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The Translation Bug

There is a lot of confusion, misunderstandings, and errors caused and spread by some books and websites due to too much, unnecessary, and incorrect translations from one language to another. Good translations are a great idea as people not speaking the language in question can share the same knowledge, but what I am talking about here, a form of translational overkill, is contra-productive.

Everybody that ever tried to translate some single term or complete text via a dictionary and/or translation software probably knows that a translation, even if it appears okay at first, may cause problems if not applied in context of the original wording. But not only does that affect normal terms, it is also true for such things like company names which (at first glance) seem unproblematic.

Of course it may appear more or less hard to pronounce and/or understand original terms and names and I know that this may negatively influence the learning curve in some areas, there are however two important points about translation that one should hold in mind, especially in context with the identification and history of porcelain:

Real Names

Names have been changed for various reasons during history, however one should consider the problems involved. How you would feel if your name was changed to something different, and perhaps not to the best? Many people of course react unfavorably when their name is rendered useless. Use a basic online translator, from German to English, and Nicholas Taube suddenly becomes Nod Pigeon!

Various Czech and Polish sites literally translate everything, right down to the real names of people (e.g. Franz suddenly becomes Frantisék). Okay, it is a fact that many people with Austrian/German origin living and working in the area of the later founded Czechoslovakia for example actually had their names altered but it is a different matter finding names changed due to translation.

It is undesirable and unfortunate to find web sites that display a certain person's name in one area, and in the same paragraph find that same person's name displayed as the (incorrect) translated name. This is especially confusing when there is no explanation as to the two forms of names used. I've found that in many cases the person mentioned in reality never changed his/her name. Take for example the porcelain factory owner Rudolf Kämpf who was apparently married to a Mrs. Y. Kampfova, however that is nothing more than the Czech translation of her real name, Josefine Kämpf. I am quoting this from what I have read but have recently also seen what happens when such infomation is then misread as the author of another website text suddenly spoke of a "Y. Kämpf (neé Kampfova)".

With the above example, as it relates to porcelain: one can find the family name Kampfova used all over the place in the family and company history but only its original form Rudolf Kämpf was and is recognized as trademark and is the epitome of quality. No one would recognize or collect/purchase porcelain made under the name Ruda Kampfova from Loučky (which does not even match the known 'RKG' mark); what is recognizable is porcelain made by Rudolf Kämpf in Grünlas (which of course matches the known 'RKG' mark). Names should be left unchanged in a historic context, even if the town is by now named Loučky.

The website of the successor company (which until 2006 was named Leander) presented its history based on all-out translation, naming their predecessor Rudolf Kampfova. Only after recognizing the marketing potential of the original Rudolf Kämpf name (and its new registration as trademark) did they change his name to Rudolf Kämpf on all website pages, in PDFs and catalogs, leaving the rest of the until then involved family stuck with the name Kampfova which is simply incorrect as they never altered their name. Just like Antonia Kümmelmann who is quoted as Antonia Kummelmanova. In addition, the site shows various typographical errors: Dr. jur. Julius Heller is incorrectly named Yuliy Geller and Rudolf Dieterle is incorrectly named Rudolf Diterl. It would be bad enough on some collector site, but a company history page in such form is simply a disgrace.

Another example is the history of a different porcelain manufacturer, the businessman Johann Theodor Menzl. His name is frequently found incorrectly translated to Johann Tiwador Menzl or is (even worse) truncated to a mere Tiwador Menzl. Such mistranslation not only corrupts the context of his marks as many manufacturers use a trademark made from initials, and this brings more importance to using the correct name. In this specific case the incorrect translation to Tiwador Menzl doesn't relate to the trademark "JOME" (derived from JOhann MEnzl). Worse is to come as the author at the same time completely dropped the original town of operation, namely Jokes-Wickwitz, replacing it with the name of the nearest larger town, Czech Jakubov (the former Jakobsburg). Or take the given name Wilhelm Julinek, translated to death by Czech translators and resulting in trash like Vilém Julink or Viléma Julinka being used in one and the same text.

Thinking in the line of keywords for a website page one can easily figure out that the results from a website search (e.g. Google, Yahoo, etc.) exclude each other, meaning that people using the correct form will barely find the translated form and vice versa, even if both texts actually discuss the same matter.

Company names (or classifications)

While trying to explain the problems with incorrect translations we should take websites into account which adapted the translation of factory names from German into English completely out of sense and context. Provided information is often inconsistent, meaning that one certain company state or period is mentioned in multiple forms or stages of translation.

There are many typical translation errors, for example a Porzellanmalerei is no Porzellanmanufaktur. And a Porzellanmanufaktur (business with lots of manual labor, mainly hand-decoration) is not the same as a Porzellanfabrik (factory, mass production, mainly transfer decoration except when combined with an art department). Many English-language sites however make no distinction between those terms or confuse them frequently. It is frustrating to see that even today the world wide web is full of misleading nonsense like that.

To make things worse, the task becomes more difficult when other people copy information from such already misleading sources, either adding their own ideas in the same language or running the content through yet another translator. Various non-English sites took info from a (now defunct) website on Bohemian porcelain and ceramics, translated it into their respective language, and presented it online in both text form and PDF documents. The results were disastrous, and even if some US visitors may claim that it is none of their business, some US "experts" used exactly those sites as source of information for their own write-ups. How people can believe that a bad translation of an already bad translation can be a reliable source of information is far beyond me. And no, Google Translate is not perfect, it is merely a translation aid - even in 2023 it was still far from a really good translator.

Mistranslated results are freely spread all over the place and to say this is confusing and unfortunate is in understatement for those new to learning, even collectors. I was sent manuscripts from two different authors who asked me to cross-check and comment on their documents, finding exactly the same incorrect statements repeated in both. Hold in mind that this was valuable reference material intended for future collectors, the stuff our children or heirs perhaps will have to use. Knowing that such material will be faulty just because the authors are too arrogant or stupid to have their texts translated correctly is sickening. Modern authors should check and verify their sources and have the content cross-checked by capable, context-aware speakers of both languages.


The few examples above clearly show what can happen if people do not accurately use original and correct names of locations as well as personal and family names - hold in mind that these are merely a few examples from a whole array of websites affected by the translation bug. Even if I mainly chose the Czech/Polish translations as example, sites in the USA or elsewhere are just as affected.

As author of the PM&M website - a site itself often quoted elsewhere - I believe that it is my responsibility to treat all historic elements with the respect they deeply deserve. This of course includes the correct use of all names in question, no matter if they are family, company or town names and that of course also includes the correct use of all non-English characters required to do so, regardless of original language.

I can not stress enough the importance of using the original name forms. It would be beneficial to all that any use of crippled forms and ill translations on all web sites should be brought to the attention of the respective author so that the person responsible may revert to the original/correct form, and inform him- or herself before further spreading incorrect data. It is not only the knowledge of tomorrow that will benefit from this, it also leads to far better search results here and now.

(Version 1.04)


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