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Web translation: Translating for the web

Web translation

The Internet was created in English, and in its early days, it was expected to contribute to the dominance of English. In fact, the share of web pages in English has decreased steadily.

International companies, like international organisations, frequently publish multilingual information on their websites instead of expecting their customers to read the organisation’s preferred language or to be satisfied with basic information in English.

Translating for the web has not yet drawn the attention of researchers and consultants as muchas writing for the web or multilingual publishing. Available literature includes the collection

Traduire pour le web, which consists of the proceedings of two 2005 seminars on specialised translation, edited by Daniel Gouadec, as well as some articles in Text typology and translation, edited by Anna Trosborg in 1997, and some more recent articles.

In one such article, Sissel Marie Rike examines web translation from the globalisation point of view, arguing that from a translation perspective, ‘globalization’ covers both translations into English for a global audience (internationalization), and multilingual translations geared to local cultures (localization). (Sissel Marie Rike: Translation of Corporate Websites and the Changing Role of the Translator, in LSP & Professional Communication, Volume 8, Number 1, Spring 2008.) Most translations for EUROPA fall into the second category: translating for the website is expected to help the European Commission “go local”, and ideally as many pages as possible are translated into the 23 official languages, or at least into several languages. On the other hand, Rike mostly studied company websites written originally in a national language and then translated into English for serving foreign customers, while the European Commission currently drafts most of its web texts in nonnative English and translates them into several other languages.

Localisation is generally understood to include, in addition to a change of language, theadapting of a text to different versions of the marketed product, to different legislation, etc.

David Katan (David Katan: Translating Cultures. St Jerome, 1999.) explains the need for translators to act as cultural mediators, allowing communication to pass between language communities. A mediator needs competences such as knowledge about society (history, traditions, values…); communication skills; technical skills (computer literacy…) and social skills (rules of social relations, self-control). These competences seem to match exactly the competences required of a translator for the general public, for instance in DGT’s Web Unit.

It is arguably particularly important for web translators not to alienate readers with “noise” –negative effects arising from differences between the drafter’s background, the translator’sknowledge of the subject and the background and knowledge of the reader.

Though European Commission web texts are not advertising texts, they do aim to be credible, engaging and, in some cases, persuasive – like good advertising. Their effectiveness will depend in part on how well they fit into the cultural “schema” of the reader. “If the advertising message does not fit the consumers’ schema, they will ignore the message, and the ad is consequently wasted” writes Marieke De Mooij (Marieke De Mooij: Translating Advertising. Painting the Tip of an Iceberg. The Translator, Volume 10, Number 2 (2004), p. 181). Similarly, European Commission web texts benefit from being tailored to the cultural background of each reader group.

Christina Schäffner (Christina Schäffner: Strategies of Translating Political Texts, in Text Typology and Translation, Anna Trosborg (ed.) The Aarhus School of Business, 1997.) has examined the factors which influence the form of the translated text and argues that it is above all the functions of the source text and the target text in their respective cultures that determine translation strategies. Schäffner’s research deals principally with international conventions and legal texts, but a chapter dealing with speeches and political statements is particularly relevant for web translation. Many speeches and statements have an audience that is wider than the source language community. In her particular examples, the source texts – speeches by German politicians to the German people on the reunification of Germany – had a persuasive function, whereas their translations into English for media use were only informative. The foreign readers of the translated English versions also lacked understanding of the implicit information included in the German source text, so in order to avoid misunderstandings, some background information was added to the English translations.

It is worth noting that, in case of European Commission web translation, the culture of origin is the organisational culture of the Commission rather than the personal culture of the author of the text or the culture linked to the language used, e.g. British culture.

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