Terminology vs. translation problems
Thread poster: tsimard

Local time: 19:34
English to French
May 30, 2012

I am an M.A. student in Translation Studies and I am trying to make the distinction between terminology and translation problems. Surprisingly, I haven't found much information in my literature review.

Anthony Pym suggests the following in an article :

Translation problem: A situation where a target-text element must be sought to correspond in some way to a source-text element and more than one solution is viable (solutions may include omission or transcription). If only one solution is viable, then you are probably dealing with terminology (q.v.). The relative difficulty of a translation problem is a complex value that depends on many subject variables (what is difficult for one translator may be easy for the next), in addition to the number of viable solutions to be discarded.

Terminology vs. translation: If a distinction must be made, let us propose the following: translation involves the obligation to select between more than one viable solution to a problem, whereas terminology seeks situations where there is only one viable solution.

I believe that this definition does not quite capture both concepts.

Can anyone provide insight or ideas? It would be greatly appreciated!


Local time: 01:34
Italian to Arabic
+ ...
Terminology is a restricted translation solution May 30, 2012

It is true that the main problem of transaltion is the variety of possible viable solutions ;
whilst as for terminology there are more restricted solutions , but at the same time these solutions are influenced by social and cultural aspects, as for example it should be considerd whether the target culture - and ofcourse the language- have the same idea or the same concept of the source terminology - conative linguistic function- , some terms remain untranslated as they enter in the target language in the form of foreign terms, other terms cannot be translated into one single term but you should find equivalent linguistic combinations in order to explain the original one, and ofcourse other terms can be translated into the target language especially if the cultures are somehow similar.

In conclusion, terminology remains a restricted translation solution , it shows the same problems of translation but with less viable solutions.

I hope my answer is somehow helpful .
Good luck for your studies.

[Edited at 2012-05-30 09:04 GMT]


Steven Smith
United Kingdom
Local time: 00:34
Member (2007)
Japanese to English
An odd distinction May 30, 2012

Aren't terminology problems just a sub-type of translation problem? According to Mona Baker (In Other Words) translation problems can be seen as problems of non-equivalence at different levels - word level, above word level (collocations, etc) grammar, cohesion, coherence, etc., so terminology problems would come under word-level problems.

As for types of terminology problem, off the top of my head there is 1) non-equivalence because the target language lacks the source term - common in new areas of technology with source language neologisms; 2) as 1, but the SL lacks the terminology and uses a descriptive phrase for which there is a standard term in the TL; 3) word class - e.g. it may be necessary or desirable to unpack a quasi-terminological compound noun in the SL into a phrase in the TL; 4) Register - the standard term may be too technical for the target readership; 5) irrelevant equivalence. In parallel text analysis (Japanese and English medical and pharmaceutical texts), I sometimes find that a common SL term is simply not used in equivalent TL texts because of differences in the way certain entities or events are described. In such cases, the problem is whether to mechanically stick to the SL term or follow the natural TL conventions.

Hope that helps


[Edited at 2012-05-30 09:16 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-05-30 09:17 GMT]


Phil Hand  Identity Verified
Local time: 08:34
Chinese to English
Different level issues May 30, 2012

Very interesting answers from my two colleagues above. I completely agree with them, and I think that Pym quote is just wrong. There's never just one viable solution. Interesting to note that both the answers above are from colleagues working with non-European languages. Who knows, perhaps you can get away with this stuff in French-English. But certainly in my pair, the use of a technical term in the SL does not necessarily imply the use of a corresponding term in the TL, and vice versa, as Steven very clearly explained.

I'd say terminology and translation aren't two different kinds of issues, they are issues on two different levels. Terminology is just part of the language. It's specialist meanings of words in a particular genre, and you have to learn various terminologies in your languages as you learn other words. Learning that "magnetite" is a certain kind of mineral is no different from learning that "ball" is a round thing.

I can then learn the roughly corresponding terms in my second language, but for both the "normal" word (ball) and the "term" (magnetite) there are differences of usage, different connotations, etc., etc. The fact that one is a "term" and the other not doesn't make any difference. When you run into either of them in a text, you still have to do the job of translation.

I guess I do understand what Pym was aiming for. When we did training for simultaneous interpretation we talked about this: some terms you don't bother trying to process, you just say the equivalent term in the target language (i.e. you kind of skip the understanding phase: instead of source-meaning-target you just go source-target). I wasn't sure about it for interpreting, but in simultaneous, where you have to be super fast, it can be a useful tool. In translation, I don't see any justification. Calling something "terminology" doesn't mean you get to stop thinking and do dictionary word-flipping.

To steal from a colleague's post a couple of days ago:

Andrzej Mierzejewski said:
"Read the source text.
Understand the meaning.
Find the right words, expressions etc. in the target language.
Write the target text.”

That's a great summary of the translation process, and you'll note that nowhere in it do you divide the source text into "terminology" and "other" language. That's just not the way it works.


Robert Forstag  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:34
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Comprehension of Source Language vs. Expression in Native Language May 30, 2012

Over the years, I have noticed what I think is a related issue as regards particular patterns of Kudoz queries. Thus while some posts are of unknown terms in the SL, others concern terms for which the meaning of the entire string of words is known to an Asker who simply doesn't know how to express the equivalent thought in the target language.

It is important to note that the Askers I am referring to are native in the target language (i.e. in the Spanish-to-English pair).

Conceding the point that even accomplished language professionals can experience blocks from time to time, I find chronic expressive problems much more problematic for a translator than ignorance of particular SL terms. My eyebrows are thus raised when I see a pattern of queries that has resulted from a translator's inability to render, in his or her native language, semantic units in the SL that are clearly understood.


JH Trads  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 19:34
Member (2007)
English to French
+ ...
There's never just one viable solution May 30, 2012

Completely agree with Phil. There is practically never only one viable solution, contrary to what novice translators might believe and to what incompetent proofreaders (also charitably called 'overzealous') would have everybody believe.


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