De Ruyter? Sinterklaas?


References to anything that is embedded purely in Dutch-language culture aren’t going to mean anything to English speakers. Historical figures, royalty, sporting heroes may all need explanation or subsitution. Options:

  • localization: replace the figure in question with a near functional equivalent if possible. Father Christmas may do for Sinterklaas in some cases, for example.
  • add a few words of explanation, but only if you can do so without getting sidetracked – adding a year for the Hongerwinter or the fact that Indonesia was once the Dutch East Indies.
  • just forget it entirely. There’s no point translating “Zie ginds komt de stoomboot uit Spanje weer aan” in a text about primary schools because it merely raises more questions than it answers.
  • Some favourite Dutch sports are meaningless in English and their practitioners therefore unknown. Localization will be needed for speed-skating in particular, and cycling to a large extent. I’ve lived in the country for over thirty years and I still honestly couldn’t name you a single speed-skater, past or present.
  • Oh, and be careful about Zwarte Piet. No matter how often the Dutch insist that it’s innocent and got nothing to do with slavery or whatever, remember that dressing up in blackface like that is utterly unacceptable nowadays in many other countries

This can be quite a bone of contention with the client when it occurs. “But of course everybody knows who a major historical figure like De Ruyter was!” Um, sorry to bring you the bad news…

Prevalence: low. Can be thoroughly confusing though, or can sidetrack the line of thought badly, so these issues are worth thinking about.
Frequency: low. But can be quite a major headache for the translator.
Native: nope. That’s rather the point of this one.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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