Inaugural Lecture: '109 Voices: Translation Issues for Accounting Standards in the EU', Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
23 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2011
Date Written: August 9, 2011
This Inaugural lecture reports on a survey to translators of accounting textbooks and accounting standards in the EU. The respondents represented translation into 23 languages; and their answers reflected passion and commitment, perseverance and tenacity. We sought translators’ opinions on specific types of expressions or linguistic challenges, most of which had already been identified in the academic literature on translation of accounting and auditing concepts: these generated a diverse range of responses and viewpoints. The last part of the survey focused on a number of different ‘nightmares’ and suggestions of possible solutions, offered a similarly diverse set of viewpoints.
Translators were quick to distinguish between US and British English. Some respondents were concerned about inconsistency in English terminology in different varieties of English. Different terminology was seen to exist in the IASB’s and the EU Commission’s translations.
Key to this issue is that whilst the US moves towards adoption of IFRS, the convergence processes for IFRS have been seen by some to be putting pressure on the standard-writers to permit an increasing adoption of US English in IFRS; or create a third language – IFRS English, an amalgam of the two. But already there are inconsistencies in the use of terminology in English when using just US and British English. Given the diversity of Englishes and the divergence of accounting concepts between different nation states, a third version of English does not appear a natural step towards clarity and consistency.
Behind this debate, there appears to be amongst some a desire for English to be not only the lingua franca, but also for the UK/USA concepts to dominate globally as well. The path of globalization of accounting standards needs to be better informed about the origins of language diversity and why diversity not only persists but grows….even in the face of increasing homogenization [through the internet] of English as a lingua franca. If we envisage IFRS as starting as a language from which the concepts of accounting are derived then this is entirely consistent with those who believe that language does, in fact, fashion thought and meaning. The problem translators have is only not with the lexicon or the grammar; the highest level of difficulties is with the standards themselves, especially IAS 39, in which the language embodies social consciousness and a shared system of values, technically complex even for the most experienced accountants.
Even within the same language, accounting concepts are perceived or interpreted differently by different groups, such as academics, users or preparers of accounting information, accounting students, or members of different cultural groups we can expect them to diverge even further between languages.
In addition, language is located in a place and a time. Globalization is not a neutralizer of national identity; and the internationalization of accounting is unlikely to eradicate jurisdictional differences in accounting concepts. In addition, US English has been noted as characterized by “its impatient disregard of rule and precedent, and hence its large capacity (distinctly greater than that of the English of England) for taking in new words and phrases and for manufacturing new locutions out of its own materials” (Mencken, 1921). There are dangers in that i.) the USA is seen by some as not as respectful of the importance of language as in the EU; and ii.) in terms of size, the tendency of the standard setters in the USA has, in the past, been to produce a very large quantum of regulation, compared with the two volumes of IFRS.
In the process of what we call ‘Convergence’ IFRS may inevitably get bigger, with longer sentences and more complex language. Not only the translators, but educators and students, all need IFRS with: Well-written English Consistently used.
Those at the forefront in the path of globalization of accounting standards may need to be better informed about the origins of language diversity, its link to ethnic identity, and the need for clearer, briefer, more concisely written IFRS. The importance of appreciating how languages and accounting concepts continue to be tightly bound may need to be repeatedly demonstrated; it is hoped this research contributes in offering such evidence.
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