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The style of web translation

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“You don’t have to be a master of prose, but sensitive to that aspect, writing more like a journalist. A web text has to be easily understandable, while a technical Regulation can be more difficult as it is only intended for specialists.”

It has been argued that translating a web page requires more stylistic skills than translating a report or a legislative text. A web page should be readily understandable without the support provided by context, while a page of printed material is usually seen as a part of a larger document or set of documents. A website must compete with other websites that search engines may offer web users, and so has to gain the readers’ confidence immediately.

Researchers and the reference group members agree: a web text has to say as much as possible in few words.

Commission translators are always expected to adapt their discourse to the house style, as professional translators do. The style consists of elements such as terminology, ways of addressing the reader, length of sentences and paragraphs, and level of complexity or simplicity. In an administrative document, features of the appropriate style are, for instance, clarity, exhaustiveness and impersonality. In web translation, the features are clearly different.

Politeness, addressing readers in the second person, and political correctness are not particularities of the web; but EUROPA web pages are, in addition to replies to letters, the only Commission texts which address the citizen personally (official letters to Member States’ representatives, standard letters to contractors etc. being entirely different text genres). Web translators have therefore pioneered new registers for talking directly to readers in each language.

Some of the reference group members consider that they are subject to higher stylistic requirements than other translators, because their work always goes for publication, and is usually intended for the “general public” instead of experts only. Not all our interviewees agree on this, however. Some consider that all translation requires stylistic skills: more of them for a Commission Communication and less for a technical report. It is rather a question of

different styles than of more style. One of the interviewees added that the style of ephemeral web pages is less important than that of books.

In web translation, as an example journalistic style is needed for translating news items.

Translating the title

You’re never too young to look after your health by a short Juventud rima con salud is a good example: it is catchy but neutral. However, news stories form just a relatively small part of web translators’ work. When translating administrative advice or forms, it is essential to be clear – creativity and entertaining expressions would not be welcome. Polls and consultations are another frequent type of text where finding the right style requires successfully imagining yourself in the position of the reader.

One of the translators summarised the question by saying that if you translate literature, you need to catch the personal style of the writer and reproduce it in your language, but when translating for the Commission website, the aim is to be clear, not to have an interesting style drawing the attention of the reader to yourself. On the web pages studied for this paper, not a single case of strikingly personal or creative style was found.

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