See “Pages” for the final translation, machine translation, and original text.
I chose to translate a section of Hubert Bosch’s memoirs from the First World War after spending most of the semester working with German memoirs from the war in English translation for my honors thesis. During my research, I found extensive databases online filled with transcribed German journals and diaries, and noticed that very few of them had ever been translated into English. I wanted to translate this journal because it was full of personal details and written by an average soldier. I hoped to create a good translation that English-speaking historians and First World War enthusiasts could benefit from, and I believed that I could do a good job because of my work in German history and experience with similar documents.
This project, in my opinion, is an excellent illustration of the value of human translation over machine translation. Google Translator Toolkit proved completely inadequate to the task of dealing with the older words and sentence structure Bosch used. GTT often mistranslated words, managed to change the word order six different ways of backwards, and frequently could not identify certain words altogether. Since GTT was nearly useless for this project, I was forced to do the majority of translation on my own. I learned a lot about early Twentieth Century German, and noticed some interesting differences from modern German. Bosch frequently used terms that were new at the time, and often hyphenated words that are now written as compound nouns. He also created compound nouns by cramming together one or two adjectives and linking them to a noun. He even compounded adjectives and verbs.
Bosch also used terms whose meanings have changed since the 1920s, when this was written, and made frequent use of abbreviations. For example, Unterkunft, which simply means lodging, has been used throughout the original text to refer to everything from civilian homes occupied by soldiers, to barracks, to shelters in the field. To further compound the confusion, a Stube, is quarters for soldiers living in-country. He describes the outfitting of his unit with the word Einkleidung, which is apparently no longer a commonly used noun. Eikleiden is to clothe or accouter, thus an Einkleidung is an outfitting or an equipping. This is just one example of the many instances where I had to deduce the meaning of a word since it was not present in any of the modern dictionaries I used. I also found a few colorful idioms, such as Eiserne Bestand which is literally “iron stock”, but corresponds to the English idiom “the bare necessities.”
I noticed that one characteristic of Bosch’s writing style was to pack as much information as possible into one massive sentence, and to use as many adjectives as possible when describing time and reflecting on the past. For instance, Bosch might say something like, “Now in between rifle practice and physical fitness exercises, we now already had learned to salute properly, which our superiors rewarded with an evening of leave going around in the town, though every man must return to the barracks before nine o’clock (which was now a new privilege though was becoming more common.” Bosch’s style of older German forced me to learn how to sift through German clauses, identify verbs, and really pay close attention to the case of articles. I also had to make judgment calls as to which prepositions and adjectives to omit in the English translation, because in many cases, his sentences were simply way too “rich” to be translated literally into English.
Bosch provides historians with a fantastic primary source full of details, such as military terminology, ranks, and names of units. This poses a huge challenge for the translator, however, as German military units do not correspond exactly to English terms. I chose to translate the terms into English despite the fact that they do not have an exact equivalent, because without some rough idea of what units and ranks correspond to, the average reader would have no idea what was going on. Bosch describes a Zug and a Korporalschaft, both of which translate as “platoon.” However, the translator cannot use “platoon” for both, as they are described as distinct groups in the text. A Zug is thus a platoon because it includes twelve to sixty men and is commanded by a sergeant and a Korporalschaft is thus a squad because it includes less than thirty men and is commanded by a corporal. Ranks were also quite confusing. A Gefreiter is simply a corporal, a Stellv. Korporallschaftsführer is translated as lance-corporal, and an Abrichter Gefreiter roughly corresponds to a Private First Class. Mannschaften, depending on the context, can mean anything from enlisted men, recruits, personnel, to patrol or team. I also discovered that a Rekrut is a specific term used to describe a soldier who is in basic training, and not as general a term as the English “recruit.” The word Depot was also troublesome, as Bosch uses it to describe his unit while they were still in Germany at basic training. It is an old term for a reserve unit of an unspecified number of soldiers, and there is not an exact English equivalent for it. Rather than lead the reader to believe they are training at a train station, I used the generic term “unit.”
My knowledge of the history of the German Army during the First World War was essential for making sense out of this text. Bosch uses the word Ersatz to describe the kind of battalion in which he served. Ersatz literally means something that is fake, or a substitute. I knew from my history studies that it means “reserve” when used to describe a military unit. I found several interesting tidbits in the text. Bosch writes, “Die scharfgemachten Seitengewehre wurden gegen die bisher gehabten ausgetauscht.” This literally means, “The sharpened bayonets were exchanged for the ones previously held.” It would not make sense to send soldiers into the field with dull or old bayonets, so I realized scharfgemachten implied something beyond “new.” I know from my work with German memoirs that toward the end of the war, some German soldiers used a sawback bayonet. In Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, the new recruits (like Bosch’s company) exchanged their sawbacks for the “regular” kind, the ones previously manufactured and used earlier in the war. After further research, I discovered sawbacks were first manufactured in 1915 (Bosch’s class was 1917) and used extensively by Bavarian Reserve Regiments. I was thus able to accurately translate the implied meaning of the sentence and provide relevant historical information. I was similarly able to deduce tidbits of historical significance from the following sentence, “as mit den Stiefeln, Schnürschuhen und dem Drillichzeug, das mit am meisten beanspruchte, war schon leichter und die Ausrüstungsstücke wie Tornister.“ I knew from studies that the German Army wore various types of uniforms and that the tunics, trousers, and boots were not always the same, even within the same regiment. I was thus able to explain that, “The fatigues with lace-up hobnail shoes, which most of us had, were easier to clean than the one with the tall boots. ” Sifting through details like these were the most exciting part of this project.
Overall, I am very proud of this translation and I feel I did very accurate work, considering my limited knowledge of German. I would be interested to continue working on this project, perhaps with a German scholar of greater experience, to complete the translation of Bosch’s text.