Separated by a common language July 6, 2012Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings.
This morning I was asked by a client if I translated into UK English. This is a new client, so I don’t fault them for asking. However, I have lost track of the times I have been asked to translate something into UK English. I don’t know if it is a German thing, but German clients seem to think one can run the Word spellchecker over a document and it’s UK English. As anyone who follows the blog Separated by a Common Language knows, UK English and US English are most definitely not the same. It goes beyond throwing a “u” in color or favorite or spelling tire with a “y” instead of an “i.” Just as with the word potato in German (Kartoffel in Germany, Erdapfel in Austria), there are lots of different words for the same concept (truck vs. lorry, eraser vs. rubber, paper towel vs. kitchen towel). They also regularly use words like “whilst” and “amongst.” Someone who has grown up in another culture may not know the different word even exists despite growing up watching all kinds of British TV. It just isn’t the same as growing up in the culture and just knowing it.
The grammar is also quite different. UK readers can read my posts and understand them – and I can understand theirs. However, as I learned when I was an intern at a translation agency in Bonn, the Brits have very different rules when it comes to comma placement, which tends to mirror German much more closely than US English. Heck, they even put their periods/full stops outside the quotation marks and apostrophe signs instead of inside them like we do in the States. I tore up several translations by excellent translators and after discussing the changes with them quickly learned that it was the perfectly correct way to state it in UK English. It was a valuable lesson for someone just starting out. I learned to be much more judicious with my editing.
So when my client wrote me this morning I shook my head for a second, but sent off a cheerful reply explaining, “No, I am an American and live in the U.S. I don’t translate into UK English. Sorry.” They won’t know I don’t if they don’t ask, right? No need to be snarky about it. I just wish that German clients would learn that asking me to translate UK English is like asking someone in Hamburg to translate into Austrian or even Swiss German.