Why there are so many English words in your translationPosted by Roberto Crivello on Feb 21, 2014 in Italian translations, neologisms | 5 comments
After you have ordered a translation, you might be surprised to find out that in your translated material many words have not been translated. Why’s that?
Many factors come into play, including the spread of the English language worldwide, the speed at which neologisms are created in the US in many fields, both technical and non-technical, and the brevity of many English phrases as well as frequent usage of metaphors. Thus, many English words are not being translated because suitable alternatives are not easily and quickly found.
For example, a couple of years ago the Wall Street Journal published this article on the problems faced by a group of French experts trying to find a suitable translation for cloud computing. Among other examples, the article also mentioned that most French people say le week-end and un surfer, even though the correct translations of the terms – according to the General Delegation for the French Language – are fin de semaine (end of the week) and aquaplanchiste (water boarder).
The same happens with the Spanish language: The Royal Spanish Academy, which aims to monitor proper use of the Spanish language, proposes translations for many worldwide English words. However, the foreign words also continue to be used, as in correo electrónico (electronic mail) versus e-mail.
Italy is most likely one of the countries where the usage of English terms is more widespread, because it doesn’t have an institution that acts as watchdog for the “purity” of the Italian language. However, for every Anglicism there might be an alternative that is more or less widely used.
For example, the word [computer] file is almost never being translated, so you shouldn’t be surprised to see file in your translation. But homepage could either remain untranslated or be replaced by pagina d’entrata or pagina iniziale (entrance page or starting page). A good translator will choose the most appropriate choice, based on the context. (A useful guideline: which one do your Italian representatives use on their website?)
File and home page are simple enough examples. But what about words like accountability or stewardship, which are not easily translated? Leaving them untranslated seem the most natural choice to many translators. However, there are several possible solutions for both accountability and stewardship.
In his interesting and useful Dizionarietto di parole del futuro (Little dictionary of words of the future), which reviews many Anglicisms, the famous Italian linguist Tullio de Mauro has an entry about accountability. He explains how the word, which appeared in Italy in 1984, has spread into many languages, chiefly French and Spanish. But he adds that there are many possible translations. There are four proposals in a dictionary of neologisms by Adamo and Della Valle: responsabilità, attendibilità, controllo, responsabilizzazione. Another proposal is rendicontabilità. Yet another one, by Sansoni Dictionary, is trasparenza. The best possible choice will depend on the context.
Similarly, as I explained in a brief article (in Italian only) on stewardship, this word is not at all untranslatable. Depending on the context, there are several possible solutions.
Back to the initial “problem” of the many English words left untranslated. Often, “difficult” English words are not being translated because their exact meaning is not clear in the current context. Thus, not translating them is the easiest way out. However, in order to allow for a more thorough understanding of the text by the widest audience possible, these words would need to be translated. If you have carefully selected your translation vendor, you should be able to trust their expertise, and be confident that they have made an appropriate terminology selection. However, if you happen to ask why a word was left untranslated and you get a reply like “the concept can’t be conveyed by Italian words” or even worse, “that’s how we say it in Italy”, you should be suspicious.
A much better answer would be: “I have investigated this issue, reviewing Italian documents which cover the same range of topics. I have reviewed not just translations but also documents originally written in Italian. In the end I established that leaving the word untranslated was the best choice based on context, register, and target audience.”