Colons and translation?

Subject: Colons and translation?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L Writing <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Ian Saunders <ISaunders -at- syntellect -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 09 Jul 2009 08:30:08 -0400

Ian Saunders wondered: <<Can anyone tell me whether colons used to
introduce lists, sequences, etc. cause problems for text localisation/

I can't speak to problems related to computer-assisted translation,
but I can tell you (ca. 20 years as a professional French translator)
that any translator who claims to have difficulty with standard
English punctuation or grammar should be fired immediately and with no
sympathy. This is a business for professionals, and amateurs shouldn't
be playing games; the risks that arise from translation errors are too
serious to ignore.

<<If they do not have this function in all languages (that are likely
to require translated versions!), would you expect the person doing
the translation to deal with them, or would you be expected to modify
your text in some way before it gets translated (e.g. replace them
with periods)?>>

The bottom line in translation is always this: Is the meaning clear in
the original language? If it's not, then you'll always be creating
problems for your translator, regardless of differences in linguistic
structure. The fact that a given structure does not exist in a second
language is irrelevant: either the translator understands the source
language, with all its quirks, well enough to translate it, or they
don't. Some natural structures of a language can make the task more
difficult for speakers of another language, but that difficulty is
inherent to the job of translation, and those structures should only
be avoided in speech or untranslated text (where they can cause
problems for non-translators), not in text that will be translated.

That being said, a good editor can save you tons of money in
translation -- possibly even enough to cover the costs of editing in
the long term. Editors can make the wording more concise (reducing
word count directly reduces costs) and can (if warned that something
will be translated) be less forgiving about the kinds of acceptable
vagueness that creep into a language and pose few problems to native
speakers. For example, phrasal verbs can often be replaced with
single, more specific verbs, which both decreases word count and
increases clarity.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is sending material to a
translator before it's ready for translation. This doesn't mean that
you should send text for translation only when the product is ready to
ship; that's often impossible. It does mean that the text should be
"ready to print" if nothing about the product changes. This means it's
been reviewed so the facts are correct and edited so it clearly
presents those facts. That reduces the risk of translation errors, and
reduces the costly process of change management in two or more

Geoff Hart (
ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca / geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com
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Colons and translation: From: Saunders, Ian

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