owe you all an apology. I should have written this before. Long ago I decided to declare a tie and award the first prize to all four entrants in the Translation Contest. However, I also felt I had to write a few comments on the entries, and never really got down to it. It would be a nice excuse if I said commenting on other people's work is not my forte, and it would be true too. However, it would not be the true reason. The true reason is that I simply had so many things in my head I lost control over my schedule. Apologies offered, let us get down to business.
The four entrants were "f m," "velho tradutor," "contestant," and "nosouma pessojuridica." All four will receive a memento as explained in the rulesprovided they send me e-mail from the same address as the original entry, with their correct names and addresses.
The original has 138 words and 791 characters, or 5.73 characters per word
UNIVERSALIDADE DA JURISDIÇÃO. Postulado indecinável do Estado de Direito, o Diploma Excelso o contempla por meio do artigo 5º XXXV, que hospeda a seguinte fraseologia "a lei não excluirá da apreciação do poder judiciário lesão ou ameaça a direito". Dito de outro modo, significa a garantia constitucional que assegura a qualquer pessoa o direito de bater às portas do Judiciário. Por sem dúvida, exprime um dos sustentáculos do Estado de Direito, incorporado entre nós pela Constituição de 1946, quando ensejou candente comentário de Pontes de Miranda, ao dizer que foi "a mais típica e mais importante criação daquela Carta". Por força de seu conteúdo, nenhum diploma normativo pode estabelecer qualquer limitação que condicione o ingresso em juízo, como, por exemplo, o esgotamento das vias administrativas, porquanto tal hipótese afigura-se decididamente conflitante com a dimensão semântica do aludido primado constitucional.
Contestant # 1: 142 words 736 characters 5.1 characters per word
UNIVERSALITY OF JURISDICTION. This is an undeclinable postulate of the State of Law, which is contemplated by the Constitution, in Article 5, XXXV, under the following wording: "law shall not exclude any offence or threat to rights from judicial consideration". In other words, this constitutional guarantee assures to any person the right to go to the Judiciary. Undoubtedly, it expresses one of the pillars of the State of Law, which was introduced among us by the Constitution of 1946, and was the subject of a brilliant comment by Pontes de Miranda, who said that it was "the most typical and important creation of that Constitution". By virtue of its substance, no statute can pose any limitation, e.g. exhaustion of administrative expedients, on the right to resort to Courts, since any such condition would clearly conflict with the scope of said constitutional precept.
Contestant # 2: 146 words, 785 characters 5.4 characters per word
UNIVERSAL ACCESS TO THE COURTS. This essential principle of the Rule of Law is addressed by the Constitution in Article 5 XXXV, which is worded as follows: "the law shall not prevent any actual or threatened violation of a person's rights from being addressed by the judiciary system. In other words, this constitutional guarantee assures any individual's right to seek redress from the judiciary system. Obviously, this principle constitutes one of the pillars of the Rule of Law codified in Brazil by the 1946 Constitution, which inspired a glowing comment by Pontes de Miranda, who called it "the most typical and most important creation of that Document." It means that no law or regulation may establish any limiting conditions to filing a lawsuit, such as, for example, the exhaustion of administrative channels; such limitations would decidedly contradict the letter and spirit of the above-mentioned constitutional principle.
Contestant # 3: 154 words, 807 characters, 5.2 characters per word
UNIVERSAL JURISDICTION. A cornerstone of the rule of law, the Brazilian Constitution enshrines this doctrine in article 5, subdivision XXXV, which provides: "The law will not exclude from the province of the judiciary violations of law or threats thereto." In other words, the constitutional provision guarantees each person's right to knock at the doors of justice. There is no doubt that it expresses one of the fundamental principles of the rule of law, incorporated in Brazil by the Constitution of 1946. Its enactment gave the renowned legal scholar Francisco Cavalcanti Pontes de Miranda the opportunity to make the incisive comment that it was "the most typical and most important creation of that document." By virtue of its content, no statute may set a limit on access to justicefor example, by requiring the exhaustion of administrative remediesgiven that such a rule would run decidedly counter to the meaning of the constitutional provision.
Contestant # 4: 161 words, 816 characters, 5,1 characters per word
THE UNIVERSALITY OF JURISDICTION, an absolute premise of the Rule of Law, is contemplated by the Constitution in Article 5, XXXV, which contains the following language; "the law shall not exclude any injury or threat to rights from review by the Judicial Power." Said in another way, it amounts to a constitutional guarantee that affirms the right of any person to knock on the doors of the Judiciary. Without doubt it constitutes one of the pillars of the Rule of Law, brought into being among us by the Constitution of 1946, as Pontes de Miranda clearly signaled when he said that it was "the most typical and the most important creation of that document." By the force of its content, no regulation can establish any limitation which places conditions on entry into court, such as, for example, "the exhausting of administrative channels," because such a requirement would place itself in direct conflict with the language of the aforementioned constitutional principle.
Some people believe that Portuguese is necessarily longer than English. Well, it may be, but in this case all four entries are actually longer than the original. Others affirm that any translation must be longer than its original, a statement apparently confirmed by these entries. Did any of the contestants pad the translation? I don't think so. Simply, some of us are more concise than others. My little statistical experience shows that agencies may have good reason to pay based on the source: an agency quoting on a large project involving several languages cannot risk 20% cost differences.
The samples are too few and too short, but they indicate that some of the most cherished tenets of our profession may be wrong.
Notice that the shortest entries are also the most straightforward ones. If you know Portuguese, you will see that the translators did not even try to reflect the style of the original. The basic idea was convey the meaning and don't bother about the style. There may be something here. I often use this method, to the pleasure of those who have to deal with the things I translate.
Fidelity to the original
Do the entries reflect the original? Well certainly the translators seem to have understood the original. But fidelity implies understanding and conveying. Because I am Brazilian and understand the original, I cannot be the best judge of that, but, in my opinion, all the four entries reflect the original.
Why do they differ so much, them? Because the original permits it. Long sentences, rare words, high rhetoric, all those are factors that condition plurality of translations. The original was not a string of standard patterns, for which we have found acceptable translations ages ago. It is a string of legal boilerplate, yes, hackneyed phrases all, but not the type we come across everyday, such as the stuff we find in contracts. Had this been the case, I trust translations would be more uniform. There are traditions in translating, and not many of us dare break them.
Fidelity to the target language
Are the entries good English? I don't mean good grammar. It is not too difficult to write correct English, but writing good English is not an easy task.
One of the tests generally applied in these cases is does it look like an original? No, they don't. Could they? I don't think so. The point is not that the original is difficult: the four entrants certainly understood it, and understood it well. It is florid and horrid, but nonetheless clear. So, no problem here. However, the rhetorical profile is typically Brazilian: only Brazilian lawyers write like that. Dickens has many lawyers writing legalese gobbledygook, but none of them writes like this: theirs is English, not Brazilian, gobbledygook. How could we possibly find a model to imitate in our translation?
I subscribe to a newspaper that publishes stories written by American, British, Italian and French journalists. I don't have to read the name of the writer to know in what language the original text was written, nor do I have to wait until I find a false friend: a French journalist does not write the way an American journalist does and that shows in the translation.
Could the translations be improved?
Yes, of course they could. Any translation can be improved. Works of art cannot be improved: no way you can add anything to Hamlet. But translations, even if of literary texts, are not works of art, so they are susceptible to improvement. The point is that it is seldom possible to attain general agreement concerning how to improve a translation. One of the entrants, for instance, wrote undeclinable. This is a good and correct translation for Portuguese indeclinável in the sense of undeniable.. Some might argue it is a very rare word in English, which it is, but it is also rare in Portuguese. Is it more rare in English than in Portuguese? Would it create an equivalent impact in English? The other entrants thought not and chose, cornerstone, essential, absolute, instead. Are those better choices?
I certainly find cornerstone better English. A cornerstone of the rule of law is much better English than undeclinable whatever. But would that be a better translation?
I could go on and on for ages, of course. But I will not pretend there is a possible end to the discussion. Translation is neither art nor exact science. If it were art, the entries would be not susceptible to improvement. If it were an exact science, there would be a single correct answer to the question what is the translation of X and all the others would be wrong. And there would be no fun in translating. At least for me.