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Article   | What is consistency in translation?

It is said that a reflection cannot be better than the original image. So true for translation as well. A work of translation is always scrutinized for two things. One – whether it is honest to the original and two – whether it retains the flavor of the target language. However, the third important thing that makes or breaks the experience of reading a translation is ‘consistency’. The document, be it a thesis, a book, or a website or a brochure, it must give an ‘unobstructed’ experience to the reader. If a reader has to think in her mind, the translation has gone for a toss.

When the document is consistent in terms of choice of words, style and presentation, the reader has a smooth reading experience and her mind is concentrated on the content of the document. Let us see where the consistency comes from.

1. The way you write a word- You have to decide once, in the beginning, whether you are going to spell the words with ‘s’ or ‘z’, whether you are going to use British spelling or American; and then stick to it throughout the document. Often it is the client’s choice how to spell these words, and you must honour it – throughout. It is especially important when you are working on a document longer than 10 pages or 4000 words. You also have to decide how you are going to write the words in other language. Are you going to use italics, or use the inverted commas, or a different font? Decide, and stick to it – throughout the document. If the client has given an instruction on this, obviously, follow it - throughout the document.

2. The equivalent you choose for a source word – Especially in a technical document, you need to choose a specific equivalent for a source word used repeatedly. For example, for a word ‘plant’, you can have multiple choices. However, for consistency, you need to stick to the one most appropriate for that source word. This brings one-to-one correlation in the mind of a reader and she does not have to imagine if the original word might be the same for various words used in the translation.

3. The writing style – The writing style is mostly matched with the original one. However, when there are certain styles specific to the source or target language, the translator has to make a deliberate choice how she is going to approach it. The choice needs to be made between active and passive voice, direct or indirect speech etc. Even the use of single inverted comma vs double inverted commas has to be consistent throughout the document.

4. Using numerical – The consistency also goes to how you write the numbers. If there is a specific style followed in the original document, it is always preferred to follow the same style. However, there are a few things peculiar to source or target languages. The usual rule is to write a number in words for one to twenty, and to write it in numeric beyond that, like 136, 26.54 etc. Also, while writing the measurements, like degrees, kilometers, centigrade and fractions, follow the same system throughout the document.

There are simple tricks to achieve absolute consistency. You can define the style in your word document, which will take care that you do not deviate from your choice. Also it is always wiser to read what you have written, or better, to get it checked for consistency from a fault-finding-friend. It is also a good idea to build a glossary as you go on translating. The CAT tools prove to be a good help in this. However, its use in translating a book is limited.

Happy translating!

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