PM&M / Resources / Essays :

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 translating from one language to another. Good translations of texts 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 importance and problems involved with a translation changing names. Consider how you would feel if it was *your* name that was changed to something different in translation. This point touches a sore spot in many people who react unfavorably when their name has been inexplicably translated along with text. Use a basic online translator, from German to English, and Nick becomes Nod, Taube becomes Pigeon - and so Nick Taube 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 - 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). Note that even if people know that the town by now is named Loučky - the correct names need to be used.

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 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 - the author at the same time completely dropped the original town of operation ('Jokes-Wickwitz') and replaced it with the name of the nearest larger town, Czech 'Jakubov', the former 'Jakobsburg'. 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)

In the importance of explaining what problems that incorrect translations can lead to, I will mention a website that has a been referred to quite frequently over the years. Let it be understood that I am not out to hurt anyone or make defamatory remarks, but this can only best be explained by referring to other websites. Many people know of websites such as one about Bohemian porcelain and ceramics. With my extensive knowledge of porcelain, translation and websites, I know that this and other websites have used the translation of factory names from German into English with incorrect regard and use of sense and context; furthermore the information has not been updated. Specific translation has been inconsistent, meaning that one certain company state or period is mentioned in multiple forms of translation.

I have found there are "typical translation errors" found in many places: for example 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). It is frustrating when accuracy is important in porcelain history, that the inherent problem with finding information via the world wide web is that information can be outdated and not kept current.

It is possible to navigate one's way through these errors, and make sense of them, but the task becomes more difficult when other sites take information from such sources. The misinformation is compounded when others add their own ideas in the same language, or run the content through a translator. Various non-English sites took info from the Bohemian porcelain and ceramics site and presented it online in text form or in form of PDF documents, then translated into their respective language ... with disastrous results. A translation of a translation greatly distorts the original context and content, and that becomes even more in error when the first translation was already faulty.

Unfortunately what is happening out there is that people are copying (mis)information without permission, and then are attempting to sell or present this free info via their own (pay)sites. Mistranslated results are freely spread all over the place, to say this is confusing and unfortunate is in understatement for those new to learning and for collectors. To share as example: I was sent manuscripts from two different authors who asked me to cross-check and comment their documents, finding EXACTLY the same wrong statements repeated. This is valuable material intended for future collectors and for reference books, the stuff our children or heirs perhaps will have to use. Knowing that former reference books can be faulty, I would hope that modern authors would check and verify their sources.


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. The knowledge of tomorrow and accurate informational searches today will greatly benefit by this.

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