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.
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:
|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|
At 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.