Unicorns, Bubbles and the Placement of Dots – Financial Translation

29 01 2016

There are financial terms with origins a few hundred years old that still ring through our conversations about money. And although their roots were idiomatic, some – like “stock”, “invest” and “bubble” – are so old and familiar now that English speakers in capitalist economies know their financial implications instantly.

Financial translation

Take “capital” itself, for instance: its Latin origin is “caput,” the word for “head,” which may have become established as a term for wealth because of the common use of livestock to assess a family’s prosperity.* That word was born several eras ago — today new words flow into the financial lexicon constantly from different industries, cultures, and business and technological trends.

“Unicorn,” for instance, refers to tech start-ups valued at over $1 billion but manifesting negative cash flow, two conflicting qualities that suggest such start-ups are illusions. In Chinese will the English word “unicorn” be borrowed and used as is, or will “kirin” (a similar creature) be employed? Does a “kirin” imply fanciful unreality? On the other end of the poetic spectrum, “intraday momentum index” is the relatively new term for “a technical indicator used by day traders to signal when a stock is trending up or down….”** an awkward phrase to pin down in another language.

The greatest challenges inherent in financial translation, however, come with the high stakes around errors. A single misunderstood and wrongly assigned number or decimal point can destroy the meaning of a report. Presentation and formatting of numbers and the symbols associated with them must also be flawlessly consistent or content can become incomprehensible.

For many countries, the terminology used must comply with the International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) issued by the IASB, the International Accounting Standards Board, and endorsed by the EU. Translation memory and glossaries help translators stay current with IFRS changes, which they must legally do.

The nature of communication about money means that deadlines will often be super tight, and yet there cannot be any shortcuts taken when it comes to the confidentiality of financial translations. Data must be protected by signed Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) with top-notch security systems in place for all transfer of information. You must implicitly trust your LSP when it comes time to translate financial content, and be sure that, like Skrivanek, their expertise extends deeply into financial concepts and the trending jargon.

J. McShulskis

*The Devil’s Financial Dictionary, by Jason Zweig

**Investment News, Top 10 Financial Terms of 2015

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