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Localising in translation to match reader attitudes

ReaderYou can only convince Swedes through facts, not words. The web texts should explain what has been achieved, not tell how great we are.

The Swedish and Slovenian translators, in particular, mentioned that they avoided using writing styles that might be perceived as propagandistic and toned down the slightly selfcongratulatory style of some originals.

However, differences between language versions are not always based on real differences in the climate of opinion in different countries. Or at least, the link is not straightforward. The extracts below are taken from the “abstract” (lead sentence) of a “homepage news” story, written originally in French:

  • FR (orig.) >>> Deux journalistes, une Française et un Danois, se partagent le premier prix de l’édition 2008 du concours «Pour la diversité, contre la discrimination»

organisé par la Commission européenne.

  • BG >>>

Двама журналисти – французойка и датчанин – си поделят първата награда в конкурса „За многообразието, срещу дискриминацията“ за 2008 г., организиран от Европейската комисия.

  • DE >>> Eine Französin und ein Däne teilen sich den ersten Preis des

von der Europäischen Kommission für 2008 organisierten Journalistenwettbewerbs „Für Vielfalt. Gegen Diskriminierung.“

  • EN >>> French and Danish journalists share first prize in the 2008 journalist award “For diversity, against discrimination”.
  • ES >>> Dos periodistas, una francesa y un danés, comparten el primer premio del concurso “Por la diversidad. Contra la discriminación” de 2008,

organizado por la Comisión Europea.

  • MT >>>

Żewġ ġurnalisti, Franċiż u Daniż, qasmu bejniethom l-ewwel premju tal-2008, imtella’ mill-Kummissjoni Ewropea u ddedikat lit-tema: “Għad-diversità, kontra ddiskriminazzjoni”.

  • NL >>> Een Franse en een Deense journalist delen de hoofdprijs van de wedstrijd “Verschil moet er zijn. Discriminatie niet”, editie 2008,

georganiseerd door de Europese Commissie.

  • PL >>> W edycji 2008 konkursu odbywaj

ącego się pod hasłem „Za różnorodnością. Przeciw dyskryminacji.” pierwsze miejsce ex aequo zajęli Francuzka i Duńczyk.

  • RO >>> Doi jurnali

şti, din Franţa şi Danemarca, sunt laureaţii ediţiei 2008 a concursului „Pentru diversitate. Împotriva discriminării”, organizat de Comisia Europeană.

  • SL >>> Prvo nagrado nate

čaja „Za različnost, proti diskriminaciji“ v organizaciji Evropske komisije za leto 2008 si delita Francozinja in Danec.

  • FI >>> Syrjinnän vastaisen journalistikilpailun pääpalkinnot menivät Ranskaan ja Tanskaan.
  • SV >>> En fransk och en dansk journalist delar på förstapriset i 2008 års upplaga av EU:s journalisttävling ”För mångfald. Mot diskriminering”.

The English, Polish, Finnish and Swedish versions avoid mentioning the Commission in the lead, but is this shared trait in the translations a reflection of similar attitudes to the EU in these three language communities, or is it just to respect a principle of EUROPA to avoid repeating the word “Commission” too often? One could also ask whether it is wise to delete the mention of the Commission in this case, where it is in a very positive anti-discrimination context, and whether this difference between language versions is acceptable.

According to the latest Standard Eurobarometer, published in December 2008 (Eurobarometer 70, First results), 53% of EU citizens consider the EU membership of their country as a positive thing. National differences are quite strong, ranging from 27% to 80%. Poland and Sweden actually ranked relatively high, with 65% and 59% support for membership; Finland ranked below average with 48%. The UK indeed had a low percentage: 32%.

Another Eurobarometer question concerns the level of trust in the European Commission. An EU-27 average of 47% of respondents “tend to trust the Commission”. This percentage is higher than average in Finland and Sweden, but average in Poland and lower than average in the UK.

“Tend to trust the Commission”

  • Belgium 64% Hungary 56% Bulgaria 51%
  • Slovakia 63% Lithuania 55% Ireland 50%
  • Netherlands 62% Romania 55% Italy 49%
  • Slovenia 61% Czech Rep. 54%

Poland 47%

  • Malta 59% Denmark 53% France 45%
  • Estonia 58% Portugal 53% Austria 44%
  • Luxembourg 57% Cyprus 53% Germany 43%
  • Finland 57%

Spain 52% Latvia 38%

  • Greece 56%

Sweden 52% UK 27%

Judging from these figures,

there does not seem to be a correlation between attitudes in different countries and not mentioning the Commission in the corresponding language version. Of the two possible explanations – that the translators are mistaken about the attitudes of their readership, or that the need of adaptation is due more to the natural rhetorics of different languages – the latter definitely seems more credible.

A possible explanation would be in the “masculinity” dimension in

Geert Hofstede‘s (http://www.geert-hofstede.com/index.shtml) categorisation of cultural dimensions, where “masculine” societies admire assertiveness and competition, and their opposite, “feminine” societies, admire modesty. This hypothesis could explain why for some languages, editors and translators didn’t consider it necessary to highlight the Commission’s role in the title, or “give a self-satisfied impression”. However, Hofstede’s categories do not support this hypothesis: Sweden and Finland indeed are feminine societies according to Hofstede’s theory, but Poland and the UK are classified as rather masculine.

Finally, the most likely explanation is very simple. Many translators follow the principle of DG COMM of not repeating the name of the institution or of the Directorate-General responsible for the topic at hand, especially not in the third person, partly because long expressions discourage website visitors of continuing reading, and because that information is in all cases visible on the top left-hand corner of the page. In other words, deletions of this kind are not to be considered as

localising but rather as trediting.

Another factor to consider is that EUROPA readers probably do not represent the average citizen, as far as attitudes towards the EU are concerned. According to a survey conducted for DG COMM (Ernst & Young – see p.1), the visitors are mainly students and relatively well-qualified employees (a large number of them working in public administration and education) – population groups which on average – according to the above-mentioned Eurobarometer – have a more positive attitude towards the EU than less highly-qualified workers and pensioners, for example. Translators in the reference group were aware of this, so we can assume that this is the case for all Web Unit translators.

Systematic indications from customer DGs on who are the main target groups of each web page would probably help. Although detailed data is available on where visitors come from administration’s page), the statistical tool currently in use does not allow to easily draw conclusions about the origin of the visitors.

It is important to remember that the objective of the communication policy is to make EU accessible to all citizens, so EUROPA should also attract new visitors, whether positive to the EU and their country’s membership or not.

Web texts are typically more straightforward than other text types but, as a public institution, the Commission avoids using expressions that could be considered inappropriate or give offense. For example, as the distinction between central and eastern Europe is not particularly significant for many UK readers, English editors sometimes use the expression “Eastern Europe” in texts about recent enlargements – at least in contexts where Malta and Cyprus were less relevant to the main message. But this expression cannot be translated as such into other languages, especially those of the countries concerned. A phrase such as “enlargement to the East” could not be used in Slovenian, and not for purely geographical reasons alone; that is why the title of the homepage news item

Expanding eastwards – an EU success story was translated as Širitev EU je zgodba o uspehu – “EU enlargement is a success story”.

© European Union

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