Which English?

Rumor, or should we say rumour, has it that many (or at least more than usual) translators on this side of the Atlantic are being approached to translate into what we commonly refer to here as U.K. English. I would guess that this has more to do with the falling U.S. dollar and weakening U.S. economy than with a sudden shortage of qualified into-English translators in the U.K.

This brings up a number of interesting questions. The first is, what is meant by U.K. English? Does this mean that the translator simply sets her/his spell-checker to U.K. English and uses U.K. date formats? Or does the translator attempt to write with a British flair, substituting “pudding” for “dessert” and “chemist’s” for “pharmacy,” or “at weekends” for “on the weekend”? A more conceptual issue is whether some sort of culturally neutral English is possible or desirable, and whether translation consumers are satisfied with translations that may be technically correct but stylistically more American than British.

U.S.-based German to English translator Jill Sommer says, “Translating into U.K. English involves more than switching a z to an s. When a client contacts me for a U.K. English translation, I turn it down.” Jill sees part of the problem as client misunderstanding of the many differences between U.K. and U.S. English and relates the story of a U.S.-based colleague who was asked, halfway into a 100+ page translation to “make it U.K. English.” “At a minimum, clients should be willing to use a U.K. English proofreader. They underestimate the differences that make a text sound British or American,” says Jill.

With session proposals for the 2008 ATA conference due next Friday, it seems like there might also be a niche for some linguistic education on this topic. Maybe a session on “Fundamentals of U.K. English for U.S. English translators” or “English with a British flair”? I would also be interested to know whether the reverse phenomenon happens on the other side of the Atlantic; do U.K.-based translation buyers automatically use U.S.-based translators, or do they ask U.K-based translators to Americanize their translations?

3 Responses to “Which English?”
  1. Riccardo March 6, 2008
  2. Karen Tkaczyk March 17, 2008
  3. Corinne McKay March 18, 2008

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