Scientific translation: for real experts
Scientific translation is a complex field in which “anything goes” is more useless than ever. In order to carry out any type of translation, a minimum understanding of the topic is necessary, but this understanding is simply crucial when dealing with scientific translation. Scientific language is very specific and specialised and requires years of study; only a doctor is able to perfectly understand a text about the symptomology of an illness and only a biologist understands an article about the different strains of a virus. In fact, scientific translation involves fields so specialised that it doesn’t just imply the adaptation from one language to another, but also includes when a professional is charged with changing the jargon or adapting a purely scientific text for informative purposes.
Scientific translation requires an intensive understanding of the language and scientific contexts. The professional charged with carrying out the translation doesn’t just have to be an expert in the target and source languages, but in order to know how to adequately translate a specific term, must also have extensive training in the field of the text with which they are working. On the contrary, translation errors, along with the great economic investment and the adjusted timing related to scientific translation projects can end up equalling complete disaster. Nidia Amador Domínguez states in the article “Ten common errors in the translation of scientific articles” that a translator in the field of biology must know that the English word “fungal” in Spanish is translated as “fúngico” even though the suffix “-al” is also used in Spanish in similar contexts. And not just that, they must also perfectly understand the style of the scientific field, particularly that of the target language, and know how to apply it. In Spanish, for example, scientific translation should use short phrases that do not eliminate the necessary precision and avoid the passive voice.
A good understanding of context is fundamental when applying a scientific translation that changes the original text from one language to another, but also when the goal is to adapt the level of the text for informational purposes. This process is not easy. In fact, there is an entire field of humanities dedicated to studying how to transfer what is learned in studies and experiments carried out with test tubes, microscopes and lab rats in a way that can be understood by the common man. In order to carry out this type of scientific translation, we must simplify technical terms and expressions, which requires sacrificing the all-important specificity necessary in science not meant for a general audience.
As you can see, scientific translation requires the work of professionals who are experts in linguistics as well as specific fields of study in order to get off on the right foot. Although, in any case, scientists are also capable of a little humour, like the palaeontologist who, in love with a woman called Ella, decided to call a fossil he found Ellaquismus (Ella kiss me).
What would the scientific translation of this name be in Spanish anyway?