In a perfect world, a completed translation would be accepted as submitted, and each line of text viewed as the perfect rendering of each possible translative option with no further clarification required.
However, in reality translators are likely to come across instances that give them pause during the translation process – whether that be a misspelt word, an obtuse phrase or otherwise. And when working on client documents, it’s sometimes necessary to leave a translator’s note in the document to alert your client to a problem in the source text, or to elaborate on the reason for a certain interpretive option.
In this article, we’ll take a look at translator’s notes, discussing what they are, how to use them and how appropriate it is for clients to expect translators to use them.
What are translator’s notes?
Translator’s notes are an addition to a text made with the intention of providing greater clarity for specific interpretive decisions in the target text.
Wikipedia defines a translator’s note as follows:
“A translator’s note is a note (usually a footnote or an endnote) added by the translator to the target text to provide additional information pertaining to the limits of the translation, the cultural background, or any other explanations.”
In addition to the above definition, translator’s notes are also used to flag potential mistakes in the source text, or difficulties that present themselves during the course of the translation.
How to add translator’s notes
There are various ways to add notes to a translation (for example various translators discuss their preferences here), and popular methods include simply using parenthesis inserted directly into the text, or prefixing a comment with the abbreviation ‘TN’ or ’t/n’. Making use of footnotes is also a popular method among translators, although if the source text already contains footnotes then this method may cause confusion. When using the abbreviated method, be sure to write out ‘Translator’s note’ in full first, as this will ensure the reader is clear about the abbreviation’s meaning.
Whatever method you choose to alert readers to your notes, the main thing is to be consistent with your usage in order to send a clear signal to the reader.
If your notes are only intended to be for your client to read, and not to be published in the final text of the target translation, then it’s appropriate, and perhaps more convenient, to use the commenting functionality of various word processing software. This will alert the client to various issues they need to follow-up with you or consider by themselves before publishing the translation.
How frequently are translator’s notes appropriate to use?
A popular point of debate among translators is how often they should use notes. After all, if a client instructs you to provide detailed notes explaining your decisions then doing so will eat into your translation time.
A similar situation occurred on the Proz discussion forum recently, where a translator was tasked with providing detailed notes for each interpretive option she chose, and then requesting how she justified her chosen translation. What complicated matters further was the fact that she was transcribing an audio recording that contained a number of informalities and redundancies.
As you’ll see if you visit the aforementioned thread, opinions are divided on the matter. But if you’re ever in a position where you have to provide more work than you feel you’ve signed up for, then it’s worth mentioning this to the client and trying to agree on a way forward.
Have you made use of translator’s notes previously? And if you have, what method did you use to make your notes? Finally, do you think there’s the potential for extensive note-making to extend a project beyond your estimated timeframe? Let us know below.