How scientific terminology can change our perception of life – a guest post by Yolanda Gómez (Okodia)

OkodiaGrupoTraductorOne of the translation specialties most demanded in our profoundly globalised society is scientific translation. There are continuous technical and scientific changes in all parts of the world, created by the minds of researchers and scientists working in different countries and different native languages—who, if they want to communicate their findings to the international community, must do so in a shared language.

But, how can certain terms that are deeply rooted in the culture of a specific community be translated into another culture with completely different linguistic and cultural roots? For example, how can a scientific text originally written in Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Turkish, or Russian be translated into English or Spanish?

The scientific jargon in every nation and culture has its own terms which are sometimes hardly translatable into other languages and cultures: vocabulary, idioms, turns of phrase… These are terminological peculiarities which a good scientific translator will only be familiar with if he previously does an intense work of linguistic, terminological, psychological, and cultural immersion into the country from where the scientific document to be translated comes.

As stated by the lecturer and philologist Isabel Santamaría Pérez in her paper “Terminology: definition, functions, and applications” (2006): “For the various scientific-technical disciplines, terms are a set of units of expression and communication that make it possible to convey specialised knowledge. Terms are a way to communicate” (P-4).

Along with this line of thought, having in-depth knowledge of the scientific terminology used in the various international communities is the only way for translators to offer the market translation services that are truly reliable, rigorous, and accurate, a scientific translation that is actually able to effectively convey the ideas of the original author of the scientific text. Terminology, the science that studies not only terms but the principles that rule their standardisation and classification, is a subject that scientific translators should master as well as their own working languages.

Another peculiarity faced by scientific translators such as those in Okodia and Okomeds is the continuous technification of scientific terms. How should scientific translators deal with the unstoppable popularisation of scientific terms by society as a whole? Should they go along with this sociocultural trend? Should they fight it and uphold the translation of scientific terms into a different language?

The technification of scientific termsOKODIA pic

Some experts such as Adamo, Diderot, and Machiavelli, talk about the unstoppable “technification” of the current scientific lexicon. Translators would add that this potential technification, this popularisation of technical terms in everyday language, predominantly pertains to English. We can make this statement on the basis of the extensive experience as an agency specialising in scientific technical, and health science translation.

The consequences of the prevalence–the triumph–of English in scientific vocabularies and terminological glossaries are more significant than they might appear at first sight. From the psychological point of view, for example, several experts claim that use of these terms is changing the way in which human beings think, the way in which they see life as well as their habits, attitudes, and skills.

(…) the fact is that information and knowledge play a crucial role in the configuration of social life, and are changing and reconfiguring the economic activities of these societies; in fact, the idea of a knowledge society is attributed to Peter Drucker within the context of business management  (see The Age of Discontinuity, 1968). It is worth examining, in psychological and empirical terms, whether this role attributed to information and knowledge has had an impact on citizens in these societies and is really affecting the way in which they see life.
Garzón A. (2012). Tecnificación del conocimiento y creencias sociales. Boletín de Psicología (106). P-29.

From this point of view, are scientific translators ultimately responsible for the behavioural modification of society as a whole? Can our use of terminology change actions, thoughts, ideas, and reactions? Should we uphold our respective mother tongues and faithfully translate their scientific terminology?

Images by Okodia

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