by Mara Campbell
“Glossary”, “consistency sheet”, “term base,” or “key names and phrases” (KNP). It has been called many names by different companies over the years, but its usefulness is uncontested. Put simply, it is a list of terms that are repeated throughout a show, film, or saga, and their approved translations into different languages, together with notes on style and usage. Used comprehensively, this tool will ensure consistency and save precious research time. In the content localization industry, it is common practice to have different linguists working on spin-offs, different seasons of the same show, sequels of the same movie or videogame, or even on different episodes of a single season. This is why consistency is key to presenting a uniform product across platforms or iterations, or over the years. It is unrealistic to expect a linguist to be fully acquainted with the canon of every project they approach (if it exists at all). At the translator level, consulting a KNP could save lots of time if the term in question already has a translation entry, and, even if it doesn’t, the glossary will certainly provide context that will help to narrow down options and research.
There are many things to keep in mind when using, creating, and populating a KNP. For starters, don’t think that working on a whole season or a standalone film on your own means there is no need for the creation of a KNP. Even though the client does not require you to send them the glossary, it is always a good idea to create one. It might come in handy if you are required to go back to your work some weeks later to review or add something, and it will definitively be golden if you are assigned followup material, which could happen months or years later. It might also be a record of specific terminology that can prove useful in a translation for another client or project.
Unexpected things happen, and if you are forced to stop work in the middle of a project due to, for example, illness, providing your client with a glossary of the portion you have completed will be invaluable for the new linguist that picks up where you left off, helping them speed up their work. The project manager will be very impressed and forever grateful!
If you are a template creator, a “templater”, to use the term Jorge Díaz-Cintas coined and taught us in the IG Live the AVD hosted with him a few weeks ago, populating the KNP is within the scope of your job description. At Netflix, terms are entered in a special database interface called Lucid that will link to the terms in the template. Linguists of every language will see keywords or phrases underlined in blue when they work in Netflix’s subtitling software. That is a cue for them to check the KNP for the translation of that term or add it themselves if it is not yet translated in their language.
Yays and Nays
What to include: Include terms you had to learn, terms you had to re-learn, and terms that are commonly confused (The Lone Technical Writer 2015). Basically, if you researched it, include it. Even though you might think it’s silly to include a certain term or expression, if you had to look it up, other translators would most probably have to as well. Save them the work and add it to the glossary. And remember to include your references!
What not to include: Glossaries do not need to contain terms found in standard glossaries or dictionaries (Lionbridge 2016) unless they are used in an unusual way, as described below.
NTBT (“not to be translated”): Sometimes adding a term in the source column just to duplicate it in the translation field without translating it is also a way of contributing to the glossary, because we are indicating that it is to be left in the original language. For example, in the Harry Potter saga, the term muggle was left untranslated in several countries, so the KNPs in those cases would have included the source term —with a pertinent note about usage in this context, as described below—and the same untranslated word in the target language column.
Tips for Creating a Good KNP
Whether you are creating a KNP for your own reference or collaborating on a large-scale franchise or multi-episode or -season project, starting the KNP from scratch or adding to an existing one, the following are good practices:
*Category or Type. Categorize the entries, as this might shed light on the way the term is used. A common list of categories is:
- Person: for the names of characters. Most will remain untranslated, but here is where the notes field comes in handy and allows you to provide context, like for minor characters that could be referenced in subsequent episodes or for things that are revealed as a backstory or that change over time. A good character note looks something like this: “Goobler—Alien pretending to be a female human teenager. She is the most senior officer in the mission and about to retire after this mission” or “Jon—Kate’s husband. They divorce in season 6, and he remarries Hailey”;
- Location: for the names of places, real or fictional, that are relevant to the plot. Even though many will not get translated (such as the names of real cities in most languages), others might need to be localized, for example, if they include a play on words (e.g. Central Perk) or have words in the name that do need to be translated (e.g. Madejski Stadium). If we are populating the KNP, it is a good idea to include all relevant locations, even seemingly untranslatable places, because they might need transliterating or translating in other languages (for example, Disneyland is Disneylandia in Spanish);
- Organization: for the names of fictional or real companies (e.g. Bluth Company), guilds, associations, agencies (e.g. ACME Detective Agency), organizations (e.g. KAOS and CONTROL), groups, orders (e.g. Jedi Order), etc. As is the case with many locations, some organization names will not be translated, but it is still a good idea to include them, even if it’s only for the sake of being able to provide an explanation in the notes field or adding stylistic information on the use of capital letters, hyphenation, italics, etc.;
- Term or Phrase: for the terms and phrases that are used repeatedly and need to be translated in the same way each time they are used. Terms can be either existing or made-up words pertinent to the episode, show or movie, such as quidditch, lightsaber, or flux capacitor. It is important to include acronyms, abbreviations and what they stand for (e.g. TARDIS, S.H.I.E.L.D., SVU) even if they are used consistently as acronyms or abbreviations, as some languages need to add gendered articles before them. Phrases can include catchphrases (e.g. “I’ve made a huge mistake”), the way a character answers the phone in several scenes (e.g. “Hello, IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?”), the phrase a cashier is forced to use when greeting her clients (e.g. “Thank you for shopping at Cloud 9, have a heavenly day”), an explanatory opening, such as “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories,” or even the ubiquitous “Previously on…”);
*Season and Episode Number. Including the season and episode number (for example “season 2, episode 8” or a simple “S01E08”) can come in handy to figure out at what point in a series something specific happens or a certain character is introduced. This field could also be used to identify a film in a saga, considering the amount of cross-overs there are in franchises like the Marvel superheroes movies; identifying the film where something happened, a character was introduced or a term was first used could help the next translator focus their research to one single film instead of having to look through a dozen.
*Notes and Comments. If both notes and comments fields are available, include any background or explanation that can be taken from the context or from your term research in the notes. Notes such as character or event history, background, circumstances, or relationships are usually very helpful. The comments field can be used by different translators to include the specifics of their language, or to add a remark on something another translator has included, such as a suggestion, a different use of the same term that they encountered, or some new information that was revealed in their portion of the work. These fields are particularly useful to highlight a term that seems unimportant but is actually relevant in that particular context. Another good practice is to finish the comment with your initials, to help clarify who was the author of the note (example: “My contact who works in a hospital suggests that this could be translated as “hospital administrator” or “admissions secretary” (MC)”. Other things to include in the Notes or Comments fields:
- Reference. Try to leave a reference—such as a website, a book, dictionary, manual or a show guide—to where you got the translation or information. If available for the content you are working on, wikis can prove particularly enlightening (you might be so lucky as to find a wiki in both the source language and your target one). Make sure you include the link to the Wiki you found in a prominent section of the KNP or mark it in a different color to draw other linguists’ attention to it and save them precious research time and efforts.
- Style. Include style considerations, such as the use of italics (e.g. “Since it is the title of a fictional book, it should be italicized”) or capital letters (e.g. “Because ‘Bear’ is used as a nickname, it should be capitalized.”). Sometimes you will need to follow an onscreen cue as the source of your decision (e.g. “X-Men is hyphenated in the film poster/title, so it should be like that in the subtitles too.”) There are cases where the script or provided materials and the onscreen information differ, in which case the on-screen text should be followed, and a note should be added in the KNP;
- Usage. If you find a common word that is being used in an uncommon way, include the term and give a thorough explanation in the notes field. For example, as mentioned above, in the Harry Potter saga, the word muggle—which means “a person who is not conversant with a particular activity or skill”— is used exclusively to denominate people who do not possess the ability to do magic. All of this should be recorded in the KNP with the relevant references.
*Characters. Be as descriptive as you can with character names. If possible, include their full names and any and all nicknames, pet names, or aliases. Since most glossaries will be in alphabetical order, it could be a good idea to add a separate entry for each name a character goes by, with references to all other names in the notes field. For example, for Dr. Jeremy Johnson, you could add three entries: “Dr. Jeremy Johnson–aka JJ or Jezza”, “JJ–nickname of Dr. Jeremy Johnson (only his sister Felicity calls him that), aka Jezza,” and finally “Jezza–nickname of Dr. Jeremy Johnson, aka JJ.” Some might argue that this makes a glossary too long, but it is also a good way of making searches easy. Netflix even has a code for these instances, so that different pseudonyms are linked to the main name and all appear underlined in blue for translators (Netflix 2021). If working on SDH, it is advisable to add a note indicating how that character will be IDed throughout the show (“Marie L’Angelle, aka Miss Marie–ID: Miss Marie.”)
*Gender. The most helpful KNP will give indications of the gender of all the characters listed, as some languages have genitive declensions that can affect how a term is translated and some plot aspects can be influenced by the gender of the characters involved. Even if the gender is apparently clear to us by their name, we need to consider that the same name might be used for females in some cultures or countries and for males in others (e.g. Astor, Luján, Ariel); some names might be unisex or gender-neutral (e.g. Alex, Sasha, Jessie, TJ, Lights) and need clarification; and others can sound quite foreign in other parts of the world and bear no apparent indication of gender to other cultures (e.g. Satsuki, Akiva, Nam, Hjørdis, Fehime, Uche, Zuali, Baas). It is particularly important to clarify gender in characters that are called by their title or profession (e.g. doctor, agent, boss, officer) or just their last name.
While they are more widely used for languages that have a grammatical need for them, it might be a good idea to create a companion Treatments list to go with the KNP. In this list, we would record the way the different characters address each other.
For example, in Spanish there are different pronouns to formally and informally address a person, usted and tú. So we would include the names of characters in the Treatments list and indicate how the characters address each other: “Elizabeth Bennett to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: formal; Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy to Elizabeth Bennett: informal,” and so on.
There are different ways and formats for noting this information, but a double-entry Excel sheet generally does the trick.
Fig. 1 and 2: Different ways to express the same information. Note how the first one is quite complex, but the second one makes for a longer sheet which can make it hard to find the information quickly.
Moreover, it is also useful to add a Notes field in this sheet to indicate if the way characters address each other changes. example, when two characters meet for the first time, they might address each other formally and that could change at a later moment, when they develop a deeper relationship. A line such as “Now that we are engaged, you can stop calling me Miss Clarke and start calling me Gertrude” will have an impact on the Spanish translation, which would have to change from usted to tú. Indicating the subtitle number or timecode of the change in Notes is also a good idea; you always need to think about a fellow linguist who for some reason is stepping in mid-project.
It takes a village to localize audiovisual content, and KNPs are a way of building camaraderie among fellow linguists around the world. Hopefully, these tips will come in handy when approaching your next KNP, whether you are creating it from scratch or are adding on to an existing one.