Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Databases, Languages and Addresses

Tags:  database, international addresses; foreign addresses; foreign languages

There are a couple of reasons why some mixing of languages is unavoidable in your database.  Some words or terms cannot be translated exactly or the meaning is changed by an exact translation.  This is most common in honorifics, corporate names, and corporate titles.  Sociedad Anónima (abbreviated S.A.) translates as anonymous society, as do its close counterparts in French, Italian and Portuguese, but it means Company or Corporation.  In Burmese, Daw used for women approximately 35 years old or older and those with “status”, such as teachers or lawyers.  Something is lost if this is translated to Ms. 

We should not assume that a translated delivery address will make sense to those who deliver our international mail.  One of my favorite examples of a lengthy street name is Escherheimerlandstrasse in Frankfort, Germany.  (Escherheimerlandstr. is the abbreviation.)  I am sure the translation to Escher-home-land-street would confuse the local delivery staff and at the least delay delivery.  A street name written as Nordre Fasanvej would certainly delay delivery of items to North Pheasant Way in Elkhorn, WI in the U.S. 

So, what should be translated or needs to be translated?  What should not be translated? 

1.  The country name should always be in an internationally understood language.  This means in English if mailing in the U.S. or another English-speaking country, Spanish in Spanish-speaking countries, and so on.  If mailing in a country with a less internationally known language, the country name should be written in both the local language and an internationally well-known language. 

2.  The address must be deliverable.  The company name and street or post office address must be understandable at the delivery point.  Leave it in the local language. 

3.  The city name may be very different in the local language.  For example, Livorno, Italy, is Leghorn in English.  In this case, the USPS would prefer English; Poste Italiane would prefer Italian.  What to do depends on what is being sent and the specifics of the logistics. 

4.  The addressee should not be insulted by the mode of address.  This may mean using a local honorific or one that is more complicated than the standard American English choices of Mr., Ms., Mrs., Miss or Dr.  Using local-language options increases the complexity.  Honorifics vary greatly in length, may be in all lower case, and can be placed before or after a person's name.  If you decide on local-language honorifics, take a minute to look at your web forms.  Do they support honorifics other than Mr., Ms., Mrs., Miss or Dr.?  Does a form in another language offer only English honorifics? 

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