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23 - Specific-area translation

"I kept all the stories by spinning them further and using them as starting points to invent new ones for myself; but I was no less enticed by the areas of knowledge"1.

Often the most obvious distinction that is made while trying to create a typology of translation is that between literary and technical translation.

In the reality of the market, such a distinction is not very productive, above all because the two categories are not clearly defined.

There are major differences between a translation ordered by a publisher and a translation ordered by a different kind of company, that needs it for internal use, or to publish it as a leaflet to accompany other products, or as advertising material.

While literary translation proper accounts for just 1 percent of the world production of translations2, it is clear that when people superficially speak of "literary translation" they tend to mistake it for and/or overlap it with translation for publishers.

By "literary translation" I mean only translation of fiction (novels, stories) or poetry or theater or, occasionally, cinema. Translation for publishers, on the other hand, accounts for a huge mass of non-literary texts. According to the above-quoted source, translations for publishers are responsible for 20 percent of the total translations, and of these only one twentieth is classed as literary. I think that, therefore, it is more interesting to use the category of translation for publishers (usually absent from typologies). Within translation for publishers, one can distinguish literary translation, non-fiction translation, poetry translation, and journalistic translation.

As for translation for publishers, the greatest part is represented by specific area translation, or specialized translation. In the previous unit I outlined the principles of terminology, valid also when dealing with specialized translation.

When dealing with translation general, I spoke of the importance of translation-oriented analysis, of the choice of the dominant for the metatext reader, of the individuation of the translation loss and its metatextual rendering. All these parameters are peculiar in specialized translation.

Translation-oriented analysis. In a specialized specific-area text, you don't need to make an overall analysis, because a series of variables connected to the general text are excluded in advance. In specialized translation the elements to be analyzed are mainly:

  1. the level of specialization of the text; a specialized text can be popular (as in the case of the instructions for use of an appliance, in which they must translate technical information into a language understandable by all); it can have a medium level of specialization, so that it is understandable, not only by technical personnel, but also by people having a competence in related fields; or it can be devoted only to experts in that field, and therefore have a very high level of specialization;
  2. the field; as we saw in the previous unit, terms generally have only one equivalent in other languages a correspond one-to-one to one object or phenomenon; but thanks to the phenomenon of crossover borrowings, it can occur that in a given language the term from the Arms sector bullet is borrowed by the Finance sector. In order for the one-to-one correspondence to be guaranteed, it is therefore indispensable to know in what field the text was written for the terminology to be disambiguated;
  3. text aim; the specialized text is characterized by a very high informational content, to the detriment of its poetic and connotative content; the translator has, therefore, lots of leeway for her action, given the condition that she knows exactly what the informational aim of the text is.

Choice of the dominant. The informational aim of the text is always the absolute dominant in specialized translation. Let us see what Federica Scarpa says on the subject:

The non-literary translator's primary objective is not necessarily "fidelity" to the form of the original text - which often, on the contrary, must be ameliorated - but the integral reproduction of the information of the original and their adaptation to norms and editorial conventions of the target language/culture3.

From this point of view, the choice of the dominant of specialized translation creates fewer problems when compared to a non-specialized text.

Translational loss and metatextual rendering. Interlingual specialized translation can be practically free of translational loss, excepting the loss common to all forms of communication. Given there is no confusion by the translator about the sector the text belongs to, the level of specialization and the knowledge of the text's aim, the operation should have no loss. Usually, therefore, no metatextual rendering is necessary, also because the prototext is not an object of philological veneration, but rather a communication tool to be put into use, after which no trace of the translation remains, nor should it.

In this type of translation, the tendency of veering toward the pole of adequacy or acceptability is rather easy to solve. Adequacy has no meaning at all because, as Scarpa in the quoted passage says, an improvement on the prototext is often necessary. The improvement of the text during translation or after it - unfortunately still used by even prestigious publishers - in specialized translation finds its raison d'être, and not in translation for publishers. And here the principle that translation must not be perceived as such is legal, even because in a specialized text to perceive that it is a translated text means also, most times, it takes a big effort to decipher the translation. This basic difference in the approach toward the two kinds of translation is stressed in a very understandable and perceptive way by Scarpa:

Ultimately, to the "estranging" approach of literary translation, where the reader is immersed in a text where the differences between source and target language/culture are usually preserved because it is the text that counts, a "familiarizing" approach of specialized translation is opposed, or - borrowing an expression of software translation for its adaptation to the needs of the target users' culture - "localizing", where the source language/culture tends to be brought nearer and familiarized to the target reader, because the text is seen, above all, as a means for transmitting information4.

What has been said does not mean that the specialized translator (or the multiple-specialization translator dealing with a specialized translation) necessarily has an easier time. Her fees are generally much higher than those of the colleague working for publishers and, as time passes and her skill sharpens, the time necessary to translate a page is progressively less.

By contrast, just for the specialization of her work, she must know the textual habits that are favored in the sector. The same concepts, expressed in a different way from what's usual, can provoke an estrangement undesirable in the informative text. To counter this problem, the translator must work starting from text prototypes, the so called "parallel texts", that are text of the same sector originally written in the target language/culture. Or, if these are missing, texts translated in the same sector from other languages.


Bibliographical references

CANETTI ELIAS Die gerettete Zunge. - Die Fackel im Ohr. - Das Augenspiel, München, Carl Hanser Verlag, 1995, ISBN 3-446-18062-1.

CANETTI ELIAS The Tongue Set Free. Remembrance of a European Childhood, translated by Joachim Neugroschel, in The Memoirs of Elias Canetti, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999, ISBN 0-374-19950-7, p. 1-286.

SCARPA FEDERICA La traduzione specializzata. Lingue speciali e mediazione linguistica, Milano, Hoepli, 2001, ISBN 88-203-2709-0.

1 Canetti 1999: 204.
2 Scarpa 2001: 67.
3 Scarpa 2001: 70.
4 Scarpa 2001: 70.