Translating Jimmy Wales into German

Translating is difficult. Is is true even more for emotional, persuasive texts with a specific goal. In the case of the fundraising for Wikimedia, Jimmy Wales uses a lot of expressions that may work in English, but that are difficult to translate to German. Here some examples.

“I don’t get paid a cent for my work at Wikipedia”: The German translation dropped the cent and says only that Jimmy Wales is not paid. Maybe the translator thought that the reader might wonder which cent (Dollar or Euro), and some German-speaking people (e.g., the Swiss) don’t pay with pennies themselves.

“Commerce is fine,” he wrote. The dictionary (I am using  offers rather specialist expressions, “Handel” (actually: trade) or the direct translation of the latinist word, “Kommerz”. The latter was used by a previous contributor. I changed it into “Geschäftstätigkeit” (“being busy with business”), because “Kommerz” in German is rather a pejorative.

Sometimes the Jimmy-appeal is a little too solemn, too impassionate for German readers. An example is the “temple for the mind”. We kept that, but cut on the words “human” and “humanitarian” (adjectives for “project”). It is difficult to call Wikipedia in German a “humanitäres Projekt”, because that word is used for help at humanitarian catastrophes (earthquakes, floodings). The German dictionary translation “menschenfreundlich” (friendly to humans) sounds nearly comic.  The original translator turned it into “gemeinnützig” (charitable, not-for-profit), I made “wohltätig” of it (beneficent, philanthropic), and will see how long it remains.

“Wikipedia’s 400 million users”: Obviously, this does not relate to “users” as registered contributors to Wikipedia. The German word is “Benutzer”, and the translator used the slightly different word “Nutzer”. I turned it into “Leser” (readers), because that is what Jimmy meant. Right?


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