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Translating graph and table labels from Spanish/Catalan to English

It is easy to fall into the trap of using literal translations when labelling graphs and tables, but we should try to look for translations that sound more natural. Here are a few quick thoughts on translating some of the expressions that often come up in Spanish (Catalan) texts:

Illustración/Gráfico (Il·lustració/Gràfic)

Usually followed by a number. These labels usually refer to some kind of graph. I would suggest translating it as Figure.

Evolución de… (Evolució de…)

My current project has the following label for one of the graphs:

Evolució del dèficit d’habitatge a Seül, 1926 – 2009

If the project had been in Spanish it would have read:

Evolución del déficit de vivienda en Seúl, 1926 – 2009

Evolución (Evolució) is always a tricky word to translate. The English cognate, evolution, is not used nearly as frequently as the Spanish (Catalan) word.

In the context of graphs, the Spanish and Catalan words usually refer to the fact that the graph shows information over a period of time. My suggestion here is simply to leave it out in the English, since the date in the label already makes it clear that the data refer to a period of time (if the date range is not in the Spanish or Catalan label or title, we could add it).

So, my translation of the Catalan was as follows:

Housing shortage in Seoul, 1926-2009

Elaboración propia (Elaboració pròpia)

Anyone who translates from Catalan to English will, at some point, have had the headache of having to translate the phrase llengua pròpia. Part of the problem is that in English we can’t normally use the word own next to a noun without an accompanying possessive pronoun such as his or my.

An additional problem with the designation elaboración propia (elaboració pròpia) is that elaboración (elaboració) and elaboration are false cognates. The English word implies adding more detail to something, rather than producing something.

Based on my experience of texts written in English, my suggestion is to translate the phrase as Author’s work, or if the document has more than one author, Authors’ work (NB: make sure you double check whether you need the singular or plural possessive if it comes up as an “exact” match from your translation memory, as your previous project might have had a different number of authors!)

Do you agree with my proposed translations? What other tricky terms do you often see next to tables and graphs?


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