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Translating slang terms and colloquialisms: part 2

Every language has its own ways of conveying particular meanings; words or phrases which are language-specific, or even specific to a particular dialect within a language. These colloquialisms make perfect sense to those using them in their native language; but they can pose real difficulties for anyone trying to translate them into another language.

Translators have two choices when interpreting text: to translate literally or freely. In addition to that, all languages have two variations: standard and non-standard. Traditionally translation has focussed on the standard form of the language. However the use of slang is becoming ever more prevalent in modern literature so it’s something that needs to be tackled.

There are three methods that can be applied to the translation of slang terms:

Softening –

This focuses on the perception of the target reader of the piece of text. The language of the text is translated in such a way that it still makes sense to the reader without causing offence. The translator needs to be careful not to soften or omit the slang terms too much though as this could change the style and tone of the piece of text.

Literal translation –

This means that the text is translated word for word from one language into the other. This may work for some phrases but there are many colloquialisms that will be completely lost in translation using this method.

Stylistic compensation –

The opposite to literal translation, this method involves finding a phrase or word with a similar meaning in the target language and inserting that into the text in place of the original phrase or word. This is the preferred method for translating slang terms or swearwords in text.