Trans-Editors – the ultimate localizers

Looking through the ITI Bulletin May-June 2021, in an article on revision and fine-tuning texts, I came across the term "trans-editors". Frankly, this was completely new to me.

Just when I thought we had covered all the “trans” terms … I stumbled upon another one.

Looking through the ITI Bulletin May-June 2021, in an article on revision and fine-tuning texts, I came across the term “trans-editors”. Frankly, this was completely new to me. Trans-editors, I found out, are “journalists who transform news in one language into stories relevant for readers in another” – and these people are the subject a new chapter in the 4th and latest edition of Brian Mossop’s Revising for Editors and Translators (the other new chapter is on post-editing machine translation). Must make a note and get the book!

I was somewhat intrigued and spent a few minutes (as one does) researching the term on the internet, since as I said I had not come across it before. Quite a few hits were connected with transgender journalism, which is obviously a different topic. But a bit further down the Google search hit list I landed on, which provides an interesting discussion of what is involved when local news is transmitted by the BBC World Service to other parts of the world, something they are renowned for.

The authors (Oktay Aktan and Arnd-Michael Nohl from Potsdam University and Helmut Schmidt University in Hamburg, respectively) are reporting on their investigation on how international news stories that originate in English are prepared by the BBC World Service for a Turkish audience.

Today, everything – wherever it may be happening – is global news. But since we don’t all speak the same language or belong to the same culture, we all try to make sense of what we read or hear in quite different ways, always on the basis of our own background and experience. Because that is the way we see our world. So, some form of adaptation is clearly needed if the news is to get across without too much distortion or miscomprehension. That is the task of the trans-editors.

Very similar therefore to localization or transcreation, but more so, it would seem to me. The process of trans-editing involves considering the different cultural experiences and perspectives, and must ultimately allow the reader to overcome their own cultural patterns and prejudices to understand what is happening elsewhere, in a different cultural context.

The authors of the study explain how translating reports of political events and other news in different countries forces the trans-editors to change, add or remove information. They speak of “re-creating” the original in the target language. A key term in their discussion is “indexicality” of words, by which they understand the connection of a word to its particular community. Another is “nostrification” (coined by the authors of the study), and this refers to the perception of something strange within one’s own patterns of common sense. You are kind of trying to make it your own by moulding it to your own experience of the world around you.

The authors state that transferring news into various languages and making them comprehensible merges two skills: translation and editing, hence “trans-editing”. After setting out their theoretical assumptions, they conducted interviews with staff at the BBC’s Turkish radio service to understand how they tackle these problems in their everyday routine.

It strikes me that some of the findings might help throw some light on what goes on in localization, or how the complexities can be described. Because, when you think about it, the typical examples that we see so often when reading an article about localization are changes to dates, national holidays, and forms of address in an e-mail. A little elementary, in my view… and not terribly far-reaching.

Trans-editors do not see themselves as performing translation. They compile, they adapt and they tell a story. Clearly, in the localization or transcreation context, we are not expected – and not authorized – to use the same degree of autonomy and freedom reducing and enhancing texts. We stay much closer to the source.

Trans-editors do not translate all news content they receive, but select the parts that they feel are relevant to their audience. As Localizers we have to be very careful with omitting anything, as the first priority is still “accuracy”. I often advise translators though to use adjectives sparingly in marketing texts from the U.S., when each noun is preceded by at least one of these: “great”, “best-in-class”, “unique”, “record-breaking”, “exciting”, etc. So while we are not at liberty to delete entire sentences, we can and should be more economical when it comes to using adjectives.

Trans-editors try to assume the position of the listener/reader in the new locale. They ask themselves “What can my audience understand, what makes sense to them?” They then use “comparative hints”. They might refer to similar events, institutions etc. in the target country. This indeed is a main aspect of anyone working as a translator, localizer or transcreator.

Trans-editors add necessary/relevant context or background knowledge. They judge how much knowledge the audience has around a particular news item.  “Should we say something like ‘Barack Obama’ out of the blue, or should we put it like ‘the leading candidate in the US presidential elections to be held on 5th November’, or even the ‘black candidate’? How much knowledge is there and how much do we have to remind of? For this reason there are reminder sentences.” A Translator may use a similar “trick” by adding a brief explanation of a term. An example that comes to mind is “malware”. While this is often used now in Germany, it may still be helpful to add an explanatory translation in brackets (“Schadsoftware”). Or when translating an article about Switzerland where the city of Solothurn is mentioned, you may want to add “Soleure, in French”, or for Berne (“the Swiss capital”). When translating from French and reference is made to the Académie Française, you may need to supply an explanatory note (“the French authority in all matters relating to the French language, established in 1635” – or similar). And in tourist brochure on Southern Italy, you may want to add “prehistoric cave dwellings” when mentioning “troglodyte”.

Trans-editors are instructed that “a news story must not smell like translation”, but should sound like an original that has been written in the target language. This one does not need a comment: it is a one of the most important criteria of a professional translation. For trans-editors it includes “automatically” deleting sentences and words which sound naïve or condescending for the local audience. Again, a useful hint for localizers too. To conclude this excursion into trans-editing, here is an interesting fact I came across in this context: during the Second World War the BBC’s trans-editors in-country were regarded with a high degree of suspicion. ‘Language Supervisors’ (usually British-born linguists) were employed to translate their work back into English to ensure they were not distorting or manipulating news bulletins to suit ideological convictions. This harks back to an earlier blog about the occasional usefulness of backtranslation!

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