Beauty or fidelity?

No, not the T. Lander dating site, but T. Lander, translator. I don't get much time to think about it in daylight, or at 2 a.m. when the latest job is overdue (thank goodness the Internet never sleeps), but in the odd spare moment I do wonder (a) whether a translation can ever be entirely faithful to the original (b) whether it would be a thing of beauty if it were and (c) whether it matters. The last is the most important from a financial point of view, of course, and, luckily for me, my freelance employers tend to adopt a pragmatic approach: accuracy of content above elegance of style every time, provided that it is finished by yesterday.

Perhaps it is the patent impossibility of ever conveying a concept from another language in all its nuances of content, style, register and culture that has driven me back to my mother tongue. Editing ought to be easy - it's all in English, after all. But that, of course, raises the vexed question "what is English"? UN English is like the O-level French of the old Punch joke - a language spoken nowhere else in the world. The poor bloody interpreter can be forgiven for "taking concrete steps" or "strengthening health structures" because there is no time to think of anything better, but the one luxury I have sitting at my desk or writing the minutes of a meeting is time - only to find that I have no idea what the concept means or, worse still, that I have a sneaking suspicion it means nothing at all. I look back fondly on the very first time I got my name on the cover, editing that seminal work The economics of diabetes and diabetes care, which enabled me to meet the authors - o rare privilege - ask them what they meant, and then completely rewrite it. Faithful? - I hope so. Beautiful? - to me, yes, as any mother would understand. And does it matter? - well, I don't do it for the money, do I?

Freelance medical and pharmaceutical editor/translator/précis-writer/lecturer, United Nations, World Health Organization, University of Bath. If you want to contact me, please use the contact form on this site.