How to translate “to”?

Every so often I receive an Excel file with hundreds of short words to translate. Most of the time these short words are items on a graphical user interface – or GUI for short. As a rule, such lists are much harder to translate than an ordinary texts that consists of actual sentences.

GUI items often include variables that may stand for certain values (e.g. currency code, country name, client name, etc.) or actual numeric values (e.g. amount, date, length, etc.).

In some cases GUI items contain such variables. For example “Dear <client name>, ” or “Your password expires on <date>.”   Such items are relatively easy to translate.

But sometimes Excel files include GUI items without any visible variables. In such cases the dedicated translator prepares a detailed list of questions to clarify what variables may come before or after a specific GUI item.

My all-time favourite is “to”. Yes, on its own, without any context or reference.   Now, I really need to know what possible words or values may come before or after this lonely “to”. Is it followed by a place name? A person? A time period? Does it come between two numeric value to denote a value range?

A good client will furnish the answers within a day or two. (Well, usually two days, as they have to ask their client that is often in a completely different time zone…).  But not all clients are created equal, and some simply reply “Don’t bother about those variables, simply translate the word.”  Yeah right.

I always have to explain that the structure and logic of the Hungarian language is fundamentally different from English (or German, French, Spanish, you name it). What may be neatly translated into major European languages as zuà or hasta, without worrying about what comes afterwards, Hungarian incorporates this grammatical information in a suffix that is attached to the end of the word that follows.

Depending on context, “to” should be translated into Hungarian as “-ba/-be”: Franciaországba (to France); “-ni”: törölni (to delete); “-nak/-nek”: Andrásnak (to Andrew); “-ig”: szombatig (to Saturday); with several more possibilities.

Now, since the text of the variables cannot be changed, a workaround solution must be found. “to” must be rendered with a word that means something completely different. What’s more, a different solution must be found for every specific case, depending on what type of data the variable represents. In most cases the solution is a noun followed by a colon.

Using the examples above, “to” should be translated in graphical user interfaces with the following words.

Localized text Literal meaning Example
Úti cél: Destination Úti cél: Franciaország
Címzett: Addressee: Címzett: András
Záró dátum: Closing date: Záró dátum: szombat (2011. nov. 26.)
(nil) törölni (in this case infinitives must be used as possible values)
-18°C … +25°C (best solution for ranges of numeric values)

Needless to say, my other favourite word is a stand-alone of . . .


About bancsaba

Discovering the world, step by step, word by word
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