Are Menu Translations Getting Worse? Restaurant Menus in English in the Tarragona Area

Carmina Fallada Pouget
Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona, Spain

Translations of restaurant menus from Catalan or Spanish into English are important for the Catalan restaurant industry and for tourism in general, since an improvement in the quality of the translations may lead to higher standards of service and better socio-cultural exchanges. A sample of 1013 menu items from the Tarragona area suggests there are differences in functionality between the menus translated in the 1970s/1980s and those translated in the 1990s. A possible reason for these differences is that all the menus from the 1970s/80s were translated by professional translators, and those from the 1990s, by non-professional translators. The study also suggests that books on menu translations published by the Catalan government in 1991 did not reach the restaurant owners and that official translation policy in this area has thus had little effect.

Table of contents

It is generally agreed that translation is not only a linguistic activity but a cultural one as well. The cultural element is extremely important in the case of menu translations because it is often impossible to find an exact equivalent for items that belong exclusively to the source culture. The translator is frequently faced with problems such as culture-specific concepts, semantically complex source-language words, and concepts not lexicalized in the target language (cf. Baker 1992: 21–26). Translators are required to decide what strategies and procedures should be used to solve these problems.

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