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Solving the terminology puzzle, one posting at a time

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    Barbara Inge Karsch - Terminology Consulting and Training

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What do we do with terms?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on September 23, 2010

We collect or extract terms. We research their underlying concepts. We document terms, and approve or fail them. We might research their target language equivalents. We distribute them and their terminological entries. We use them. Whatever you do with terms, don’t translate them.Microsoft Clip Art

A few years ago, Maria Theresa Cabré rightly criticized Microsoft Terminology Studio when a colleague showed it at a conference, because the UI tab for target language entries said “Term Translations.” And if you talk to Klaus-Dirk Schmitz about translating terminology, you will for sure be set straight. I am absolutely with my respected colleagues.

If we translate terms, why don’t we pay $.15 per term, as we do for translation work? At TKE in Dublin, Kara Warburton quoted a study conducted by Guy Champagne Inc. for the Canadian government in 2004. They found that between 4 and 6% of the words in a text need to be researched; on average, it takes about 20 min to research a term. That is why we can’t pay USD .15 per term.

Note also that we pay USD .15 per word and not per term. Terms are the signs that express the most complex ideas (concepts) in our technical documents. They carry a lot more meaning than the lexical units called words that connect them.

Let’s assume we are a buyer of translation and terminology services. Here is what we can expect:

.

Translation

Terminology work

Number of units a person can generally process per day

Ca. 2000 per day

Ca. 20 to 50 entries

Cost for the company

Ca. USD .25 per word

Ca. USD 55 per hour

Microsoft Clip ArtAt the end of the translation process, we have a translated text which in this form can only be used once. Of course, it might become part of a translation memory (TM) and be reused. But reuse can only happen, if the second product using the TM serves the same readership; if the purpose of the text is the same; if someone analyses the new source text with the correct TM, etc. And even then, it would be a good idea to proofread the outcome thoroughly.

The terminological entry, on the other hand, should be set up to serve the present purpose (e.g. support a translator during the translation of a particular project). But it might also be set up to allow a support engineer in a branch office to look up the definition of the target equivalent. Or it might enable a technical writer in another product unit to check on the correct and standardized spelling of the source term.

I am not sure that this distinction is clear to all translators who sell terminology services. You might get away with translating terms a few times. But eventually your client’s customers will indicate that there is something wrong, that the product is hard to understand or operate because it is not in their vernacular.

There are much more scientific reasons why we should not confuse translation and terminology work; while related and often (but not always) coincidental, these tasks have different objectives. More about that some other time. Today, let me appeal to you whose job it is to support clear and precise communication to reserve the verb “to translate” for the transfer of “textual substance in one language to create textual substance in another language” as Juan Sager puts it in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies. If we can be precise in talking about our own field, we should do so.

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4 Responses to “What do we do with terms?”

  1. Lisa Del Papa said

    Hi Barbara. I do agree that terminology and translation work are different. I think that many translation vendors are eager to offer more services and therefore claim to offer terminology “management,” but term management must really start at the source — during product development at the client. Vendors might host a term solution for their clients, but hosting and managing are two different things. Some vendors also believe that simply returning a glossary to the client, after completion of a translation project, of the translations they used constitutes terminology management. When both translation vendor and client gain a better understanding of what term work is, both sides will benefit — the vendor will be able to offer better, more targeted services to their clients, and the client will be able to provide better products to their end users.

  2. […] « What do we do with terms? […]

  3. […] What do we do with terms? We collect or extract terms. We research their underlying concepts. We document terms, and approve or fail them. We might research their target language equivalents. We distribute them and their te… Source: bikterminology.com […]

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