Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Going Clubbing: Found in Translation

Sick of dining hall food? Perhaps you’d prefer the “red beet soup with cheesy dumplings in the form of fingers” one Polish hotel proudly offers. Or maybe some Swiss wine that would “leave you nothing to hope for”?
While such examples of translation gone horribly wrong can be found on the web in increasing quantities—often compiled by humor sites in an attempt to elicit a few chuckles—accurate translation is a more somber matter for non-profits around the world whose limited budgets leave no room to hire a professional translator. Fortunately for them, PULP is ready to help. (No, not the O.J. kind…) The Princeton University Language Project, in keeping with Princeton’s in-the-service-of-all-nations spirit, offers free translation services in more than five languages to charitable organizations based both in the U.S. and abroad.
Formed in 2005 by Eugene Yi ’08, PULP now boasts a mailing list of 400 students, with 25-30 volunteer translators regularly attending the group’s Friday afternoon translation workshops. Some of these undergrads, says Lily Fu ’11, PULP’s newly-elected President, are native speakers, but as many more are not. Meghan Todt ’11, for instance, explained that she joined the group last year after finding that she could no longer fit Spanish classes into her schedule but still wanted to maintain the level of proficiency she had acquired over several years of language study.
When Fu assured me that PULP welcomes students of all fluency levels, pointing out that projects vary widely in terms of difficulty, I was at first skeptical. Let’s just say that if I, with my pitiful command of the Spanish language, were to attempt translation for real organizations, the results would not be pretty. Yet PULP is organized such that multiple students review each translated document before it is completed.
“The first draft is the hardest, and the most time-consuming,” said Fu, “but native speakers of the language always edit these preliminary drafts to ensure accuracy.”
It seems that their system is working. In its earliest years, PULP reached out to organizations it believed could benefit from its services; today the group is frequently contacted by companies who have heard about its work and seek translators for their own documents. Even Princeton has joined in, Fu notes: “Last year, we translated Orange Key’s online virtual tour, as well as documents for University Health Services.”
What’s next for the club? Fu mentioned that PULP plans to again sponsor an undergraduate translation competition in the hopes of generating campus-wide awareness for the group. She’d also like to expand PULP’s language base: while translators work on a consistent basis in Chinese, Spanish, Korean, Japanese and French, there is always a need for additional languages.
For now, however, PULP will continue to “fight Engrish” the best way they know how, one non-profit at a time.