Coining new terms for Firefox localization

Jeff Beatty

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Every translator faces an important dilemna when translating text, whether it be a document, multimedia project, or strings in a piece of software: if a term in the source does not exist in my language, do I foreignize my translation (leave the term in the source language) or do I domesticate my translation (coin a new term or provide additional info in the target language). For some cultures, using source terms in the target language is common. In Mexico, for instance, the term computadora is a clear adaptation of the English source word computer. For other cultures, there is a high priority on coining new terms in the target language. In Iceland, for instance, there is a governmental institute whose entire role is to create new terms in Icelandic for technical terms originating in English. Neither way is more suitable than the other, it’s all simply a matter of cultural preference.

For Ibrahima, leader of the Mozilla Fulah l10n team, the choice is clear: coin new terminology. This approach presents some significant challenges. Ibrahima must decide how to best identify terms in Fulah that capture the general meaning of their English equivalents. He also must determine how to ensure that the terms are adopted within the Fulah-speaking world. While at the 2013 Silicon Valley Localization World conference, Ibrahima and I were able to chat about some specific examples of new terms he’s created while localizing Firefox into Fulah. Listen to the discussion on SoundCloud.

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