Translators as Terminology Managers?

A sustainable quality management via creation and maintenance of terminology databases plays an important role both in the composition of documents and its Translation.

Therefore, the team that is responsible for terminology work in a company (independent of the company’s size) ideally consists of a staff with linguistic and professional skills as well as specific terminological education. The translation of source language documents is usually not carried out by the internal staff of a company but by external translation service providers.

Terminology Manager – Standard Model

The definition of terms in different languages and the classification of preferred, allowed and forbidden terms is often carried-out in co-operation between the terminology team and experts from the specific company department. In the automotive sector for example, exists a close exchange between terminologists and engineers, even lawyers and financial experts, depending on text type and register. This way it is usually guaranteed that the company’s corporate language is based on a comprehensive terminological system and that the terminological rules are fulfilled during creation and translation of documents. A sustainable maintenance of terminology databases assures, that neither author nor translator have to make difficult terminological decisions, thereby effectively reducing the translator’s research effort. Furthermore, the quality of multilingual documentation increases with good terminology work in the long term, and reduces creation cost for of source and target language texts at the same time. But hang on – what are we missing?

Weak Points

Following the model outlined in the preceding paragraph, terminology is defined by a qualified staff with profound linguistic knowledge and technical expertise, which is not directly involved in the translation process. For multilingual terminological entries, the terminologist searches a corresponding target language match for the source language term and translates the term definitions into all target languages. In most of all cases, the source language is the terminologist’s mother tongue but he might have limited knowledge of different target languages. So the target language components of the terminological entries are usually defined by non-native speakers – which is why reference corpora (consisting of thoroughly selected technical target texts) and/or translation corpora (consisting of thoroughly checked source texts and their translations – optimally checked even more thoroughly) are used. From these corpora, the target language terms including their textual contexts are extracted in order to assure the quality of the terminological entry. Using this method of terminology extraction, the terminology team often does not consider (partly on purpose for practical reasons) the contextual restrictions of the selected technical text in its entirety. Thus, in many cases, the extracted textual context of the term is only a very short passage that gives little information about the whole text. And especially this consideration of contextual background of the source and the target text is something that a specialised translator usually manages a bit more carefully, thoroughly and competently.

Translator Feedback

The translator usually translates into his mother tongue and he has broad linguistic knowledge as well as theoretical and practical experience as translator. Provided that he has the necessary information about the text type and the register, he will be able to decide more easily if the established target language term is preferable to other possible terms. But usually the preferred term in the target language has already been determined and suggestions of the translator about problematic or inadequate terms often induce high effort, that is in many cases unpaid (depending on the kind of job). Therefore, it is often more profitable for the translator to accept the degradation caused by the translation process and follow the terminological specifications – discontentedly but silently. In this scenario, the terminology management loses one important perspective that should ideally be included into terminology work as a valuable part of quality management: The company specific technical and specified knowledge of the terminologist and his opportunity of exchange with experts of the different company-internal departments prize the terminologist’s decisions above the translator’s decisions. But the terminologist does not always recognize special circumstances and he lacks the knowledge of different situations in which one term is more equivalent than another one. In other words: The correctness of terms, the definition and the examples of context both in positive and in negative view are assessed by the terminologist from above, by the translator from inside.

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