Terminology: The DNA of Translation

TermDNABreathe in, breathe out. Open and close your eyes. Every little movement in our body is imperceptible. Every time you perform an action, DNA is covertly spinning its wheels, “writing the instruction manual on building the life that defines us”, as the BBC Knowledge and Learning puts it.

DNA is written in a four-lettered alphabet (a combination of As, Ts, Gs, and Cs) in which words make up sentences that the cells encode and decode in a special language. And there are rules that can’t be broken: Every A goes with a T and every C pairs up with every G. They are like puzzle pieces that fit perfectly together and that not only complement each other but also act like a backup for the other to save vital genetic information–information that gets imprinted in a beautiful and intricate double helix.

Now, imagine a similar situation with your translation…

Every time you translate, you are producing cells whose nucleus is comprised of words and terms that must fit perfectly together, complement each other and back each other up to produce important information. You match terms with their correct concept to give sense to a text and transmit unique information. In other words, you put the puzzle pieces together in a natural order to create a unique “body” of text.

Genes are code messages that relay vital information for all of the body’s cellular functioning. So your translation is the cell that contains valuable, important genetic code. Each term is a unique code, a perfectly organized gene pool that allows for the evolution of a creative collection of texts with sound “biological fitness”. And each concept is the protein that relays the message to give sense to the term. To produce fit bodies of texts you need to manage your terminology effectively to be able to feed your termbase with suitable terms and accurate concepts to ensure its terminological health.

A healthy termbase contains accurate information that can be “inherited to future generations”, that is, reused for future translations. If we fail to do so, we are in risk of generating “junk DNA” (so called because it has no biological function): terms and concepts that have not been appropriately analyzed and end up polluting our termbase and may give birth to horrendous mutations!

Sources and further reading:

  1. All about DNA and proteins. http://www.exploredna.co.uk/all-about-dna-proteins.html [consulted on 4 July 2015 in Explore DNA]
  2. What is it and how it works. https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/DNA-What-It-Is-and-How-It-Works//1. [consulted on 4 July 2015 in BBC Knowledge]
  3. Gene pool. http://www.biology-online.org/dictionary/gene_pool [consulted on 4 July 2015 in http://www.biology-online.org/]
  4. What is DNA. Genetics Home Reference. Your Guide to Understanding Genetic Conditions, http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/handbook/basics/dna. [consulted on 4 July 2015 in http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/]

Image source (adapted)

3 Comments on “Terminology: The DNA of Translation

  1. The DNA language comparison is intriguing but inappropriately compared to terminology. Whether we use a simple list of words, a glossary in Word or a terminology database (an oxymoron), words are living things and their meaning change over time. So those so-called ‘mutations’ are just changes in sense, context and meaning.

    Language is not code, expressions (from words to entire sentences) are not static. DNA may contain instructions for a living organism to do or not to do something as well as information (descriptions?) about a certain characteristic. I admit this is a simplistic definition of mine, since I’m no geneticist or biologist. But comparing how DNA operates to how a language operates is fanciful but misguided.

    Translation makes it possible to convey messages with a lot, little or no meaning, but its purpose is not to convey information in the way data scientists understand it.

  2. Interesting analogy. Although as a translator, terminology is not the most challenging nor important aspect of a translated text.

  3. Thanks for both your comments. Indeed, this post was written as a metaphor to highlight to importance of Terminology in translation.

    And I beg to disagree with Afnan in that terminology is not the most challenging aspect in translation. You cannot translate correctly a highly technical text if you do not know the terminology. Even if you translate something simple as a letter you need to know the business field and its terminology.

    Thank you.

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