Translator or Terminographer and Understanding the Terms | January 2016 | Translation Journal

January 2016 Issue

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Translator or Terminographer and Understanding the Terms


While providing scientific and technical terms in a target language, a translator/a terminographer needs to understand about the term as a word in a language and the term in the world. Three factors come to play vital roles here: the translator/terminographer, the word/term, the world. The first and the third factor are mutually inclusive whereas the first one is the indispensable factor without which the other two could not exist. Broadly one can categorize these factors as man, language and the world. This paper will explore the nature of all these factors and their reciprocal relationship while elucidating some instructions with regard to provide equivalents for scientific and technical terms in Indian languages.

Keywords: scientific and technical term, translation, translator/terminographer


One of the major stumbling blocks in scientific and technical translation in Indian languages is the translation of scientific and technical terms as they occupy a major portion of the scientific writings. These terms do have direct referents unlike the literary and common words. They are not like metaphors that one can use in more than one context.


Scientific and technical terms belong to specialized field of knowledge system which includes production, process and application of knowledge

in a specialized domain. Based on this definition, one has two requirements before providing scientific and technical terms in a target language: 1) Knowledge of the terms, knowledge of the discipline, 2) Knowledge of the Source language (SL) and the target language (TL). It is rare to find both abilities in an individual. If one has the knowledge of the terms and discipline, the same person may not have the knowledge of the languages (SL and TL) and vice versa. More than these requirements, I would like to put forth the “factor of exposure” which itself can be proved the most important criterion for a translator or a scientist or a lexicographer whose job is to provide scientific and technical terms in a language.

Linguistics is essential or not is not my debate here but the knowledge of languages is a must for a terminographer. Then the question is what the knowledge of languages is. Knowledge of languages means the knowledge of the source language and the knowledge of the target language. Here knowledge implies the information, the application and the implication of a language. Remember that a terminographer is not going to write a grammar but to execute his job, he needs to know the grammar of the source language and the target language. Grammar, I mean here, is a broad category which includes the knowledge of parts of speech, word and sentence formation, case system, knowledge of preposition and postposition etc. A terminographer is required to have this knowledge of grammar in both SL and TL. Knowledge of grammar gives one a language design, a language patterning or a language texture but it is the meaning that provides it the life-stuff. It means the knowledge of meaning is highly essential along with the knowledge of grammar. Knowledge of language not only includes grammar and meaning but the ability to speak and write correctly (without language errors) and intelligibly.

Knowledge of languages       Knowledge of grammar (SL +TL) + knowledge of meaning (SL+TL) + ability to speak and write correctly and intelligibly (SL +TL)

As it has been mentioned above that scientific and technical terms belong to specialized domain of knowledge, a terminographer is required to have the knowledge of disciplines to which the terms belong. This is why many agencies prefer to have a translator who has expertise over the domain in which one is doing the task of translation. But it has been found from many translation workshops organized by National Translation Mission that expertise may not help a translator to translate accurately. What one needs is a continuous updating with his or her expertise in the domain. Expertise does not entail the information one gets in a book or books but it should have the back-up of endorsing or authenticating it. An expert should understand that knowledge is not only there in a book or books but also in the world where the book is created, information disseminated, references made, metaphors used so on and so forth. One is to be aware of not only what is there, but also how and why it is there.

More than the expertise, a terminographer needs to be exposed to what has been mentioned above. The factor of exposure is vital for providing scientific and technical terms in a language. The factor of exposure entails the background knowledge and the knowledge of foregrounding. It directly brings in the act of context in translation. It makes a terminographer or a translator’s job easier by giving a review of existing literature behind the terms and what is in currency. It can make the terminographer confident to use a particular equivalent in a TL. It drives away the confusion about some scientific and technical terms. It decides what is accepted and what is not. The factor of exposure is crucial in the decision making process of a translator or a terminographer.  

Thumb rules for a translator or terminographer: Every major Indian language has an established tradition of scientific and technical writing that uses scientific and technical terms in Indian languages widely. A translator may be a product of such tradition or not, he/she must be aware of the same and he/she should decide whether the given English term has an established equivalent (in the form of translation or transliteration) in the target language or not. If yes, then he/she has to check whether it is in vogue and it is always advisable to accept the terms in vogue. If no, he/she has to go for the below options.

1. Check whether the term has any word in the target language that can predict the meaning of the same. No target equivalent is a perfect equivalent of a source term. There is always a degree of difference between the two terms. If the degree of difference is more, it is better to avoid the target term. If it is less, one can consider it for acceptance. This is not to say that one can go for the direct acceptance of the term. After considering such equivalents, one may have to modify it or derive a term from it, it means to prepare the term for acceptance. 2. Language behaves differently as far as the maintenance of the grammatical category in translation is concerned. Sometimes, it is difficult to maintain the grammatical category of a source term. By maintaining the grammatical category of a source term, a translator may make the translation awkward. To avoid awkwardness and artificiality, one can modify the category of the target term. 3. Try to avoid the target terms which have more synonymous words in the target language as it may confuse the user. Better to keep one target term for an English term in a particular domain. This is why it is necessary to standardize the terms in a language.

4. Each discipline has its own vocabularies which more or less differ from other disciplines. Every discipline is different. The same target equivalent of a particular discipline may not be the target equivalent in other disciplines. The term, “cell” in Biology differs from the term, “cell” in Physics. A translator or a terminographer should understand the difference of the same term in different discipline. 5. Each language is unique and has its own nuances. Languages may have one proto-language but they differ from one another syntactically and semantically. Although words in Indian languages have similarities in form, they differ semantically. Be careful about the false friends. 6. Make sure for whom you are using a term. Are they the scientists? or the teachers ? or the students ? or for the layman or for all ? and do they live in a country that is diversified in language, culture and religion ? India is a multilingual, multicultural, multireligious country. So this diversity has to be kept in mind, while providing target equivalents in the TLs. In such a country, a translator or a terminographer should not be biased while providing equivalents. 7. There are scientific terms which have been widely used all over the world as they are in English, as for examples: Proton, Electron, Radio, computer, rocket etc. Such terms which have got currency in the target language should be retained. Some languages may have some equivalents for these terms, this is why a translator/terminographer should check whether the equivalent has been in currency or the English term has been in currency. Whatever is there in currency should be used in the target language.

8. Sometimes, one gets terms which need much of background information as for example: parliament of bats. There are terms and phrases in science and humanities which have been derived from sociocultural or historiopolitical background. They may sound metaphorical like the one cited above. There are three ways of dealing with such terms or phrases: A) retain the term or phrases with a note, B) Get the meaning and coin the term, C) give a description. 9. Proper names, acronyms should be transliterated. As for examples: Charles Darwin-ଚାର୍ଲସଡାରୱିନ, Louis Pasteur- ର୍ୁଇପାଶ୍ଚର, White House-ह्उआइटहाउस्, ହ୍ୱାଇଟ୍ହ୍ାଉସ୍, UNESCOयुनेस्को, ୟୁନନସନ. A) Some acronyms are pronounced as words and written as words, as for examples: SAARC, UNESCO, NATO, B) some other acronyms are pronounced and written as the letters in the acronyms. As for examples: NCERT, UGC, JNU, CIIL, No target language has equivalents of English acronyms. A translator or a terminographer has to check what is in practice, it is the point A or point B. Abbreviations like km, cm, mm, ml etc are either retained or written as follows: km- कक.मी (Hindi), .ିମ.ି(Odia) cm- से.मी. (Hindi), ନସ.ମି (Odia) 10. Mathematical signs, symbols (Ø, ≠, ≥, ÷, ×, α, π etc) should be retained as they are in English. Numerical system has to be followed as per the target language convention. If target language speakers are using the Roman numerals, accept it, transliterate it, if they are using their own numerals, accept it

and translate. Hindi uses Roman numerals mostly recently, but Odia uses its own numerals. Terms of Trigonometry have to be retained in English. 11. A translator or a terminographer should be aware of the taboo terms in a target language. He/she should avoid using target equivalents which are considered as taboo because of sociocultural milieu. Slang words should not be used. In the domain of Sociolinguistics or Sociology, there might be topics or examples of informal words which one may translate or may not. 12. He/she should well be acquainted with the style convention of the target language. He/she should use the conventional spelling, otherwise it will be rejected. He/she should not invent a new style all of a sudden. If he/she is thinking about a style, that will be more useful than the traditional one, he/she should consult some target language writers or the agency who has assigned the task.

13. Script is another crucial factor for a translator/terminographer. If a target language has an established script in which all the writings are done, the established script should be used by the translator or terminographer. There is a problem of choosing a script for some Indian languages like Santali, Konkoni. There is no one script which is followed for these languages. Each of these languages has more than one script to follow. So, it is difficult for the translator to decide which one to follow or not. Santali speaker residing in Odisha uses Odia script, whereas Santali speakers residing in West Bengal uses Bangla script, Santals residing in Jharkhand uses Devnagri script. Apart from these

three scripts, Santali has also developed its own script, named “Ol chiki” script. Likewise Konkoni has Devnagri script in Goa, Kannada script in Karnataka, Malayalam script in Kerala. In such cases a translator/a terminographer needs to follow the script based on the preference of the target readers for whom he/she is translating. For selecting a script, it is also advisable to follow the instruction of the agency/institution who has assigned the translation work to the translator. 14. For term formation, English follows Latin and Greek, IndoAryan languages follow Sanskrit. This has been the traditional practice. A translator or a terminographer has to be acquainted with this practice. Above all, giving priority to the terms in vogue is a must, for coinage, one may take the help of the protolanguage. 15. Consistency in the use of a term stabilizes it in a language. It also contributes towards the process of standardization. A translator or a terminographer has to keep consistency while providing the target language equivalents for the sole purpose of standardization.

16. If the source term refers to a process, it has the affixes which are added to the English terms like –ization, -tion. A target language may have such affixes which can be used to coin the target terms. Likewise, if it refers to a condition or an ideological movement, affixes like –ism is added which may have the equivalent in target language. As for examples: Nationalization- जातियकरण (जातिय +करण), ଜାତୀୟରଣ (ଜାତୀୟ+ ରଣ) Nationalism- ଜାତବିାଦ (ଜାତି+ବାଦ), जातिवाद(जाति+वाद)

The translator or the terminographer should be well-acquainted with the affixation rules of the language and with the established affixes of the language. 17. Generally, the conceptual terms get translated in Indian languages. It is also suggested to translate such terms. As for examples: evolution- क्रमववकास, democracy-लोकिन्त्र, culture- संस्कृति Names of the disciplines, taxonomy, biological nomenclature get translated in Indian languages. A terminographer should search for the available established term for these, if it is not available, he/she can go for coining a term. 18. Toponomous words (place names), anthroponomous words (personal names, surnames, nicknames) always get transliterated in Indian languages. One should transliterate such terms. 19. While translating a phrase, a translator or a terminographer should know about the SL structure and its corresponding TL structure. As for example: book of accounts should be translated in Hindi as लेखास्ि , not as पुस्िखा . Cultural borrowing should be translated in Hindi as सांस्कृतिकआदान, not as आदानसांस्कृतिक.This can be known from the TL practice that the terminographer or the translator should be aware of.   20. While giving equivalents for a term that has more than one similar terms, one should also determine their equivalents in a TL with a difference. The terms like able, capable should be given different equivalents. 21. A terminographer should make the term as precise as possible. If there is available a short term and a long term for the same concept, the short one should be preferred. Scientific

terms are always precise and economical. While providing equivalents in a TL, the precision should be one of the criteria.

Conclusion: So far we have not had any standardized principles and parameters for providing equivalents in Indian languages. Towards such goal, it is the Commission for Scientific and Technical Terminology, New Delhi has taken some steps. It has also formulated a guideline for providing Hindi equivalents which is available in the published glossaries of the same. Many state institutions have also followed the same for their respective languages.  


Byrne, J. ed., 2006. Technical Translation. Springer.

Quine, W. V. (1969). 0. (1960) Word and object. Cambridge, Mass.

Jakobson, R., 1959. On linguistic aspects of translation. On translation, 3, pp.30-39.

Comprehensive Glossary of Technical Terms, 1992, Commission for Scientific and Technical Terminology, MHRD, Govt of India

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