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Cultural habits in the localization for the translation of a website

Venice, Italy (Venice, Italy)

“The readership of websites is more varied than the readership of legal texts, which makes adopting the most appropriate style a matter of thought.”

To the extent that the Internet has its own mode of expression – more direct, less formal and more concise than other written media – it can almost be considered as a culture in its own right. Web texts generally aim to follow this model, but national or language-specific differences are not completely eliminated and should be considered.

During the interviews, the reference group of web translators pondered on how and to what extent they could take into account the cultural interaction habits of their intended audience.

The most frequently given examples were the degree of

formality in addressing the reader and the need to use synonyms to keep the text interesting.

As there are no clear rules on matters of politeness, and classical style guides are not always suitable for the web, the translators follow national models or their instinct. For example, the German translators sometimes use the pronoun

Sie, but favour Du if the target public is younger. Finns use sinä (tu/du) for practically everything, the French use only vous and the Spanish use when addressing the young, for example on the Youth portal – quite as the respective national websites. Finns occasionally use the more neutral third person; As an EU national you can get free or reduced-cost healthcare was translated as EU-kansalaiset voivat saada ilmaista tai edullista sairaanhoitoa (“EU nationals can get free…”).

The Climate action website

has a set of very clear and direct titles, in English: What you should know, What you can do, What’s happening near you, etc. The Spanish translation makes them even more reader-centred and perhaps less authoritarian: ¿Qué quiere decir? ¿Qué puedo hacer? ¿Qué hacen los demás? The Swedish version is also in the first person – Vad behöver jag veta? – while the German version uses the polite conditional: Was Sie wissen sollten.

DGT web translators discuss these details a lot, as they know they influence the credibility of the website. And they are not alone. In an article about translation and advertising,

Jeremy Munday explains the thinking behind the national adaptations of L’Oréal’s slogan “Because you’re worth it”. Here too, the Spanish use the informal and the French the more formal vous. The initial version was “Because I’m worth it”, but this was judged too “monetary” in France. Choosing the wrong expression, says Munday, would be “possibly counterproductive (if the reader felt insulted to be addressed too informally, or excluded if addressed formally).” (Jeremy Munday: Advertising: Some challenges to translation Theory. The Translator, Volume 10, number 2 (2004), p. 209)

Forms to be filled in by interested readers often include a case for indicating whether the requester is a

Mr or a Ms. Such titles are not regularly used in all languages. Thus 13 language versions of a form for registering as an “interest representative” with the Commission include a box for this purpose, but the translators of the remaining 9 languages considered the surname and first name to be sufficient.

The name of the

Easy reading corner on the EUROPA homepage does not promise ease in other languages, but lets the word “corner” hint that this link does not lead to heavy legal matter: Leseecke, rincón de lectura, coin des lectures, lukunurkka…The word “easy” could be misinterpreted as a patronising term.

A different example of politeness, this time towards the subject of the text, is the news item

Concours de plumes contre l’injustice (6 February 2009). The original French version first calls the prize-winning Portuguese journalist by her whole name and later refers to her simply as “Maria”. Several translations, including the Portuguese, repeated her whole name or, after giving the whole name once, used her last names only.

Concerning the use of synonyms in order to make the text more interesting, practices vary according to languages, as one could expect, the Romance languages using more variation than the others. An example is in a news item where the Spanish translation of “…the commission will launch a

youth health initiative which encourages young people to…” reads “…la Comisión lance una Iniciativa sobre la Salud de los Jóvenes que anima a este colectivo a …” This is a matter that the translators pay a lot of attention to, and in addition to style issues, try to find out whether repeating the same word several times makes the article rank higher on a search engine results list, or whether using several alternative expressions increases the possibilities of the website to be found.

The lead

(chapeau) of the homepage news edited in English is often only one sentence long. The Swedes think this would look strange in Swedish, and sometimes add a second one to make it more appealing. On the other hand, French originals are more challenging for Swedish translators, because their style needs more adjusting. This perception is consistent with the categorisation of cultures as “high-context” or “low-context” cultures. In the case of the former, it is assumed that the the interlocutor will already be familiar with the context, so surplus explanation may be omitted, on the basis that the text should already be selfexplanatory; whilst in the latter, information is clearly spelled out because the interlocutor is not expected to have the necessary contextual information. De Mooij observes that lowcontext cultures with weak uncertainty avoidance – typically the United Kingdom, but also Sweden, the Netherlands and especially Denmark – tend to favour an exacting style, while high-context cultures, such as France, Belgium and Italy, use more elaborate style also in advertising.

Likewise, English originals are often too vague to be translated without trediting into Slovenian, a language which requires more specific information. Therefore, in many cases translating from English requires adding a lot of details. The following is an example of differences in the level of detail needed:


: On the fight against climate change, president Barroso said there is growing convergence between Europe and the United States and both sides would cooperate more.


: Predsednik Evropske komisije José Manuel Barroso je v zvezi z bojem proti podnebnim spremembam dejal, da sta si stališči Evrope in Združenih držav čedalje bolj podobni; obe strani sta se tudi zavzeli za tesnejše sodelovanje.

(homepage news of 6 April 2009)

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