Recently, I’ve been reading Esperança Bielsa and Susan Bassnett’s Translation in Global News, which I’m reviewing for TTR. I came across the following paragraph about news translation, which also applies to website localization:
What research in this field [news translation] is starting to show is that translation is one element in a complex set of processes whereby information is transposed from one language into another and then edited, rewritten, shaped and repackaged in a new context, to such a degree that any clear distinction between source and target ceases to be meaningful. This is in total contrast to more established research into translation practice, particularly in the field of literary translation, where discussion is always in some way focussed around the idea of the binary distinction between source and target texts. Research into news translation poses questions about the very existence of a source and hence challenges established definitions of translation itself (Bielsa & Bassnet 2009: 11).
One of the challenges when studying localized websites is comparing the “source” site with that of the target locale. In some cases, various versions of a company or brand website were clearly developed with a general template. For example, the Pampers Canada and Pampers US sites have nearly identical layouts, images, colours and advertisements:
This is the French-Canadian site:
Here’s the English-Canadian site:
And the US English site:
As you can see, except for the fact that the French Canada site is missing the purple “Shop” tab in the menu bar and the banners in the upper portion of each site, (which differ only because I took the three screen shots at different points in the four-ad cycle), the sites are visually identical. In this case, it’s probably safe to assume that the US English site served as the source for the Canadian English site, since the Pampers brand is owned by US-based Procter & Gamble. The French Canada site was likely translated based on the English-Canadian content (an assumption supported by the fact that the French-Canadian banner ad still has some English text in it, as the first screen shot shows).
But what happens with other sites, when the layouts are not as similar?
Consider the AT&T US website:
And the AT&T Canada site:
Can we still talk about a source website? A researcher I met at the LISA@Berkeley conference told me that he looks at the source code of websites localized for Spanish-speaking locales to see whether it contains traces of English (e.g. comments by the programmers) to help confirm that the local Spanish-language websites were created based on the US/UK English-language sites. That works when the source and target locales have different languages, but not with English Canada and the United States.
Website localization does pose some problems for translation studies research, since the source locale cannot always be confirmed. In some cases, it’s easier just to analyze the site of a particular target locale (e.g. English Canada) without comparing it to the assumed source website. This reduces the kinds of analysis that can be done (studies based on parallel corpora, for instance, become difficult), but it still allows one to draw conclusions about how a given locale is being targeted through images and colours, or even through the text prepared for the target-locale users.
Bielsa, Esperança & Susan Bassnett. (2009) Translation in Global News. London; New York: Routledge.