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Familiar and formal ‘you’ in multilingual websites
Thread poster: xxxmediamatrix
xxxmediamatrix
Local time: 07:40
Spanish to English
+ ...
Dec 4, 2009

One of the easy things about English is the use of ‘you’ in both the singular and the plural, and regardless of considerations of the relationship between the speaker and the listener.

The problem I want to pose here concerns the localization of a website I am currently developing in my spare time, concerned with the European colonization of southern Chile in the late 19th and early 20th Century. For personal convenience I am developing it in English, but since one of the aims of the site is to foster contacts between Chilean families and their distant European cousins, it will need to be localized into (at least) French, German, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Russian and the languages of former Yugoslavia. For reasons related to the origins of the land these settlers occupied, it may also be appropriate to localize in the language of the local indigenous people, Mapudungun.

The main target audience for the website, at least in the ‘start-up’ phase, is amateur genealogists and family historians. However, there is no reason to exclude professionals working in these areas and the site will, I hope, have a lot of content of interest also to academics and even to people working in totally different disciplines (agriculture, the environment, cartography, etc.). Some of those may be casual visitors, others may be paid-up subscribers. At a later stage I plan to incorporate material to encourage inter-cultural links between schools in Chile and Europe; that would address both teachers and pupils.

Having lived and worked in two French-speaking and three Spanish-speaking countries, I am all too aware of the susceptibilities of native speakers when they are addressed using the ‘wrong’ form. Although I’m English, I get peeved myself when I come across websites that address me informally where I think a formal usage would be more appropriate (e.g. when logging-in to a Chilean company’s site to pay my bills).

I am also aware that the rules may be different in different languages (e.g. between Spanish and Italian) and that the most-appropriate form may vary from one country to another even if they share the same language. The social context is another factor to be considered. Even then, there may be different preferences between individuals within any country/language/social combo, based, for example, on their reason for reading the texts. The combinations and permutations are seemingly endless.

Obviously, I cannot adjust the formal/informal usage on a website in the same way as I can when writing to an individual person. I need a ‘one size fits all’ solution (at least, within each language) – but one that doesn’t alienate anyone within the rather wide target audience. I have looked around a number of multilingual websites for guidance on the formal/informal question (including proz.com, of course, which seems to favour formal usage, at least in the languages I understand), but have found nothing very conclusive…

I want to get this ‘detail’ right, so I can inform translators (maybe some of ‘you’ reading this now…) how I want this matter handled in their respective languages.

Suggestions, guidance and other ideas welcome…

MediaMatrix

PS: I have deliberately not put this in the ‘Localization’ forum because I am looking for ideas based on colleagues’ experience as Internet users, not just as translators/localizers.


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Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 12:40
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
+ ...
German: formal Dec 4, 2009

As far as German is concerned, the formal address should be used. No doubt. I can't quote any authoritative sources, but I'd be surprised if opinions about this subject differed.

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OlafK
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:40
English to German
+ ...
agree with efreitag Dec 4, 2009

Keep it formal in German ("Sie"). Although one of my clients insists on informal plural "ihr" on their website to give it a friendly community feel.

[Edited at 2009-12-05 13:36 GMT]


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Alex Lago  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:40
Member (2009)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Spanish Dec 4, 2009

Many people nowadays in Spanish use the informal approach but I am a firm defender of the formal approach, I don't know of anyone who will get offended when addressed formally, but some people can get offended if they are treated informally.

So definitely in Spanish my opinion is make it formal.


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Carole Paquis  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:40
Member (2007)
English to French
French Dec 4, 2009

My experience of French websites (as a user):

anything aimed at young people, teenagers or children uses the informal "you" (ie. "tu"). Everything else is the formal "vous".
As a translator, only twice did I use the 'tu' for a website text, and both were aimed at children.

Besides, one can use "vous" and still convey a certain degree of informality in the language with other tricks.

From what you describe in your post, I would use "vous" in French.

Carole


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svenfrade  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 12:40
French to German
+ ...
For Germany definitely formal... Dec 5, 2009

unless the translation is aimed at children or teenagers or it is for a well-known Swedish furniture chain...

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David Russi  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:40
English to Spanish
+ ...
Spanish: formal Dec 5, 2009

Websites are NEVER local, and unless you are sure the target audience will appreciate an informal tone, formal is a better bet.

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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 12:40
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Spanish: formal please Dec 5, 2009

I agree with my Spanish-speaking colleagues here: formal is best for this situation.

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Yasutomo Kanazawa  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:40
Member (2005)
English to Japanese
+ ...
Although not a native speaker of the mentioned languages, Dec 5, 2009

I agree to all the suggestions posted so far.

This is my 2 cents, but as a starter, why not check out the Proz site in the respective languages? Of course, they are targeted for translators and agencies who work in the translation industry who may be picky about words, but maybe you could get a hint or two and a grasp of how a multi-lingual website would look like.

P.S. A bit off-topic, but in my native language Japanese, there are many ways of addressing "you", and I would go for the formal form when targetting general audiences, but the informal when targetting youngsters.


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Vladimir Gjurov
Macedonia (FYROM)
Local time: 12:40
English to Macedonian
+ ...
Former Yugoslavin speaker - macedonia Dec 5, 2009

I toally agree with my Japanese college : when targetting general audiences - use the formal form (which in Macedonia is "Vie" - or cyrillic "Вие" - and the informal when targetting youngsters, or "ti" - cyrillic "ти" - I think that except for the forums, where is normal and common to use informal forms, eveywhere else should be used formal form - nobody would like to be threated with disrespect. Therefore, use the formal form.

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Russell Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:40
Italian to English
Italian Dec 5, 2009

I stand to be corrected on this by Italian colleagues but, in the absence of native speaker input so far, this is my perception.
Although in general, the formal / informal distinction is important in Italian, the current trend in advertising and mass-market websites is to use the informal version - La tua bolletta (your bill) - for example, on the ENEL electricity company website.
This is probably because the formal version in Italian is the same as the third person singular. This seldom causes any problems in the context of full sentences or conversation but, in short phrases such as the one I have quoted, there is a real risk of ambiguity.


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Sarah Jane Webb  Identity Verified
Local time: 12:40
Italian to English
+ ...
Italy Dec 5, 2009

The perception of another English person living in Italy.
I agree with Russell. Only a few websites, targeting a very formal or elderly audience, are still addressing users with the formal "Lei". INPS, the national social security institute, uses the informal "tu", as do most leading producers of hearing aids, dentures, and other commodities for the not-so-young.


Russell Jones wrote:

I stand to be corrected on this by Italian colleagues but, in the absence of native speaker input so far, this is my perception.
Although in general, the formal / informal distinction is important in Italian, the current trend in advertising and mass-market websites is to use the informal version - La tua bolletta (your bill) - for example, on the ENEL electricity company website.
This is probably because the formal version in Italian is the same as the third person singular. This seldom causes any problems in the context of full sentences or conversation but, in short phrases such as the one I have quoted, there is a real risk of ambiguity.


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Narasimhan Raghavan  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:10
English to Tamil
+ ...
My experience as a French or German interpreter Dec 6, 2009

When I am interpreting, many of the visitors address me as tu or du but I always feel bizarre. I do not know them nor am I likely to see them again. So I always address them as vous or Sie.

Between you and me, the real reason is the fact that I am not very comfortable with the conjugation of verbs for the familiar form, but wild horses cannot drag this reason out of me.

Regards,
N. Raghavan


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Tom Feise  Identity Verified
Switzerland
Local time: 12:40
Member
English to German
+ ...
Swiss German Dec 9, 2009

and then you come to the Alps, where you are expected to produce something in "Swiss German".

There is no such thing, there is Schriftdeutsch, almost like Hochdeutsch, so "Sie", "Ihnen" and the lot.
And then there is Mundart, the spoken language, not normally written, but understood, of which there are at least four variants ( including Baseldytsch, Züritytsch, Bärndütsch, Walliser and all their derivates, such as Aargau or Oberämmitau).

"unser" becomes "eusi", "Ihnen" becomes "Euch", "fleissig" means frequent and not industrious, etc.

Just like Old English, Swiss German is a spoken and felt language, not a written one. Everyone understands "Usse", but no-one would dream of actually writing it.

Must be the scent of raclette, fondue, and of chocolate, wafting over here from the big cocoa silo nearby


[Edited at 2009-12-09 07:57 GMT]


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 13:40
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Use good translators Dec 9, 2009

Somehow I do not understand the question. Hope you are not trying to localise your web-site by yourself?
Any professional translator will routinely use the appropriate addressing mode for the target audience. So you do not have to know what would be the right form in e.g. German but trust your German translator.

When I translate from Finnish to German I not only have to change from second person singular to third person plural (Sie) but introduce also the "bitte" here and there and weaken the rather straightforward Finnish use of imperative. And I try to use more adjectives, in order to make the stuff sound more German.

And when I translate from German or English into Finnish I of course remove all extra exclamation marks those people love so much (!!!) and leave exclamation marks only after really imperative sentences "Don't touch!". In German and English authors often put exclamation marks in order to underline the importance of a statement. In Finnish this looks silly.

Regards
Heinrich


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