Translating as a Multidisciplinary Activity
Thread poster: Mirela Dorotic

Mirela Dorotic  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:03
English to Croatian
+ ...
May 22, 2012

Lecture on „Translating as a Multidisciplinary Activity“, by Dragica Bukovčan

I attended a very interesting 4-hour lecture on the subject mentioned in the title. The lecture was organized by the Court Interpreter and Translator Association (, of which I am a member, and it took place in Zagreb, Croatia. I would just like to share some of the issues from the lecture.

We started with a description of translation as a mental operation that includes analysis, comparison, analogies, decision-making, choosing the right solution, combining, concluding, associating, interpretating – in other words, it is a complex cognitive process.

The issue that followed can be expressed by the following question: Are translators with linguistic education and training in languages better translators than people who translate occasionally but who work in a special field/profession and have an excellent knowledge and understanding of the terminology? In an ideal world, no. The only exception are lawyer linguists who, due to the nature of their field of study, have excellent knowledge and understanding of concepts, as well as of the language (legal phrases, metaphorical language, etc.). But the fact is that translators usually lack the so called 'knowledge of the profession' and professionals lack lingustic knowledge in its broad sense.
This would imply that translators have to work on several levels at the same time, linguistic knowledge and skill being just basic prerequisities of a good translator.

The importance of knowing both language and fields of translation (be it law, finances, medicine or what have you) was stressed during the whole lecture (this may sound awkward to many colleagues outside Croatia, but in Croatia the academic education of translators consists only of subjects in literature, history, linguistics and related fields, with no subjects in possible fields of study/profession one will choose to deal with as a translator with a degree later on). In general, translators lack the knowledge and understanding of the profession. Or to sum up, translators must have and apply many skills in order to be experts – knowledge of languages, knowledge of cultural differences, knowledge of technical tools (computers, CAT tools,...), ethics, society – translators have to be multidisciplinary.

Regarding practical examples from translating legal English and Croatian, English tends to be more wordy and longer, while in Croatian one can express a whole paragraph with just two words (in some cases). This is due to differences between Civil (Croatian legal system) and Common law (British legal system). During the discussion among the participants, many said that they would not dare to translate a long original phrase in English with a short one in Croatian (and this is all due to the lack of experience in law), which is why they would rather produce an 'un-Croatian' legal translation with redundant and unnecessary phrases than worry.

Each concept/term has its reality, but it does not mean that it has the reality both in English and Croatian at the same time. If Croatian does not have a reality of a concept due to cultural differences between British and Croatian culture, this is not a general problem. It just means that a specific English term does not have its equivalent in Croatian because there is no need for it. But this does not help translators because they often find themselves in situations where they have to translate the term because it appears in the English source text. There are different ways of handling it – either leaving the original term as it is (in italics, for example) and adding an explanotory note (e.g. 'This term can be compared with...'). The other methods are describing the term, creating some kind of translation (with the original work in brackets) and neologisms. Unfortunately, most of the solutions additionaly burden the translation. It goes without saying that this problem and its solutions apply to all language pairs. However, due to globalization, there will be few and few terms that appear only in one language (especially in some fields such as finance, medicine, pharmacy, and other professions).

Another problem in translating specific terms from English to Croatian are so called unmotivated metaphors, i.e. the ones that we, if we are not experienced enough, do not recognize as methaphors (e.g. smart-money investor), as opposed to motivated metaphors (e.g. orphan drug) that immediately alarm us to search for the 'hidden' meaning and not translate this specific example as a kind of drug intended for children without parents.

In Croatia there are not enough bilingual dictionaries, and even the dictionaires we have contain very dangerous errors (e.g. not all meanings are specified, or there are even incorrect translations) and that is why it would be best to rely on finding parallel texts (on source and target languages) on the Internet instead because they are the best source of correct terminology and concepts.

The lecturer, Dragica Bukovčan, has a Master's degree in English, German and Linguistics and a Doctor's degree in Linguistics and she is an expert on the subject of law and legal translations. She also deals with linguistic phraseology and comparative terminological work (Croatian-English-German).

[Edited at 2012-05-22 09:14 GMT]


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