Hello again. In addition to my usual article, I have written a bonus one for you this month. The latest monthly article can be found here.


The focus this time is on cultural differences, which can sometimes be tricky to deal with. This subject encompasses a wide range of things, and there is only space for a limited number here, but I hope the issues I present below will be of some help to you.


Bound into a language is the concept of hierarchy – and whether you treat people formally or less so. As you are well aware, modern English has only one form for the second person, “you”. The old “thou” and “thee” can still be found in texts that were written a long time ago (by Shakespeare, for instance), but whether a German text refers to “du”, “Sie” or “ihr”, there is only one word you can use in your translation – “you”. Which doesn’t mean that English doesn’t have a hierarchy of formality and familiarity. Fortunately for you as a translator, by its very use of different words for “you” your German text will tell you whether to address the reader formally or not. And in English that means not just whether to call people by their first names but also how to address a letter or note to someone. I recommend checking up salutations and closures for letters, according to the form of language you are using (US or GB English as there are differences), if you are not familiar with them, as there are standards which should be followed.


As far as names go, there is no problem with following the example of the original and translating Frau Schmidt as Ms Schmidt (or Miss/Mrs if you know their marital status or preferred title) and Herr Braun as Mr Braun. But, of course, you would never translate the name itself (Schmidt remains Schmidt!). (Please note, I have used GB English here, but in US English Mr., Mrs. and Ms. have a full stop/period after them, while “Miss” does not).


Following on from this, the use of titles is an issue that can sometimes be thorny. As mentioned above, Frau can be translated in one of three ways, while Herr is always Mr, but a German might be called


Prof. Dr. Dr. Hoffmann


while in English the convention is to use only the highest title. In this case


Prof. Hoffmann (in US English) or Prof Hoffmann (in GB English).


Unless there is a specific reason to stick to the German convention (e.g. a client’s instructions), then follow the English style.


Another, seemingly straightforward issue, is that of gender. Again, English is simpler than German in that objects are always referred to as “it” and people are referred to as “he” or “she”. Well, maybe. What about animals? I have seen several examples recently where references were made to people’s dogs. The speaker referred to their dog as “er” or “sie” and this was translated to “it”. In my (extensive) experience, not only do German people refer to their pets by their actual gender, but so do English-speaking people. A dog or cat owner will get pretty offended if you refer to their beloved pet as “it”. Or their horse (mine is definitely a “she”), pig, sheep or whatever (or, for that matter, their baby!). So if you are translating a text where a dog owner says “sie frisst die Leckerli gerne”, then the dog is “she”. Follow the example given in the original text. However, a table or chair, or a book or carpet will never be anything but “it”. When it comes to a person or an animal, if in doubt use “he or she” (or “she or he”) or, in some cases “s/he”, although with animals you can make an exception if it is not somebody’s pet and the gender is unknown (the dog someone sees across the road or the pig in a field) and use “it”.


At the start of the last paragraph, I said that people are always referred to as “he” or “she” and objects as “it”. Nowadays the former can be a bit of a minefield, as some people prefer to remain gender-neutral. Not a topic I intend to address here, but please be aware of it if you encounter it. If in doubt as to the gender of people the text refers to, however, use “they” and “their” in place of “he”, “she”, “his”, “her” etc. Also, some English speakers refer to machines such as cars, boats and planes as “she”, and in poetry genders can be given to, for example, the sun and moon. Lewis Carroll’s The Walrus and the Carpenter is an example of this:


The sun was shining on the sea, shining with all his might


The moon was shining sulkily, because she thought the sun…


But, unless you are translating poetry, this should not be an issue!


One more thing that you should be careful about is endearments.


Schatz, Schatzi, Schätzelein


for example, literally mean




which is too literal and would not be used in English. Instead, there is a wide selection to choose from, including


Darling, Dear, Love, Sweetheart etc.


Maus, or Mausi


can also not be translated literally when referring to a loved one. Most people would look askance if their other half called them “Mouse”!


The list in either language is long, but the point to be aware of is to be familiar with common terms of endearment in each language so that you can use the best option in your translation. Also, be aware of regional differences – people from some areas of England use “Flower” as an endearment, while “Honey” is probably more common in the US and “Possum” is, I am pretty sure, exclusively Australian.


That’s quite enough to be getting on with, but, as I mentioned above, there are many topics that I could have covered here. I hope the ones I have picked are of interest to you and will help you in your translations.



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