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Specialist translation requires intense collaboration, says Jens Berger

21 October 2021

At a recent Translation Industry Expert Talk hosted by the MA in Translation, musicologist and specialist translator Jens Berger spoke about the challenges of a recent major project.

Berger had worked on producing a German version of Elaine Gould’s Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation. This vast and comprehensive book outlines, by way of guidelines and hundreds of visual examples, the good and bad of laying out a musical score. While computer programmes can do some of that work today, engravers are still in high demand especially by professional musicians.

The main challenge for the German translator was the fact that different publishing houses in the German world each have their own, centuries-old terminological preferences, and the translator needed to respect these traditions while still offering one conclusive, ‘definitive’ German equivalent for each English term or phrase.

Berger presented a broad range of resources he was able to draw on during this work, ranging from personal contacts with composers, engravers, performers and the author herself to specialist, monolingual and bilingual glossaries and encyclopaedias. He discussed work practices that allowed him to deal with the 1990s files on which some of the source material was stored, and the economics and well-being aspects of being involved in a project of such a vast scale.

In an amusing twist, both Berger and co-translator Arne Muus, who is also the General Manager of Edition Peters, where the German version was eventually published, pointed out that the pun in the English title was a particular challenge: certain members of the German-language specialist audience that the translation caters for were not amused to see an equivalent pun on the cover of a supposedly serious book!

Both language versions have been commercially successful and are available for purchase.


Have you got a question about specialist translation?

Contact Dr Christophe Fricker

or visit the University of Bristol Translation Studies website

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