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To translate or not to translate, that is the question December 6, 2006

Posted by globalizer in Danish, Language, Translation.

Now I am by no means a purist with respect to anglicisms in translations – I could not have worked with the translation of software into Danish for years if I were. English loan words abound in Danish in general, and especially in computer-related texts. So words like computer, software, hardware, middleware and email are entirely acceptable in Danish, and new words are being added on a running basis, as new concepts are introduced in the world of IT.

Since there is no official body similar to the Académie française that attempts to police the Danish language, the process of assimilation is purely governed by use – if a term sees widespread usage in Danish texts over a period of time, it is accepted as part of the Danish language and included in official dictionaries by the research body Dansk Sprognævn (descriptivism rather than prescriptivism).

This does not mean that people translating English IT source texts into Danish just mindlessly and universally use the English word for any new computer-related term. Translation departments and terminology coordinators will usually consider at least the following questions when they encounter a new term:

  • Have other companies or media outlets coined new translations?
  • Do such proposed translations conform to good practices with respect to introducing new terms in Danish?
  • Do the proposed translations conflict with other, established terms in either form or meaning?
  • If no proposed translations are can be found, can we find a good, new term in Danish ourselves?

You may come up short, unable to find a reasonable Danish term, and in those cases the English words are accepted as-is – but only in those cases. Translators usually consider it a defeat if they are unable to find a good, Danish term.

Which brings me to the reason for this post: what on earth was the thought process behind the decision to use the English word cases not once but twice in this newspaper article about research into the use of bicycle helmets:

Tidligere har cykelhjelmes effekt stort set kun været målt i cases, hvor skader på cyklister henholdsvis med og uden hjelm er blevet sammenlignet. Disse cases har naturligt nok konkluderet, at hjelmbrugere får færrre skader.[emphasis added]

What on earth is wrong with the good, Danish word tilfælde??? Particularly puzzling because the rest of the article actually uses quite a few Danish idioms and otherwise does not show evidence of being overly influenced by English usage (such as splitting up nouns that would normally be written in one word in Danish).


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