prepared to / willing to

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prepared to / willing to

Post by Phil White » Sun Jan 21, 2018 1:33 pm

I have a translation about a research study into the dangers associated with texting while driving. The study involved some drives in a simulator where the participants were expected to send and receive text messages while driving.

Potential participants in the study were excluded if they simply would never text while driving.

Which of these two formulations do you feel is more appropriate and why?
  • The contexts in which drivers are prepared to read or write text messages were identified.
  • The contexts in which drivers are willing to read or write text messages were identified.
I would appreciate any comments.

Ed. I am not interested in recasting the sentence. I am only interested in any difference between "prepared to" and "willing to".
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Re: prepared to / willing to

Post by tony h » Sun Jan 21, 2018 5:03 pm

A purely gut-reaction is that "willing to" seems more willing than "prepared to" in that "prepared to" seems to need more coercion, by virtue of necessity.

eg: I am not willing to use my phone while driving but I would be prepared to if I was following a criminal.

... but then I argued the opposite with: "He said no but I think he would be prepared to if it was for charity"

That difference may be within the context of the sentences.

My thinking is that if one allowed for a broader set of circumstances than the other that would point to the better answer.

Maybe Phil wants to explore only situations where the phone is used for relatively trivial reasons, but maybe he wants to explore all possible circumstances. eg: "Hi I'll be home in five minutes" vs "Hello police I am following the vehicle that just ran over five pedestrians".
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Signature: tony

With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: prepared to / willing to

Post by Phil White » Sun Jan 21, 2018 5:13 pm

Thanks Tony. I shall remain silent until I have a few more opinions.
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Re: prepared to / willing to

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Jan 21, 2018 7:59 pm

I don't think it matters all that much which word you choose. But I agree with Tony that 'prepared to' implies greater reluctance, or that more coercion would be needed, than 'willing to'.
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Re: prepared to / willing to

Post by Phil White » Mon Jan 22, 2018 12:29 am

Erik_Kowal wrote:
Sun Jan 21, 2018 7:59 pm
I don't think it matters all that much which word you choose. But I agree with Tony that 'prepared to' implies greater reluctance, or that more coercion would be needed, than 'willing to'.
Try "prepared to die for one's country" vs "willing to die for one's country". Does the same reluctance argument apply there?
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Re: prepared to / willing to

Post by Erik_Kowal » Mon Jan 22, 2018 1:36 am

Yes, in my opinion it does. Though given that the proportion of people who actively WANT to die 'for their country' (whatever that means) is very small indeed, the difference in degree of willingness here would probably be assumed by most people to be less than in a situation where one was not so obviously also putting one's life on the line.

But we're now straying from the original query context...
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Re: prepared to / willing to

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon Jan 22, 2018 2:58 am

One could argue that "prepared to" implies that one has the tools to do the job, whereas "willing to" says that "I'll give it a go" even if I don't necessarily have the tools to do the job (e.g. "I am prepared to go to war" vs. "I am willing to go to war.") Perhaps the ones who are prepared have been reading and writing text messages successfully, while driving, for years, whereas the ones who were willing had not tried it all that much. In that case I would say that the "willing to" is more appropriate.
_______________________________

Ken Greenwald — January 21, 2018
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Re: prepared to / willing to

Post by tony h » Mon Jan 22, 2018 11:20 am

Phil White wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 12:29 am
Erik_Kowal wrote:
Sun Jan 21, 2018 7:59 pm
I don't think it matters all that much which word you choose. But I agree with Tony that 'prepared to' implies greater reluctance, or that more coercion would be needed, than 'willing to'.
Try "prepared to die for one's country" vs "willing to die for one's country". Does the same reluctance argument apply there?
I think it does.
Ken Greenwald wrote:
Mon Jan 22, 2018 2:58 am
One could argue that "prepared to" implies that one has the tools to do the job, whereas "willing to" says that "I'll give it a go" even if I don't necessarily have the tools to do the job (e.g. "I am prepared to go to war" vs. "I am willing to go to war.")
Although I agree with you Ken, I think that in the context all participents would be equipped and the "preparedness" or "willingness" is a mental state and a varying assessment of risk vs benefit.
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With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: prepared to / willing to

Post by Phil White » Wed Jan 24, 2018 6:27 pm

I had been waiting for a little more discussion before declaring my own position.
The background to the question is a complaint from a customer about a translation done by a colleague of mine. One of the many changes made by the customer, who was not a native speaker, was "prepared" to "willing" in the context indicated.

Although the distinction is subtle, my native intuition tells me that it is there and that "prepared" is preferable in the context.

I feel that "prepared to do something" suggests an underlying mindset, whereas "willing to do something" is a response to a more or less explicit invitation or opportunity to engage in an action. Thus, for example, I would argue that the following are more natural:
  • Firefighters are prepared to risk their lives for other people
  • Only a few firefighters were willing to go into that inferno.
  • He is prepared to abandon every principle for the sake of his career
  • He was willing to sacrifice his friendship with Paula for the sake of his career. (The implication being that this circumstance actually arose.)
In terms of the text in hand, we are talking about whether participants would entertain the possibility of texting while driving, not whether they responded to a specific circumstance.

Have I got this right?
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Re: prepared to / willing to

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Jan 24, 2018 7:37 pm

It seems to me that there can be a difference in how we interpret the usage be prepared to [do X] according to whether it's something unpleasant but necessary, like a firefighter potentially risking his/her own life, versus doing something unethical, gratuitously unpleasant or difficult.

(The extent of planning or premeditation involved also seems relevant to the translation in question: we might be willing to do something risky on the spur of the moment, but we might not be prepared to do the same thing [i.e. we might be highly reluctant to do it, or absolutely refuse] if we'd had the opportunity to consider more carefully beforehand whether we would do it.)

Clearly, two distinct connotations of prepared to [do X] could both be relevant to the context of texting while driving.

The first, which Ken alluded to, relates to physical or mental readiness: "I've anticipated that this particular situation could arise, and I've geared myself up to respond to it with some kind of action or behaviour".

The second relates to volition in an emotionally fraught, unethical, illegal or otherwise problematic situation: "I'm not prepared to stand here and watch you snort cocaine in my kitchen!"

The question you have posed with your friend's translation conundrum illustrates well the kind of difficulty that can arise with the translation of fine nuances of meaning when the source and target languages do not provide for the expression of their distinctions in the same way (or even at all) in some situations, such as when the target language introduces a nuance or ambiguity that was not implied in the source text -- which might be what has happened here.

Alternatively, the problem could have been that it was unclear from the context provided in the source-language text which aspect of the situation needed to be emphasized in the translation. For the translation client, its volitional dimension was probably significantly more salient than the practical readiness dimension; so when the description in the source text was translated as 'prepared to', the ambiguity of that term which I referred to above rendered it unacceptable to them.
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End of topic.
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