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Who Has a Gift to Foresee: Topical Problems and Prospects of Translation Industry

For instance, the often causes of misunderstanding are numeric format and units of measurement. If a Russian writes a letter for his American friend and makes an appointment at 05.04, he'll probably have to wait for a month: the Russians consider the first number as date and the second as month, and the Americans vice versa. The American book with $2,500 price tag won't cost you 2 dollars and 50 cents. The writing on a whitewash saying that it will be enough for 5 square feet won't say anything to a Russian consumer. And the warning that antifreeze windscreen washing liquid can't be used at a subzero temperature will cause a cognitive dissonance in his mind.

However, all these problems are nothing when compared with damages sustained by NASA for the same reason of misadjustment in units of measurement. One of the flights to Mars has been failed due to badly established international co-operation. The equipment for this flight was assembled in Europe (where metric system is used) and the software was developed in America (where imperial system is conventional). As a result, on the way to Mars the spaceship began to change the course estimating the distance in feet, while instruments were showing the distance in meters. You can imagine the consequences!

But the thing is not only in difference of numerical characteristics: the style and manner, the form of information presentation isn't less significant. For example, one Norwegian translator told me, that while translating American press releases she has to omit the half of all adjectives and neutralize the general rapturous style. Otherwise, Norwegian readers would take the information article for an advertisement.

It appears that a detailed German user guide for an electrical appliance can hardly be translated into Norwegian without making a reader feel that he is being addressed to as a child. Because if the reader takes a user manual for an idiot's guide, he can stop reading it and rashly insert a plug into the wrong socket and destroy the appliance. User manuals translation even has its own rules. For instance, in Canada the instruction must be understandable to an eighth grader, and in the USA – to a fifth grader.

Or let's take a look at the graphic aspect. It seems that, while translating one can leave the illustrations aside. Of course not! For instance, the use of images of human body parts is considered as an offense in certain countries. All the palms and pointing fingers which often decorate manuals should be removed. For example, Japanese Nintendo company has recently been guiltlessly attacked by antifascists. A board game launched by the company on the domestic market had a card with the image of hieroglyph denoting the good fortune and prosperity in Oriental cultures since the ancient times. But the game came to America and was bought by a small Jewish boy who was horrified by seeing a swastika in the image of hieroglyph. No matter that the Nazi swastika is just a mirror reflection of the ancient sign, no matter that the game wasn't officially on sale in America. The company decided to apologize and to remove the card from the game.

Ignorance about the language specificity can do serious harm to a product entering the international market. For instance, several years ago French salesmen very quickly accustomed themselves to articulate carefully the initial sound of the name of a popular in France soft drink "Pshit", (so that the American customers wouldn't hear anything inappropriate).However the drink wasn't at all successful among the English-speaking population.


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