A great example of how a professional linguist adds value to a translation

An old colleague of mine from Marquette Electronics recently wrote and asked if we could translate a personal note that was inside a German Prayer book that was given to his mother as a confirmation gift back in 1932.

Of course this is a little outside of the normal type of project we handle, as you can imagine from reading about our services, we typically handle corporate translation projects. However, this was a personal request from a friend and we are certainly capable of handling this type of project. The project was a bit of a challenge because the document was handwritten in a mix between classic German handwriting (Sütterlin script, which was taught in German schools until about 1940) and the more modern style as used today.

It is also interesting to note that if the linguist had no sense of history or curiosity over the text an important reference in the translation might be missed. One of the phrases in the German is :

Üb immer Treu und Redlichkeit, bis in dein kühles Grab. Und weiche keinen Finger breit von Gottes Wegen ab.

which is translated as

May you always be faithful and honest until you are laid in your cold grave. And never stray from God’s path by even as much as the width of your finger.1

Our translator did an exceptional job of uncovering and offering the client this additional information in a footnote to the translation.

1. The first paragraph is actually the first stanza of a poem/song by Ludwig Heinrich Christoph Hölty, which was set to music by Mozart in his opera The Magic Flute.

Without this information the inscription in the prayer book might seem odd. The key to this translation is the additional information provided by the linguist. A literal or word-for-word translation would have been far less helpful.