My series of posts on international information architecture:
- Translating taxonomies and categories
- Translating categories, translating terms
- Translating the Dewey Decimal Classification system (this post)
- Designing the relationship between content and locales
- Emergent i18n effects in folksonomies
- The Maori versus Dewey, and why limiting access can be culturally appropriate.
The Dewey Decimal Classification system (used in libraries throughout the world to classify books) has been translated into many languages, so I figured I’d ask their Editor in Chief, Joan S. Mitchell, about their experience. I was particularly interested in their approach to categories as “concepts”, and their approach to developing a taxonomy of concepts, regardless of translatability.
Joan S. Mitchell: “Many DDC translations contain more detailed developments in selected areas than found in the English-language standard edition. For example, the province of Rovigo has one number (–4533) in Table 2 in the English-language full edition; there are nine subdivisions listed under this number (representing parts of Rovigo province) in the Italian translation of the full edition. ”
In other words, local translations have different requirements – the English version may be content with providing geographical categories for Italy up to the level of a province, but people in Italy may be interested in having categories for subdivisions of provinces.
Here’s a case study describing this as well: Beall, J. 2003. Approaches to expansions: case studies from the German and Vietnamese translations. Presented at the Classification and Indexing – Workshop, World Library and Information Congress: 69th IFLA General Conference and Council. 1-9 August 2003, Berlin. http://www.ifla.org/IV/ifla69/papers/123e-Beall.pdf
I also asked her about terms or categories that are not easily translatable.
Joan S. Mitchell: “In nearly every translation, we have encountered terms that are not easily translated from one language to another. There are a number of strategies we employ to address these issues.
In some cases, the term is left in English, e.g., “land-grant colleges” appears in English in the German translation because it is part of the name of a category and there isn’t a suitable equivalent in German.
Sometimes, we adjust the definition of category itself to accommodate translation issues. For example, the popular German form of bowling is skittles (ninepins); in the US, the most popular form is tenpin bowling. After an inquiry from the German translators, we added a note to indicate that the category of bowling covers both types.
In the case of examples that illustrate categories, we routinely encourage translators to substitute examples that have meaning in the specific language group for those used in the English-language edition. We also encourage the inclusion of index terms that are meaningful to the language group and compatible with the definition of the category. The index to a translation can include different synthesized numbers and accompanying index terms from those found in the English-language standard edition.”
I was curious about their approach to the taxonomy as a “concept tree”. This assumes that all concepts can be expressed in all languages, although (as in the bowling example above), sometimes categories are adjusted with feedback from translators.
In my previous post, “Translating categories, translating terms“, I discussed the problems with translating categories. My conclusions was that sometimes, categories are just not translatable. People think too different. The DCC has a different philosophy: the assume ALL concepts are translatable.
Joan S. Mitchell: “Translatability is not a criteria for adding new concepts; however, there has to be a certain threshold of published material (“literary warrant”) for the inclusion of a term or the expansion of a category. The literary warrant we use to develop the English-language standard edition is based primarily on the contents of OCLC’s WorldCat database, the world’s largest bibliographic database (over 57 million records). ”
For non library folks: “literary warrant” just means that, if you have a lot of books about a subdivision of a province in Italy, you should probably have that subdivision as a category, so people can find those books. The concept is the same with products you sell, or services, or whatever. Most companies have different products or services in different parts of the world, or have a different amount of information available (maybe not all technical manuals have been translated), therefore, the categories should be of different granularity.
taxonomy | i18n | metadata | classification | information architecture