Manuals and informal/formal "You" (sing. or plural)
Thread poster: Lingua 5B

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 19:34
German to Serbian
+ ...
Dec 28, 2015

Hi all,

This question is addressed at those translating manuals or instructions (software localization) into languages with formal and informal "you", I would like to share some thoughts.

Say it's a software manual (100k words) and imagine how many times there will be a prompt beginning with a verb "do this or do that", sometimes I think it's a conversation between the computer and the user, so even though the context is serious (say a software is used in science, by a scientist), I feel it's better to use informal (singular verb) for a prompt (bringing the software and the user closer).

How do you resolve this issue, or do you go through the whole thing using the verb in plural (not talking about gaming or similar entertainment context, but a professional manual or software). Just trying to put myself in reader's shoes.

Just as an example:

"Check the red box" (would you translate "check" in singular or formal/polite plural)?

I mean I have my ways of going around these things but would also appreciate hearing yours.icon_smile.gif


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:34
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Informal Dec 28, 2015

I think the assumption always is that you (singular) are reading this manual and following its instructions. Not you (plural).

 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 19:34
German to Serbian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Form of address. Dec 28, 2015

Tom in London wrote:

I think the assumption always is that you (singular) are reading this manual and following its instructions. Not you (plural).


It's a form of address, you can address a person using plural verb (so the software/the computer is addressing the user - the question is what form of address to choose). But your target language is English, which doesn't make a difference between these two forms?


 

cranium
French to English
+ ...
Neither Dec 28, 2015

In French, at least, I'm fairly sure the infinitive would be used.

 

Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 19:34
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
A ongoing discussion, I'm afraid Dec 28, 2015

Lingua 5B wrote:
Sometimes I think it's a conversation between the computer and the user, so even though the context is serious (say a software is used in science, by a scientist), I feel it's better to use informal (singular verb) for a prompt (bringing the software and the user closer).


I tend to agree that using the distinction between serious and non-serious software is useful in this case. Games should use the familiar form, whereas office software should use the polite form. In addition, I would not think it inconsistent if the software uses the familiar form while the user manual uses the polite form.

In addition, don't forget that the formality of the text does not always rely on whether the polite or familiar form of address is used. One can write a very formal sounding text despite using the polite form of address, or vice versa. It is a fallacy believed by some of my clients that a text written for adults can be changed into a text for children by simply changing the form of address.

At first, bank cash machines in my native language used the familiar form, but changed to the polite form after complaints that the machines were being impolite. I recall being in the first translation team of a large search engine, and we decided on the polite form of address, but were overruled by the client, who equated "polite form of address" with "formal text". The result is that it sounds as if the search engine speaks down at the user, which is not pleasant.

But it depends on the language and on the country that it is used in. In my native language, we use the familiar form when addressing a subordinate, but in another language used in my native country, the polite form is used when addressing a subordinate who is older than you.

Samuel


 

Lingua 5B  Identity Verified
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Local time: 19:34
German to Serbian
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Yes, good points, many factors involved. Dec 28, 2015

I agree with what you added, Samuel, and also noticed that when having one large file, some parts of that file I feel it's better to use polite form, while for other parts familiar form. So I always have to make these decisions and think about the potential user and the environment in which they will use the software (or a certain part of the software content).

I also agree that some languages having this concept will be more strict than others about switching from polite to familiar form. Not one rule applies to every language necessarily, but I was still interested in seeing more opinions.



[Edited at 2015-12-28 11:15 GMT]


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 19:34
English to Polish
+ ...
... Dec 28, 2015

Analysing Formal vs informal or singular vs plural 'you' in English won't give you the answers you seek. There isn't really anything complicated or otherwise singificant about the English usage (at least not to the point of compelling any specific rendition), you simply need to consider what the proper form of address is in the target language in the relevant context, and that can differ from place to place.

 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 18:34
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Well, exactly Dec 28, 2015

Lingua 5B wrote:

......But your target language is English, which doesn't make a difference between these two forms?


Well, exactly. I can't see a problem.


 

Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 01:34
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
Technical writing styles Dec 28, 2015

Lingua 5B wrote:

I also agree that some languages having this concept will be more strict than others about switching from polite to familiar form. Not one rule applies to every language necessarily, but I was still interested in seeing more opinions.



I used to teach technical writing styles to university students and I wrote 2 text books on this subject. I aim to give brief information to save reading time and paper space. I have a habit to write short software manuals and avoid adding literature style or novel style statements. I intend only to give non-ambiguous software manuals or UI only. CAT like Trados also support this writing style (use of repeating strings etc.)

Soonthon L.


 

Katalin Horváth McClure  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:34
Member (2002)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Discuss with the client Dec 30, 2015

Agencies dealing with many different languages, including Slavic and other languages that have different form of "you" and different verb-forms for informal and formal address usually know about this problem, and deal with it at the start. They often have prepared style guides to address this problem.
Agencies (or Project Managers) with limited experience, and also direct clients may not be aware of it, especially if their own language (such as English) does not have this issue at all.

I always ask this question before I start translating into Hungarian, and make sure I have a definite answer from the client. Sometimes the end client is a company that adopted the informal style in the target country, and all their communication is in the informal style. One such example is IKEA. They use the informal "you" everywhere. Some consumer electronics companies also use the informal style, either consistently everywhere, or only in select product lines or communication channels.

My point is that this issue is something that should be discussed with the client; it is not a decision to be made solely by the translator.


 

Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 00:04
English to Hindi
+ ...
A tricky issue, indeed, in Hindi Dec 30, 2015

In Hindi, there are three second person pronouns - आप, तुम and तू.

The first is both singular and plural, the second is plural, while the third is singular.

The technical plural pronoun (for more than one) is तुम, but in Hindi it is considered quite insulting to address anyone you don't know very well as तुम.

The third one, तू, which is the actual singular pronoun, is a big no-no, as it can be used only for the very young (such as infants) or for those with whom you are very familiar (lovers, siblings, mother-child, etc). For all else, there can't be a greater abuse than addressing him/her as तू.

So that leaves only आप, which is always used, even in informal set ups such as games. तुम would be an option only in the rarest of rare cases, and is always prone to be misunderstood. And this आप can be both singular and plural in grammatical sense, but will always take a plural verb. That is to say, आप will be used to address a single person, as well as to address two or more persons.

But the real problem in Hindi is not with the number, but with the gender. In Hindi, all nouns are either masculine or feminine, with masculine being the default gender (to be used when the gender of the subject is not known). Most verbs also have two forms, masculine and feminine. So in Hindi, each sentence can have two grammatical forms - a masculine version and a feminine version.

The problem with user manuals is that, while the translator does not know the gender of the person who is reading it at any moment in time, the reader himself/herself is acutely aware of his/her own gender. Therefore, Tom's thumb rule quoted below is useless as far as Hindi is concerned. The translator has no way of knowing who is reading the translated manual at any point in time and therefore he has no way of knowing which gender to use in the translation, and if he decides to use the default masculine gender, the feminine readers will find it odd.

There is no easy solution to this. In fact, I don't see this as a resolvable issue in Hindi at all, and only work arounds are possible. I sometimes rewrite the source sentences to make their Hindi translations gender-neutral. Eg.:

Select the files you want to delete.

Will become a masculine sentence when translated into Hindi (उन फ़ाइलों को चुनें, जिन्हें आप हटाना चाहते हैं।).

But if it is written as:

Select the files that need to be deleted,

Then the Hindi translation can be put in a form that is gender neutral (उन फ़ाइलों को चुनें जिन्हें हटाना है।).

A few other work arounds are also possible, as there are a few tense forms in Hindi that are gender neutral no matter what the subject is. In fact, these usually don't have an explicit subject. A close indicative example from English would be something like this:

May the prisoner be presented before the court.

(This has no explicit subject - it could be the police, the courtiers, etc. etc. who are being addressed in the sentence.)

But these are case-specific solutions and can't be applied to all situations.

Another, recent issue is the singular plural gender-neutral pronoun of English (they/their used for singular subjects) that is increasingly coming into vogue these days to avoid the use of his/her. This however does not pose any issue in Hindi, as in Hindi, all pronouns are gender-neutral (mercifully!), and this construct of English is really not needed in Hindi. However, translators not familiar with this new usage get thoroughly confused by a singular subject taking a plural pronoun in the source and come up with all the possible permutation and combination of sentences in their translations - singular subject+singular verb, singular subject+plural verb, plural subject+singular verb, plural subject+singular verb).

The solution to all these issues is not simple. As I see it, the solution lies in the original copy writers in English avoiding sentence constructions that will pose such difficulties in translation. But this is clearly a tall order. Even if such constructions exist in English, the English copy writer would have to be conversant in all the languages into which the manual would be translated to know what to avoid in the English copy. A team of language experts would be able to do it, but I don't think software manufactures have got around to this level of sophistication in preparing their manuals. The current practice seems to be to get the manuals written by software developers and then get it polished up by an English copy editor.

Another approach would be to give more leeway to translators to adjust the copy to suit their languages, rather than going for a literal translation. This comes with its whole set of problems. Such rewrites would then need to be rechecked by software testers to confirm that they are accurate, as the current method of just comparing the translation with the source would no longer work.

In other words, I don't see any solution to this problem and we translators would have to muddle along as best as we can.

Tom in London wrote:

I think the assumption always is that you (singular) are reading this manual and following its instructions. Not you (plural).


[Edited at 2015-12-30 07:54 GMT]


 


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Manuals and informal/formal "You" (sing. or plural)

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