3 - Sources of reference
"The linguistic tricks of children, who at a certain age actually treat words as objects, and even invent new languages and artificial syntaxes, are a common source of such occurrences both in dreams and in the psychoneuroses"1.
Traditionally, in the collective imagination, the translator is figured in the midst of mountains of volumes and papers, between piles of dictionaries and encyclopedias. In effect, translators are among the main users of reference works. This is due to the fact that interlingual transposition often implies checking the receiving culture sources, not just the mere linguistic translation of utterances. Maybe the reference work that. according to the stereotype, is most often associated with the translator - the bilin-gual dictionary - is the less used in everyday pro-fessional practice. Here is a general review.
Dictionaries. Translators use bilingual dictionaries, monolingual dictionaries, etymologic dictionaries, dictionaries of the history of a lan-guage, sectorial dictionaries. Etymologic dictionary is used for many reasons. Sometimes the source culture dictionary is used to check the etymology of a few words as a means toward the reconstruction of the possible meanings. We all know that history modifies the meaning of words, and that therefore the origin of a word almost never explains all its current senses; however, knowing the etymology can be very helpful, above all to distinguish two words that have partially matching semantic fields. The origin of a receiving culture word can serve when a translatant for a specific expression of meaning of the source culture is missing and the translator opts for the rendering with a word exist-ing in the receiving culture, but that underwent a heavy semantic drift. A translator can then reacti-vate a sense that history has partially rendered ob-solete, of course letting the reader realize that.
Historical dictionaries refer the historical collocation not only of words, but of their meanings as well. They play a role comparable to a work containing within itself a series of many editions of non historical dictionaries published over the whole life of a language. A translator needs them, for the most part, when she translates non contemporary texts, to return to the meanings of obsolete words, or words that have lost some meanings to acquire other ones.
The sectorial dictionary is widely used, above all but not exclusively by sectorial translators. As it is well known, in sectorial texts there are many terms, for which the principle of two-way corre-spondence is valid. Here, the principle of linguistic equivalence has meaning. We are in the realm of artificial languages as expressed through the signs of natural languages. Such artificial languages change only when international technical commit-tees meet and decide on modifications that are uni-versally applicable. The rate of obsolescence of such dictionaries depends on the rate of growth of the interested scientific discipline: the smaller the progress, the fresher the dictionary.
For example, a dictionary of translation sci-ence printed ten or twenty years ago would be nearly unusable now, due to the heavy evolutions that this sector has undergone, and the subsequent terminological changes. On the contrary, a diction-ary for the farrier printed a century ago could be still up-to-date.
Encyclopedias. The most similar to the dictionaries are encyclopedic dictionaries, a sort of hybrid of dictionary and encyclopedia. They are reference books destined for an audience that may not be able to distinguish words to be searched in a dictionary from words to be searched in an encyclo-pedia (geographic, scientific, historical, philosophi-cal name). Generic encyclopedias have a very high rate of obsolescence, above all when they have electronic and internet texts as competitors. Once they were the translator's daily bread.
Works and quotations repertories. The former contain, in an order as to allows trace-ability, names of characters, original titles and summaries of works, and the latter, the most famous quotations, and both are indispensable for the translator who doesn't work only in a single sector where quotations and cross references are not used. There are works that contain, in paper or CD-ROM form, lists of translated titles, original titles, char-acters of the world literature. In the paper versions there are indexes ordered by title, original title, character name. The index of original titles is very helpful for translators who find a title of a work translated from a third culture, and they need to know the original title to get to the translation in the target culture. Once the original title is reached, the translator can see if the work was translated in the target culture and, in case it isn't, can refer to the original title. Authors are then indexed, but this is found in normal encyclopedias too.
There are many quotations dictionaries. One of the most well known is the Penguin dictionary of quotations and of modern quotations, divided by subject. Since there are references to chapters and pages, one can easily find the original.
All reference works are published more and more in electronic version as well, and sometimes they have an online version on the internet; elec-tronic versions are easily updated. In the next units we'll look at all the existing alternatives, what are the pros and cons of the dear old printed books where ink and paper are still sources of physical pleasure.
Another important source for translators is consultation of sectorial experts. This is a very pre-cious source. Translators often need them to know, more than what is written in dictionaries and hand-books, what is actually said in the everyday practice of technical environments. Engineers usually know the terms they use even in languages other than their mother tongue. And, of course, from the description of a term found on a monolingual dictionary they can go back to the object and from there locate the target culture translatant. Often their suggestions are the most precise, the most precious.
FREUD SIGMUND, L'interpretazione dei sogni, in Opere, vol. 3, Torino, Boringhieri, a cura di C. L. Musatti, 1966.
FREUD SIGMUND, The Interpretation Of Dreams, translated by A. A. Brill, Lon-don, G. Allen & company, 1913.
1 Freud 1900: 275.