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Some Notes on Translation of Legal Terms

Translation of legal documents is a tough task due to the strong professionality and logical words of these documents. While the legal terms are the difficult points, it will be helpful if you can deal with legal vocabulary well.

I. Translation of synonyms

Example 1. Legal documents use a lot of synonyms to avoid ambiguity. There are two ways to translate this kind of terms: it is not necessary to translate all synonyms with same meaning and it is better to translate all of them.

This agreement is made and entered into by and between Party A and Party B.

“Made” and “entered into” are synonyms in this sentence and can be translated as “签订”. The whole sentence is translated as “本协议由甲方和乙方签订“.

Example 2. Party A shall no longer be responsible for keeping secret and confidential the part already published.

“Secret” and “confidential” are synonyms in this sentence and can be translated as “保密的”. The whole sentence is translated as “甲方对(合同中)已被公开部分不再承担保密义务”.

Example 3. The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation.

“Oath” and “affirmation” are synonyms in this sentence and can be translated as “宣誓或陈词”. The whole sentence is translated as “唯有参议院具有审判一切弹劾案的权力。为此目的而开庭时,全体参议员都应宣誓或陈词“.

Example 4. The headings and marginal notes in these conditions shall not be deemed part thereof or be taken into consideration in the interpretation or construction thereof or of the contract.

“Interpretation” and “construction” are synonyms in this sentence and can be translated as “理解或解释”. The whole sentence is translated as “ 本合同条件中的标题和旁注不应视为合同文本的一部分,在理解或解释合同条件或合同本身时,也不应考虑这些标题和旁注”.

II. Translation of adverbs

The legal documents also adopt a great deal of adverbs to accurately and precisely express the meaning without ambiguity. Such adverbs take “where”, “here”, etc. as the prefixes and combine another words to form new words. For example, hereafter, hereby, herein, hereinafter, hereinbefore, hereof, hereto, hereunder, hereupon, herewith; thereafter, thereby, therefrom, therein, thereinafter, thereinbefore, thereon, thereof, thereunder, thereupon, therewith; whereas, whereby, wherein, whereof, whereon, etc. The key to translate such words is “understanding the original text well and choosing the suitable translation”.

Example 1. Instructions for the issuance of letters of credits, the letters of credits themselves, instructions for any amendments thereto and the amendments themselves shall be complete and precise.

In this sentence, “thereto” refers to “any amendments to the letters of credits” and can be translated as “对信用证修改”. The whole sentence is translated as “开具信用证的指示、信用证本身、有关对信用证修改的指示以及其修改书本身,必须完整、完整”.

Example 2. The committee shall review as necessary, but at least once every two years, the implementation and operation of this Agreement, taking into account the objectives hereof, and the rights and obligations contained herein.

In this sentence, “thereof” and “herein” refer to “of this Agreement” and “in this Agreement” respectively. The whole sentence is translated as “委员会把审定本协定的实施和运用视为必须做的事,至少每两年一次,来研究本协定的目标及本协定所规定的权利和义务”.

Example 3. The United States shall establish under its authority an international trusteeship system for the administration and supervision of such territories as may be placed thereunder by subsequent individual agreements. These territories are hereinafter referred to as trust territories.

In this sentence, “thereunder” refers to “under the international trusteeship system”. The whole sentence is translated as “联合国应根据其权力,建立一种国际托管制度,来管理和监督根据国际托管制度而达成的各单个协定所确定的领土。此种领土以下简称托管领土”.

A Guide to Software Translation

A software project can consist of several components, which usually include software, documentation, help, and read me files.

We will focus on the translation of software and documentation (IFUs, user manuals, etc.) as that is what we see more often at our Translations.


In general, the process of localizing software includes the translation of the GUI (Graphical User Interface) components of the application, such as menus, dialog boxes, and error and status messages displayed on the screen.

Menus: A menu is a drop-down list of options from which you can make a selection and then perform a desired action, such as choosing a command (like Save As) or applying a particular format to part of a document. It is usually a list of major categories and their subcategories.
Dialog boxes: A dialog box is a small window that appears on the screen to request input from or provide information to the user. It typically allows users to change options or settings.
Error messages: these are messages displayed when an unexpected condition occurs. They are used when user intervention is required, to indicate that a desired operation has failed, or to give very important warnings.
Things you should take into account when translating software:

- Space restriction: Usually only a limited number of characters can be used for menu names, commands, options, error messages, etc. It is recommendable to keep the translated strings as short as possible. Keep in mind too that most translation of English expands, so it’s likely that you’ll have to use abbreviations much more often than usual.

- Hotkeys: are keys or combinations of keys on a computer keyboard programmed to perform a specific function when pressed. When translating software, hotkeys are usually preceded by the character “&”. In the actual program, however, a hotkey is the underlined letter in a command name which you activate by pressing Alt+. That means that &Open will look like Open in the actual program. Do not place hotkeys on letters which reach below the base line such as g, p, j, y, q as they will hardly be visible in the program (the hotkey underline will overlap with the letter). You should only use hotkeys which are available on every keyboard (avoid special characters like ö, ñ, etc.).

In the example above, &Open would be translated as &Abrir in Spanish or &Ouvrir in French.

- Variables: are symbols which will be replaced by another string/number/date in the final product. Variables can be represented in several ways, like by % and a letter or number (“%s”, “%d”, “%l”, etc), by {0}, {1}, etc, or just by [text], among others. Please see below some common variables and the parameters replacing them:
Variable Parameter
%s String
%d Decimal integer
%ld Decimal long integer
%u Unicode character
%p Page number

Example: “This test %s is not valid”.

Do not touch variables but place the translated text around them in the correct order. Depending on the word that is inserted at the location of the variable, the grammatical form of some words (“valid” in the case of the example) may vary. This might also depend on the gender of the word that is inserted.

In the example above, if we are translating into Spanish and %s is going to replace the word “number” or “name”, the translation would be as follows: “Este %s de prueba no es válido” In Spanish, the variable should go before “test” and a preposition between these two words is needed. Also, “válido” is a male adjective, as both number and name are of masculine gender in this language.

Ideally the Language Lead or Project Manager will have identified for you what text will replace the variables. If not, please ask them for guidance in how to treat the variables. If they can not provide this information, it is permissible to reflect all options (masculine/feminine) in your translations as follows:

“This test %s is not valid” could be translated as “Este/a %s de prueba no es válido/a“

- Control characters: they provide formatting information to be displayed within strings, such as carriage returns or values (percentage, number, etc.). Some control characters are \r, \n, and \t. When translating, they should be left as they are: please be careful not to delete them.


More and more, devices include software that is necessary for the functioning of the device. For this reason, very often there are references to the software in the device’s manuals. The instructions can refer to software options, menus, system messages, etc. See some examples:

Example 1:

Change these settings as follows:

1. Open the Menu window.

2. Select Mask/Port.

3. Select the desired mask/patient interface type (Table 6-1). Select Accept to apply.

In this example, the words in bold refer to software options.

Example 2:
TABLE 4: Error Codes and Troubleshooting Instructions
Error Code Error Message on Display Troubleshooting Instructions
1A-K System ErrorTurn Unit OffSEE INSTRUCTIONS Disconnect the catheter and turn RF generator power off and then on. If the error recurs, contact Technical Support.
2A Bad ConnectionReplace Catheter or Cable Disconnect catheter and connector cable from RF generator. Press reset button, and reconnect catheter and a new connector cable to RF generator to continue the procedure. If the error recurs, disconnect the catheter, press the reset button and connect a new catheter to continue the procedure.
2D No Matrix PresentReplace Catheter Disconnect catheter. Press reset button and connect a new catheter to continue the procedure.

In the example above, the text on the column Error Message on Display refers to error messages that will appear on screen. These are software references as well.

If there are software references in the text, you need to know if the software has been translated or not. Usually, the PM will give you this information (if not, it is imperative that you ask). You will most likely find it in the linguistic analysis. There might be two cases:

a) Software has not been translated: in this case, you can leave the software references in English and write the translation in brackets. Another option is to leave the software references in English without a translation in brackets. Either way, it is very important to make sure that the references stay in English as that’s they way they will show on screen. If they get translated in the manual but they are not translated in the software, the user won’t be able to see what is being referred.

b) Software has been translated: in this case, you will be provided with the translation of the software references and you should use them accordingly. It is very important to use the exact translation of the software reference as that is they way it will appear on screen.

Another thing you should pay attention to is that the documentation of devices can also refer to the keyboard/ buttons which are used to enter commands. Sometimes buttons and keys like “Enter”, “Control”, “Delete”, etc. (see example 3), may remain in the source language and the user will be able to choose to use a localized keyboard.

If these buttons are built into the device (see example 4), they are usually not localized.

Manufacturers are getting better about using symbols instead of words when the buttons are built-in, but this is still something you should take into account during translation.

Usually, the PM will give you this information but again, if not, it is imperative that you ask.

Example 3

Press Enter to save the new volume entered and return to the Syringe/Calibration screen. Press Delete to cancel the changes made and return to the Syringe/Calibration screen.

In the example above, Enter and Delete are keys from the keyboard, so they are most likely to be localized and therefore should be translated. Usually, Microsoft or Mac terminology (depending on the operative system) should be used. The PM or Linguistic Lead should be able to help locate these standard translations for you if you need them.

Example 4
When operating the system in Semi-Automatic mode, the ablation cycle will not start automatically after the successful completion of the CIA. Once a successful CIA has been completed, press the ENABLE button and depress the foot switch a second time to initiate the ablation cycle.

In this example, the button ENABLE is built into the device, so we should know if this has been translated in the device. Usually, these buttons are not translated, but this needs to be checked with the PM.a

On Collocation of Words

Language is composed of different words in a specific rule with limited compatibility among words, for example, some kind of verb can only occur with certain subjects or objects, some adjectives can only be used to modify certain nouns. As translation mainly consists of two phases: to understand the original text and to express the meaning in the target language, translators not only need to figure out what the collocation in the original text means, but also need to select appropriate collocation words during translation, which requires solid mastery of two languages and proficiency in customary collocation in these two languages. For instance, in Chinese, we could say “人老了” but could not say “年纪老了”. Thus the translation of “He was old and weak” should be “他年纪大了,身体衰弱” instead of “他年纪老了,身体衰弱”.

Different collocation should be employed even for the same word when it is used in different contexts. Let’s look at the translation of “shabby” below.
Original Text:
He lives in a shabby house.
Target Text:
Original Text:
She is a shabby old woman.
Target text:
In this case, “shabby” in these two sentences actually expresses the same meaning. However, the noun it modifies determines what collocation shall be used, “房屋” shall be collocated with “简陋” instead of “衣衫褴褛”. Similarly, “人” shall be collocated with “衣衫褴褛” rather than “简陋”.

Different collocation should be used even for the same word in the same sentence. Let’s look at this example. “They were friendly to me and my opinion”. In this sentence, “friendly” modifies both “me” and “my opinion”. The appropriate translation shall be “他们对我很友好,对我的看法表示支持”. We can’t say “对我支持” and “对看法友好”. Below is another example. “She once again demonstrated to us her great knowledge, experience and wisdom”. In this sentence, “great” is used to modify “knowledge”, “experience” and “wisdom” at the same time. However, we can hardly find a word to collocate with “学识”, “经验” and “智慧” at the same time in Chinese. The appropriate translation shall be “她再次向我们展示了她渊博的学识、丰富的经验和无穷的智慧”. “渊博” is collocated with “学识”, “丰富” is collocated with “经验” and “无穷” is collocated with “智慧”.

Collocation is a difficult issue in translation. In the understanding stage, we should correctly determine the collocative meaning of words and during the expression stage we should select appropriate collocation words, which requires desirable mastery of both the original language and the target language. Consequently, we need to accumulate typical collocation during daily life. What’s more, internet can also be used to solve such collocation issues.

Movie localization

Bringing a movie or TV show to a new international audience is more than just translating the text. It needs to adapt text, images, cultural references and sounds to fit the wants and needs of a different viewership.

Network buzzwords frequently appeared in the Chinese subtitles of foreign movie with a great flood of power at the moment. Monsters University is the latest typical case. The funny animated monsters in the movie bring people into endless aftertastes. The movie also sets the box office record for the Pixar in hinterland. But the abuse of network popular languages generated much controversy.

Monster University is the prequel of the 2001 classic animated cartoon Monsters Inc.. The story dates back to the collage years of the protagonists, where they need to further study skills to scare little children. Many funny phases of these “scare commissioners” in this movie make people laugh loudly. At the same time, there are lots of network popular words penetrate into the Chinese subtitle, such as “吓二代”,“坑爹”,“走你”,“吊丝逆袭”,“草根”,“刷夜”and so on.

Everyone has his or her own impression on this translation.

In recent years, more and more network buzzwords penetrate into the Chinese subtitles of imported films. Generally speaking, more people depreciate the phenomena. For example the “Les Miserables” in this first half year, its translation are considered “no flavor and mistranslation lot”; So is “Pacific Rim”, the film lines in English means “elbow rocket”, and on the mainland version of Chinese subtitles become a “Pegasus Meteor Fist.”

And “Pacific Rim” “Pegasus Meteor Fist,” “Men in Black 3″ “forever and sometimes do, sorrow was everlasting” subtitles users Tucao was compared to the “Monsters University,” the Chinese subtitles deliberately ground gas, on the whole did not provoke the audience too much resentment, but also mixed. “Subtitling quite out of color, pit father, brush the night, hanging wire counter-attack, Hao mean dean vivid place!” Favorite of the audience with respect, subtitles make the movie very ground gas, interesting. The audience does not like to use buzzwords such networks complain too nondescript, affecting emotional films and input from aliens or monsters mouth and say it, it sounds a bit awkward.

Regarding these subtitle translation which deliberately to please the audience, the industry said, “The use of network language in the light comedy translation, sometimes indeed reaches the finishing touch. But the blind pursuit of buzzwords to a widespread everywhere makes people want to cry.”

The source is from http://www.ccjk.com/movie-localization/.

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