Tag Archives: languages

Different language often means different punctuation rules

Punctuation is the use of spacing, conventional signs, and certain typographical devices as aids to the understanding and correct reading of handwritten and printed text.

The rules of punctuation vary greatly between languages, as shown in the following examples in comparison to the English language.

The Greek language uses the English semicolon (;) as a question mark (?), while the functions of the colon (:) and semicolon (;) are performed by a raised point (·). Therefore, the English Where are you? will change into the Greek Πού είσαι;

In Japanese, a full stop is an open circle () rather than a solid dot, commas are slanted the opposite way to English commas (), and quotations are enclosed in corner-brackets (「」). In addition, there are no spaces in written Japanese. In formal Japanese, no particular symbol is used to mark interrogative sentences, which end with the normal Japanese full stop ().  Various types of question marks are only used in informal text messages, the internet, or letter writing between friends and resemble words in their form rather than symbols.

As for Korean, different symbols are used for quotes depending in which country the text in question has been written. In the North, guillemets (<>) are the symbols associated with quotes, whereas the quotation marks used in the South are the same as the ones most commonly used in English.

In English, finishing punctuation is only placed at the end of the sentence, whereas in Spanish, when asking a question or expressing excitement, punctuation is placed at both the beginning and the end of the sentence. There is an inverted question mark (¿) at the beginning of a question and a normal question mark at the end, as well as an inverted exclamation mark (¡) at the beginning of an exclamation and a normal exclamation mark at the end. This happens because in Spanish, there is no difference between the word order of a question and that of a statement; for example, the two English sentences Do you like summer? and You like summer. are translated respectively as ¿Te gusta el verano? and Te gusta el verano.

In most European languages, the way numbers are separated also differs from English;  a full stop (.) is used as a thousand separator (the English 1,000 turns into 1.000) and a comma (,) is used to mark a decimal point.

While an English price tag would state that something costs £1.99, in Germany and France, you would find a price label with 1,99 € written on it. As shown, the currency sign is placed after the numbers, whereas in England it appears before the figures.

Furthermore, in French, a space is required both before and after all punctuation marks and symbols, including (.), (:), (;), (!), (?), (%) and ($).

In German, Polish, Hungarian and a few other European languages, quotation marks are in a different position to English at the beginning of a quotation: „Jak się masz?”, zapytała. (“How are you?”, she asked.).

When working with different languages, it is essential for a linguist to bear in mind the punctuation varieties between those languages, as failing to do so can sometimes change the meaning of a sentence and, in the case of numbers, can result in serious errors.

How NOT to translate legal texts

As a translation agency, we accept requests for translation of legal documents on a daily basis and deal with text such as contracts, litigations, legislations, wills, various types of certificates, and many more.

Legal translation is a field most sensitive to error, the consequences of which may be far-reaching and in certain cases disastrous. Therefore, such texts must be approached with caution and commissioned to linguists with suitable background knowledge.

There are certain aspects of the legal translation process that pose a risk of error and below we discuss ways to avoid them and their consequential damage.

  • Literal translation of legal jargon specific to every language and developed over the centuries may result in serious deviations from the intention of the source Idiomatic phrases particular to legalese should first have their meaning established and be translated accordingly. The following are examples of phrases that would hardly ever benefit from literal translation into any language:

 in my custody (‘under my supervision’)

 witness my hand (‘in my presence’)

  • Synonymous words with minute differences in meaning used interchangeably, or opposite terms confused in often complex legal discourse, may cause ambiguity and disrupt further legal proceedings.

If there is an appeal, the appellant, logically, will be the party who has lost in the first instance, while the winner will be respondent. However, since either the plaintiff or defendant can win or lose at first instance, the translator should be careful not to confuse identities of appellant and respondent, even though their roles appear to be reversed.

In law, injury may relate to people’s body, but surprisingly, rights can suffer injury too. The physical sense may be distinguished from the moral by adding the adjective personal or bodily.

Harm and damage are close synonyms. Both are uncountable and examples of use are as follows: ‘His rights suffered damage’. ‘Her goods suffered damage’. Damages in plural, however, has an entirely different meaning, synonymous to ‘compensation’.

  • Translators must beware miscomprehension or misalignment of the relationships between words and phrases in lengthy, complex sentences and intricate syntax, so characteristic to legal discourse, such as the following passage:

The Licensor acknowledges and agrees that the Licensor may, at any time, be privy to confidential information including but not limited to (a) the production, development and/or exploitation of the Programme and/or any ancillary matters; (b) the general and/or business affairs of the Group; (c) participants and/or contributors to the Programme; and/or (d) this Agreement, and the Licensor agrees that the Licensor will not, by any means whatsoever, communicate or divulge to any person (including a company) or make use of or permit any other person to make use of any confidential information, (save for by its professional advisers or as ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction) by any means at any time.

Even if reordering of phrases or of parts of sentences is required to maintain different stylistic conventions of the target language, one must ensure the relation between particular items is retained in the translation, for a single slip can redirect liability or at least result in confusion and deem a legal document void.

  • Certain source language expressions may not have precise equivalents in the target language, as in the case of the terms tipper and tippee in the following example:

Insiders (‘tipper’) may be liable for communicating or tipping material, non-public information to a third party (‘tippee’).

In many languages, direct equivalents of the terms with acceptable usage in a similar context will not exist and an attempt to coin a corresponding term might result in an awkward word, inappropriate in the high register of a legal language. Therefore, these terms would need to be paraphrased as, for instance, ‘person disclosing confidential information’ and ‘person receiving confidential information’ respectively.

  • Difficulties may arise due to differences in legal systems in the countries of the source and the target languages. These can be explained by means of translator’s note.
  • Missing Notary Public certification, which is required for certain purposes. The translation will not serve its function if not accompanied by a separate notarial document with original signature.

The above are several of the most common pitfalls we come across while translating legal documents. It is of utmost importance that legal translators are familiar with and approach with sensitivity both source and target legal jargons, which are often characterized by dissimilar usages in terminology and various styles of writing, necessitating appropriate adjustments by the translator. The ability to see through the source text and to aptly interpret its wording and possible ambiguities is another desired quality of a linguist undertaking a legal translation, the absence of which may give rise to altered information and consequently different from the intended function of the text produced.

20th Anniversary: a Personal View

Erika Arvai, Project Manager

Erika Arvai, Project Manager









This is a very special month in a very special year for Linguamax. Our translation agency is celebrating its 20th anniversary! 20 years is a long time in human relationships, let alone in the cut and thrust world of small business, where 35% of all start-ups don’t live to see their second birthday. It’s an even greater achievement considering that over the past decade the availability of multi-lingual staff in many UK companies, especially in London, together with the wide use of Google translate have dramatically reduced demand for translation services. The only way to survive in such an environment is by constantly adjusting our services to meet the ever-changing demands of the market and by delivering translations of the highest quality.

Thanks to Grace’s tireless efforts, careful management, flexibility and open-minded approach, this small agency has now been on the global map for two decades and has grown into its adult years in the same way a human would, i.e. by entering the world of social media – Follow us on Twitter! Like us on Facebook! – and by providing insights into our ‘home life’ and adventures on blogs like this.

I’ve been lucky enough to be part of this dynamic business for more than half of its lifetime, initially as a free-lance translator and more recently as project manager. For me, working here after all these years feels more than just a job. When I re-joined as project manager after a year or so of absence, one of our long-standing translators greeted me with an e-mail saying ‘Welcome back to the family!’ He couldn’t have phrased it better – Linguamax does feel like my second family. And right now, it gives me the flexibility to look after my immediate family more easily, too, by allowing me to work part time.

Long live Linguamax! We wish you good health and many happy returns!



Celebrating 20 Years in Business

20th anniversary clouds

It’s celebration time! Linguamax has been in business for 20 years this month! Thanks to our great Clients, Colleagues, Linguists and Friends, we are celebrating this milestone anniversary. We have built many great relationships along the way and we are looking forward to strengthening them even further. Thank you all for contributing to our success! It has been a real pleasure working with you!

With a vision of offering the highest value to our clients, we set out in 1995 with determination to build a business known for providing highly personalised client-oriented services, exceptional quality and fast response times with a commitment to follow these principles consistently at all times. Since our humble beginnings we have built up a loyal following of clients who value the personal service our project managers bring to every job, as well as the ability of our translators to solve even the trickiest language-related challenges.

Linguamax attributes the company’s success to a number of things but there is one, which stands alone as the cornerstone. Our passion is unrelenting and we always strive to be better at what we do every year even after two decades. We aim to offer services that fully meet and exceed our clients’ expectations. We simply enjoy what we do!

It is with enormous pride that we celebrate 20 years of business and thank everyone who has been involved in helping Linguamax become the business it is. We look towards the coming years in a positive way and with determination to deliver on the promises the business was founded on.

China – Discovering Beijing

On my second day in the ‘Northern Capital’, I decided to officially turn into a tourist and take on the sights of Beijing starting with the most famous complex in town, the Royal Palace, a.k.a. the Forbidden City.

On my reconnaissance mission the night before, I had discovered a small travel agent near my hotel which advertised various day trips to sights in the Beijing area. I thought this would come in handy for longer trips where an organised tour could eliminate lengthy journeys by public transport and the possibility of not actually making it to the sight due to getting lost or being taken on a detour by an enthusiastic taxi driver with whom I can only communicate using hand signals.

Like most tourists, I had a list of essential attractions that I wanted to tick off during my short stay in the Chinese capital, at the top of which was, naturally, The Great Wall. To my relief, one of the ladies in the travel agent’s spoke perfect English and once we got talking, I knew I wouldn’t take my business anywhere else. After a brief chat, I quickly booked myself a trip to The Great Wall for the next day and asked her what route she suggested I should take to the Forbidden City. She waved her hands in the air and said ‘Oh, it’s not far. You can walk there from here.’ I was surprised to hear that as it didn’t look that close on the map, but I took her advice.

After having walked for about half an hour along one of the main thoroughfares of Beijing comprising an astonishing seven lanes on each side (yes, counting the number of lanes on each major road became my favourite pastime on this trip!), I was still nowhere near the Royal Palace. Lesson learned: ‘not far’ means ‘absolutely miles away and do not attempt to walk it unless you are a regular marathon runner’ when uttered by a resident of one of the largest cities on earth.

I didn’t mind the walk too much as it was a warm, sunny but pleasantly breezy day and being late morning, the humungous motorway by my side seemed to be almost void of traffic. The smog, however, was really getting to me. I did contemplate wearing a mask but I didn’t see many locals wearing one, so I reasoned that I would be fine, as I was only going to inhale those toxic fumes for a few days, while anyone living in this city would have to put up with it for a lifetime. It was a shame that even the strong May sunshine could not penetrate the thick layer of smoke generated by the approximately eight million private cars that use the enormous road network of this huge city on a daily basis. My throat and nose didn’t feel happy about the exposure to such a high concentration of unpleasant particles, but I carried on regardless.

About forty minutes into my walk to the ‘nearby’ tourist attraction, a very friendly middle-aged man joined me, who seemingly just happened to be walking in the same direction as me. His English was surprisingly good and he must have sensed that I had been deprived of my regular dose of daily conversation and would be more than happy to chat to him for a while. He said he was a teacher of calligraphy, which I found intriguing, and while talking about his life and asking questions about mine, he very ingeniously guided me to an art shop, where his friend was selling typical Chinese paintings depicting the four seasons, playful pandas and scenes of peaceful lakes with water lilies.

I couldn’t believe I had fallen for this again! Only the night before, while strolling along the shopping mall near my hotel, I had been approached by a ‘Professor of Art’, who also spoke surprisingly good English. I was happy to listen to him explaining the different styles of Chinese painting, the significance of certain motifs, such as plum blossom, and the four seasons representing the four stages in a person’s life. To me, it was a fascinating introduction to a culture and artistic style so different to ours and I didn’t mind spending some of my Yuan (quite a significant chunk of my cash, actually) in his lovely art gallery.

So here I was again, less than 24 hours since my last purchase, expected to buy at least two, perhaps three pieces of the amazing art hanging on the walls of this small shop. The salesman was very polite; I didn’t feel threatened or intimidated by any means, but I definitely sensed his determination not to let me leave his shop with my purse full. Naturally, there was some haggling involved, where the price of a certain piece on silk miraculously dropped to half of its original tag after I’d explained that I was already the proud owner of four beautiful paintings by an unnamed Chinese artist. Eventually, I agreed to buy the silk scroll, and was persuaded to add just one other small piece with an extremely generous discount, before continuing my way to the Royal Palace.

Unsurprisingly, by the time I reached my destination, I was positively exhausted. And I hadn’t even entered the vast complex of halls and palaces that was supposed to be the highlight of my day. I sat down under a tree and had a snack and a bit of a rest before starting my tour of the finest example of Chinese imperial architecture.

Art gallery in Beijing

Art gallery in Beijing

Written by: Erika Arvai

Words, Words, Words

Word: “a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing”.  Oxford Online Dictionary

Picking up passing scraps of conversation, or tuning in to radio or TV programmes, we are all aware that language is constantly evolving, never more so than in the last few decades. The pace of change everywhere has been fuelled by rapid technological progress, cultural shifts and wide dissemination via the internet and mass media. New things and novel ideas require fresh means of expression. It’s a two way process. Words lose popularity and drop from common parlance within the lifetime of the original speakers (Rather! I say!). Broadcasts from the 1950s on “the wireless” and Pathé “newsreels” already sound pompous and stultified to modern ears. Yet that same period in America spawned a host of new words for new concepts (fast food, junk mail, DJ, weirdo, sexism) which caught on rapidly around the world and still seem quite new today.

With the current popularity of period drama, we may even be struck by how odd our modern expressions would have seemed back then. Anachronisms – such as the use of “learning curve”, “fan club” and “defining moment” in the UK TV series Downton Abbey – provide fun for gaffe spotters. Getting the language of the period right is perhaps even more important for creating atmosphere than costume and setting – a misused phrase can stand out like a pylon in an ageless rural scene. But because words and meaning have changed significantly over time, programme producers are aware that to stick too closely to the language of more distant periods can make it alienating and impenetrable to a modern audience. The past can indeed seem like a foreign country.

The diverse origins of the English language have resulted in a peculiarly rich linguistic culture. Other languages may perhaps boast greater purity, or more actual dictionary words, partly depending on how variants, compounds and inflections are counted, but contributions from the linguistic heritage of Anglo Saxon, Latin and Norman French have melded with more recent influences to create a varied lexicon replete with multiple layers of meaning. Strangely, grammar, the actual structure of language, is much less subject to external influence, and changes very slowly, but one of the peculiar strengths of English is its vast ability to absorb new vocabulary.

Al dente, sushi, latte, macho, siesta, doppelganger, zeitgeist, déjà vu… we assimilate new words from a variety of sources and influences, but not many neologisms now come into English from other languages, the massive trend being in the other direction.

Words which evolve from a shared localised culture, whether popular or highbrow, can be opaque to outsiders – references to British youth subcultures (hoodie, chav) or to literary sources (Catch-22, Orwellian, scrooge) can be equally mystifying.

However the most noticeable aspect of language development in recent years is the rapid globalization of new words for new concepts in science, technology, the media and popular culture, and here the predominant influence is transatlantic – from US to British English. By extension, the worldwide source for most modern neologisms is the American-English-dominated internet, and to some, the plethora of new words can seem like an invasion. Official bodies in many countries (Russia, Sweden, France and Spain) attempt to prescribe accepted terminology, often amidst fears about the corruption of the official language.

With hundreds or even thousands of new words emerging each year, the ever changing panorama creates a particular challenge for translators looking for meaning. In Britain, non-prescriptive dictionaries record common usage rather than official acceptance. New words may arise as compounds (earworm, senior moment), new phrasal words (laid-back, chill-out) or blends of words (staycation, brunch, metrosexual).  Abbreviated words (detox, decaf, sat-nav) or words formed from acronyms (yuppie, ASBO) have become increasingly common, as have text messaging abbreviations (LOL, BTW), whilst large numbers of old words have gained new meanings (surf, tweet, hack, sad, cool) or have been altered by the addition of prefixes or suffixes, sometimes borrowed from other languages (uncool, über-modern, fashionista).  New terms move from slang status to more general acceptance, disseminated by the media. Other terms come and go, arising from transitory political or cultural events (eurogeddon, eurosceptic).  The Oxford Online Dictionary may even be ahead of most of us, having already raised definitions for such new compounds as omnishambles, buzzworthy and hackerspace. Who knows how many of these will survive? Such words have to prove their longevity before they can get in to the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary, but even here the notional ten year rule is disappearing: despite its relative novelty, “tweet” has been accepted for inclusion this year!

The problem for translators is that not all languages may adapt so readily. Many languages, such as Turkish, Hungarian and German, have similar ways of dealing with new concepts, by building up a descriptive compound word from component parts, allowing almost infinite variety. However, preferred terms for common objects may take a while to emerge, the concept itself may not be familiar to the target audience, popular names may differ from officially minted terminology, and the step from popular use to official recognition may take even longer.  In Spain, the term “email” is widely encountered but “correo electrónico” is officially preferred. Some words like “avatar” (Sanskrit in origin) have been directly adopted into other languages. Hungarian and Russian have their own, home coined words for the World Wide Web (“világháló” and “всемирная паутина”) but in Germany, “das Internet” is more widely used than the home produced version “das Weltnetz”. Other terms like LOL (“laugh-out-loud”) are subtly transformed by local speakers, so “jajaja” in Spanish, becomes 555 (hahaha) in Korean! Curiously, “geek” in Spanish becomes “friki” which also has an Anglo-Saxon origin, whilst Germans use an English word “Handy” for mobile phone, a term not recognised by English speakers!

Popular slang may be of limited concern to professional translators, but new terminology is also constantly being introduced in science, medicine, business, marketing and politics, yet until very well established may not be recorded in printed bilingual dictionaries and is unlikely to be found in automated translation systems. It is up to translators themselves to be part of the ongoing process of defining and explaining new words and concepts, whilst keeping a close eye on developments!


Written by: Sarah Wright