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The importance of glossaries: Behälder/Flasche

Here is an example of the importance of establishing – and sticking to – terminological preferences.

A client with whom we have been working for some time had specified that they wanted the English word container to be translated as Behälder. This was in the context of technical documents, hence the importance of a consistent application of the same terminology.

With the help of our translation memory software, we are able to guarantee that the same translation will be used across all of the documentation that we work on for a particular company. This is particularly essential in the case of technical documents of this kind: a mistake or inconsistency in the installation manual of a sprinkler system, for example, could have disastrous consequences.

In our translation memory for this client, therefore, we had Behälder as the equivalent of container. As we had been working together for some time, we had translated a not inconsiderable quantity of documents for them when, to our surprise, someone in the company got in touch to say that their standard translation for ‘container’ was Flasche, which means, roughly, ‘bottle’, and they’d like us to correct retroactively all of the ‘mistaken’ uses of Behälder.

Now, Behälder and Flasche are very different words. They have different genders, and they behave very differently: for example, Flasche changes in the nominative plural, whilst Behälder does not. Clearly, this makes it very difficult to do a ‘search and replace’. Instead, someone will have to search for the stem of Behälder and replace it with the appropriate form of Flasche, as well as modifying any adjectives associated with it.

Situations like this are one of the reasons we emphasise the importance of establishing a comprehensive glossary with our clients from the outset. It does sometimes happen that a new person starts at a company with different ideas to their predecessor; they will sometimes decide that a translation of a certain word is simply mistaken, and its use up till now has therefore been our error, which we are obliged to rectify.

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If this indeed is the case (as it very occasionally is – translators are human beings, after all!) then of course we do so. But if we have been following instructions from a client, and those instructions then change, then of course that is not our responsibility, and their rectification is not a cost that QuickSilver should bear.

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