It might seem rather odd and not something that a serious translator should contemplate either doing or talking about, but from time to time the question of translating offensive language does arise. The cases I can think of are when translating a complaint about receiving an offensive message, which of necessity includes the message itself. It can also happen in a witness statement when the offensive language is again subject of a complaint. I find this a difficult area to deal with and it is certainly not something I would normally choose to do. The words in themselves may be offensive – referring to body parts or animals, or they may be taboo words. Translations in dictionaries may appear rather tame in comparison with the words themselves. It strikes me that the force of the offensive language is highly culturally dependant and also depends on the impact on the recipient. When the language stands on its own the intended force or the received impact are often hard to gauge, separated as they are from the meta-language (the volume, body language, finger-pointing, face pulling etc.) that accompany such language in face-to-face contact. In the case of purely written communication there may even be a mismatch between the intention of the writer and perception of the reader. Is it possible to detect that the writer hit the keys hard and typed furiously? Just because there are a lot of typos it doesn’t necessarily mean the writer was angry. Could it be read another way? Is it normal behaviour for this writer? This all leaves the translator in something of a quandary. How do you indicate the force of the language? Too mild and the victim may not be able to put their case adequately, too strong and the perpetrator might be unjustly punished. Not being a user of such language myself in the target or source language I cannot be sure of hitting the right note anyway. I have considered adding notes such as: this is highly offensive. I wonder if there are people who specialise in translating offensive language. Would anyone admit to it if they did?
Translating offensive language