table with wooden words on it

The Challenge of Translating Style and Jargon

The job of the translator is an interesting undertaking and can be quite challenging. Whether you work with document translation or with other types of translation services, one of the hardest tasks to deal with is related to specific terms and jargon. Below, you will find a few examples of almost untranslatable words or nuances, which are typical for the English language, and a possible approach to coping with this problem.  


How to translate specific style

There are certain words and phrases that are used by a given group of people depending on their social status or even work environment. In the article Do you talk posh? Dave Himelfield says that the words we use for everyday objects are a key indicator of social class.  Back in 1954 Alan SC Ross, a linguistics academic, compiled a list of the words used by the upper classes and those used by the rest of society. The overall conclusion was that people from lower classes tend to use posh words in order to sound more refined. An example of this stylistic difference is “sick” considered an upper-class word and “ill” considered a non-upper-class word. The same goes for cemetery and graveyardserviette and napkin, etc. 

The problem for the translator in such cases is that quite often there aren’t two or three different words in the target language to cover the term in the source language. Or it can be the other way around – there are 4 or 5 translated counterparts. In the case of multiple choices in the target language, the translator uses their common knowledge and understanding of the cultural background to transfer the same style and meaning. In the case of no possibility to find counterparts for sick and ill, for example, since the target language has only one word for this notion, the translator will need to find other means to render the nuance of the original text. This is achieved by using other words in the target language typical for the style.  

The same approach goes for other common challenges faced by translators – humor and sarcasm, idioms, expressions, or compound words. Peer help in such tasks is invaluable and hence many translators use the experts from Facebook and LinkedIn groups that they are members of, for advice and useful proposals.  


The big challenge: specific jargon

One of the biggest challenges for translators is the specific jargon used by a given industry, company, or specific event. Quite often at summits, such as the one in Davos, experts use terminology that is not popular across the general public or may even coin completely new terms.  

As reported by Joe Miller, BBC News in his article Davos jargon: A crime against the English language? some of the words and phrases used at the annual World Economic Forum can be quite mystifying even for people familiar with the topics. This year, for example, a few new words emerged – influencerstelegraph as a verb, or the bit redundant web of interconnectedness 

Of course, not all of the new terms and phrases coined at such events will find their place in the dictionary. Nor they will be adopted by the majority in their oral or written communication. Still, the interpreter or translator faced with such jargon needs to find a way out and render it in the target language. Here the experts in the industry rely on their past knowledge, training, and specialization in order to transfer the message the term carries.  


How to cope with new terminology

Quite often new terms are coined in relation to a specific phenomenon or during a concrete event as we have seen above. In some cases, these are words that are not yet well established in English, let alone have their counterpart in a foreign language. So, what is the possible solution, when you as a translator or interpreter are faced with such a word? 

First of all, make sure that you know the meaning of the term. Check online or consult the client if necessary in order to find a proper explanation. Then, if the notion is new for the target language and there is no counterpart, your only option remains to invent one. In most cases, you can keep the word in its English format or transliterate it to the target language and then put a short explanation of its meaning the first time you use it. Then, you need to make sure to use the same word in the target language, whenever the term appears in the source language. In this case, consistency is your best friend. Do not be tempted to try and use any kind of synonyms or further clarifications than the initial one. 

 The task of the translator is to render the meaning of the source text into the target language as accurately as possible. Quite often the task is very challenging as you need to take into account not only style and grammar but specific cultural differences typical for one class, neighborhood, industry, or another. Finding the correct counterpart is what makes the job of the translator even more interesting and rewarding. Peer help on social media or ideas from the most popular blogs can be invaluable in such cases, so don’t be afraid to ask when it comes to overcoming the challenge of translating style and jargon.  


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