Re: Re: Using a gerund phrase for procedure topic titles

Subject: Re: Re: Using a gerund phrase for procedure topic titles
From: <wdburns -at- mindspring -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 28 Dec 2001 16:49:55 -0500

Sorry to jump in here, and I hope I don't stomp on anyone's toes, but I thought I should comment on this point.

>Having just spent a good portion of the last few weeks doing research >and drafting localization guidelines for our group, I actually have >the answer to this question close at hand.

>It's a translation/localization issue. Many other languages do not >include a gerund verb form, so a phrase or heading that includes a >gerund can be difficult for a translator or a non-native English >speaker to understand.

This is a very common urban legend that circulates concerning how to write for the global marketplace. While it might be true that a nonnative speaker with limited fluency in English might stumble over the odd gerund, it should not be difficult for a translator to decipher. The translators I asked about this very issue (when I worked at Lionbridge/ILE and presented frequently on the subject of internationalization) have said, "Any translator of English who doesn't know how to handle a gerund has no business working as a translator."

In my mind, the idea of avoiding gerunds is sort of like suggesting that Polish writers avoid using the locative case because English has no equivalent, or that Russian writers adhere to subject-verb-object word order to aid translation into English. Translators do not translate word for word, and they know the appropriate way to communicate an idea for their locale, regardless of how the English makes the same point.

Now, that said, if you use gerunds, the translator should be able to tell what part of speech it is. In a heading, such categorization is rarely a problem if one writes clearly. Clarity in the source should be the aim. If that means avoiding a gerund in a particular case, that's fine, but writers should not follow a general rule of avoiding gerunds.

Bill Burns
Burns Technical Communications
wdburns -at- mindspring -dot- com

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