Geertjan's Blog

  • September 7, 2008

The Possibility of a Translation

Geertjan Wielenga
Product Manager
"Damit Service Provider einem System dynamisch und flexibel hinzugefügt werden können, also auch dann noch, wenn eine Anwendung bereits ausgeliefert wurde, und erst dann geladen werden, wenn sie auch wirklich benötigt werden, werden diese deklarativ, also über Konfigurationsdateien, registriert."

The above sentence encapsulates the wonderfulness of the German language! What I absolutely love about it is the fact that its VERB is "registriert". :-) I.e., the very last word in that whole long sentence. (And the fact that about 5 separate facts are transmitted, and need to be digested, before one gets to that point! The reader's had a lot to chew on at that stage, having gained an unlikely wealth of knowledge before being permitted to draw breath again.) I also like the word "Damit" which is a firm start to a sentence (like "Now" at the start of Richard III), even though it meanders (albeit very strongly and declaratively, like a purposeful guide in a jungle slashing a path resolutely off the beaten track, heading towards a goal that those under his care can do no more than guess at), only to return to its original path right at the end. Translated more or less directly, the above means the below:

"In order for a service provider to be added dynamically and flexibly to an application, even when the application has already been released, and in order for it to be loaded only when it is actually needed, the service provider is registered declaratively, that is, by means of configuration data."

Bear in mind that I cheated quite a bit in the above translation and that I went out of my way to put everything into a single sentence. Had I been 'honest', I would have translated "diese" to "it", instead of "the service provider". It's cool how dangling participles are not a problem in German, apparently. But the above sounds, despite my overcompensations, quite unnatural in English, and having "in order for" twice (even once) in a sentence is clunky and the sentence as a whole misses the modern American-style friendliness common to just about everything nowadays. So maybe it should be translated as follows instead:

"You register service providers declaratively, that is, using configuration data. One advantage of this approach is that you can add service providers dynamically, even after you've distributed the application to your users. Another advantage is that the service provider will only be loaded once your users actually need to make use of it."

The human actors, missing from the original, have been injected back into the sequence of events. The sentence has been broken into manageable chunks. (Even a contraction, to show we're all nice and down to earth!) The reader, the ever-smiling "you" is present again (calmly reading by the fire, a comforting whisky at hand, echoing the rational lord of the manor down the ages, the glow of a laptop screen replacing the hearth, a grubby t-shirt instead of a double-breasted suit). However, the emphasis of the original is lost. But, then again, I'm not sure whether the German original had an emphasis to begin with. Perhaps the original emphasis was the declarative nature of the registration, while my translation above emphasizes the advantages of declarative registration. The latter, though, is what I believe to be the more important point. That, in turn, brings one into the ethical issues relating to translation. Should one try to improve the original? And who is to say that your personal preferences are improvements at all?

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Comments ( 9 )
  • Fabrizio Giudici Sunday, September 7, 2008

    That's fun: just a few days ago I was talking with another person about a topic that was discussed time ago at a conference, that is the vastly superior emphasis capabilities of languages with declinations (such as Latin, German, Russian) - but also Italian, that in spite of not having declinations has a quite freeform structure in statements (\*).

    It is indeed a problem for translation, if you have to be compliant with "best practices" of international english. My personal preferences is the former, emphatized version.

    (\*) Of course, other languages have that capability, but I'm not enumerating them as I'm not aware of.

  • Marco Hunsicker Sunday, September 7, 2008

    Wow, your language skills are very impressive! Your final translation reads way better than the original, but then I have to admit that the German original cannot exactly serve as an example of good style in the first place.

    The original lacks structure and packs too much information into the sentence, and therefore makes it nearly impossible to gather all important points upon first reading. It lacks the flow and guidance of your translation.

    Semantically, the main point of the original seems to be the fact that service providers can be added dynamically and in a flexible manner, and I don't think there is a clear emphasis on the declarative nature.

    You could break the sentence down into either

    "Damit Service Provider einem System dynamisch und flexibel hinzugefügt werden können, und erst dann geladen werden, wenn sie auch wirklich benötigt werden, werden diese deklarativ registriert."


    "Damit Service Provider einem System dynamisch und flexibel hinzugefügt werden können, werden diese deklarativ registriert."

    It's really not clear whether the lazy loading aspect is part of the main statement.

    Because readers of technical books are probably most interested in the information (nice language is always a plus), I would always vote for adjustments to make the reader both feel home and present the information in the best possible way. Your final translation is definitely a big improvement over the original. No doubt about that.

    With literature it's an entirely different matter, though.

  • Otmanix Sunday, September 7, 2008

    It's possible but it isn't good style writing this long and hard to understand sentence. In German these sentences are called "Schachtelsätze" and you learn in school to avoid them if possible. But some people love to confuse others by creating such monsters ;)


    In Germany there's a rumor that almost all Dutch people learn German by watching "Derrick" (a police series). Do you know if it's true?

  • mbien Sunday, September 7, 2008

    why translations at all? I am for an domain specific language for NetBeans doc only. Spoken languages are to verbose anyway ;-)

    (Does netbeans support syntax highligting for latin?)

  • Peter Monday, September 8, 2008

    Do you plan to translate the whole German NetBeans book??

    PS: those nested sentences (Schachtelsätze) should be avoided...

  • Landei Monday, September 8, 2008

    Schachtelsätze, die, wie schon ihr Name verrät, in immer tiefere Tiefen der schönen teutschen Sprache abtauchen, als überflüssigen und schwülstigen Ballast, den es, wie es uns tatgtäglich von den Nutzern des international vorherrschenden anglo-amerikanischen Sprachbrei vorgemacht wird, am besten zu vermeiden gilt, darzustellen, kann ich nur als Versuch, unsere wundervolle Sprache eines ihrer edelsten - wenn nicht \*des\* edelsten - ihrer Teile zu berauben, sehen, und mich in aller gebotenen Schärfe dagegen verwahren.

  • Seapegasus Monday, September 8, 2008

    Yup, we know, just because the German language allows you to insert subclauses whenever you think of them, doesn't mean that people can actually read (parse) that, too. :-D

    Landei's sentence may be grammatically correct, but I bet no native speaker can immediately follow the structure to the end. Native speakers do have one advantage though: We can guess from the context where a stray word ("darzustellen", "sehen") belongs, simply because we expect typical collocative verbs.

    But just think, writers of the past did not have word processors, and they wrote (or dictated) sentences like that on a daily basis... :-o I wonder, did they really have their act together those days -- or did old poets have the same problems grasping this nested stuff as we have today?

  • Fabrizio Giudici Monday, September 8, 2008

    "or did old poets have the same problems grasping this nested stuff as we have today? "

    I think it is a problem with us. The (reasonable) motivation for exchanging more and more information with people from all the world is forcing us to use our natural languages in a poor way.

  • Georg Monday, September 8, 2008

    It is really entertaining and mind-refreshing to read a discussion like that in the usually dried-up environment of IT. Thanks, Geertjan, for bringing it up!

    I have to admit that I like the original German version best, although it could be polished a bit (too many passive constructions - "werden" etc.). It shows energy and determination, and the will and capability to work with language, not just devliver the usual easy-going parlance.

    Reading mostly technical publications and books gives me the impression that I can actually understand, speak and write English. But once every now and then I run into "real" English, and, oh boy, I could not be wrong more...

    (Anybody out there remembering the name of the guy who used to write the last column of either Byte, Dr Dobbs or Software Development Magazine - cannot remember which of them it was - at the time, when those were still killing trees? If so, you know what I mean).

    Actually his name (just found it by searching for "stan" on the dr dobbs site) is Stan Kelly Bootle - read this: http://www.ddj.com/architect/201804950 [ever came across gentrifraction, euphemistic double metonomy and mollycoddling before?]

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