Sunday, May 20, 2012

Why it's important to work with native speakers of the language you intend to publish in

I am sitting in a hotel room in Trieste, which is at the moment in Italy, although it is walking distance to Slovenia and has flown many flags over the millenia, including its own as an independent city-state under UN protection after the Second World War.

A city with such a varied history naturally has much to offer tourists, and we have scheduled a full day of sightseeing following the end of my wife’s conference. In her conference bag was a highly produced tourist guide in English, a large-format map with attractively designed blocks on the back describing suggested touring options. This is the official publication of the tourist agency and carries no advertising. Thought went into this.

I am reading about James Joyce, who lived here twice. The writing and editing is fine. A native speaker of British English edited the copy for this translation. But the typesetting was done by someone who does not know English well. The text in the second column begins like this:
Even his most famous work, “Ulys-
ses”, was planned in Trieste, whe-
re he also wrote some of its most
significant chapters.
There is no variety of English in which “where” is two syllables, but to someone who speaks a Romance language, “where” can look like two syllables.

Certainly there are ways to avoid such traps. Choosing the correct hyphenation dictionary for the language you are typesetting is helpful, even if most compositors forget to do it. But being a native speaker is safer.

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