Friday, April 24, 2015

Translation tips: Comma or period...or something completely different?

We are often approached to provide guidance on what is the most common way of using decimal dividers and thousand separators for the various languages that we translate into.
While everyone is aware of US English using periods for decimal division and commas to separate thousands in big numbers, the issue is somehow obscure when it comes to all the different lan­guages used in Europe. 

Diacritical mayhem

In US English, the value of pi is 3.14 while a million is written as 1,000,000 with comma separators. This system is also used widely throughout Asia and in almost all English speaking countries. In Spain, pi is written like “3,14” and everyone would like to win “1.000.000” Euro in a lottery. Many other European countries apply similar punctuation in numbers, but there are exceptions. In Germanic languages, i.e. German, Dutch, Danish, Norwe­gian and Swedish, the decimal comma is also standard and pi is written as “3,14”. However, while a million can be written like what is the custom in e.g. Spain, there is now a general trend to instead use nonbreaking spaces and people like to win “1 000 000” Euro instead on the lottery. To complicate things, for the Germanic (and also Slavic) languages there is also a general preference to not use any divider in single thousand numbers. So you would e.g. pay “€1500” for a very good bicycle and “€9000” for a decent car. If you add German value added tax of 19%, the final price becomes “€10 710” (yes with a space) for the same car.

Solution? idioma QA style sheet

This trend of omitting the separator is also picking up in many other European countries, and it is a commonplace practice today. We have learned that many of our clients are not aware of this. As a result, we have developed special QA style sheets in which we have recommendations for all the 70+ languages we translate into.
Clients can accept these recommenda­tions or enter their own preference for the various languages that projects should be translated into. It is even possible to enter non-standard practices, e.g. to omit all dividers in thousands and larger, for example when translat­ing very technical documents where numbers should simply remain the same in disregard of what language they are translated into. The information in the style sheets is passed on to our translators and proofreaders as ‘mini rules’ so they can adhere to your pref­erences while handling your projects.

Please contact our project manager for more information on these style sheets and how you best can use them to your advantage.


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