As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve had a speech-flavoured working week.
Translating a speech is a good opportunity for translators to provide added value for their clients. Not only should our translated text read fluently and naturally, it should also be easy for non-native-speaking clients to read aloud (and for their audience to listen to).
Your client might be delivering the speech in their own language, of course, with the translation provided in the delegates’ pack or for the interpreters. Try to find out. If they’re delivering the translated version (for the purposes of this post, I’ll talk about translations from Italian to English), try to find out how well they speak English.
When you’re working on the translation, remember to keep sentences short and simple in construction. If the sentences in the original version are long (as they often are in Italian), when you divide them you might need to change the order not just of the words but of the phrases too. If so, make sure you retain the intended emphasis.
Don’t be afraid to use a more rhetorical style of writing than you normally would (rhetoric, as defined by Merriam-Webster, refers to “writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion; skill in the effective use of speech”). You’re translating for impact, after all.
Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who helped King George VI overcome his stammer, used annotated drafts of the King’s speeches and drew lines between words to indicate when to insert pauses. Click on the image (inset on the left) in Ben Zimmer’s The King’s Tongue Twisters article from the New York Times to see an example.
As translators we might not be able to annotate our texts to that extent (although we could ask our clients if they’d find such guidance helpful). But we can and should use punctuation liberally for the same purpose.
And, like Lionel Logue, we should avoid words that might be problematic. For example, if I’m translating an Italian foreign-policy speech I might want to avoid a sentence like: “We will make a thorough-going effort throughout our three-year mandate to overthrow the forces of terror and through that effort thwart those forces in their attempt to throw the world into the trough of despair”. I know, you might want to avoid a sentence like that regardless of who’s pronouncing it. The point is that all those “th” and “ough” sounds would be problematic for most Italian-speakers.
Read the translated speech to yourself (in your head or aloud). Listen to its rhythms and adjust your translation if necessary.
And end the speech on a strong note.
By Marian Dougan