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Terminology in web translation

“During a particularly heated period of the economic crisis I noticed that the German terminology used by the media developed within a week. I made it my daily goal to always use up-to-date terminology in the homepage news.”

Translators in the Web Unit don’t usually create terminology for a new subject from scratch, because terminology work is inevitably well advanced in the language department before the Commission wishes to write about the new policy or activity on EUROPA. Still, the translator has to get acquainted with the topic and find out what language has been used to talk about it in the media of the relevant language community, and to what extent the Commission’s terminology can work in the informal web environment.

While in legal translation it is important to ensure the unambiguous understanding of the text by using the terms already used in earlier related texts, in typical web texts it is vital to use words which non-specialists use. The task of translating summaries of EU legislative proposals (“Citizens’ summaries”) has been transferred to the Web Unit because of its experience in translating texts for the general public. If the summaries are to serve their purpose of informing the public, they must be easy for non-specialists to read and understand.

The web translators seem to agree that the greatest difference between their output and that of other DGT translation departments is that they choose their wording first and foremost with the reader in mind, choosing well-known words and expressions understood even by the occasional visitor and with a strong likelihood of being typed in search engines, as well as adopting the appropriate register for the intended readership (taking into account cultural habits, young/adult, specialist/layman). If only because of the search-engine issue, terminology choices in web translation differ from those in translations of printed material.

Web translators may consult IATE (InterActiveTerminology for Europe; database for EU-related terminology in 23 languages) like their colleagues in DGT language departments, but in many cases do not consider this necessary. Instead, they look outside for the solutions most likely to meet success among web users. When translators judge that official terminology must be used on a web page even if it is not widely used by national media, they take care to include the layman’s terms in the metadata for the webpage, so that users are more likely to find the page via search engines. The reference group members consider this as one of their main challenges and also sources of pride.

There is no clear rule, however. Many translators in the reference group insist that terminology choices have to be flexible. The English editors look for the words that work for people using the web. For terminology work, they may use a regular Google search or the keyword tool on Google AdWords (to identify the most popular search terms in a given field and to see what words people are combining in searches, e.g. are people combining “flu” with “swine” or with “novel” more?).

When search engines do not provide adequate solutions, translators consult relevant websites in their target language, and fellow native-speakers, as useful guides to search-friendly terminology. For instance, the Swedish team looks for Swedish and Finnish administrations’ language models. They tend to find the terminology on the Swedish Parliament’s EUupplysningen information site (http://www.eu-upplysningen.se/) quite close to what people in Sweden use, and use this website as a source of inspiration.

An example of unorthodox terminology is the English team’s tendency to avoid enlargement in texts for the general public, preferring a variety of different formulations – even EU expansion on one occasion – because according to them enlargement sounds unnecessarily like specialist terminology in certain contexts. Generally, they resist established terminology that they find jargon-like and inappropriate because not readily understood by most readers.

The English team also avoids writing Member States and uses EU countries (or in some contexts national governments/authorities) instead. For Spanish, paises de la UE is natural, but there is no problem in using paises miembros de la UE, also because the style requirements in Romance languages favour using variation.

“I use at least two synonyms in each text, to make sure that search engines will find my translation.”

The Finnish team never uses the expression kolmannet maat, “third countries”. Instead of yhteisö, “the Community”, they always write EU; however, with search engines in mind, they try to use at least two synonyms in each text (title, body text and metadata included). They may use the legal terminology if the page is intended for experts, but use everyday language for general public pages.

It seems that avoiding jargon is particularly important for the English translators and editors.

This theme is further treated in Chapter 4 on Localisation. In contrast, the terminology used by the Bulgarian web translation team is not radically different from the one used in DGT’s Bulgarian language department. Likewise, there is not a great difference between the Commission’s Slovenian terminology and the one used in national news. The Slovenian translators follow Slovenian news and occasionally check the websites of national administrations to see what their solutions are in particular cases. They also regularly contact the Slovenian language department and the DGT Field office in Ljubljana, in order to coordinate solutions for slogans appearing on websites and the Slovenian press releases, for example.

In short, the choice of wording can be described as market-driven instead of being organisation-led. Although web translators claim to have more freedom in their choice of words, this is only part of the truth: even if IATE is not an authority for the web translators, and if the legal notice on EUROPA website (the Commission accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever …) makes translators independent of lawyers’ opinion, readers and their search terms have to be respected, and consequently the translator cannot choose terminology on an instinctive basis only.

There is no terminology database for web translations, but most translations are done with translation memories, which means that earlier translation solutions are easily accessible. The technical terminology of the web page is a distinctive feature. The expressions used for navigation and other web-particular functions are chosen carefully. Many language teams have created their own web terminology.

Avoiding jargon is important for the English web-editing team.
Avoiding jargon is important for the English web-editing team.

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