Im Spannungsfeld

Of the many German terms that are difficult to render in accurate but digestible English, “im Spannungsfeld” is certainly one, perhaps not least because it is a highfalutin term that is often used in an ambiguous manner. Indeed, how is the translator to generate a good text in English when the German may read well at first glance but is actually quite unclear, evincing shortcomings that may only become apparent when the translator scratches beneath the surface in an attempt to distill the author’s intentions. The blurry line between a meaningful assertion of ideas and the hollow rhetorical flourish becomes all too apparent at times like these. The perennial question thus looms large: What is the translator’s role? If the German version makes a professional impression rhetorically, but ultimately suffers from substantive weakness, isn’t it the translator’s remit to produce a text that can at least be taken seriously when read superficially? For it is certainly possible to tart up bad content for a day at the circus, and this is preferable to bad content written poorly.

To the crux of the matter: Most of the translations offered for “im Spannungsfeld der …” at LEO and in other dictionaries are quite hopeless. While it is actually not uncommon to see nonsense become an accepted standard for the translation of various German terms, the bumbling of others is particularly conspicuous in this case because there is great solution that frequently works well: namely, the phrase “(stands) at the intersection of …”.

One thought on “Im Spannungsfeld”

  1. Hello,

    I stumbled upon this post a few weeks ago while wondering whether ‘intersection’ might work for ‘Spannungsfeld’, and have finally got round to having a look at your other posts. I particularly appreciated your comments on ‘auch’ (which encourage me to be bolder about leaving this pesky word out), and also on codified mistranslation (was that the term?). Very frustrating the way questionable translations and unidiomatic constructions acquire a certain authority, over time, simply by appearing repeatedly on the Internet…

    Look forward to reading more of your posts in future!
    Nicola

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