Don’t you love it when people argue like their life absolutely depends on it over the right way to translate, punctuate, capitalize, or otherwise mess with a particular phrase? We, the word-obsessed, tend to fall prey to this brand of drama more often than most. If your already blurting out, “No, no. I don’t!” Then… yeah you do.

But today is not Pick on the Translators Day–after all, I’m one of them. I’d like to look at writing standards, since it is in fact a huge focus of this website. What is the standard, who gets to decide, and why do we even make such rules?

Who is right?

There are tons of style books out there: AP, CP, Harvard, MLA, Chicago, Turabian, CGOS, APA, CBE… need I go on? Right or wrongness is entirely about context.

What are you translating? If you want a happy client, use the standard and accepted style for that type of document. Clients will love you for it, and you’ll have a reasonable (and quotable) response when a client asks you why you chose up style instead of down style for title capitalization.

Says who?

The notion of right or wrong in matters of language choice depends on who is doing the choosing. We, as translators, work to make sure that a advertising aimed at teenagers doesn’t sound like something their parents would say–talk about killing a promo–and that a formal speech on world affairs doesn’t sound like it was written by a surfer dude.

Incidentally, sometimes you have a moving target. A sales force may be comprised of one demographic in one country and a completely different demographic in the country that will read the translated version. This is a good point to clear up early on.

Rules Schmules

Having an agreed way of doing things is great for predicting the writer’s tone and meaning, the ideological framework of a piece, the identity of the person or company authoring the work, and for creating an emotional effect.

Blah, blah, blah, you say. What if you don’t want to play nice! What if you like comma splicing, staying up late, and driving without your seatbelt!

Simple: you won’t get repeat business, you’ll be exhausted in the morning (maybe scare the neighbors with the ginormous bags under your eyes), and you may end up getting a traffic ticket.

We’re translators. We translate what’s there, style included. At least that’s the way I see it. Thoughts anyone?

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Rebecca says:

    I tell my students, just find out what set of rules this assignment calls for and follow them. I follow the rules preferred by the person who’s paying me, they follow the rules chosen by the teacher of each particular class. That’s the rule.


  2. Reed James says:

    One letter can make a big difference. You said “fall pray”. That should be “fall prey”.


  3. LOL! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we need proofreaders. Thanks, RJ. I fixed it.


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