An interesting translation question!

Posted on: August 4, 2022

Came across an interesting sentence recently.

Here’s the Chinese ST: 自然人应当提交身份证或者通行证、护照复印件

What’s interesting in the use of the word “or”. Let’s start with a literal translation

A natural person should submit a photocopy of their ID card, or travel permit, passport;

We can see that the backward comma between passport and travel permit is effectively doing the job of the English equivalent “, or” so let’s add that:

A natural person should submit a photocopy of their ID card, or travel permit,  or passport;

Now we’ve got the word “or” appearing twice. Which is not allowed. So we need to ask why is the first “or” there in the ST.

Actually it’s drawing a distinction between either “your ID” or “your travel document” (passport and permit are two types of travel document). In other words it’s dividing the world into Chinese who will have an ID and foreigners who will have travel documents.

So to keep that distinction, my answer was to move the clauses of the TT:

A natural person should submit a photocopy of their ID card, passport or travel permit;

Now, because the passport is obviously a travel document, it’s clear that we are breaking the list into Chinese and “foreign” parts, and we no longer need the “or”. If we had kept the original order, to a British reader “travel permit” is not a really well known thing (it’s used for travel between HK and the mainland) and couldn’t’ alert the reader to the idea that we have now moved to a new category of ID document.

In this case, I was able to keep the meaning of the ST just by moving two words, based on my knowledge of the TT reader. An interesting translation challenge.