Package Insert 41
Interesting facts and figures for customers and partners of mt-g.
June 2017
In the spotlight
Political correctness in the translation industry
Translators are mediators between cultures and do not just translate texts; they also translate habits, social viewpoints and opinions as well as many other components that are hidden between the lines or some words. They have to be aware of and take into account the taboos and societal language restrictions that exist in cultures. This includes, for example, the application of political correctness (PC).

Under this term, alternative names and descriptions are collected which aim to protect groups of people from discrimination, insults or exclusion. For example, people with disabilities are committed to not being generalised as disabled. They worry that they will be excluded as human beings and generally represented as being "incapable" by means of this term. Since the term "disabled" has been used in school yards by adolescents as an insult, there is no longer a way to use the term without problems arising.

A translator who has to translate the English term disabled therefore has to be aware that the text contains a term which has negative connotations in both anglophone countries as well as in the German-speaking world and should be avoided if possible. He has to consider whether the author has deliberately chosen this term or whether he has used the wrong one without realising it. If the use is unintended, the translator will use the politically correct term in German. If, on the other hand, the term was purposefully used in the original text, the translator has to decide whether he would like to take a chance by presenting the German-speaking reader with the word for "disabled" and follow the intention of the original author.

The example above shows that it takes a subtle instinctive and linguistic sense to achieve the right tone for certain topics while at the same time not altering the statement of the original document.

A public debate about politically correct formulation is currently being held in the United Kingdom: The British Medical Association (BMA) advised its employees not to describe pregnant women as "expectant mothers", but rather as "expectant persons".

The BMA would like to dissolve those moral concepts that can cause gender inequality and intends for this recommendation to help prevent exclusion and discrimination. It is of the opinion that the term "expectant mother" is inappropriate for transgender people. This applies, for example, to women who, while viewed from a purely legal point of view are men, still have the ability to give birth.

Translators therefore have to be aware of the linguistic and cultural circumstances in both the foreign language as well as the target language in order to avoid such a dilemma. When confronted with the term "expectant person", a German translator would probably tend to use the terms "werdende Mutter" (expectant mothers) or "Schwangere" (pregnant women) simply because a larger discussion about transgender persons and their discrimination is not present in the German society.
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