Timidity in translation

I am often surprised at how many translators faithfully transcribe blatant formatting and typographical errors into their translations. It’s a phenomenon I’ve encounter with some frequency when proofreading: A missing space after a period in the source text is also left out in the translation; stray punctuation marks are copied exactly as they originally appeared. Why do some translators do this? As an interpretive process, translation necessarily demands a degree of filtering to be carried by the translator. Glossing over slight typos is just part of the job. Of course, one could argue that the reproduction of typographical slips is a form of intersubjective translation in which the features characterizing the original text – in this case, errors – are transposed. For errors can in fact be laden with meaning: They provide insight into how much effort the author has put into the writing process; his or her command of the language, etc. Should they not be “translated” as well? Despite the flaws in this logic, I doubt such considerations are the motive force behind the typographical dunderheadedness that often confronts the proofreader.

So what is the reason? I think timidity is the cause in the vast majority of instances – the translator is afraid of making mistakes, doesn’t understand why the formatting in the text is unusual, and, assuming that there must be a reason for it, copies it obediently. This is not a recipe for a winning translation.

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