Localization of Foreign Toponyms in South Slavic Languages

Maja Peradin 7 years ago 6 min read

Toponyms are the names of different geographical elements. They refer to real places and have a specific historical-political context, and therefore it is important to translate them in the right way.

Localization of Foreign Toponyms in South Slavic Languages

Toponyms are the names of different geographical elements. They refer to real places and have a specific historical-political context, and therefore it is important to translate them in the right way. Although most translators do not see this as a particular problem, mistakes do happen and are easy to notice. Imagine, for example, a Croatian or a Serbian text in which the word Wien in place of Beč, or Киев in place of Kiev. Therefore, this is always a trendy topic for translators doing localization in the South Slavic languages.

Here are 5 tips for the successful localization of foreign toponyms in Croatian and Serbian.

1. Explore first

The most problematic issue in localizing toponyms in foreign languages is the fact that place names do not follow the same pattern, as each word entered the targed language in different ways. The orthography primarily depends on the script of the source language and the way the word is used in the target language. It is not enough to simply learn a few rules to ensure the proper localization of toponyms — instead, it takes a little more thinking and research in each particular case.

When you encounter a foreign toponym for the first time, make sure to check if there might be some other name in use, or if your language uses a name that is completely different from the original one.

2. Use relevant sources

Professional literature must be consulted for each linguistic dilemma. No matter how sure a translator is of his or her knowledge, linguistic intuition and an Internet search can sometimes lead to incorrect results. Even various atlases and cartographic publications list various forms of toponyms whose accuracy is not always guaranteed. For a complex area such as toponyms, it is necessary to consult the relevant dictionaries.

3. Use an exonym if there is one

When you encounter a foreign toponym for the first time, make sure to check if there might be some other name in use, or if your language uses a name that is completely different from the original one. If an exonyms can be used in place of a geographical term, it should be used, as this is the only way the text will sound natural to a native speaker.

4. Mind your consistency

In cases where place names can be written in several ways, ensure that one form is consistently used. Various forms should not be found in the same text. The old spelling rule can be applied here as well: when there are multiple solutions, select one and use it consistently. Otherwise, you’re wrong.

5. Be able to explain your choice

Sometimes it will seem that a text with different toponyms contains inconsistencies when it does not. If you are well prepared for the localization of toponyms, you’ll know why you chose a particular solution and you will stand behind its successful localized text.

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