of books which I have revised. The works reflect my wide interests. You will see that each one is different from the next.

In an effort to document my signed translation and editing work done for clients and published either in print or online, I have detailed it under the Portfolio tab on my personal blog, a feature which this blog currently does not have. Clicking on the image below will take you there.

Portfolio screenshot

©2018 Allison Wright