23 June 2016

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.

1 comment:

  1. It's not only terminology that's affected. We watch a lot of French TV and notice that it favours literary, historical, gastronomic and political discourse over technical and scientific. TV5 has excellent programmes in the areas just menioned, whereas its coverage of science and technology is abysmal.

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