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EU web translation as a genre

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While the word genre more frequently refers to a category of texts than to a set of translations or to the translation process itself, it can legitimately be applied in relation to web translation activity, as it can refer both to:

  • the translation of texts of a particular genre (texts written for the Internet environment), and
  • a type of translation with special features connected to the form in which they are published and read.

Daniel Gouadec (Traduire pour le Web, p. 26-27) suggests categorising translations according to “type” (e.g. synoptic, selective or integral) and “mode” (standard, decrypted, banalised or absolutely conform).

In the case of Commission web translation, the type of translation used is basically the integral one (in most cases, the whole contents of the original text are translated), but the mode may vary. While in legal translation the absolutely conform mode prevails, the web translators of the Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission (DGT) typically choose the mode according to the expected readership, editing details of the text as they translate – “trediting” (from translating + editing).

Gouadec also classifies translations according to their degree of “finition“, which may vary according to the use of the translation: raw translation; ready for delivery to customer; ready for publication. DGT web translations invariably fall within the last category of ready for publication.

Therefore, if we compare different DGT translation activities, for web translation the flexibility lies in the area of mode: if necessary or desirable, the text can be made more accessible to the reader by using decryption or banalisation techniques. In contrast, administrative documents offer the translator less flexibility in mode, but more in the level of finition, as many of the texts are for internal information only. For these texts, DGT also offers its customers oral or written summaries, which are examples of synoptic or selective types of translation.

Ideally, the texts dealt with by DGT Web Translation Unit are web texts, meaning that they have been written for the web and have the generally accepted characteristics of a web text, as presented in the next chapter. This is often the case, but not always. Also, the Web Unit uses special technical tools and formats which are not used for other Commission translations. These two factors make them a separate category among the texts DGT deals with.

Though the translator of web texts is clearly in a very different position from that of a literary translator, both routinely grapple with the question: how visible should the original culture be in the translation?

The art of the literary translator lies partly in striking the right balance between an “invisible” translation that is stylistically faultless, fluent and enjoyable (what Lawrence Venuti terms “domestication”) and staying faithfully close to the original (“foreignisation”). In this matter, the translator is the authority; a role highlighted by his or her name appearing alongside the author’s, and the fact that a small number of literary translators gain fame in their own right.

Venuti criticises too much domestication. “By producing the illusion of transparency, a fluent translation masquerades as a true semantic equivalence when it in fact inscribes the foreign text with a partial interpretation, partial to English-language values, reducing if not simply excluding the very differences that translation is called on to convey.” (Lawrence Venuti: The Translator’s Invisibility, p. 16. Second edition, 2008. Routledge, London)

To what extent does this criticism apply to the translation of informative, web or marketing texts? In the case of the European Commission, there is probably no special benefit to be gained by showcasing its internal organisational culture. On the other hand, the reader is already aware of the “foreignness” of the Commission, and a distinctively national style might seem surprising. This study tries to tackle these questions by contrasting the experience gained by the Commission’s web translators with the organisation’s communication policy.

© European Union

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