The metalanguage of localization: Theory and practice

Iwona Mazur
Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland

In recent years localization has become a popular concept in both translation practice and theory. It has developed a language of its own, which, however, still seems to be little known among translation scholars. What is more, being primarily an industry-based discourse, the terms related to localization are very fluid, which makes theorizing about it difficult. Therefore, the aim of this article is, first of all, to explain the basic terms of the metalanguage of localization, as they are used by both localization practitioners and scholars, and, secondly, to make this metalanguage more consistent by proposing some general definitions that cover the basic concepts in localization. This, in turn, should, on the one hand, facilitate scholar-to-practitioner communication and vice versa and, on the other, should result in concept standardization for training purposes. In the conclusions I link the present discussion of the metalanguage of localization to a more general debate on metalanguage(s) in Translation Studies and propose that in the future we might witness the emergence of a new discipline called Localization Studies.

Table of contents

The localization industry has been growing very rapidly in the past fifteen years or so. At the beginning it mainly attracted the attention of IT specialists and translation practitioners who perceived this sector of the economy as a lucrative business. But as the phenomenon grew in popularity, it also became a new research area for a number of translation scholars who began to theorize on the very concept of localization. Like any new phenomenon, the development of the localization industry gave rise to a range of new terms devised to name the new concepts associated with the industry. However, the metalanguage of localization still seems [ p. 338 ]to be some secret code understood only by those who have dealt with localization either as practitioners or theoreticians. Terms such as delta, simship, MLVs, SLVs, or fuzzy matches sound very obscure to many translation scholars. Therefore, the primary purpose of this article is to make this metalanguage more familiar to all those interested in Translation Studies and, by the same token, perhaps inspire further research in the area. However, as it turns out, the terms are not always clear-cut and their definitions are far from uniform. There are a number of inconsistencies and discrepancies in the use of some of the key terms related to localization. Therefore, the second aim of this article is to review some of the definitions of the major concepts (as regards both the theory and practice of localization) and pinpoint the main differences. However, what needs to be borne in mind is the fact that localization is first and foremost an industry-based discourse in which terms move and quickly change. What is more, individual companies often have their own localization terminology and discourses, different from the ones used by their competitors, which makes the matter very complicated for all those who wish to theorize about localization. Therefore, in the present article I will attempt to come up with some general definitions, based on the existing ones, in order to create—as far as possible—a more uniform metalanguage of localization, since—as noted by Chesterman—“[I]f we had an agreed term, or set of terms, which professional translators could use as well as scholars, life would be easier” (2005: 18). Chesterman’s comment referred to the names for translation strategies, but I think it can be applied to any area of translation practice or research. In conclusion, I will try to link the present discussion on the metalangauge of localization to the discussion on the metalanguage of Translation Studies in general.

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