Your Pain Is Our Pleasure
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August 29, 2018
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Although I understand from this forum that many native speakers regard "societal" as a pompous synonym for "social", to me as a native Dutch speaker there is a clear difference. That is because in Dutch there is a difference between "sociaal" (referring to interpersonal relationships, usually at personal level) and "maatschappelijk" (referring to the formal structure of society).
The example of Rashad (above) is interesting in this context, because as Dutchman I sense a clear difference between the two sentences:
a) "Teenage pregnancy is a serious social problem." b) "Teenage pregnancy is a serious societal problem."
with a) referring to problems in the interaction of the teenage girls and their immediate social environment (~the girls need help), and b) referring to problems to society as a whole (~we need policy).
As this distinction appears less clear in English, it is difficult to translate "maatschappelijk" without losing its specific meaning, as El Bjorno already remarked above.
Moreover, on my quest to proper translation I noticed that in English too there is a need to make this distinction, especially in science and policy.
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