Question Marks—Just Another Translation Trap?

Syllabus Translation MontrealTranslating a question should be pretty straight forward. You see a question mark—you leave it a question mark, right? Well, half right.

It all depends on the context. For instance, FAQs are often written as questions and answers. There are no hidden tricks in these translation jobs. With motivational material, however, statements tend to be more effective than questions. When you come across a question like “Êtes-vous prêt ?” try a command like “Get ready!”—it packs more of a punch. We anglos like the enthusiasm of an exclamation point. It makes us feel pumped. Like the message is directed at us.

Remember not to overdo it when swapping question marks for exclamation points. Too many exclamation points will look like you’re shouting at the reader.

Of course, needlessly translated question marks could add an element of doubt or suspicion that wasn’t intended in the original. Take the following headline: “Une nouvelle table à Londres ?” If you translate it as a question like “A new place to dine in London?” it sounds like the intro to a rant. Drop the question mark and you’ve got a rave.

This is yet another example of what makes translation so tricky. And that’s why we love translating—it keeps us on our toes!

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