28 June 2016

Terminological consistency #5: Metonyms et al.

I wish I had read Matthew Kushinka's excellent article À Propos: Synonyms in French under the ATA French Language Division's À Propos rubric before starting this series of posts on Terminological consistency.

Matthew found the terms and examples that my pieces lacked. The good news, I think, is that we are thinking about the same issue from parallel perspectives.

A metonym is a figure of speech in which a person or thing is called by another name rather than its own. (Think about how many times you’ve seen l’Elysée used to refer to the French government.)
I was pleased to see that Matthew's best example of multiple stand-ins in French is drawn from a piece of science writing for the general public, a text type that I see a form of technical journalism:
Mais le comble ? In an article in Science & Vie magazine by French science writer Lise Barnéoud titled Vers la fin des grands arbres, les grands arbres are referred to in almost twenty different ways: as doyens de la nature, maîtres de l’espace et du temps, rois des forêts, and titans ligneux, to name a few. (You can read my post 18 Ways to Say ‘Large Trees’ in French for the other phrasal synonyms that she uses.)
Matthew goes on to say:
Unfortunately, I don’t have any data on “synonym density” between French and English. (Corpus linguists, consider that an idea for your next academic paper!) But I suspect that the French use synonyms, metonyms, and other lexical stand-ins more frequently than Americans.
Like Matthew, I suspect that the French make greater use of metonyms and other lexical stand-ins than English-mother-tongue writers of the text types under discussion. And I too would like to read some serious corpus-based research confirming or disproving this hypothesis.
And if anyone wants to take the concept even further, it would be fascinating to see languages ranked according to this criterion.

18 Ways to Say ‘Large Trees’ in French includes literal translations of the 18 stand-ins for les grands arbres used in Lise Barnéoud's Vers la fin des grands arbres.

When it comes to translating text types that may make greater use of metonyms and lexical stand-ins in either the source or target language (journalism, political discourse or management speak are three text types that come quickly to mind), I believe that today's theories of terminology, not to mention the supposed benefits of CAT/TenT termbases, leave much to be desired.
CAT: computer-assisted translation
TenT: translation environment tool

23 June 2016

Terminological consistency #4: A different approach to meet different challenges

Below I explain how I applied the experience, analysis and observations recorded in the last three posts — Terminological consistency #1, Terminological consistency #2 and Terminological consistency #3 — to the task of compiling my French-English glossary of naval technology.


The broad context in which I spent 15 years translating corporate literature and technical journalism concerning the French naval defence industry can be summarised as follows:
  • Most documents can be broadly classified as technical journalism as described in Why 'technical journalism'?TJ and term variability and Defence is different.
  • Most documents were written by engineers, in-house communicators or other journalists writing in French journalistic styles and completely unaware of the benefits of technical communication guidelines, beginning with terminological consistency. On the other hand, I am bi-cultural enough to readily acknowledge that most mother-tongue readers of French naturally object strongly to repetition and probably also find it off-putting. Conclusion: While terminological consistency would make life easier for the Fr-To-En translator it is very unlikely to improve this type of text for the designated readership.
  • Application of the method described in Value propositionTranslation by emulation, take #1 and Translation by emulation, take #2 meant that I typically aimed to emulate the style and devices used by mother-tongue contributors to publications like IHS Jane's Naval Forces.
  • Terminologically, Jane's Naval Forces and most of the other technical and defence journalism that I have read over the years are characterised by a combination of (a) some rigorous standardised terminology, (b) some precise terms and designations established by product manufacturers, programme authorities and the like, (c) extensive use of acronyms and abbreviations that typically appear once in long form early in each article, (d) extensive use of metonyms, synonyms, generics, and other lexical stand-ins and the like, and, last but not least, (e) a constantly evolving sprinkling of jargon. The last three categories are used, naturally enough, to avoid repetition and to add sparkle and variety.
Such is the essence of the translation challenges posed by technical journalism and such is the essence of the highly personal structure and organisation adopted in compiling my French-English glossary of naval technology (aka #NavTechGloss).

Metronyms in #NavTechGloss

  • Balardgone (= Pentagone à la française / État-Major des armées / Ministère de la Défense et État-Major des armées / Centre de Planification et de Conduite des Opérations / CPCO)
  • bateau gris (= navire de guerre)
  • bateau noir (= sous-marin)
  • Hôtel de Brienne (= Ministère de la Défense) 
  • Hôtel de la Marine (= État-Major de la marine)
  • La Royale (= la Marine française)
  • rue Royale (deprecated) (= État-Major de la marine)
  • rue Saint-Dominique (deprecated) (= Ministère de la Défense)
For more on metronyms, see Terminological consistency #5.

Terminological consistency #3: Observing the French

In this post I summarise some observations concerning terminological consistency as an English-language technical communicator and an into-English translator who put two children through the French education system (primary, secondary and tertiary levels) and has spent 40 years working with and for French engineers employed in the aerospace, remote sensing and naval defence industries.

Some personal observations of the French education system and its graduates since say 1975:

  • Literature was consistently held up as the sole model for nearly all types of writing. Indeed I seldom if ever heard anyone discuss the importance of simple, direct language or consistent terminology.
  • Many, many French people clearly remember and, as a result, remain enslaved to, the dictates of primary- and secondary-level teachers concerning the importance of non-repetition when writing essays. Then, because they were not also taught that other writing styles demand different techniques, they applied this rule throughout their lives to anything and everything they are required to write.
  • The memory I refer to was remarkably vivid because it often took the form of red circles around any repeated word or expression on any given page joined by a red line overwritten with a big red R for répétition.
  • I was amazed how often this image of the big red R came up when explaining why my translations featured greater terminological consistency, hence more repetitions than the original. My clients often asked me to use more synonyms as they saw terminological consistency (aka repetition) as poor writing style.

Terminological consistency #2: Some broad generalisations

Before explaining my thoughts on the limitations of vendor claims on terminological consistency allow me to record here some generalisations that (a) I hold to be broadly valid, and (b) provide a framework for my analysis.

On the relative importance of technical communication and literature in different languages

  • In most languages, the status of technical communication is low to virtually non-existent compared to that of literature.
  • The small number of languages in which technical communication enjoys relatively high status compared to literature include English, German, the Scandinavian languages and Russian.
  • Western European languages in which technical communication has low to non-existent status compared to literature include the Romance languages, with French showing early signs of a little change.
  • Languages in which literature enjoys very high status and technical communication has low to non-existent status generally — please correct me if you think I'm wrong — consider terminological consistency as either a low or irrelevant priority in most writing styles.
  • Broadly speaking, where literature enjoys very high status, I believe that this correlates with cultural emphasis on the importance of non-repetition. Similarly, where technical communication enjoys relatively high status, I believe that this correlates with at least a degree of cultural awareness of the importance of terminological consistency in a broader range of writing styles

On the importance of terminological consistency in translation

  • As a first approximation, the terminological consistency of a translation should reflect that of the original. If the original is inconsistent, the translation should probably follow suit. Corollaries: (1) Term mining remains critical, but work on termbases is not likely to be cost-effective. (2) The benefits of translation memories and termbases approach zero.
  • All of the claims made by language service providers (LSPs) and translation software vendors regarding terminological consistency are 100% valid where the original was produced by competent technical communicators writing in their mother tongue in rigorous compliance with a comprehensive termbase.
  • The situation just described is far more common when translating from languages in which technical communication enjoys relatively high status (e.g. English, German, the Scandinavian languages and Russian).
  • When translating into a language in which technical communication enjoys relatively high status, greater terminological consistency in the target language may represent significant added value, particularly in writing styles where the target readership can be assumed to be familiar with good technical communication. Corollary: This often implies N equivalents in the target language for M terms in the source language where N is significantly smaller than M.
  • When translating into a language in which the status of technical communication is low to compared to that of literature, it may be wise to submit a trial batch of translated material to the client for analysis. There are writing styles in these languages where excessive repetition — the inevitable corollary of rigorous terminological consistency — may be viewed as a shortcoming.

Terminological consistency #1: Vendor claims

Below I have compiled a handful of claims by translation and language software vendors on the importance of terminological consistency.

SDL Trados Studio

SDL offers a downloadable brochure entitled The importance of corporate terminology. On page 8 it says:
By defining a concept and assigning one allowed term per language to it, a company can make sure that everybody involved in the communication process is clear and consistent, no matter which department, subject area or which text type is concerned.
 The SDL MultiTerm page says:
SDL MultiTerm is SDL's terminology management tool used worldwide by content owners, project managers, reviewers and translators to ensure consistency in terminology across all content types and languages. It can be used as a standalone desktop tool to create terminology databases and glossaries or with SDL Trados Studio to improve overall translation quality and efficiency.
Elsewhere we read:
A key finding from the TTI survey is that nearly half of translation rework is caused by terminology inconsistencies


The page headed memoQ benefits for individual translators says:
The bigger the project, the harder it is to ensure consistency. Terminology and recurring phrases must be applied consistently. memoQ helps you achieve this ...


Referring to an Acrolinx case history, we learn that:
Introducing the Acrolinx platform also helped raise in-house awareness of the importance of consistent terminology. This, in turn, simplified translations into other languages and allowed the company to speak with one voice.
With the exception of SDL's naive statement about "one allowed word per language" for a given concept, I would agree entirely with all of these claims if only they were made with a few reservations. These reservations will be discussed in my next two or three posts.

21 June 2016

A glossary worth its salt

Allison Wright author of a That elusive pair of jeans at wrightonthebutton.com has posted an insightful review of A French-English glossary of naval defence under the heading A glossary well worth its salt.

Allison makes a number of, as I said, insightful observations including the following:
... this glossary provides a cogent argument for building something worthwhile for your own practical reference within a specific subject field. Such glossaries are far more dynamic than is initially apparent.
In many texts, including those where the proportion of ‘technical’ content is relatively high, consistency is not always desirable, and this is where a glossary which lists two or three target options next to one source head word is much more helpful than anything one’s TM might contain.
There is more than one way to skin a CAT, as the saying goes, and in this case, a glossary ranks high on my list of priorities.

09 June 2016

Defense technical journalism: Noun forms vs verb forms

Many technical journalists, communicators and translators show a tendency to use noun forms in preference to verb forms, for example 'acquisition' in preference to 'acquire'. This gives rise to much discussion. Today, I do not wish to add to the theoretical discussion, but merely to quote some examples then add a few brief comments.

My examples are drawn from an article dated entitled Navy May Back Away From Advanced Arresting Gear for Ford Carriers by Sam LaGrone, a seasoned technical journalist who has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services. The article was published on the U.S. Naval Institute's USNI News website on 24 May. (Hence U.S. spelling and original punctuation and capitalization.)

The article discusses the General Atomics-built Advanced Arresting Gear under development for the U.S. Navy's next-generation Gerald R. Ford-class (CVN-78) aircraft carriers.

An artist’s conception of an installed Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) on a U.S. carrier. General Atomics Image

The quotations I wish to focus on are:
“The Advanced Arresting Gear has become a model for how not to do acquisition of needed technology,” a senior Navy official told USNI News on Tuesday.
Question: Why 'how not to do acquisition' rather than, say 'how not to acquire'?
1)  While most style guides suggest that verbs are preferable to nouns, this general rule is often flouted by technical communicators, particularly when the noun carries connotations that the cognate verb does not.
2)  When understood as shorthand for 'defense acquisition', the noun brings to mind university courses, guidebooks and more. [The Defense Acquisition University provides mandatory, assignment specific, and continuing education courses for military and civilian personnel. DAU guidebooks here.] The verb 'acquire' carries none of this mass of information, know-how, procedures, constraints, etc.

If anyone out there in the blogosphere knows of a a more thorough treatment of this topic, please let me know.
The promise of the AAG and the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS) on the other end of Ford was to allow the carrier to launch and recover aircraft that weren't built to the high tolerances of the current arrested landing and catapult systems and expand the types of aircraft that can make an arrested land on a carrier. [sic]
Question: Why 'aircraft that can make an arrested landing'?
1)  First, I assume that the author meant to write 'aircraft that can make an arrested landing'. 
2)  This example is grammatically different from the one above. Here the challenge is to find a verb form combing 'to land' and arresting gear. ... But now, having isolated the problem, I'd suggest that the author might have done better to write 'expand the types of aircraft that can land on carriers using arresting gear'.


While there are clearly cases where technical journalism demands certain noun forms rather then the cognate verb forms, frequent recourse to noun forms in preference to verb forms can result in poor style.

08 June 2016

Numbers in boxes: Grammatical and other tricks

This post is about layout, editorial and other tricks used in general and technical journalism to present numbers in information boxes, side columns and the like.

Here are a couple of examples from the FT's The Big Read on 6 June. The article, by Harriet Agnew, Miles Johnson and Patrick Jenkins, is entitled Inside McKinsey’s private hedge fund:

Would anyone like to describe the grammatical liberties taken here in order to achieve the designed graphic design/layout?
While the liberties taken here will probably pain many a grammar maven, the visual impact is impressive, particularly, IMHO, for scan reading, or for scanning to decide where to focus one's gaze more intently.

NavTechGloss: client satisfait

La publi-info postée par Mer et Marine le 15 mai donne une indication du niveau de satisfaction du client. Voir  18ème édition du Lexique f...