TRANSLATING TONE AND REGISTER
Register is a concept that exists in virtually every language on earth in some form or another, and when it comes to translation, the importance of staying true to the register of the original text is paramount to connect with its readers. While the use of it in everyday conversation is almost automatic depending on the situation and rarely requires much thought, when faced with a large text that needs constant correction, rethinking, and rewriting, it’s easy to lose track of the overall tone in favor of optimization or other goals. At best, the result can be odd and feel somewhat out of place. At worst, you can end up writing a memo for a high flying board of directors in a register someone would use when talking to an 8 year old child. While the latter might be effective in some cases, that’s besides the point ;)
The easiest way to solve any issues will always be a good communication between the client and the translator or agency. Building the translation with the knowledge of who will be the target audience will mean a huge improvement in quality and clarity. If communication isn’t fluid or is outright impossible, sticking to a neutral register can be a way to navigate the stormy situation. While the result won’t be targeting the audience with pinpoint accuracy, it won’t offend or put off the more formal readers, and can still manage to remain adequately approachable by a more casual and everyday audience.
Translating register not only requires a great knowledge of the language, but also a firm awareness of how tones are changing in our times. Barely a few decades ago, the only accepted register was as formal as possible, influenced by the suit-and-tie business culture and the ubiquitous presence of neutral accents in media. Nowadays, the rules are more relaxed than ever, and as corporate culture has shed the tight suit and slipped into jeans and t-shirts, the need for ultra-formal registers in business is quickly becoming a thing of the past. There are exceptions to these rules, such as legal or medical translation, which as of today still require a more formal tone and will probably do so for the foreseeable future.