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Feb 16, 2014

Medienbruch.

For years now, I've watched the German term Medienbruch and derivatives like medienbruchfrei seep their way into various, well, media. And the results are, by and large, linguistically discontinuous and/or broken :-)


The screenshot above shows a sampling from the "feast" of bilingual web alignment offered by Linguee, one which those who are familiar with the service realize must be enjoyed with some care to avoid the odd bits of broken glass and strychnine that may be found in its sometimes machine-translated, sometimes Bulgarian-inspired English. Some of the more thoughtful marketers in the translation profession may use the site as a source to research firms desperately in need of better translators rather than merely pan its buckets full of linguistic swamp sediment in desperation to find the few flakes of gold which might have settled there. Not to say that Linguee is not a valuable working tool, but its use requires a great deal of professional judgment in most cases and often further research is one is on unfamiliar ground. It is a tool, and a fool with a tool remains a fool. Like the often criticized Wikipedia, it is often a good starting point but seldom the journey's end.

Why not just Google "media discontinuity", for example, and see how often the particular phrase occurs? Uh huh. You got 8,100 results, did you? Sounds pretty authoritative, right? Look again at where the sources are. Ah, you say, Kevin ought to have used Google's advanced search options to narrow it down. Have a look at the garbage on the first page again, and tell me with a straight face that better sources will somehow rise to the top of that like tasty cream.

At this point, a colleague less overcaffeinated might point out that I'm going about this all wrong and that I might do better searching some of the monolingual corpora available free online, such as the British National Corpus (which is great for making Americans believe that Brits really do say "at the weekend" most of the time or the BYU Corpus of Global Web-based English, which allows those who master the arcana of its search rules to compare Indian weekends with those in Canada or Kenya. But these text collections, for all their value for a general understanding of common language use, are seldom satisfying for specialized use and neologisms.

A cooler head might point out the terrible bias in my approaches so far and encourage me to consider the context in which this word has occurred while percolating into my awareness in recent years. Hm. Well, usually when some German public authority decides to bring its information management practices up to 20th century standards. Since they usually follow well behind practice in English-speaking countries for this sort of things (I still see German government texts that put "E-Mail" in quotes as if it were something new and exotic), it's a good bet that a corpus of texts from similar institutions in the UK or US might reveal some interesting and useful and even natively acceptable possibilities. (That's how I learned years ago that a usual and proper term in English for Vieraugenprinzip is "dual review", not the "four-eyes principle" that some so happily click their heels to. In the elementary schools I attended, that was the principle based on which bullies punched my friends with glasses in the face.)

Juliette Scott, who writes a rather nice blog mostly concerned with legal translation issues, has done some nice (NIFTY) work as part of her doctoral thesis using monolingual corpora to study patterns of use in target languages and suggest useful strategies for building collections of specialized text. Good, perhaps even obvious stuff which applies to any domain I can think of, though the practice of building focused corpora from carefully selected sources is still far too rare among those of us who use the label "translator" or "language professional". I certainly need to do that more often.

Ah, but if I have just a monolingual corpus to understand proper use of terms in the target language, how will I know what the right translation is? That's a hard one. One that perhaps I can't answer. At least not without the use of a BAT* tool. But if that's too hard, I know just the place to go: proZ.com, where "certified pros" compete for points on KudoZ and offer mutual reinforcement and enlightenment to those who run rapidly on their wheels to keep pace with changing expectations of quality.

I could of course take one of the accepted "solutions" from Linguee and feed the same sort of self-recycling GIGO loop that Google now admits to be an ever-growing part of its searched wisdom.

So what is your solution to the Medienbruch? Or are you part of the problem?



18 comments:

  1. I certainly hope I'm not part of the problem. :) I would suggest something about seamless processes or company-wide systems, and will be interested to hear thoughts on this from other translators.

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    1. I like the fact that you're not getting hung up on "media" here, as it really is about smoothly functioning information processes. Some of my more recent stabs at this have been "processing of information ... without incompatibilities of media" (medienbruchfreie Bearbeitung) and "processed further without delays due to format" (ohne Medienbruch weiterverarbeitet) where it seemed fitting. In the particular discussion where this came up, though, the authors did not consider perhaps even more severe breaks which might occur as a result of changes planned in information handling. There are some interesting possible consequences of "eJustice", but these are not a subject for today.

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  2. I don't think we discuss media in the same way in English. In my experience, we would be more likely to talk about the seamless integration of systems and processes, and would work to ensure that there are no breaks or interruptions in the processes. I'm sure we could come up with some more ideas with a bit of research into the field of business process modelling.

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    1. Well, in ordinary conversation no. But in the sense of media which hold or carry information in some way it's not incorrect. But that doesn't mean it's good; that's why I liked your departure from the use of the word medium altogether. By moving away from the literal translation or cognate of that part we'll probably arrive sooner at some decent expressions. I think that's especially desirable, because where I have often encountered this term, the text has usually been intended for the educated general public, not so much for information specialists inclined to coin awful terms. I keep trying to remember if there were any useful terms in play back when the several changes in floppy disk format caused trouble. There might also be something useful to be found in discussions of information transfer between wax cylinders, wires, tapes and other obsolete formats. But I would not be surprised if many of the non-German sources considered things at a higher (process) level as you suggest and don't get quite so hung up on the details.

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  3. How about the idea of the conversion of data between different media forms - if necessary you could mention digital and non-digital formats. Or data transfer between different communication medium formats. I think the field to research here would be enterprise content management.

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  4. Well, in the case of the "electronic courtroom" or patent filing/litigation concepts, I think the idea is to *avoid* these conversions or at least speed things up by keeping things in electronic format. However, there are still rather horrid OCR processes involved in some cases, with the resultant mess shoehorned into XML, which, when I look at it, brings the term "broken medium" to mind :-) But these are Kinderkrankheiten surely. But generally when I've seen this term come up, the emphasis really is on some common platform to enable better oversight, minimize risks of information loss, improve retrieval, etc. But then... hm... that is sort of the point of ECM, so you may be right about that.

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  5. You could of course just call a ‘Medienbruch’ a ‘media break’. It might seem strange at first but people will get used to it. Why not after all? Only a few people would confuse this with getting up during a TV show or a commercial to get a beer, for example. If you don’t like ‘media break’, why not ‘media transfer’ or ‘media switch’? Where there is a break in the flow of content between media there is also necessarily a transfer or switch between media.

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    1. Rather not. It's this sort of literal nonsense one finds now, and it is not very effective communication. Particularly in an area where German-speaking countries lag. I think the best solutions here will be ones which deal with the consequences of current information flows not being well-integrated. And in a well-integrated process, diverse media may in fact not matter so much, as we may already know from some of work. I would prefer not to contribute to further messes like ones I remember from SAP terminology years ago, where the valiant efforts of superb native English linguists in-house could too seldom hold the line against the terminological brutality of Swabian engineers with vaguely remembered English from school days.

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  6. Well, I don't even translate from German and I could do better than "media break" as I suspect any mildly dyslexic protozoan could.

    Reading the actual Linguee translations in "English" above made me want to furiously scour the surface of my eyeballs with a wire brush just to save them from the residual visual horror.

    I sometimes weep for the travesties people commit in the name of "translation."

    Since real translators are in the business of translating ideas or concepts or not words, and you and Jayne have done a nice job of painting the picture of the idea, here's my (non-German-translator) suggestion -- "data platform transparency." The "lack of data platform transparency" is a bit clunky but is very much closer to what you would see in English usage.

    While "seamless integration" is close, in my experience it's a buzz word often used in marketing more than in technical contexts (at least in the US) and it's a very broad and somewhat vague term in any event, which is why it's so popular in marketing and sales where the objective is to dazzle with idiom while actually not saying anything.

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    1. As you may already be aware, Kevin, it is common practice among language-sensitive translators using Linguee to keep a bottle of disinfectant eyedrops containing a mild anesthetic to counteract the viral risks and pain of monkey droppings that get into the eyes from some of the aligned data there. If ever you want a good argument for translators to spend more time studying good monolingual corpora in their target languages, five minutes of reading in almost any Linguee search will offer all you could hope for.

      I'm not sure that anything with "platform and "transparency" will be less of a modern corporate cliché than "seamless integration". So many things are "transparent" these days that I wonder if we're overrun by ghosts. Not that I don't use "transparent" and its derivative terms myself, but living in a Plexiglass house I can't resist chucking a few stones to see if I can hit something better. I think since most of these texts try to claim that these changes in format and procedure are beneficial, but this may not be obvious to those who are perfectly happy in a paper world, a better text might be one that emphasizes the time saved, possible avoidance of data loss or tampering (ha! ha!). This is not usually as obvious (transparent?) to readers as we geeks might assume.

      But I applaud any reasonable attempt to go beyond lazy, literal non-communicative translation and help a reader who may be at risk of being broken by boredom and confusion in any medium. Wer immer strebend sich bemüht, den können wir erlösen.

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  7. I see your point. I'll give it some more thought.

    It might be fun as well as useful to see what others who work from German come up with in translating it into languages other than English. At some point creativity benefits from more distance -- or at least a different tangent.

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    1. I have been juggling this one for a few years now, and I think I do it differently almost every time, sometimes in the same document. I agree - solutions in another language might also help the English to a better place. I've been surprised more than a few times lately how word choices in Portuguese have given me a better insight into English... even when I wrote the English source text myself :-) I also noticed in the report I was translating recently that there have been quite a few visitors from around the EU interested in these developments, so it will surely become a term of interest in 25+ other languages. But then I suppose the language criminals at the DGT will find something even more awful than "media break" and smother objecting native speakers of English to death under a pillow, assuming that they have any life left in them after years of exposure to toxic Euroenglisch.

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  8. Kevin,

    Before I get back to the subject of Medienbruch let me say that I really like the way you went through the various search options available and your suspicious and critical approach to each. That to me is what is most important here.

    Your many fruitless searches over the years for a suitable term for Medienbruch in English seem to lead to the logical conclusion that one should be created. But is this necessarily true?

    I agree with you that the concept probably didn’t arise in Germany even though the term apparently has. Given the history of information technology the idea has no doubt already been expressed in English many times, but I suspect with a phrase and not a term.

    Why not just leave it at that? Particularly since you certainly understand the context of your documents well enough to know what is meant.

    On the other hand, terms are convenient things for translators since they don’t have to go out on a limb trying to interpret what the author meant. And is the meaning of Medienbruch always perfectly clear? If you need to transfer data between two media but that transfer is absolutely automatic and seamless could that be construed as constituting a Medienbruch? It seems to me that a true ‘media break’ would require some sort of manual intervention.

    But still the question remains, is it really necessary to create a term? Terms are useful things but they can be ambiguous too.

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    1. Charles, as far as I can recollect, the problem statement of "Medienbruch" has always been the same more or less (though the data formats and physical media involved have differed). I think it came up rather often in press releases and case histories for the PDF Competence Center (called something else these days I think) as part of its campaign to promote PDF/A formats for long-term archiving. The issue came up (in English) in the 1990s when I interviewed "Dr. Demento", a radio personality with a passion for weird old recordings and obscure jazz, and he spoke at length about the consolidation of content from many different record formats, tapes, wires and cylinders, but I don't think there was any particular term applied, more a discussion of the problems at hand. I think you're probably right that there my be no single term found, but in mining the records and memories of the past, we may indeed discover a useful, succinct way of expressing this. Without some clever, proactive effort here (and with other concepts) we here in Euroland will likely be served some very unappetizing invention by a German, Italian or Bulgarian who might be a very fine scholar in his own language but is not up to the challenge of using ours well. That offensive "four-eyes principle" is an example of such. There are in fact several good terms in English (in addition to the one mentioned above) which predate it for the German Vieraugenprinzip but their lack of distribution and the complicity of bad linguists have left us vulnerable to its spread.

      I know I probably sound like a terrible prescriptivist for language with some of the things I say about word choices. But I recognize the need for specialist vocabulary, of course, and I'm rather shameless about my own borrowings and inventions as some may have noticed. But I feel a certain obligation to keep ideas accessible to "outsiders" or those unfamiliar with a field or concept to facilitate their joining the discussion. I've heard so often the expressions of frustration by older Germans who no longer recognize their own language, which in current use often sounds like a stream of misremembered school English with German articles and prepositions. I think that good word choices - ones which make meaning clear or inspire with some emotionally effective rhythm - improve the our general mental and social hygiene, while the bad choices dull our minds and spirits and too often lead to broken communication and withdrawal from participation in discussion. The reinvention of English we see in the European Continent is seldom a dynamic and natural social development but more one driven by commercial and political interests who benefit from confusion.

      For me it's not so much about a single term, Medienbruch in this case, but our plan for effective communication with this concept and our strategy in the greater war of words.

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  9. Ah, good-old Medienbrüche again. The German obsession with using nouns where we would use verbs. For a truly beautiful little explanation of how to translate the term into English go here: http://false-friends.crellin.de/search?q=medienbr%C3%BCche. The seamless idea is on the right track.

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    1. Thank you, Sally. I like Mr. Crellin's approach and attitude. There are so many cases like this where verbs and adjectives will serve better than the nouns in the source, and I'm sure I've gone the other way often enough as well.

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  10. You're welcome. It's one of the things I change most often if I'm correcting other people's work. Far too many nouns in the English usually. It sounds so unnatural.

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