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Lists with alphabetically numbered items: translate or not?
Thread poster: Miomira Brankovic

Miomira Brankovic  Identity Verified
Serbia
Local time: 02:16
Member
English to Serbian
+ ...
Jul 29, 2007

If you are translating between two languages using different alphabets (in my case – English and Serbian), how do you deal with lists in alphabetical order? To be more precise, I mean lists using MS Word “Bullets and Numbering” option. Do you “translate” these lists using the alphabet of the target language, turning a), b), c), d), e), f) into a), b), v), g), d), đ)? If so, what happens with references made further in the text that quote specific items? If you opt to convert the list, this can create quite a confusion if the text is, for example, a law where each sub-paragraph is “numbered” with a letter. After all, is a translator allowed to turn paragraph c) into paragraph v) – third letter of the source to a third letter in the target alphabet? What happens with letters non-existent in the other language? What happens if the languages use different scripts, e.g. English and Greek, German and Russian?

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Patricia Rosas  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
that is a very good question... Jul 29, 2007

I've never even thought about this. I'll be interested to see what people answer (esp. about what do you do if there is no corresponding letter). Thanks for asking it!

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Jenny Forbes  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:16
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
Good question indeed Jul 29, 2007

Patricia Rosas wrote:

I've never even thought about this. I'll be interested to see what people answer (esp. about what do you do if there is no corresponding letter). Thanks for asking it!


I quite often have this problem, and not even translating into a different alphabet, but from French or Spanish to English. Lists that are alphabetical in Fr and Sp are often not entirely alphabetical once translated to Eng. Do I rearrange them so that they are alphabetical in Fr or Sp, or leave them in what, once translated, must seem a random order?
Sometimes I ask the client what they would like me to do, sometimes I rearrange them into alphabetical order in Eng without asking, if it seems sensible - easy enough to do with the "sort" tool.
Kind regards,
Jenny.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:16
English to Spanish
+ ...
A very good question indeed Jul 29, 2007

I, like Patricia (we both work in English and Spanish) are not confronted with such a problem, but it does provide for some thought.

When you translate, you must produce something that is intelligible to the reader of the target language, and that would mean changing the alphabet and using the target language alphabet consistently, even though there might be obvious conflicts with the source alphabet. If you run out of letters then you may have to resort to "aa", "bb", "cc", etc.

That would be the most logical solution I could think of.

In Spanish they do occasionally use letters to designate items in listings that are not in the English alphabet, which are "ll" and "ñ". In those cases I just leave them as they are; they look a bit strange to an English-language reader but there is no problem in understanding.

I hope someone who has to deal with that situation (there must be many) can tell you what their practice is.


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 02:16
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
My gut feeling Jul 29, 2007

If the meaning of the letters used would be retained if numbers (Latin, Roman...) were used, than the alphabet has to be "translated" as well: they are intended to order the contents ("ordinal" letters).

The cross referencing between source and target is then screwed up, a problem possibly for legal texts for instance.


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xxxmediamatrix
Local time: 20:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
Two problems, two solutions... Jul 29, 2007

Miomira's original question concerns numbered headings and sub-headings, where instead of numerals the headings are identified with A, B, C, etc. (and possibly with mixed numbers and letters: A, A1, A2, B, B1, B2 etc.

I'd suggest that the best solution depends on two things:

- What does Word offer as sequences for the automatic alphanumeric numbering of headings and sub-headings in your language? I've just checked in Spanish, for example, and regardless of how you set up the template and styles, all you get is a to z (and then after z you get aa to zz); the Spanish characters 'ch', 'll' and 'ñ' are not used. If Word will create Serbian sequences, then problem solved!

- If an all-Serbian Word template doesn't give you a valid Serbian sequence, how much effort do you want to put in to creating your entire alphanumeric sequence manually - including the manual entry of all cross-references, index references, etc? And a subsidiary question is: how prepared are you to risk making a mistake in this? Which is worse? - bog-standard Microsoft 'a, b, c, d, e,' without errors, or nice Serbian 'a, b, v, g, d, đ' but with a few cross-references that miss their target?

My personal preference is 'don't fight the system' - take whatever the software gives you and avoid the head-aches...

A pragmatic solution might be to use an all-numeric numbering sequence in the translated document, and convince your client that you have changed it in the best interests of the end-users (readers).

Keeping the same alphabet in the source and target language has the added advantage that when English and Serbian readers are referring to their respective language versions they will not get confused. Suppose, for example, the Serbian reader sends an e-mail to an English reader saying "there's a mistake in section g)". Errr ... whose 'section g)'? Is this item 4 (Serbian version) or item 6 (English version)?.

This sort of confusion will be eliminated if the sequences are identical (all a, b, c, d, e,) and will be less severe if the sequences are obviously different (one language a, b, c, and the other language 1, 2, 3, ...).

Jenny is referring to a different matter: the arrangement of items in an alphabetically-sorted table, or an index.

The only valid solution here is to sort according to the rules of the target document language - and this will happen automatically if you're using a correctly set-up template. Taking Spanish again as an example, if you set the language to 'Spanish - Spain Traditional Sort', the characters 'ch', 'll' and 'ñ' will be used to determine the sort sequence in a table or index (a, b, c, ch ,d, e, .... l, ll, m, n, ñ, o, p, ...), although, as noted earlier, they do not appear in the sequence alphanumeric headings.

MediaMatrix


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Melissa Stanfield  Identity Verified
Australia
Local time: 10:16
Italian to English
+ ...
I have translated alphabetically headed items in the past... Jul 29, 2007

...as the Italian order didn't make any sense in the English text: g,h,i,l,m,n simply looks like 2 points are missing in English, so I made it g,h,i,j,k,l. I did confirm with the client beforehand though, in case other things needed to be cross-referenced.

[Edited at 2007-07-30 02:45]


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Owen Davies
Japan
Local time: 09:16
Member (2007)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Illustrations Vs Contracts, tricky! Jul 30, 2007

Hi Miomira,
Yes, quite a tricky one. For Japanese to English the norm is to translate everything/ However, when I outsource translations for User's Guides/Service manuals etc. I tend to ask the translators to keep alphabet lists in English for the very reason that you mention. It can create confusion. If an illustration is alphabetically labeled and then later in the manual the writer refers to the illustration e.g. "remove the screws from section (A)..." these lists must be consistent. And when dealing with 20 odd languages it's simply easier for the localizers if everything is kept in English.
I have recently completed a project in which this problem arose. I ended up changing the translations in Greek, Russian, and Arabic texts to alphabetic lists. I handed these back to the translators and they all said there was no problem in using the alphabet.
They said that, because the letters were being used as symbols and didn't have any language meaning, using the alphabet would not cause any confusion. I found that very interesting.
As for contracts, law scares me, so I'll leave that minefield well alone
Very interesting discussion though, learning a lot!


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Markéta Vilhelmová  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 02:16
Member (2010)
Russian to Czech
+ ...
Depends Jul 30, 2007

Hello,

I meet similar problem when I translate a text between Czech and Russian. Czech uses Roman alphabet and Russian then Cyrilic alphabet. My decisions vary from character of the text. If I translate a draft agreement then I am suggesting to change the "numbering" of articles and paragraphs of original text too in order to avoid this problem (e.g. 1, 1.1, 1.1.1, i), ii)...). Consequently, discussion between the contractual party is much more easy. If I translate final version of agreement, I usually leave the original order noticing reasons of it - clients can understand it as they often have a basic knowledge of the two languages. And eventually, if I translate some other text form (e.g. manuals, general reports,...) I change the order accordingly to the target language. However, it is good to make a notice to your client in any case.

Marketa.


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Pavel Blann  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 02:16
Member (2005)
English to Czech
the answer depends on your clients/readers Jul 30, 2007

mediamatrix wrote:

My personal preference is 'don't fight the system' - take whatever the software gives you and avoid the head-aches...

A pragmatic solution might be to use an all-numeric numbering sequence in the translated document, and convince your client that you have changed it in the best interests of the end-users (readers).


that sounds like a wrong approach to me. we should not conform to incapable software or its incapable users or both and convince the clients/readers it's in their best interest...

the answer depends on your clients/readers' requirement: I can imagine that microsoft would like to keep the original numbering in all of their multi-language eulas as well as a publishing house insisting on the numbering according to the local customs, e.g.

once you know this requirement you can look for software (or its function, template, etc.) that is capable of fullfilling it. ms word is not the one and only word processor but even if you use one it should suffice using the custom numbering feature since ver. 97 or even earlier.


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Nizamettin Yigit  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 02:16
Dutch to Turkish
+ ...
Alphabetical order vs numerical. Jul 30, 2007

Hi Miomira,
Question of the year
I personally think it should be translated. If you do so you would end up a mass in some languages.

Because order of a letter in the alphabet may be different in every other language. If you list something in the target language it is expected that your list, is indeed, in correct order in that language as well.

To me there is a solution for the author/client:
- to change all letter bullets into numbers, bullets, or i, ii, iii, iv, etc.
- any place that is referring to these, should also be corrected or adjusted to match.

Good luck,

Nizam


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Miomira Brankovic  Identity Verified
Serbia
Local time: 02:16
Member
English to Serbian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
To sum up… Aug 1, 2007

Thank you all for your feedback.
MediaMatrix understood very well what my problem was and put it, I believe, more clearly than I did. It is not really a software problem, it is a matter of principle.
mediamatrix wrote:
[The] original question concerns numbered headings and sub-headings, where instead of numerals the headings are identified with A, B, C, etc. (and possibly with mixed numbers and letters: A, A1, A2, B, B1, B2 etc.)
Keeping the same alphabet in the source and target language has the added advantage that when English and Serbian readers are referring to their respective language versions they will not get confused. Suppose, for example, the Serbian reader sends an e-mail to an English reader saying "there's a mistake in section g)". Errr ... whose 'section g)'? Is this item 4 (Serbian version) or item 6 (English version)?


This is exactly what I often encounter in practice. Right now I am working on a draft law that should be reviewed by foreign experts. It is very long (almost 400 articles) and has a very complex structure, e.g. Part One, Chapter IV, Section C, sub-heading 5, sub-sub heading d). It is absolutely essential that both the authors of the draft and the consultants can easily and unmistakably identify every sentence in the text.

Owen Davies also made a good point.
Owen Davies wrote:
If an illustration is alphabetically labeled and then later in the manual the writer refers to the illustration e.g. "remove the screws from section (A)..." these lists must be consistent.
[Translators] said that, because the letters were being used as symbols and didn't have any language meaning, using the alphabet would not cause any confusion.


I would like to summarize the most relevant points.
a) If the structure is complex and there are cross-references to other parts of the text or illustrations, it would be smart to keep the original identifiers and treat these letters like symbols, bullets, etc.
b) In other cases, where the letters are not relevant for the contents and can be painlessly substituted for the letters of another alphabet, numerals or bullets, that should be done, with prior consent of the customer.

Although I do not have the script problem (Serbian can be written in both Cyrillic and Latin scripts), I would still like to hear how translators from languages with Latin script into e.g. Arabic, Hebrew, Russian… deal with this problem.


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Mark Cole  Identity Verified
Local time: 01:16
Polish to English
+ ...
EU practice Aug 1, 2007

I have just translated a Bulgarian EU document which was originally in English/Latin script. The Bulgarian version simply used the Bulgarian alphabet(а,б,в,г,д,е) in order, which meant that the list out of kilter until the letter "i", after which everything went awry again

But when translating from Russian or Bulgarian and there is a complex numbering structure my preferred method is to replace the letters with lower-case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, etc), and possibly provide the client with a "key" - which I also find useful for myself, as my tiny mind soon forgets whether "ж" was "vi" or "vii"


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