23 June 2016

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.

1 comment:

  1. On 23 June, Marco Neves, author of the Certas Palavras blog in Portuguese about the Portuguese language wrote in a private email:
    Dear Steve,
    It was a real pleasure to talk to you last Sunday at the APTRAD conference in Porto.
    I'm really interested in this matter of style.
    If you don't mind, I'm sending a part of my book where I speak a little bit about it: http://www.certaspalavras.net/erro-portugues/

    I'm trying to write some texts about style in Portuguese to help translators and copywriters (and any person who needs to write, to be honest). If you're interested, I'll send them to you as soon as I finish them.

    (The 101 things a translator needs to know is very good. Easy to read, to the point, useful — and a visual pleasure. I'll recommend it to colleagues and students.)
    My reply read:

    Very pleased to hear from you.
    Glad too to see that parts of your book are available online.
    I have just read the article you pointed me to, along with a couple of others, and approve entirely.

    Yesterday I added four posts to my blog (​Translating technical journalism) stimulated partly by discussions during the Aptrad conference and partly by the growing awareness that CAT/TenT vendors are over-selling and over-simplifying their story line on terminological consistency at least insofar as it applies to the writing styles used by journalists, technical journalists and corporate communicators. There may be some interesting correlations with your own thoughts on stylistica.

    It seems to me that the CAT/TenT vendors are simply transposing ideas on terminological consistency developed by technical communicators in countries like the US and the UK directly to other languages and cultures. If this is indeed what they are doing, it smacks of cultural arrogance.

    As I see it -- and bearing in mind that my first language is English, that I'm an English-language technical communicator and into-EN translator -- languages like French and Portuguese need to develop new styles for journalism, technical journalism, business language and so forth that strive for greater clarity and simplicity partly through a degree of terminological consistency while at the same time accommodating established stylistic conventions concerning non-repetition.
    Mmmm. That was easy enough to write, but sounds like it would be very difficult to put into practice.

    I leave it up to you to decide whether this line of thought is going somewhere or amounts to no more than an anglophone's ramblings on other people's languages.


Full circle

After completing a BSc in physics and maths in Australia and extended travels in Africa I found a job in Paris that left me with considerab...