Occasionally I do translations – on a voluntary basis – for the Coalition against Bayer Dangers (CBG), a campaign group that has been watching the powerful chemical corporation Bayer since 1982, fighting for environmental protection and work place safety. I mostly translate press information from German into English as the topics are of considerable international interest due to the corporation’s worldwide activities, such as Carl Duisberg: “A criminal genius” or BAYER: Polyurethane factory is criticised.

Recently I translated the script of a video on a lethal explosion at the Bayer plant in Institute, USA in August 2008 where at the time a large amount of MIC was stored – the same dangerous chemical that leaked in the terrible chemical accident in Bhopal, India in 1984 where more than 10000 people died. The video by the US authority CSB shows the background of the explosion.

On the weekend of 8-9 October 2011 the Rebellious Media Conference will take place with Noam Chomsky as the keynote speaker on Saturday morning. I will be running a small participative workshop titled “Crossing the Language Barrier: Activist Translation“. This is what the website blurb says about the workshop:

Politically engaged translators and interpreters provide an indispensable service to social movements and activists around the world, facilitating their resistance against neoliberalism. This practical session will explore what tools and resources exist for radical media projects to translate from and into English, encouraging participants to plan and organise a specific project of their own.

I am really excited about this project and what we will learn from it. Among the oganisers of the conference are the makers of Visionon.tv, an internet platform where citizens can produce their own media to present views which are not heard in the mainstream media.

I have just returned from a two and a half week holiday in Germany. My brother got married, to a girl from Northern Germany. The hen and stag dos were celebrated in the Swabian city of Ulm, where the couple live and work, and the wedding was celebrated in the city of Celle in Lower Saxony, the bride’s hometown. Thus it was a Bavarian-Lower Saxonian wedding, with lovely summer sunshine and temperatures.

When the two families meet, language is of course always a topic that makes for hilarious anecdotes. We are carefully navigating on a Bavarian-Swabian-High German-Low German rag rug, which represents but a small section of the rich dialect landscape of Germany.

The bride’s granny still speaks proper Platt, that is Low German, unlike the younger generations. I chatted to her – in High German of course – about the close relationship of Low German to English, which is expressed in words such as Cow and Water (they are the same in the two languages). But also in my native Allgäu – the Swabian region of Bavaria – it seems to be that the very local dialectal differences are disappearing more and more, with a more regional dialect closer to High German developing.

During the marriage ceremony in the registry office the registrar spoke about the art of arguing in the right way and not to be “muksch” after an argument. Muksch is a lovely example of a Northern German dialect word and the English equivalent would be “sulky”.

The last two days of the German journey I spent exploring Buxtehude, the old land and Hamburg.

English slang: to top someone

Despite all the years I have been living in England from time to time I still hear expressions that are new to me. In a recent conversation someone mentioned the expression: ‘He topped his wife’. The equivalent in German would be: ‘Er hat seine Frau um die Ecke gebracht’.  In British English the verb to top is thus a colloquial term for to kill. This is also how the Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb to top: Brit. informal kill

This word then stood out in an article in the Guardian with the title ‘The truth about tax havens‘. The article mentions a member of the Jersey parliament who raised concerns in light of the murky and questionable practices of the financial industry and by doing that must have made some enemies. During a parliamentary session he complained that someone whispered in his ear: “You are full of fucking shit, why don’t you go and top yourself, you bastard.” The BBC, which was broadcasting this session live, had to apologise for the uncouth language. The German equivalent of this sentence would be: “Du bist voll Scheisse, warum haust du nicht einfach ab und bringst dich um, du Arschloch.”

Dumping rates

Recently I was contacted by an Indian translation agency with a job offer. This agency had contacted me a while ago, but I was on holiday in Germany. The project manager said in his email that the client had a large volume of work and needed good quality. I asked to view the source text and stated my price. A while later I got the answer: „Sorry, I have already assigned the file at 0.02 USD [per source word].“ Oh well!

Let’s calculate this: Assuming a daily translation output of 2400 words, the gross earning with this rate would be 48 US$, which is equivalent to £31. With an 8 hour day this would be equivalent to an hourly wage of £3.88. In comparison, the current National Minimum Wage per hour in the UK is £5.93.

A per word rate of 0.02 US$ is simply a joke. No one can live off that, neither in Europe nor in India. Even worse is the fact that such dumping wages are very harmful for the whole translating profession, because they cause a downward pressure on rates. I really wonder who accepts jobs at such rates. To then speak of quality seems to be a misnomer.

Family birthdays

Hooray! Two holidays in Germanys within a short space of time. The reason for this are two special family birthdays, which need to be celebrated duly – a 60th and a 40th. That is something not to be missed.

A special birthday means a “runder Geburtstag” in German, which literally means round birthday. A while ago I talked about this with my friend who celebrated a special birthday. I asked her, if one could actually say “round birthday”, but it does not make any sense at all in English.

When there is a lull in the workload of a freelancer, this offers a good opportunity to use it for a bit of marketing. This is exactly what I did. And unlike my previous marketing efforts, where I put together a list of translation agencies and wrote to them hoping for the best, I chose a more personalised approach.

First of all I got some business cards printed, with five different designs and quotes on language. Then I registered with a networking event organised by Oban Multilingual: OBAN’s World Cup Screening and Networking Event. Normally I am not so keen on business networking, but with this event I had the impression that the atmosphere would be more casual, and surely the world cup semi final would ensure the right vibe. That is exactly what happened. There was even an Englishman who spoke perfect German and a German woman. I had some good and stimulating conversations and exchanged business cards with several other visitors. Germany lost. But perhaps I will win some new clients.

The other part of my personal marketing approach consisted in targeting a limited number of companies and translation agencies by contacting them on the phone, followed by a covering letter with CV sent by email. With this campaign the response rate was 100%, with a view to specific jobs.

Even if it will be a while until my marketing campaign results in actual jobs, it was encouraging and motivating to receive very positive comments on my covering letter, website and CV.

Also, it was fascinating to see the effectiveness of different marketing approaches. With a more broad targeted email campaign with a standard covering letter I received only very few direct responses; however, this is not to say that this does not work, after all I have won a few new clients from such campaigns.

Mexican activist translator Atenea Acevedo, who is also a member of Tlaxcala, was recently interviewed by the Argentinian magazine Página/12: “A conversation with Mexican activist translator Atenea Acevedo: A voice for conscientious communication“. Acevedo reflects upon what it means to be an activist translator and the role of translators in the 21st century, the age of Google. With her observations she articulates exactly what I think.

I recently completed my biggest project so far: the translation of a complete website for a provider of online backup services. It was a really interesting project as it provided a nice variety of text types, placing very different demands on a translator. The marketing text provided a lovely chance to be a little bit creative, the terms of use and privacy statement required precision and accuracy due to their legal nature, and finally there were the parts for the creation and administration of a customer account, involving the download of a software application, and thus using many technical IT terms. It’s nice and satisfying to see the finished website working in the different language versions.

Every now and then I translate an article for Tlaxcala from German into English because we do not have so many people who translate in this direction (English to German translators, on the other hand, are ten a penny). Thus I have just translated an excellent article by Moshe Zuckermann, Von Stiftungen und Anstiftern, on the controversy surrounding Norman G. Finkelstein’s scheduled and subsequently cancelled lectures in Germany last month. This project posed a real challenge for me because the German source text was of a high level stylistically and full of complex sociological terms loaded with meanings; in this respect it was a good exercise for me. Also, it required a very well founded cultural and political knowledge about the subject matter of the text, both in relation to the German and the English language area. The German in this text possesses such a weighty, tuneful and deep expressiveness that is not reproduced in English, which is somehow unsatisfactory. It is like constantly dipping into two different worlds. Here is just a small paragraph that gave me a perplexed frown: how on earth do I put that into good English? In the end I somehow managed it.

Rosa Luxemburgs Name steht (zumindest in der Sphäre genuiner linker Gesinnung und Moral) für etwas, das sich nicht – mir nichts, dir nichts – durch realpolitische »Notwendigkeiten« wegschwätzen läßt. Rosa Luxemburgs Leben, Wirken und Tod symbolisieren unbeirrbaren Humanismus, rigorosen Widerstand gegen Bejubelung von Krieg und Aggression, uneingeschränkte Insistenz auf Wahrung der Marxschen Emanzipationspostulate, konsequenten Kampf gegen Knechtung von Geist und Gewissen und eine endlose Mitleidsfähigkeit, natürliche Bereitschaft zur Wahrnehmung von Leiderfahrung und Geschundenheit menschlicher wie tierischer Kreaturen. Man muß nicht gleich Rosa Luxemburg sein wollen, wenn man einer Institution angehört, die ihren Namen trägt, aber auf das Minimum dessen, was ihr Name als regulative Idee und Orientierungskoordinate aufzwingt, sollte man schon achten können, und das bedeutet allemal, daß man fähig und bereit dazu sein sollte, ordinäre Ideologeme und verfestigten Konsens gegen den Strich zu bürsten, wenn dies erforderlich, wenn auch nicht unbedingt als opportun erscheint.

Rosa Luxemburg’s name stands (at least in the sphere of a genuine left ethos and moral) for something that cannot be done away with just like that by the “necessities” of realpolitik. Rosa Luxemburg’s life, achievements and death symbolise unwavering humanism, rigorous resistance against the cheering on of wars and aggression, absolute insistence on the adherence of Marx’s postulates of emancipation, consistent fight against enslavement of spirit and conscience and an endless capacity for compassion, a natural readiness to perceive the pain and suffering of human and animal beings. Being a member of an institution that carries Rosa Luxemburg’s name does not mean wanting to be like her, but what it does mean is showing a modicum of regard to that which becomes a guiding idea and point of orientation by force of her name; indeed, this means being able and ready to expose ordinary thinking and fossilised consensus if this is required, even if it does not necessarily appear to be expedient.

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