Ever-changing human communication and judicial evidence
A recent article in The Telegraph entitled 'Apostrophe is marked for extinction as language becomes less formal' reflected on the ways that social media is impacting the ways we communicate. Researchers at Lancaster University have been analysing language trends from the Nineties to the present day and have noticed "a systemic shift not only towards more informal vocabulary but also towards more informal grammar." Whether for brevity or speed, punctuation like the apostrophe is being used less and less on social media and other informal communication channels but, for the most part, the human brain does an excellent job of interpreting and assuming what is missing.
These processes are referred to as linguistic cooperativeness and linguistic tolerance which essentially allow us to infer meanings and intentions in what someone is communicating and to ensure errors don't become obstacles to understanding.
Some translators, specifically those involved in judicial proceedings, are not able to rely on those inferences and instead are required to translate only what is written down, without making judgements or assumptions based on context. And while translators understand perfectly what is implied, they cannot transfer the implied meaning, but what they actually read. In these instances, informal communication can have far greater impact than simply annoying the grammar fanatics in your life!
A recent case that I was involved in, cited informal chat communications as evidence and several cases arose in which the written Greek lacked specific punctuation or stress marks that significantly changed the meaning, tone, style and intention of the message.
In one instance, something as simple as an accent changed the meaning of a sentence from "I know that you see my father" to "I know how you see my father".
The translator, hyper-aware of the intended meaning, is left with no other option than to provide both translations and accompany them with stipulations and context to allow the courts to decide.
Dropping an apostrophe can lead to cases of mistaken possession, like in this canine example:
A clever dog knows its master.
A clever dog knows it's master.
Some misplaced punctuation can even lead to a bit of accidental cannibalism:
Eat your dinner!
Eat. You're dinner!
The trend towards increasing informal communication is unlikely to slow down. And when linguistic subtleties, nuances, and intention are pivotal in deciding in favour or against a litigant, then translators have no choice but to keep providing the several possibilities of meaning in endless footnotes.
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Vasiliki is a translator, interpreter, transcreator, blogger, consultant and director of Greek to Me Translations Ltd. She works with English, Greek and French herself and has a team of trusted colleagues who can cover other languages. The offered language services serve mainly the legal, creative, and psychometrics industries.
Vasiliki is a Chartered Linguist, member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and Panhellenic Association of Greek Translators (PEM). She is registered with the Greek Embassy in the United Kingdom as a certified translator and interpreter. She holds a BA in English Language and Linguistics and Masters in Business Translation and Interpreting. She is a Steering Group Member of the CIOL Translating Division (CIOL TD) and CIOL Business, Professions and Government Division (CIOL BPG). She is an Associate Lecturer in Legal Translation at London Metropolitan University teaching Legal Translation, Translation for International Organisations, Linguistics, Translation Theory and Strategy. She is a public speaker and writer for industry magazines.
Her mission is to help organisations and individuals achieve their goals through the power of words. Through mentoring, Vasiliki helps aspiring or young translators to overcome self-limiting believes, build a business mindset and achieve their highest potential.
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