Poll: Do you think that translators have an impact on language evolution?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff

ProZ.com Staff
Local time: 17:59
Jan 20, 2016

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Do you think that translators have an impact on language evolution?".

This poll was originally submitted by Emin Arı. View the poll results »


suew  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:59
Member (2008)
German to English
+ ...
We're camp followers! Jan 20, 2016

I think translators - as opposed to transcreators, I think they're called - are actually under a duty to reflect the status quo, if not even a higher and perhaps older form of the target language. We are expected to reflect grammar and spelling as is; and often to "correct" grammatical mistakes made in the source language while we're translating. Maybe the impact we have is that we "confirm" changes that have already taken place? An example in British English might be the split infinitive: 30 years ago it was an absolute no-no; now it's acceptable in so many contexts and thus in so many translations.


Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
English is a special case Jan 20, 2016

Translators certainly help introduce concepts and terms from one language into another.

I've fought long and hard over the years against various Scandi weirdnesses and mistranslations ("competent", "drive" and "helicopter view" spring to mind) that are now used widely in English. Is this down to translators, or just because anything goes in US English?

In these days of the Internet, though, I would expect constant exposure to the abuse of the English language by natives and foreigners alike to have a much greater impact than we possibly could. How long until "would of" becomes OK?

Other languages are different, of course. Translators must play a role in whether English and other foreign terms are adopted as is or translated.


Teresa Borges
Local time: 01:59
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Maybe. Up to a point... Jan 20, 2016

Social and cultural changes have a major impact on language evolution, especially when it comes to vocabulary and meaning. New concepts and things appear that need new names (neologisms and borrowed words) and at the same time plenty of terms insensibly change their meaning or fall into disuse (I am old enough to remember a few...). Popular usage determines the incorporation of words (new, borrowed and foreign). If a word reaches enough people, and is repeated enough times, then it has a higher chance of becoming conventionalized.

So, do we, as translators, have an impact on language evolution? Maybe. The translator conveys the meaning of a text to its reader. As Douglas Robinson says in “The Translator's Turn” (1991, Baltimore: John Hopkins University): “The translator is a vehicle. An instrument. A tool used by the SL writer to communicate with receptors whose language he or she does not speak; a tool used by the TL receptor to understand the words of an otherwise inaccessible writer or speaker.”


Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:59
English to French
Perhaps Jan 20, 2016

An example:
Before computers, most warranties used to state "defects in material and workmanship" as "contre tout vice de matière et de fabrication", which was pretty standard when the blurb actually originated from French-speaking writers.
For some reason I've always liked this set expression.

Nowadays, with Internet and most texts originally written in EN (including for products made in non-English speaking countries), is becoming "défaut de matériau et de fabrication" and other creative translations, which I find so clumsy and so "translated".

The new generation may be "inventing" new set expressions in FR because they have never played with/used Europe-made toys/kitchen appliances/everyday items with their instructions/packaging in French by design.

Or maybe I am stuck in my so pre-TV-remote-control mindset.



Mario Chavez (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:59
English to Spanish
+ ...
Of course! Jan 20, 2016

I have often reflected on the origin of set phrases and popular words: was authority behind the choice of a certain word over another? In English, for example, the words agreement and contract are often used interchangeably, but that's not the case in Spanish legal texts. So, why does the word contrato has a heftier legal weight than acuerdo?

I doubt there were committees for the selection of popular words. The words we use evolved from individual and societal preference, in my view. The younger generation's choice of words usually trumps what was seen as established and correct. Can you imagine Shakespeare's or Cervantes' reaction to today's English and Spanish? They'd probably object to many words and expressions we're using.

Translators are, after all, human beings, and their professional work leaves an almost indelible mark on language. Language evolves across several segments of society, up and down. We translators take some snapshots along the way, but we surely effect this evolution.


Anne-Carine Zimmer  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 17:59
Member (2004)
German to English
+ ...
English influence on German Jan 20, 2016

For example, I can use 'downloaden' or 'herunterladen' and I always use 'herunterladen' - if there is a decent/meaningful German equivalent, I would always avoid bad/lazy "Germenglish" terms. I think some newspapers/magazines do a horrible job in that respect and contribute to the spreading of language choices that are bad in my opinion.


Mario Freitas  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:59
Member (2014)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
They sure do, in some cases Jan 20, 2016

Historically, translators have made a difference many times. Unfortunately, I don't have time right now to mention concrete examples, but you can be sure many of the terms and expressions you use every day were devised by translators.


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Poll: Do you think that translators have an impact on language evolution?

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