Localization (l10n) and Pancakes

This year, March 1st was Pancake Day in the UK. It is also known as Shrove Tuesday, the last day before the 40 days of Lent. Shrove Tuesday is called ‘Mardi Gras’ or ‘Fat Tuesday’ in France. 

Pancakes are very popular in our house and certainly not consigned to one day a year. However, the history of Pancake Day stems from Shrove Tuesday, a Christian festival, a feast day, before the forty-day fast leading up Easter. The date of Shrove Tuesday changes each year based on the lunar calendar. However, it is always 47 days before Easter Sunday.

History of Pancake Day

Apparently, the connection between Pancakes and Shrove Tuesday originated in 1445, in Olney, Buckinghamshire, England. Traditionally, in Anglo Saxon England, Christians would go to church on Shrove Tuesday to be ‘shriven’ – to confess their sins and clean their soul. The story goes that on that Tuesday in 1445, a woman was so busy making pancakes that she lost track of time. “She heard the church bells ringing for the Shrove Tuesday mass, she ran as fast as she could to make it, and arrived still carrying her pancake in the pan!” Pancake Day as we know it was born! This may also be the origin of pancake races, where people run flipping pancakes in frying pans!

Pancake Race

Localization in translation is a process that converts a text from one target market to another. It may completely change the text. Translation is simply the process of converting the text from one language to another. While translating, we are always aware of the target audience, which shapes the translation.

A localised text can be transformed entirely from one language to another. Localization considers cultural expectations as well as technical aspects. For example, suppose you are localizing a text from English to Arabic. In that case, you need to bear in mind that Arabic is written right to left, not left to right. This may transform the entire layout of the text or website.

The term localization is often used in connection with the translation of websites, games, or software. According to the Globalization and Localization Association, localization is the process of adapting a product or service to a specific locale. Translation is only one of several elements in the localization process.”

Localization may involve adapting the design and layout of a text so that the translated text appears correctly in the target language. It may also include amending the order of certain text elements – for example, alphabetised lists. Elements such as the time, date, addresses, numbers, currency may also need to be modified. Images and graphics may need to be altered to ensure that they meet the target audience’s expectations and that they comply with cultural considerations. Localization may also affect the content to suit the target audience’s tastes, customs, and habits.

A localised text or product should appear to have been created specifically for the target audience. Language, culture, and location should not affect how the text is received. The target audience should feel that it has been written uniquely for them – and not for another audience and then translated.

But what have pancakes to do with localization?

I am always trying to think of everyday analogies that illustrate aspects of translation. This year it struck me – pancakes are the answer! (Pancakes are the answer to many things, I am sure!)

In the UK, pancakes are more like French crêpes – thin and quite large. These days we put all sorts of toppings on them, from Nutella, jam, fruit, and honey, and so many more now that we have greater global awareness. However, growing up, we always put lemon and sugar on pancakes.

British pancakes usually only have 3 ingredients – eggs, flour and milk. As we often make pancakes, we use a straightforward recipe called the 1-2-3 method.

  • 100g plain flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 300ml milk.

However, for Pancake Day in the USA, people expect an altogether different type of pancake. American pancakes are smaller and fluffier – they may even have blueberries or chocolate chips inside!

The culinary, lifestyle expert and talk show host, Martha Stewart’s pancake recipe has the following list of ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • Vegetable oil
  • Assorted toppings such as maple syrup, confectioner’s sugar, honey, jams, preserves, sweetened whipped cream, or chocolate syrup.

The ‘simple’ pancake is the embodiment of localization!

The ingredients are adapted to create a product that fulfils audience expectations, affecting the size and density, the measurements adapt according to cultural norms (cups, not grams), even the toppings reveal something about the location of the intended audience.

While both a British audience and a US audience would recognise both versions as a pancake, we have a different image in our minds when we picture pancake day. If a translator were to localise a British article or blog post on Pancake Day for a US audience, the image and recipe would need to be adapted to the audience. We recognise the US version as a pancake in the UK, but the recipe will be found under ‘American Pancakes’. Americans are more likely to understand British pancakes by calling them crêpes.

Both are delicious, but they are created for different audiences and need to be localised to meet expectations. Please contact me if you need help translating or localising your text for a British audience.

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