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Use of more concise English could help reduce translation problems

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18 Aug 2011

On 9 August 2011, Professor Rachel Baskerville gave her inaugural professorial lecture at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand.

Professor Baskerville is co-author of The darkening glass, a study on translation questions and IFRSs (see our earlier story).

In her lecture, Professor Baskerville looked closely at how technical complexity and the lack of concise English render international accounting standards difficult to translate. She mainly draws on a survey in which translators of accounting textbooks and accounting standards in the EU took part.

The list of 'Translators' nightmares' discussed in the lecture highlighted "technical complexity", both in general and of particular IFRSs, as the top concern. IAS 39 Financial Instruments: Recognition and Measurement is quoted as an example of a standard that poses translation difficulties because of its technical complexity.

Translators address their 'nightmares' with a number of tools, ranging from circumlocution and paraphrasing to approximation and even omitting parts of the original text. Not surprisingly, this can lead to different interpretations of IFRSs in different jurisdictions.

In addition to complexity of financial standards, the lack of concise English and inconsistent use of terms across standards and across time cause problems for translators. Professor Baskerville claims these problems are even aggravated by the convergence project:

[W]ith the USA being thought by some to be not as respectful of language as those across the Atlantic; and that in terms of size, the tendency of the standard setters in the USA is to produce very large quantum of regulation, compared with the two volumes of IFR standards there is a danger in this process we call 'Convergence' that the IFR standards will get bigger, with longer sentences and more complex language.

The lecture concluded on the note that less is sometimes better than more, and that the use of more concise language will not only ease the burden of the translators but might also assist native speakers to come to terms with the complexity of IFRSs.

Professor Baskerville has reported on these findings to the staff at the IASB in London, and has been asked also to report to the IPSASB later this year. Please click for the notes for her inaugural lecture (PDF 1.42mb), which we post with kind permission of the author.

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