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One of the issues our translators face in translating to and from English is that the language’s varied history has left a legacy of multiple words with similar meanings – how do you go about translating synonyms?

One example of this is words describing the place where you live.  “House”, “residence” and “domicile” are just 3 of the synonyms that convey the meaning of the place where you live, but why are there multiple words and how best to decide which one fits each translation situation?

Understanding the roots of each word can be helpful – in this case “Haus” is the German equivalent of house, coming in from Anglo Saxon, “residence” came in later with the Normans and is almost identical to the French “résidence” and “domicile” goes back the furthest, to “domus”, Latin for house. Knowing this can be helpful to a translator, as it can be a clue as to the slight differences in meaning between each word. Often, the Anglo-Saxon word is the most basic term, here meaning “house”, the French word gives a slightly posher feel – so an estate agent may describe an expensive house as a “desirable residence”. The Latin word is often found in legal documents, and has a clear legal meaning – the domicile the fixed place of habitation or home; while residence can be a transient place of dwelling. In legal situations you may come across “domiciled” – but it’s not a phrase that you would often hear spoken, and should be reserved for legal translations.

Translating the feel of a document to and from English is therefore both tricky and easy; as there are so many words it is often possible to choose more than one option – then which translation should we choose? On the other hand, by choosing well the translator can capture the essential meanings in the text more clearly.

Know your language roots, particularly of English, and translation will be much easier, is our advice!