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What’s in a Word? – Forbidden Terms in AV Translation

Angela Starkmann
Angela Starkmann

3 minute read


To maintain consistency when translating audiovisual content, terminology is essential! Learn about its importance from memoQ expert, Angela Starkmann.

My sister has a four-year-old child. Every time my sister swears, she says „Sugar.“ I am sure you try to avoid swearing around kids, too, so you probably understand.

This is not exactly what I call controlled language, but it’s a start. Anyway, replacing one word with another word, a preferred word, is what we do when we use a feature called forbidden terms. This is just one aspect of terminology management (I will discuss others in another article). memoQ is a great tool to use for managing terminology in your audiovisual translation.

Some people think that terminology is only important for technical documentation. They find it hard to believe that exact wording can and should be enforced for the translation of media, and that some words might be off limits altogether when translating films and series. Is this true, or are forbidden words for AV translation just as important than for any other form of linguistic work?

I think they are. Let’s look at some examples to understand better what I mean.

I just translated a US movie the other day. In it, a nasty swear word was used for a poor homeless chap, and it was important to call him by the same word all the time. I used memoQ to make sure the word „creeper“ was never translated differently.

In some of the Asian soap series I work on, the names of traditional dishes need to be translated. For my translation, this is more challenging than tempting, because the transcription of these words into European languages is not standardized. A CAT tool makes sure that even a large team of translators working on the same job always uses the same word with the same spelling.

I love working on documentaries, historic and scientific ones in particular. But whether there are military ranks, planets or nearly extinct species, it is crucial that I use the same term for each during the same (series of) films.

By the way: Large producers of streaming content often have their own guidelines about how to translate common terms like, for instance, okay, which can be spelled in different ways (okay, o.k., ok). It is really helpful to have your favorite translation tool check this for you, so that consistency is always guaranteed—even under time pressure.

“Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Not anymore!

Consistency is particularly important for teams working at the same time on different episodes of a series (this happens all the time!). When you have an Excel term list or KNP (Key Note and Phrases) document to be shared amongst team members, you can add it to memoQ and use it to check for machine-detectable terminology errors in your AV translation. Of course, you will still need a human translator to decide which are forbidden terms and which are allowed terms, and to handle all the rest of your terminological decisions and quality control. But the forbidden words are handled consistently within your team—whether they are swear words, ingredient names or a particular spelling of an otherwise „allowed“ word.

If terminology is also relevant for your AV translation, take a look at the options memoQ offers and try them out. Managing terminology in memoQ is easy. First, you need to add one or more term bases to your project. You will have to decide what is most useful for you, depending on how you work. This can be a general term base or one you create for your project. Or you could have one, for instance, for client-specific terms that are not used elsewhere (like when you only use "ok" consistently, not "okay" in order to optimize reading speed) and a second one for your particular project (for example, all the individual deliverables of a series, even if they are shared among several translators or reviewers).

If you want, you can begin creating a term base from your translation file when a term occurs for the first time. Mark the word—both in your source and your target language. The key combination Ctrl + E allows you to create a new term base entry. Ctrl + Q allows you to write the marked words directly into your term base. 

Terminology management is much more than just excluding a word. But managing forbidden terms is a great example of how translation technology can help you maintain consistency and quality in AV translations just as in any other translations. memoQ is excellent for this. You will make much better use of your favorite translation tool if you understand how it works, so dig right in to find out all you can about memoQ.

Use the time you save to teach your kids that swearing is not nice—even though they will certainly learn many „useful“ words from their little friends with sticky faces. But that is another story…

Image inspired by Haemul Sundubu Jjigae (Seafood Soft Tofu Stew). Click here for the recipe.

Angela Starkmann

Angela Starkmann

Linguist, editor, PM and communication specialist with broad experience in software and documentation localization, translation of marketing material.

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