FRENCH ANNUAL REPORTS

A report on David Jemielity’s Session at the ATA Conference. BY SARAH LLEWELLYN

Of the many excellent sessions for French<>English translators at this year’s ATA conference, the two that really stood out for me were those presented by David Jemielity, the French Language Division’s “distinguished speaker.”  Mr. Jemielity is head of translations at Banque Cantonale Vaudoise in Lausanne and a tenured faculty member at the University of Geneva’s School of Translation and Interpretation.

For reasons of space, I am just going to summarize some of the main points of his first presentation, “Why French->English Annual Report Translations Read Like… Translations,” but the good news is that Mr. Jemielity will soon be publishing the material he presented, probably in the ATA Chronicle.

Discussing the stylistic and linguistic differences between US/UK and French annual reports, Mr. Jemielity gave multiple examples of how English translations of French reports almost systematically follow the French style, leaving no doubt that they are translations. For example, in an Anglo annual report, the Chairman’s statement (frequently mistranslated as “Chairman’s message,” by the way) is almost always written in the first person. By contrast, in a French annual report the statement is usually written in the third person, with frequent use of the pronoun “it” when referring to the company. When this style is followed in the English translation, it sounds overly formal and stilted and is thus ineffective as a corporate communication.

French also has a habit of qualifying numbers, which leads unwary English translators into formulations such as “up sharply at,” “fell slightly to,” etc. Such qualifiers are less frequent in English, so when they appear numerous times in a translation, they make the company look as if it is trying to spin the numbers. Again, a translation that gets this wrong can be strikingly “off-message.” In addition, some obviously translated formulations, such as “up significantly by 10%,” are simply beyond the threshold of how much redundancy the English language can tolerate (a threshold that is higher in French, Mr. Jemielity pointed out).

When it comes to lexis, English translations are often peppered with French buzz words such as “pursue,”  “optimize,” “dynamic” and “evolution,” which are found much less frequently in Anglo annual reports. Other overused words in English translations include, surprisingly, finance jargon such as “year-on-year” and “like-for-like.” Conversely, some English financial buzz words tend to be underused in translations. Examples include “deliver,” “drive,” “experience,” “offset” and “franchise” (for customer loyalty).

Then there is the French cognate “commercial,” which tends to have much broader scope in French than in English, often requiring creative reformulating. Mr. Jemielity’s study of translated annual reports brought to light many strange uses of this word, particularly in collocations. Phrases such as “commercial performance” and “commercial approach” tend to occur in translations but not in original US/UK reports. Translators faced with something like “approche commerciale” should consider “sales and marketing approach” or even “business model,” depending on the context.

As for the word “notamment,” meaning “particularly,” “notably,” “primarily,” “inter alia,” or “among others,” it is often completely unnecessary in English and yet tends to appear just as many times in the English translation as it does in the original French.

Mr. Jemielity also talked about the differences in sentence length and structure. English tends to favor short, front-loaded sentences, which in annual reports often contain fewer than eight words. (Concision is key!) French, on the other hand, uses longer sentences, often saving the main idea for the end, both at sentence and paragraph level. Translators should therefore consider occasionally recasting sentences and even paragraphs to reflect the English style.

So, come next annual report season, there will be no excuse for any of us to produce translations that read like… translations! SL

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