My two cents: Is it acceptable to coin new words in translation?

As a translator, every so often I come across a dilemma…none of the current existing terms in one language convey exactly what I’m trying to express in another, so I’m tempted to coin a new term and put it in quotation marks for clarity’s sake.  People do this sometimes as a last resort or to keep things interesting.  It’s not always acceptable though. It really depends on the situation.

As a pop culture writer, I’ve written at length about the evolution of language and how the coining of new terms is part of the process….language, just like anything else, helps explain the world around us both in the short term and long term.  It must stay current to explain the “now” and serve as historical record later. In that sense (when we look at term creation vis-à-vis immediacy, as a “benchmark” in time and as a fundamentally human thing) it would be justifiable to create a term because it serves a purpose and it’s just part of that basic innovative spirit.  

But there are always questions that accompany term creation: am I, as the translator, enough of an authority figure to create a word in another language to fit my needs? If so, what are the implications?

Also, I must ask myself if the setting is right. Is the document I’m translating formal or informal?  If I were translating something on social media for example, or another promotional document, the rules are a little more relaxed. I’d feel more comfortable creating a term in that instance. If it were something more formal like a law document, then I would avoid it altogether and just go with the closest available “sense” translation.

In the end, term creation is a judgment call, one of many a translator has to make. It’s an interesting concept on many levels but one must give it a lot of thought before attempting. Annette

Annette Labbé is Owner and lead translator at Write 2 the Point.  Annette established her business in 2011. She has been translating since 2009, writing professionally since 2007, but it has been her lifelong dream to do so. From 2007-2008 she wrote a weekly pop culture column that ran for 71 weeks or so in the Welland Tribune.

She is a member of the Welland-Pelham Chamber of Commerce.

Annette Labbé was born and raised in the Niagara Region, attended French-language schools (elementary school and high school) and subsequently obtained the degree Bachelor of Arts with Major English and Professional Writing, Minor in French from Brock University. While in University she was on the Dean’s Honours List.

Please visit Write 2 the Point to learn more about Annette and how she and her team can help you succeed today.

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