This weekend, I was privileged to be able to attend Susie Dent’s lecture on American English. Organised by the Chartered Institute of Linguists, this was the second David Crystal Lecture, given by the winner of the David Crystal Trophy for outstanding contribution to the field of languages. Lexicographer Susie Dent of Countdown fame opened the lecture explaining that, while Countdown does not allow American spelling, it does allow American words, causing her to receive a lot of critical letters from unhappy viewers. After determining through a quick show of hands that a wide majority of the audience was in favour of ‘traditional’ British English, she then vowed to make us change our minds.
She started by explaining the origin of the word 'bugbear', which used to refer to an imaginary beast invoked by parents to scare children into doing what they were told. American English, a bugbear for many, is seen as lacking the sophistication and subtlety of British English. However, American English can also be considered simpler and cleaner than British English.
There is a myth of standard English (‘standard’ originally meant a physical flag that was the rallying point for a city or a country and came to represent authority), which is thought to be English as it should be spoken and written and which must be protected from foreign influence. However, English has borrowed from other languages for centuries, creating new expressions based on foreign languages and cultures (for example, the Anglo-Dutch wars in the 1600s gave rise to the expressions ‘Double Dutch’, meaning gibberish, and ‘going Dutch’, which originally referred to situations where one party was too miserly to pay for the others).
Moving onto the topic of spelling, Susie pointed out that the spelling of the English language is notoriously chaotic and that there are more exceptions than there are words that follow the rules (amusingly, the famous ‘i before e except after c’ rule only works for in 20% of cases!). Spelling was first standardised in England when printing appeared, at a time when the North and the South of the country both spelled things differently. At the time, William Caxton, the man who brought the printing press to England, hired Flemish typesetters. They added silent letters where they would have appeared in Flemish (for example, the current word ‘ghost’ used to be spelled ‘gost’ until the silent ‘h’ was added to make it closer to the Flemish ‘gheest’). But silent letters were also in existence previously: medieval scribes sometimes added them to bring words closer to their Latin origin (transforming ‘dowt’ into ‘doubt’ to bring it closer to the Latin ‘dubitus), although they were mistaken about some of the etymology (‘island’ was thought to be related to the word ‘isle’, hence the silence ‘s’, but it was originally a Viking word).
Going back to the topic of American English, she explained that some of the spellings we now consider to be American (‘honor’ instead of ‘honour’, ‘center’ instead of ‘centre’) were actually used more often by Shakespeare than their so-called British variants. Shakespeare also opted for the -ize spelling, which is still the style recommended by the Oxford English Dictionary today, as it is closer to the Greek etymology. The shift from -or to -our only became enshrined in the dictionary towards the end of the 17th century. However, the spelling is not consistent, as in the case of ‘honour’ and ‘honorarium’ or ‘labour’ and ‘laborious’.
Some of American English’s divergences from British English were deliberately chosen through political will. As the American colonies separated from England, language became a battlefield. In the words of linguist Lynne Murphy, “rejecting the King’s English was another way to reject the King”. By simplifying the way words were spelled, the former colonies showed their linguistic independence and united around their new national language. In addition, many of the families on the Mayflower became inventors by necessity as they encountered new people, flora, fauna and phenomena. They borrowed from American-Indian languages and cultures (creating words such as ‘rattlesnake’ and ‘moccasin’ and the expression ‘to bury the hatchet’), re-used English words (naming places ‘New England’, ‘New York’, etc.) and invented words of their own (‘hollow’, ‘neck of the woods’). As time went on, American and British English evolved separately, leading to different accents and words.
The cultural power of the United States means that we now use Americanisms constantly. However, it is a two-way-street. For example, American English has recently integrated the words ‘wanker’ and ‘gobsmacked’!
To conclude, Susie Dent explained that the nature of language makes it messy and prone to change. Typos, hiccups, misunderstandings and political radicalism, among others, cause languages to grow and evolve. The only language that doesn’t evolve is a dead one!
Very excited to meet my linguist crush!
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In this post, I will present the different types of official translations, such as certified, sworn and notarised translations, and provide some tips on where to find the right translator for your documents.
A certified translation is a translation accompanied by a signed statement attesting that the translation is accurate and complete to the best of the translator's knowledge and ability.
What is a sworn translation?
Strictly speaking, it is the translator who is ‘sworn’, not the translation. In some countries, such as France and Spain, translators take an oath before a court in order to become sworn translators. However, this system does not exist in countries such as the UK or the US.
Who can perform certified translations?
In the UK, members of the two professional translator associations, the Institute of Translation and Interpreting and the Chartered Institute of Linguists, may produce certified translations that are stamped and signed by the translator and accompanied by a signed statement presenting the translator’s credentials. These translations are accepted as official documents by the British and American authorities.
If your certified translation is intended for your local French embassy or consulate (e.g. for naturalisation procedures), you will need to use a translator that has been vetted by that embassy or consulate and that is registered on their list.
Where can I find an accredited translator for my certified translation?
If your certified translation is for the British authorities, you can find a list of accredited translators registered with the Institute of Translation and Interpreting here (make sure the translator is ITI-Assessed) and with the Chartered Institute of Linguists here (I would recommend choosing a Chartered Linguist).
If your certified translation is for the French Consulate in London, you can find a list of registered translators here.
If you need a sworn translator (required by certain French courts), you can find a list through the Société française des traducteurs by using the Advanced Search function and selecting “Sworn Translator (in France)” in the Type of service category.
What is a notarised translation?
For a notarised translation, the translator signs an affidavit in the presence of a notary public swearing that the translation is accurate. The notary then signs and stamps their sworn statement as well as the translation. Notarised translations are more commonly used for education-based documents such as diplomas and degree certificates. They can, however, significantly increase the cost of the translation process, so it is always a good idea to check with the recipient organisation if this step is needed beforehand.
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If you look at some of the websites most used by translators, you might be forgiven for thinking they are speaking a different language! Just as in any profession, translation has its own terms and acronyms. To commemorate International Translation Day, which takes place on 30 September, here are some of the most commonly terms and acronyms in the field of language services:
Back Translation: Translation of a previously translated text back into its source language.
CAT Tool (Computer-Assisted Translation Tool): A tool commonly used by translators to speed up their work. Most CAT tools will divide the source text into segments (see segmentation) and remove the formatting so that the translators can then focus only on the text. CAT tools also remember previous translations, allowing translators to look up the exact expressions used in previous translations and therefore ensuring consistency. Once the translation is finished, the CAT tool exports it into the same format as the original document. Unlike machine translation, the translations are entirely done by a human, the computer is just used to simplify the format and improve the quality of the end document.
Consistency: How often a term or phrase is rendered the same way in the target language. Context: Information outside of the actual text that is essential for complete comprehension (e.g. who the target audience is, the reason for the document, etc.).
Culturally-Sensitive Translation: Translation that takes into account cultural differences.
Editing: Reviewing and changing a document in order to improve the flow and overall quality of the writing, ensuring that the document makes sense, cutting down on wordiness and clarifying any ambiguity.
FIO (For Information Only) Translation or Gist Translation: A rough translation of the source text that allows the reader to understand the essence of the text but that is not intended for publication.
Glocal: Combination of the words 'global' and 'local,' description of products or services intended for international markets that have been customized for different cultures, countries or languages.
In-Country Review: Editing of a translated text by a person residing within the country where the target text will be used.
Internationalization: Planning and preparation stages for a product that is designed to support global markets.
Localisation: Adapting or modifying a product, service, or website to a different culture. This does not always include translation, as it could involve adapting a US-based business website to the UK for example. The hashtag #L10N is often used to refer to localisation on social media.
Language Pair: Languages in which a translator can provide services.
Literal Translation: Translation that closely follows the phrasing, order and sentence construction of the source text.
LSP (Language Services Provider): business supplying language services such as translating or interpreting.
Meaning-For-Meaning Translation: Translation in which the words used in both languages may not be exact equivalents, but the meaning is the same.
Mega-Language: One of the ten most important languages on the web (Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish).
Mother Tongue: a person's native or first language, learned naturally, usually since childhood.
MT (Machine Translation), also known as Automatic Translation: Using a computer to perform the actual translation with no input from an actual human. The most famous machine translation tool is Google Translate (see previous blog article).
QA (Quality Assurance), also known as Quality Control: Reviewing the target text with the purpose of catching errors to ensure the quality of the translation.
Register: Level of formality of the text that depends on the terminology, grammar and tone used. Segmentation: Dividing the source text into smaller segments to make it easier to translate, usually based on language construction rules such as punctuation.
Source Language: The language in which the original document was written.
Source Text: The original document that needs to be translated.
Target Audience: Group of people who will receive the information rendered by the translator in the target language.
Target Language: The language of the translation.
Target Text: The translation.
Transcreation: Developing new content (based on existing content) for a given target audience rather than translating existing material.
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People seem to have mixed feelings about Google Translate. On the one hand, you will see it used for everything and anything by people who swear by it; whereas, another category of people would not touch it with a six-foot pole. So how useful is Google Translate and should you use it for your business?
Google Translate can be a wonderful tool for businesses and individuals. Let's say you are planning on going on holiday to Rome. You can use Google Translate to gain a general understanding of hotel websites. Or, imagine your business is contacted by a foreign company and that, although their email to you may be in English, their website is not. Google Translate can allow you to quickly see what they do, where they are based and perhaps gain some insight into the type of partnership they could offer . When it comes to getting a general understanding of material in a foreign language, Google Translate is absolutely brilliant.
However, Google Translate reaches its limits when it comes to creating a precise, culturally-sensitive translation. Although its machine-software can be quite accurate, it still struggles with determining the exact meaning of the word to translate (e.g. A "tote" can be either a handbag or a plastic bin - a human can use their understanding of the context and situation, and occasionally their intuition, to select the correct meaning and therefore the appropriate translation, whereas Google Translate works on a probabilities' game). In addition, some expressions, such as proverbs, cannot be translated literally (the literal translation of the French proverb "L'habit ne fait pas le moine" is "The vestment does not make the monk". However, its true meaning is closer to the English expression "Don't judge a book by its cover"). Another issue is that of cultural appropriateness. Certain expressions or words can have a different meaning in another culture, so a literal translation may sound rude or inappropriate to your target audience. Take for instance the Spanish town whose turnip festival was translated as something X-rated (you can read more about it in this newspaper article)!
Google Translate works using statistics, so if you take a sentence in English, translate it into another language and then translate it back into English, the result may have nothing to do with your original phrase. For example, let's take the classic quote from Casablanca: "Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By". After going back and forth a few times between English and Japanese (courtesy of the Translation Party! website), the English becomes "It plays Sam. However, time will tell".
In summary, if you want a 'for information only' translation, then Google Translate is perfect. It is accurate enough to give you the gist of a website or document; and, as it is free, it can allow you to decide whether you are interested enough in the content to get it translated professionally. However, if the translation is intended for publication (online or paper) and will be read by the general public, you would be better off using a professional translator to avoid accidentally confusing or insulting your target audience.
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Having your website available in several languages is essential if you have a multilingual customer base. Here are some tips on how to make sure the translation process goes smoothly.
1- Localisation: While the words themselves need to be translated of course, some of the concepts may also need to be adapted for your target market. This includes converting measurements (e.g. from the imperial to the metric system) and adapting cultural references so they can be understood by your new audience.
2- SEO: There is no point having your list of keywords translated literally if your target market will not be using them to search for your products or services. I recommend conducting market research to produce a list of keywords specifically used in that language/country/region or commissioning your translator to do this for you.
3- Length: Do not forget to take into account the fact that different languages will take up different amounts of space on the screen. For example, French tends to be 15% to 20% longer than English. As a result, text that fits perfectly one a button in English may end up being too long in French!
4- Layout: To avoid the issue mentioned above, I would highly recommend showing your translator a mock-up of the layout or a version of the site in the source language. If you explain the purpose of each element (e.g., header, body, button) as well as any length constraints, a good translator will then adapt the translation to fit these constraints. This avoids you having to make last minute changes when the text won’t fit on the screen!
5- Formatting: One way to speed up the process is to have your translator work directly in the html file. This way, all you need to do is upload the new html files to the new site, without trying to copy-paste the translation into the html. Most professional translators will use specific software allowing them to work in the html file without running the risk of accidentally modifying the coding. This also helps the translator to identify some of the potential layout issues as the html code helps identify the various webpage elements.
6- Pictures: The pictures used for the original website may not be adapted to the culture of your target audience. For example, what is acceptable in one country may not be in another market. However, the use of culturally relevant images extends beyond simply avoiding offensive ones. Images help create a connection with your audience, so check that the people in the photographs have a similar appearance to website visitors and that the backgrounds correspond to that region’s climate and architecture.
7- Content Management System (CMS): This may seem obvious, but this step is often overlooked. Make sure your current CMS supports the new language, as this can be an issue with right-to-left languages such as Arabic and Hebrew or double-bit Asian scripts like Japanese, Chinese and Korean.
8- Proofread at every stage: make sure that your translator proofreads the final version once it is ready to go live, paying particular attention to any typos and formatting errors. You want the version your clients see to be perfect, so smooth out any teething errors before publishing it.
As you can see, the common feature of most of these tips is to think of the translation from the target market’s point of view. As professional translators are always native speakers of the language they translate into, I recommend bringing up these points with them. They can then recommend changes or point you in the direction of a cultural consultant. In addition, by clarifying any formatting constraints ahead of time, you can help your translator get it right the first time round, leaving you with the perfect website translation.
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