The Darkening Glass: Issues for Translation of IFRS
Posted: 16 Aug 2011 Last revised: 18 Aug 2011
Date Written: February 1, 2011
The full report of this study is available online.
Summary findings: Prior research in linguistics, translation studies and accounting identifies problems and limitations of translation between languages. Such problems also occur in the translation of International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) and therefore affect accounting practice and education.
This report summarizes the findings from a survey of authors and translators of textbooks on financial reporting in European languages other than English. Textbooks play an important role in accounting education, and accounting educators face problems in communicating unfamiliar concepts to students when these concepts are based on texts or standards written in a language other than their native language. Textbook authors may, in theory, base their material on available translations of IFRS, but in practice often rely either completely or partially on the original English version. They are therefore a suitable survey population for exploring translation problems arising in a highly specialized professional ‘register’ (or language), such as the technical language of accounting.
There is little research on problems arising and solutions adopted in the translation of IFRS. Therefore, this project aims: • to identify specific issues which arise in the translation of accounting terminology, and in particular the terminology of IFRS, from English into other European Union (EU) languages; • to explore the implications of these issues for the interpretation and application of translated terminology; and • to make recommendations for stakeholders in IFRS adoption and translation. A survey instrument was developed to achieve these objectives. 67 respondents, as native speakers of 23 languages, offered their views (representing a response rate of 23%). These responses reflect a considerable degree of expertise and experience in this area, and provide extensive narratives with very full and detailed comments for analysis.
Six key findings and implications arise from this survey: 1. Respondents do not see translation as impossible. Where problems arise, a number of strategies and solutions are adopted to reduce their impact. 2. Exact equivalence cannot be achieved in translation. Where a concept does not form part of a culture, its translation is not meaningful, no matter what words are chosen. 3. Translation problems can arise because of different language structures. This means that subtleties may be expressed in different ways, and that literal translation is often not possible. 4. Problems encountered and solutions preferred are likely to differ between different language families. 5. Translations by the IFRS Foundation into EU languages may be inconsistent with the translations being produced by the European Commission. 6. Some of the solutions adopted by translators may give rise to concern by standard setters and regulators, for example if words are added or omitted. Because languages are indeterminate and meanings between different languages do not exactly overlap, translators have to interpret the original meaning; there is therefore a risk that they do not capture the meaning intended by the standard setter.
These findings give rise to six recommendations and policy implications: 1. Standard setters and regulators must be fully aware of the potential difficulties of translation, and should consider these difficulties at the drafting stage. This would allow translation problems to be greatly reduced 2. There may potentially be a greater difficulty in translating accounting principles rather than more detailed and explicit rules. 3. Awareness of the limits of translations is required to avoid misunderstanding. For example, disagreement on points of policy and practice may arise from divergent interpretations of translations of the same source text into different languages. 4. A subtle shift in meaning almost always occurs in translation, and some differences in interpretation between the original text and its translations will always remain. 5. Translators have to have excellent knowledge of both source and target languages but also of both accounting subcultures. 6. Accounting educators must be sensitive to the difficulties which arise for students in understanding concepts that are not part of their own accounting cultures.
This report supports the findings of prior literature by illustrating that translation problems identified elsewhere also apply to the translation of IFRS. The report discusses the implications of this and should be of interest to accounting regulators, standard setters, educators, accountants in practice and the business community in general.
Finally, two important conclusions can be drawn from the survey. The first may be obvious but cannot be stressed enough – this is the importance of knowledge of other languages and cultures. The second is less obvious, and its implications may require further investigation: many respondents of this survey consult the English original version of IFRS. This may suggests that currently available translations of IFRS are not considered sufficient for their purposes. This is likely to be due to the inherent problems of language translation, as explored in this report, rather than the flaws in the translation process.
Keywords: IFRS translation, EU, accounting standards, accounting textbooks
JEL Classification: K2, G15, M4
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation