Acronyms: when and how translate them?
Thread poster: ArelTranslation

ArelTranslation
Netherlands
Local time: 13:55
English to Italian
Jan 13, 2016

Hi,

I am a newbie and I would like to ask you, in your experience: How and when do you translate (or not) an acronym?
I know that in some cases (for example USA ) is not necessary to translate or to explain it, but in case of specialistic field or of particular type of acronyms, how do you relate to them in translation?
It would be good to keep the acronym and put the translation in brackets?Or it would be better to eliminate the acronyms and translate directly?

Thank you in advance for your help

Eliz


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Joseph Tein  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:55
Member (2009)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Always translate acronyms Jan 13, 2016

I'm writing on the basis of my experience as a medical translator (Spanish/Italian --> English).

You must always translate acronyms that are different in the source language. It is unprofessional to leave acronyms untranslated. And I see no reason to leave the original acronym: in my case, with medical translation, there is no reason to think that doctors would be interested in the Italian acronym; they only need to know what it is in English so they can understand the patient's report or the journal article.

I don't understand what you mean when you say "I know that in some cases (for example USA ) is not necessary to translate or to explain it." I live in the USA and you need to translate the foreign acronyms into English. When you're translating English into Italian, I think you would need to find out if the English acronym is known and used in Italian in the English form (Italians love to use English terms) or whether there exists an Italian acronym that corresponds to the English one.

With some rare and unusual acronyms, if I think they would not be understood, I write out the complete expansion.

I hope this helps a bit. Buon lavoro!


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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:55
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
+ ...
It only makes sense to discuss the issue in the case that English is the source language Jan 13, 2016

Joseph Tein wrote:
And I see no reason to leave the original acronym: in my case, with medical translation, there is no reason to think that doctors would be interested in the Italian acronym; they only need to know what it is in English so they can understand the patient's report or the journal article.



I think your language pair is not representative to use in discussing the issue.

A lot of English acronyms have been adopted by many languages, and the issue is if these English acronyms should be kept in English or translated into the target language.

What I can tell is that, apparently, it NEVER makes sense to leave a Chinese acronym in Chinese when you translate the document from Chinese into English; meanwhile It OFTEN makes sense to leave an English acronym in English when you translate from English to Chinese.

Just as an example, it is not necessary to translate DNA because the readers of the target language can be more familiar with it than its translation.


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xxxAdrian MM.
Local time: 13:55
French to English
+ ...
Boycott acronyms and abbreviations if just one is un-known Jan 13, 2016

Joseph Tein wrote:

You must always translate acronyms that are different in the source language. It is unprofessional to leave acronyms untranslated.



Not a counsel of perfection if just in one in a pile or heap is un-known - like a crowd of females with just one male grammatically going all to male in many Romance lingos.

No one at any conference I have attended in the last 30 years has been able to solve the patchwork-acronyms conundrum.

There is also the matter of wordcount expansion that the client should be forewarned of if every single acronym and abbreviation is translated and written out in full

1. every time
2. the first time only and/or
3. turned into an equivalent abbreviation e.g in DE > UWG = Unlauteres Wettbewerbgesetz/ Unfair Competition Act, thereafter UWG or UCA.
4. There are also some short German abreviations for statutes and legal, medical and scientific periodicals, the full title of which may take up to 3 lines.

If a client insists on every abbreviation and acronym being deciphered and decoded, then the latter will need to help instead of complaining when Internet searches, always incomplete abbreviation dictionaries and the unhelpful staff at the local embassy draw a blank, e.g. obscure French-African social security codes in a set of annual accounts and specific to one small country or region only. Actual example:

An abrasive London solicitor (lawyer) client: 'why haven't they been translated?' Answer from the trans. co.'s director: 'you are in the trade, so you should know the acronym. Even if you don't, you still have to pay the bill for the rest of the translation'.

[Edited at 2016-01-13 23:37 GMT]


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Joseph Tein  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 04:55
Member (2009)
Spanish to English
+ ...
maybe not quite "always" Jan 14, 2016

I should modify my statement and say that I think we should make every reasonable effort to translate acronyms; there comes a moment when it's just too inefficient to waste large amounts of time on a single elusive acronym.

Depending on the client and the file, we can tell the client that this one just is too obscure.

In this particular case, I think the translator needs to know which English acronyms are widely used in Italian, and which need to be translated into their Italian counterparts. In the case of DNA mentioned by jyuan_us, the Italian version is ADN (acido deossiribonucleico) and I would think that the translator should use the Italian version and not just leave it in English. It depends, partly, on the client's wishes.


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 18:25
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
I am with Joseph on this Jan 14, 2016

Speaking from the perspective of Hindi which has a different script from English and in which the native speakers have little or no knowledge of English or the English script, I am fully with Joseph that acronymns should always be translated/transliterated.

This is imperative on account of two reasons:

1) Any text left in a script that is not familiar to the target audience is so much of splattered ink on paper.
2) Even if some in the target audience can string together the letters of the acronymn and reproduce the sounds they represent, they will not be able to guess the meaning of the acronymn, as the acronymn could stand for extremely complex concepts or syntax.

For these reasons, acronymns should always be translated, and if this is not possible, they should at least be transliterated (ie, written in the script of the target language).

Often business clients out of misplaced fondness to their English brand names insist that their brand names should always remain in English whatever the target language. This does immense damage to the image of their brand name and also makes little business sense, as the English brand names are invisible to all those who don't know the English script (and most of the people for whom translation is done don't) and therefore these businesses miss an immense opportunity of popularizing their brands. I always advise such clients of the blunder they are doing when they insist on keeping their brand names in English, and some show the intelligence to follow my advise and agree to transliterating them into Hindi for the Indian market.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 13:55
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Depends entirely on the context Jan 14, 2016

As you say, everyone, or at least everyone who can read the English script, knows that USA is USA.

Otherwise, you have to think what your readers will understand and accept.

Think of NATO, which becomes OTAN in French

UN (United Nations) becomes FN (Forenede Nationer) in Danish.
EC becomes EF, and so on - you have to know which abbreviations are used in your target language, and definitely use them.


When you get to medical abbreviations, you really need to know what you are talking about. The safest is to write the words out in full, but you should learn the commonest ones.

BT in Danish = BP (blood pressure) in English.
Many abbreviations do not have direct equivalents in the other language, and just because it is Latin, don't assume it will be understood!

If there is any doubt, explain in brackets or write the term in full, but overdoing it makes a text very choppy and difficult to read, because it interrupts the flow.

How you deal with abbreviations is an art and a science in itself...

The answer is to ask yourself every time:
Who are my readers, and what would they say in this context? Then use your common sense.


Doctors probably know what BP is, and be irritated if you explain every time.
New patients will not.
Long-term heart patients will know...

It may take some time and research to find the correct translation.
You can check on most EU sites - there are parallel texts in all languages.
Many institutions have official English names and/or acronyms, which may not be the way you would translate them yourself, but that is what has been chosen, and you have to use them if you can find them.

Check lists like
http://www.acronymfinder.com/
and google for others.
Check multilingual websites... and ask the client, if they use special abbreviations and acronyms that are not known elsewhere. They will want them used consistently over time and throughout their websites and correspondence or whatever...

Best of luck!




[Edited at 2016-01-14 09:02 GMT]


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 13:55
Spanish to English
+ ...
Horses for courses Jan 14, 2016

Certain fields are rife with acronyms and abbreviations. Take medicine, for example - there are so many abbreviations and shorthands used that there are several sites, such as cosnautas, and special dictionaries and forums dedicated to them. Professional medical translators will therefore know a lot more of these abbreviations than someone working in other areas, or in several different fields.

In my own case, I work in a few different areas, and to avoid having to spend time researching abbreviations and acronyms, I usually insist that the author or client who uses them should define them, otherwise they will not be translated. The following caveat is nº 6 of my working conditions:

"No se puede garantizar la traducción de abreviaciones y/o acrónimos que no hayan sido definidos en el texto original, excepto los más comunes."

(The translation of abbreviations and/or acronyms not defined in the original text, except for the most common or widely known, cannot be guaranteed).

Nevertheless, problems may arise when working with agencies, as they are often reluctant to, as they see it, pester the client for such" minor details".

[Edited at 2016-01-14 09:43 GMT]


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Texte Style
Local time: 13:55
French to English
always translate Jan 14, 2016

I always translate acronyms on principle, but I'm not going to waste any time on them. Mostly the client knows what they are, sometimes it's their in-house jargon that nobody else could guess. So I simply ask them to specify. It's amazing how they very often tell you to "just leave it", even though it's clearly not going to mean a thing to those who'll have to read the translation. All too often I feel that they just can't be bothered to explain.

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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Just use common sense Jan 14, 2016

It will be obvious in the context what to do. You do whatever the reader needs.

Only an idiot would regurgitate meaningless abbreviations or habitually translate ones that don't need translating.

And there you have it, the whole of translation theory in a nutshell.

PS USA is not an acronym. Sorry, it had to be said.


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:55
Member (2008)
Italian to English
Usually not Jan 14, 2016

Eliz_ wrote:

Hi,

I am a newbie and I would like to ask you, in your experience: How and when do you translate (or not) an acronym?
I know that in some cases (for example USA ) is not necessary to translate or to explain it, but in case of specialistic field or of particular type of acronyms, how do you relate to them in translation?
It would be good to keep the acronym and put the translation in brackets?Or it would be better to eliminate the acronyms and translate directly?

Thank you in advance for your help

Eliz



Usually not, since an acronym in one language such as FFSS (Ferrovie dello Stato) or BOT (Buoni del Tesoro) would not work in any other language. I usually translate them as (for example).

FFSS (Ferrovie dello Stato - Italian State Railways)
BOT (Buoni del Tesoro - Treasury Bonds)

Where the same acronym repeats multiple times in a document, I only provide this explanation the first time. Thereafter I just use the acronym. My clients seem happy with that.

FWIW I think translating all acronyms, including TLAs, would be totally OTT.

TTFN



[Edited at 2016-01-14 11:56 GMT]


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 12:55
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Sometimes old ones don't need explaining and new ones do Jan 14, 2016

KGB (Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti, Committee of State Security) is much better known in English than its successor, the FSB (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, State Security Service). Even the KGB's predecessors, NKVD and OGPU, as possibly better known. So I might explain FSB unless it was quite clear from the context, or I was quite sure the client would know it.

To Tom: Glad to see TTFN (abbreviation) from the wartime radio programme ITMA (acronym) still being used.

I won't explain these to everyone because (to use another abbreviation from ITMA) YTYTK.

[Edited at 2016-01-14 12:04 GMT]


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ArelTranslation
Netherlands
Local time: 13:55
English to Italian
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you! Jan 14, 2016

Thank you all for your comments and explanations. You helped me a lot!

Yes, it's true! It mostly depends on the context and on the field, moreover I should have had specify that I meant the translation English > Italian.

My doubt on this topic was about the fact that I found some English acronyms that have no equivalent in Italian and for which the flow of the text could be compromised by entering the explanation in the sentence.
As in Italian we have introduced a lot of English acronyms especially in the specialistic fields, I was asking myself if an acronym could be left as it is without explanation as a professional should know the common acronyms of his field.

Before translating I do research and I try to find an equivalent if is the case, but I always find myself with this doubt I expressed here.

Thank you again for your help!


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