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The Importance of Register in Translation

When translating or writing any type of text, it is important to know what the term “register” means and how it is used within the scope of language. As a translator or even as a purchaser of translations, it is important to know what type of register you would like your translation to be written in. So, what is “register” anyway?

The term “Register” is used to denote the tone of a language. We speak with different registers each and every day without evening giving it a second thought depending on the situation or social setting we are in. For example, when you speak to a two-year-old girl, you probably will not talk to her in the same way you would talk to an adult on the same topic. At the same time, no matter how old you may be, you probably do not talk to your siblings in the same way you would talk to your business clients. And you certainly would not talk to your boss the way you would speak to your siblings. Along the same lines, a sign indicating where the restrooms are would probably not state, “Kaka Room”. For an official public area, a word like “Restrooms” or the like would be much more appropriate. In addition, when a doctor talks to you about your “pee-pee”, he normally uses the word “urine” because this sounds much more professional. Hence, you can say that these terms are written in a higher register. When writing very formal texts, it is not appropriate to use abbreviated phrases such as “I haven’t” or I “don’t”, but it is better to write “I have not” or “I do not”. In formal documents, you probably would not say “Mr. Bloggs will take over responsibility.“ Although the phrase is grammatically correct, to be even more formal, you would normally not use words with split infinitives. Therefore, it would be better to write, “Mr. Bloggs shall assume responsibility”.

All of the above are examples of different registers in the English language, but these registers exist in every language and are all quite useful depending on the situation you are in. We generally change registers automatically without even thinking in relation to whom we are speaking to. In some cases, this change is quite vivid, especially when a person who is normally very serious in nature turns into another person when talking to a baby in a very low register, also known as “baby talk”.

When translating or ordering a translation, it is also important to be aware of how you want to address your clients. What type of register do you want to use? Sometimes, depending on the business you are in or the purpose of the document, it may not be very useful to use a very high register. For some marketing texts, you might want to address the reader casually to create a feeling of warmth and friendship.

Casual or formal register? Or do you just want to remain as neutral as possible? In many languages, this is of crucial importance because it would mean a complete difference in the way of addressing someone. Don’t forget that in many languages there are actually two different forms of address, formal and informal. Such as the forms of address “Vous” and “tu” in French, and “Sie” and “du” in Germany, just to name a couple of examples.

In Italian, there are also two forms, namely “Lei” for formal address and “tu” for informal, but it is considered quite a popular fad, especially for Internet marketing, to use the informal form of address.

Usually, depending on the context, a translator can deduce the required register that should be used, but it is also good that the client be aware of this in the translation.

So, do you want to be extremely formal? Do you want to address people as if you are your best friend? And is this appropriate for the target language? Well, be sure to ask this question to the person translating your text and I am sure they will be more than happy to inform you. The most important thing is to be aware of this and give it some thought.

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