06 January 2012

TJ translators: trend-follows, not trend-setters

One of the basic tenets of the translation by emulation approach outlined in this blog on translating technical journalism (TJ) is that that the translator should emulate the best practice of professional journalists working in the same or a closely allied area of specialisation in the translator's target language. Here 'best practice' includes monitoring trends and preferences with regard to evolving terminology. As the name implies, translation by emulation (TBE) proposes that the translator should follow exemplary terminology and usage trends, but not move ahead of the curve by adopting new terms before they have become established.

So what should the TBE translators do when a recognised standards organisation introduces new terminology? First, they should keep abreast of developments. Second, they should emulate their chosen exemplars.

The ICAO recently published a circular (n° 328) on what it calls 'Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)'. This and other ICAO documents on the same subject define a new set of terms that can be summarised as follows:
Unmanned aircraft (UA) & unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – the current ICAO terms – are also referred to as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), unmanned aerial systems (UAS), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned aerial vehicle systems (UAV systems), remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs), remotely piloted vehicle systems (RPV systems), uninhabited aircraft, uninhabited aircraft systems, and drones.
[The question of how to present term-acronym pairs  – especially  term-acronym pairs containing the plural noun 'systems' or the non-count noun 'aircraft' – will be discussed in a separate post.]

For the moment, it would seem that 'drone' is dominant in the lay media, 'UAV' is popular and  RPV is gaining ground  in TJ, while bodies like the ICAO are promoting UA and UAS. In naval defence journalism, articles on unmanned aerial, underwater and surface vehicles (UAVs, UUVs and USVs) may refer collectively to UxVs, offboard systems or drones.

In such cases, TBE stands for a trend-follower approach, not a trend-setter approach.

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