28 - Segmentation and quality
"I have here translated into consciousness what had to remain unconscious in the mind of the hero; if anyone wishes to call Hamlet an hysterical subject I cannot but admit that this is the deduction to be drawn from my interpretation"1.
In the previous unit, we have had an overview of how Wordfast works. Before getting into the details of its functioning, I think it is important to stop and think how text segmentation helps improve translation quality. Even this technology, as is the case of many others previously discussed, tends to improve the quality of work more than to increase its productivity.
Working with eyes on the screen. In traditional translation, the translator's eyes must continuously move from the printed page with the prototext to the screen where the metatext is being composed. This continuous shift implies physical and emotional strain, due to the fact that, if on the screen you can easily find the spot where you are writing thanks to the cursor's blinking, it is much harder to move you eyes directly to the sentence you are translating from a paper original.
Some translators use for this reason "text-signers": pins, tie clips, other books or other sheets, that are moved as the work goes on so as to highlight the line or lines to focus on. This system implies some disadvantages. The object used as a text marker can unintentionally move, leading the translator's eye astray. Moreover, having to continuously move the text marker distracts from other necessary operations and takes time.
Moreover, the different focusing the eye needs to observe the lighted surface of the screen and another, differently lighted surface, at a different distance, of the printed page determine a heavy fatigue on the eye muscles. A further difficulty in character recognition (above all in terms of eye fatigue) is given by the difference between the screen font and the printed page font, both as far as dimensions are concerned, and for the type and shape of the font.
If you use Wordfast, on the contrary, the eye needn't search for the spot from which the prototext must be read nor the spot where the metatext should be written. They are both positioned, with a differently colored shading, on the screen, one above the other, they are both well marked, with crisp borders that differentiate them from the previous and following text. They always occupy the same position on the screen, regardless whether this is the first sentence of a page, or the last one, or a sentence overriding two pages: they are always in a central position on the screen. And, of course, being a standard Word file, the view can be further customized by choosing, for example, from the View-Zoom command, the percentage of zoom.
Finding the right spot. Another important contribution of Wordfast to translation quality derives from the impossibility of loosing one's place. One of the most trivial mistakes - but also of the most serious - that a translator can make, are omissions. Omissions are often due to the fact that, in a similar spot of the printed page, but on two different lines, the same word appears at the end of a sentence or, still worse, the same word combination. In these cases the translator can easily incorrectly interrupt the translation from the first occurrence of the word or word combination to next occurrence, omitting the translation of the text included between the two.
I insist, this is a trivial mistake, in a translation course you'll hardly find a teacher who can teach you how to avoid it, because it obviously can be avoided with a measure of concentration. There is nothing to teach, substantially, but a particular attention. In fact we see that translators of every kind and fame, from the most well known to the beginners, make it more or less in the same quantity.
The mistake was often made also by scribes in medieval libraries and this is one of the main sources of corruption in a text.
Even if the mistake is trivial, its consequences can be very serious. Omitting part of the text is clearly not at all professional and often causes miscommunication and misinterpretation. It is the most trivial mistake, and bears the most pernicious consequences.
With Wordfast this mistake is minimized because the text is automatically examined sentence by sentence by the software itself, and presented to the translator, who doesn't have to make any effort to view the right place in front of her. Moreover, the repetitiveness of a text, which is what most often determines those omissions, with programs based on translation memories becomes a facilitating factor, not a complicating one, because the program can often provide solutions to similar sentences.
Precision and transcription of the invariant parts. Another element, which makes translation memories precious tools for quality, concerns all the parts of the text that are not translatable. They are, for example, numbers, acronyms, codes, formulae, drawings, page layout commands, When Wordfast finds text parts that are not to be translated but only copied, it automatically copies these parts into the metatext and proposes the next sentence to the translator.
Such a procedure, that allows for great time advantages, is also useful for guaranteeing the precision of transcription. For example, you don't have to search for strange characters in formulae, you don't have to wonder if a given character is a zero or an uppercase "o", you don't have to transcribe numbers and dates, because this operation is automatically provided by the program.
Page layout. Another aspect that with Wordfast can be completely neglected is page layout. All the aspects of page formatting are automatically reproduced by the program without any intervention by the translator. Columns, frames, hidden text, all is precisely reproduced into the metatext. The only parts that occasionally might need to be adjusted manually are, in some cases, italics and bolds, that might be altered in the metatext.
Glossary and lexicon. The glossary function, that we shall see in the next units, and the different coloring of the shading of text segments are elements that help provide lexical coherence. Substantially, it is possible to create a different glossary for each client so that it is much easier to be lexically coherent within each different kind of job. Every time the translator chooses a solution conflicting with the glossary of that given client, a message warns about that.
This and other functions improve quality control in translations. This is what we shall see in detail in the next units.
FREUD SIGMUND, L'interpretazione dei sogni, in Opere, vol. 3, Torino, Boringhieri, a cura di C. L. Musatti, 1966.
FREUD SIGMUND, The Interpretation Of Dreams, translated by A. A. Brill, London, G. Allen & company, 1913.
CHAMPOLLION YVES Wordfast, available in the world wide web at the address www.wordfast.org, consulted 23 May 2004.
1 Freud 1900: 244.