Evolving technical translation to keep the pace
Technical translation is not a fixed art – it must continually evolve to keep pace with new words coming into common usage in all the languages of the world.
However, these in turn can be difficult to predict, and researchers are now working to better understand which words make it into the mainstream, and which fall by the wayside.
Anthropologist Michael O’Brien of the University of Missouri-Columbia gives the example of ‘meme’, as opposed to ‘culturgen’ – both mean the same thing, a cultural item such as a saying that has become widely adopted, but most people would be more likely to recognise ‘meme’.
For technical translation, however, it is Mr O’Brien’s research on the vocabulary of climate change that is perhaps more likely to be involved in the document translation process.
He has revealed an arc of 30-50 years that it can take for new words to fully enter a language, and even then only a handful make it to the true mainstream.
Among them in the area of climate change are ‘biodiversity’, ‘Holocene’, ‘paleoclimate’ and ‘phenology’, all of which were almost unheard-of in the early 1900s, but which have their place in single-language English texts, and in the document translation process, for modern-day items relating to climate change.