Bulletin Articles

Separated by a common language?

An often quoted Golden Rule for translators is that they should translate only into their native language.

This seems straightforward enough. But what if your native language has many variants? As a British translator, I am occasionally asked to use American English (AE) in the target document. (More often, neither British English (BE) nor American English is specified and I am left either to ask or make an educated guess.) I believe honesty is the only option and always inform the agency that, while I am fairly familiar with the major differences between BE and AE, I can only offer to take on jobs into AE on a “best effort” basis.

Most English speakers are aware of the differences between BE and AE spelling. In these days of sophisticated spellcheckers, these are actually the least of the translator’s problems. It is the more subtle differences that can catch you out. For example, suppose you are a British translator translating the Swedish word “körkort” into AE. While congratulating yourself on remembering that the BE noun “licence” is “license” in AE, you do not hesitate in putting “driving license” – the problem being, apparently, that in the United States people tend to say “driver’s license”. Furthermore, your British driving licence may expire on “20 April 2040” but your American driver’s license would expire on “April 20, 2040”.

In most practical situations, these differences cause no confusion at all, though the AE date format “mm/dd/yy(yy)” has caused me some headaches on online booking systems! Indeed, I have seen websites where BE and AE spelling seem to mix together perfectly happily, with “organisations” and “organizations” sitting side by side. Problems can arise, however, where different terminology is used – in legal texts, for example, where using the “wrong” term could lead to a lack of understanding or, worse, a misunderstanding and wrong interpretation. Readers of translated text may be very forgiving of spelling and punctuation differences, for example, but in specialised texts the right terminology is paramount.

Stratcore Reports

The Stratcore reporter continuously orbits the earth with ears ever pricked for languages and the part they play in communications and cultural interchanges. Here is a selection of the stories our little bird has told us recently.



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Communication Manager

Leading Global Brand Consumer Products

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