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Web translation as a genre for EU institutions

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Writing for the web is the subject of great amounts of literature, in print and on the web. There have also been many studies on multilingual websites, and the architecture and technology of multilingual websites is a rapidly developing field. Though much less has been written on the actual translation of web texts, most of what has been said on writing for the web is valid for translation, too. This study therefore examines web translations against the ideals of web writing.

Why is linguistic diversity and quality so important on the Commission’s websites?

The principle of democratic accountability means that the EU has a duty to provide the public with information on what it is doing. While Europeans’ favourite source of information on European affairs is television (Special Eurobarometer, The Europeans in 2009), someone actively looking for specific information often turns to the web.

The importance of a wide spread of languages and concise, clear, accessible writing is most apparent when the EU finds itself in the public spotlight, and when the stakes are high – for instance in the run-up to national referendums on treaty reform. Not only must the relevant information be available on EUROPA in the relevant languages, but prospective visitors must be able to find it via search engines, and must be able to digest it easily. In other words, the content and structure of EUROPA must address the public’s concerns and its language must mirror the language of the general public. Otherwise, people will look for information on other sites, which may be inaccurate or even hostile to the EU.

In view of this, a functional approach (“skopos”) to translation would seem appropriate for examining web translations: how do language versions influence their readers? But studying such influences would require extensive in-depth research including interviews with readers and observation of their reactions. That is why web translations are examined here from a more “linguistic” point of view: this involved comparing and contrasting the contents and purpose of different language versions and studying the relationship between translation solutions and what we know about cultural habits or attitudes of the various language groups.

In spite of this choice, made on practical grounds, it is important to consider EUROPA and its languages as an active agent in Commission communication work. As Yves Gambier points out (Yves Gambier : Trajectoires, in Traduire pour le web, Actes des universités d’été et d’automne 2005 et du colloque international Traduction spécialisée: chemins parcourus et autoroutes à venir. Traduire pour le Web. Rennes, Université Rennes II, 10 et 11 juin 2005. Direction Daniel Gouadec. P. 51), translating for the web can be studied as an action which impacts on society, not just as an intellectual process.

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