Community translation. Plain language for the retranslation of a banking text

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In South Africa, English is readily used as a bridging language in various public domains, including the banking sector. Various laws, including the Consumer Protection Act and the National Credit Act, clearly stipulate that any written communication, particularly in the banking sphere, must be made available in plain language, and that banking documentation should be accessible to every client. These legislation was instituted to ensure that the public make informed decisions and have access to information. If clients do not understand the documents they receive, they are not in a position to make informed decisions, or to participate actively in society. It also determines that documentation should be available in the language the client understands. However, it is not enough to translate these documents into the various languages without making additional adjustments to accommodate the various literacy levels of the diverse clientele. 

Since 2004 banks have had to ensure that all relevant documents are readily available in all official languages. Due to high levels of low literacy and complete illiteracy in South Africa, the bottom segment of banking clients still struggle to fully grasp the content of the available documents. This supports the view that in every linguistic community there are often linguistically marginalised individuals who do not have the ability to interpret information correctly. A large part of this bottom segment of banking clients informally make use of the bank security personnel to act as interpreters to bridge the communication gap because most of the individuals who fall within this segment have limited comprehension in English and bank documentation is not always accessible to them, according to Pienaar (2006a:135–6).

Mindful of the abovementioned background, this study attempts to investigate the effectiveness or lack thereof of texts translated into Afrikaans in the banking sector to determine whether a functionalist translation approach within this context would be able to make a contribution towards improved accessibility, efficiency and the realisation of effective communication within this sector. A retranslation of an appropriate Afrikaans banking text is investigated with the aim of improving reader comprehension and accessibility by applying aspects of plain language and community translation (Cornelius 2012 and Lesch 2012).

This study uses the functionalist model of translation as theoretical framework as starting point. This framework supports the notion that the context in which a text functions and meaning-making are inseparable from each other. Within this model the focus is primarily on the function of the target text, and the translator is mindful of the appropriateness of the translation. The emphasis is therefore no longer on the lexical and grammatical constructions, but rather on the function of the text within the communicative situation. According to Nord, the commissioner is the initiator of the translation process, as he provides the translation brief that contains the aim and skopos of the translation.

In contemporary South Africa language practitioners are experimenting with plain language to rewrite, among others, legislation to make the information available to the broader community. The rationale behind this is to simplify legislative texts that are usually characterised by incomprehensible technical jargon. According to Viljoen and Nienaber (2001:9) plain language is a recent initiative within the South African context and it is considered to be a means to effectively convey information to the marginalised language user. Plain language, according to Cornelius (2010:171), is a way of writing where certain interventions are made on a complex text to ensure that the text is on a par with the linguistic competency of the target text reader. The aim is therefore to simplify technical and complicated content to make it more meaningful for the target text reader.

Community translation practice also finds relevance in the South African context as translators have also been experimenting with this type of translation activity since the 1980s. The primary aim of this translation practice is to take into account and prioritise the linguistically uninformed target text reader during the translation process (Lesch, 2014:131–2). According to Lesch (1999:92), community translation is an approach where the needs of the reader are placed on the forefront and prioritised. This approach is exclusively reader-oriented. According to Taibi and Ozolins (2016:1) community translation is a genre that is still finding its niche. The types of texts that are usually translated by a community translator are informative and are typically created by various social agents, including private organisations, to ultimately ensure communication with all citizens to empower them and to guarantee their participation (Taibi and Ozolins 2016:7). Community translation is an attempt to rectify the imbalance that exists within the communicative situation and therefore this translation approach can be placed within the functionalist framework of translation theory. The context in which the reader finds himself plays a determining role in the choices the translator has to make during the translation process to realise efficient communication through the translated text.

Community translation and plain language are two complementary research fields, since there are many overlapping aspects between the two fields. Both language practices strive towards accessible, intelligible and efficient communication. In every communication situation one will find linguistically marginalised communities or role players that do not have the ability to interpret information successfully. Both community translation and plain language focus on simplicity and comprehensibility of information without depriving the document of any factual content. Lesch’s (2012:153–68) norms for community translation which were developed in 1999, speaks to the overlapping between these two research fields.

Against this background the objective of this article is to analyse a retranslation of a technical text beside the principles of plain language and community translation. The retranslation is analysed to determine the type of changes and adjustments the translator had to bring about during the retranslation process to provide a document that is clear, accessible and comprehensible. The goal of this study is therefore an attempt to make a contribution to providing a document that is readily available in plain language by using the principles of both research fields.

This study is divided in two parts: a theoretical and analysis section. The theoretical part entails a literary overview of relevant translation theories. The research of translation scholars such as, among others, Nord, Lesch and Taibi will play a dominant role. The Code of Banking Practice of South Africa as well as previous research will be explored to give a presentation of language use in the South African banking sector. This theoretical framework serves as a basis for the analysis of the retranslation.

This study confirms that Afrikaans technical language is characterised by difficult and complex sentence structures and other lexical and grammatical constructions which ultimately render technical documents incomprehensible and inaccessible. Legalese is exclusive as it brings about an imbalance between the author of a legal document and the layperson. Legalese is very challenging and places considerable strain on the cognitive processing by the intended reader, but principles of plain language and community translation can play a role in addressing this. In the process, the two disciplines are also brought closer to each other.

Keywords: community translation; indirect translation; plain language; retranslation; technical text


Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans

Gemeenskapsvertaalpraktyk: Gewone taal vir die hervertaling van ’n bankteks

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