Monday, June 1, 2009

Wikipedia as bilingual dictionary: Cinch

Wikipedia, with its different language versions, turns out to be quite an excellent resource for translators. I am fortunate enough to translate from German into English, which gives me the two largest versions of Wikipedia. If you are looking up a noun (Wikipedia is less helpful for other parts of speech), you just pop in the German term and click on "English" at the left -- it is usually there, even for some of the toughest terms.

But in my work, I have come across a number of items that also show how certain issues are treated different culturally. So over the next few days (and perhaps weeks), I'm going to try to list some of them. The subtitle for these entries could also be "what I like about Germany," as you will see, though perhaps not today.

Let's start with the word "Cinch", which I capitalize because I am talking about the German. If you click on the English, you see that we are talking about RCA cables. I remember stumbling over this term when a German friend referred to the cables we used to plug one stereo component into the other (for those of you who still remember separate stereo components) as "chinch" cables -- the Germans pronounce this with a ch in the beginning, as in "church." I had no idea what they were talking about and how the word might be written in German. To make matters worse, the Germans told me that the word was originally English.

This example clearly illustrates the benefits of Wikipedia over simple bilingual dictionaries, which Wikipedia is not even intended to be. When you look up a term in Wikipedia, you often get pictures and always a description by native speakers describing things in their own culture. You can then be sure that you are getting exactly what you need and that it is actually used in the target language, which you cannot be with a lot of other terms in online dictionaries, and you can also see a whole lot of other associated lingo, which probably comes in handy for the rest of the translation you are doing.

In this particular case, the cultural background -- the differences in information provided in the English and German entries for this particular type of cable -- is not all that drastically different. One salient feature is that the German mentions other types of cables that were once common in Germany and were gradually replaced by RCA jacks.

But in subsequent blog entries on Wikipedia as a bilingual dictionary, I will present some more drastic differences.

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