Peculiarities of technical translation

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №5 - 2013

Nechayeva Yelena, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
Novitskaya Yuliya, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan

Technical texts translation is one of the most popular services in the translation sphere. Technical texts represent a type of functional texts which deals with various technical processes and production and is expressed in various forms of written texts with the main purpose to provide objective representation of information [10]. Throughout the last century the quantity of technical text translation has tremendously increased as a result of industrialization and fast developing international business and collaboration. Nowadays, translation of technical texts represents vast majority of the professional translator’s workload. Translation of technical texts is directly related to modern technical and productive development and the necessity to ensure its continuing based on available professional knowledge. In each language functional style one can distinguish certain linguistic features which can have direct impact on the process and the result of translation and such impact is rather significant. Similarly, translation of technical texts is characterized by a number of peculiarities that determine the specificity of translator’s activity when handling texts of the technical style.

The main purpose of technical texts is to communicate factual information, notions and conclusions. One of the features of thinking in technical sphere is its informative and logical character. This determines such general peculiarities of technical texts as intentional consistency of exposition, meaning accuracy (instead of ambiguity), information depth, objectiveness and absence of imagery and emotions in the text [6, 64]. The logical character of technical texts is expressed, among other things, by the text structure where certain linguistic means are used to build cohesiveness of the text. According to K. Baakes technical texts can be characterized by “objectivity, precision, lack of expressiveness and emotions, economy, and formality” [2, 33]. Furthermore, these general features of technical texts are considered to influence the translation activity. As mentioned by S. Gauch and R. Futrelle, these features are “logicality, substantiveness (clear connection between the main idea and supportive details, strict consistency), objectivity, accuracy and subsequent clarity and lucidity” [5, 126]. In this connection, technical texts are opposed to literary texts which are characterized by the abundance of literary means intended for creating expressive perception of the text. In addition, the generally agreed feature of technical texts which also distinguishes technical texts from literary ones is objective nature of technical narration, since the main purpose of a technical text is to convey objective information on a technical subject without mentioning the author’s subjective evaluation of the facts and processes.

As it was inferred above, technical texts are generally intended for specialists in a given field. Therefore, technical texts are written following strict rules, and the author of such text is perceived not as an individual writer, but as a representative of the given subject specialists who build on what has been achieved by previous research. This is required to allow for objective and clear representation of information for recipients who use it for occupational purposes. Thus, most of technical texts have similar syntactical and morphological structure, set expressions and style.

Many authors concur that the most typical peculiarity of technical texts is terminology. For instance, V. Komissarov writes that the most significant feature of technical translation is lexical and grammatical peculiarities of technical texts, in particular, the leading role is played by terminology and special vocabulary [6, 66]. All technical texts tend to have language means which help satisfy the needs of a certain communication sphere. On the vocabulary level technical texts are characterized by the use of scientific and technical terminology. V. Komissarov noted that the terms in technical texts must provide accurate and clear definition of real objects and phenomena, and, what is the most important, ensure proper comprehension of the conveyed information by specialists. He adds that in translation of technical materials terms must be precise, in particular, “have strictly defined meaning which can be developed through logical thinking and removes the place of the defined concept in the paradigm of a given field of science or technique” [6, 70].

Another typical lexical feature of the technical texts that influence translation process is abbreviations. Technical texts are full of multiple abbreviations and acronyms. Many abbreviations have generally approved translations which are recorded in special dictionaries. However, a great number of abbreviation and acronyms have several meaning. Therefore, translator’s responsibility is to select proper meaning out of the variety of the meanings given in dictionaries subject to the thematic component of the text and interpret unknown and new abbreviations through logical conclusions or direct consultation with the author of the text.

Knowledge of technical vocabulary is part of subject knowledge. Thus, it can be defined by means of contacting the specialists who have good knowledge of a given subject area. Professional translators do it in the following two ways: by using a technical dictionary composed by subject specialists; and by clarifying the meaning with relevant specialists or, when possible, the actual author of the text in person [3, 148]. In these cases, translators should pay special attention to the words considered to be the most important for the message of the text.

In general, there is broad agreement that technical vocabulary needs further investigation, because the currently available knowledge is quite limited to handling technical vocabulary in certain areas separately, without studying it in integration with general vocabulary. As T. Chung mentioned upon studying the works of Sutarsyah, Chung, Chung and Nation, and etc, “research on technical vocabulary shows a considerable underestimation of the role played by technical vocabulary in special texts and the lack of information about the way how technical vocabulary is connected to other types of vocabulary” [3, 155].

Further study of technical texts leads us to the necessity of reviewing the types of technical texts. There exists a great many of technical text types. The following types are suggested by K. Zethsen as the most often cited technical texts:

- scientific articles;

- specifications;

- text books;

- encyclopedias;

- manuals;

- patent applications [8, 72].

A more specific classification of the types of technical texts is given by A. Dillon and C. McKnight:

- potent documentation;

- project documentation;

- catalogues of equipment and materials;

- technical descriptions and product specifications;

- product technical documentation;

- manuals, equipment installation, or repair instructions [4, 96].

Subject to the type of technical text specified above, apart from common lexical features technical texts can have differences in style and syntactical structure. For instance, product guidelines and project documentation for a product from the same industry will considerably differ in structure. While the project documentation is very likely to have long and complex sentences, the manual guideline will probably have more simple sentences and be abundant with sentences in imperative mood. Similarly, the stylistic feature of these types of technical texts will probably be different, too. Hence, professional translators should select translation strategies subject to complete analysis of a text to be translated. As noted by K. Zethsen, “no particular translation strategy is required as long as the translator gets familiar with relevant vocabulary and terminology along with the typical syntactical structure of the technical text” [8, 79]. Thus, applying text analysis basics in technical text translation is a very important step in the production of precise and accurate translation.

According to I. Alekseeva, technical texts are used to convey cognitive information; to allow for objective presentation of knowledge the following linguistic means need to be equivalently rendered in the translation:

- subject semasiology;

- passive form

- praesens generellis;

- complex words;

- nominative nature of the text [1, 64].

Following the author, subject semasiology means the use of a subject from a given field of knowledge or its substitutes such as personal pronouns, demonstrative pronoun or adverb which point out the noun. At the same time, it is very rare when subject is expressed by personal pronouns in singular form, the plural form is more appropriate, but used a little more frequently than the singular [1, 64]. Another type of linguistic means, the passive form, is a very common feature for technical texts. It is expressed by passive voices of verbs, various passive constructions and impersonal sentences. Further, praenens generellis, i.e. the use of present simple tense to mark events which take place regardless time is also frequently used in technical texts. This allows for objective representation of information regardless the time paradigm. Similarly, a large amount of complex and compound words built following the word-building patterns with abstract meaning reflects generalization of information and as a result its objectiveness. Finally, nominative nature of texts means prevalence of nouns where the action is expressed not through verbs but verbal nouns and verbs that lost their meaning, this can also increase the objectiveness of narration [1, 66]. Thus, the above mentioned language features constitute the peculiarities of technical texts following the scholar I. Alekseeva’s opinion.

Consistency of presentation in technical texts is ensured by a high level of complexity and a great variety of syntactic structures if compared with other types of written texts. According to I. Alekseeva, when translating a technical text that has a complex syntactical structure, the latter is generally considered to be an important feature that should be rendered in translation in full amount [1, 67]. At the same time, translators should be aware of the fundamental principle of scientific and technical style which is its functionality. E. Mastná calls it pragmatic aspect. The author also mentioned that, the structures of technical texts may be characterized mainly by the abundance of terms, special vocabulary and compound syntax; however, it does not necessarily mean that a translator is expected to translate them word by word. What is required is comprehensible and precise transfer of the relevant meaning of the original text [7, 34]. Therefore, if the syntactic structure of a sentence to be translated is too compound and cumbersome to clearly render the authentic meaning in the target language, translators should break the sentence into units or rebuild it, if it is required to ensure clarity. E. Mastná emphasized that when handling technical or scientific texts, their form is considered to be secondary if it is impossible to render the meaning without modification of the form [7, 34]. The primary point is the content, which very often happens to be quite complex. Nevertheless, the translator should not strictly follow a tricky structure of sentences which can make the understanding of the meaning much more difficult for the reader.

Moreover, as it was noted by I. Alekseeva, sometimes due to linguistic features of the target language, the complex structure of a text is converted in such a way that the distance between syntactically interrelated components of the sentence can prevent the recipient from following the author's thought clearly. In such a case, a translator has to transform the syntactic structure (i.e. make a syntactic transformation): to simplify it or split the complex sentence into two simple sentences to provide for proper and unhampered understanding of the content [1, 64]. Overall, in many cases, a translator needs to select an alternative method of transferring the content when a standard method of translation is not feasible.

In terms of the language structure, it is a well-known fact that the English language is considered to be brief and compact. Thus, another characteristic feature of English technical style is condensation of structure [7, 37]. When translating texts where condensation has been applied, it is necessary to enlarge and specify some condensed structures by adding more lexical means or introducing clauses with finite verb forms. This is required to provide clarity of the meaning and avoid ambiguity in the target language. In terms of content, a translator always needs to bear in mind that in the cases when description and enlargement is more explicit than mere translating which does not ensure complete comprehension, the former should be selected as the primary translation strategy.

Another important aspect of the syntactic structure of any text in general and technical text in particular is actual division of sentences. When translating technical texts, it is essential to find the rheme of the original text and to place it to a proper position in the target language. The rhematic position in English is determined by its fixed word order within a sentence, and to mark the place of the rheme, certain lexical, syntactic or morphological means are used [7, 37]. In addition to the fact that the rheme of the English sentence generally occurs at the beginning of a sentence, it can also be found by the indefinite article, words only, merely, just, constructions it was… who, and etc. Similarly, the words as, though, since indicate the theme of the English sentence [9, 23]. Thus, it is important to analyze the text content in terms of the actual division of sentences and search for an equivalent syntactic structure that conforms to the standards of the target language.

The peculiarities of the technical texts studied above constitute certain inferences for translator’s activity. Primarily, the language means that allow for text objectiveness, logics and compactness of narration shall be the prevailing features of technical translation [1, 67]. Another inherent feature of technical texts is its special vocabulary and terms. The latter traditionally have the equivalent translation listed in special dictionaries. As a result a single word is considered to be the main unit in technical translation. Consequently, the more common type of translation equivalent is single meaning equivalent; the second popular equivalent is variant equivalent [1, 67]. As we discussed previously in the article, the main task of a translator is precise transfer of the author thought. Easy comprehension of the meaning of technical texts is facilitated immensely if a translator is familiar with the subject of the text and associated terminology. In addition, knowledge of the target language terminology and technical texts style is an important condition to produce a qualitative translation.

Demand in professional technical translators has grown immensely for the last century as a result of expanding globalization in technical science and production among other spheres of economy. At present time, translation of technical texts constitutes the largest part of translators’ workload all over the world. Consequently, translation of technical texts has become a relevant topic for research. In this article we summarized the information on the peculiarities of technical texts and associated inferences for translators. These peculiarities are, primarily, objective, logic and consistent presentation of information indicated by certain linguistic features. The most obvious feature is special terminology for the main purpose of technical texts is to communicate special information for occupational purposes. Various special vocabulary and terms, as well as abbreviations and acronyms represent considerable difficulty for translation and need careful examination. Our next step in studying technical text translation was to outline the main types of technical texts. The analysis of two different classifications led us to the conclusion that different types of technical texts have different linguistic peculiarities which again influence translation process. The syntactic structure of technical texts is another important feature that determines the specificity of translation. The main syntactic features of technical texts are prevalence of passive voice, praesens generellis, compound sentences, condensation of language structures, actual divisions of sentences and a high level of sentence syntactic complexity in general. Having analyzed the influence these peculiarities have on translation activity, we have come to the following basic conclusions: more common unit of translation in technical translation is a word unit, and the type of translation equivalent is single meaning equivalent; complex nature of technical text syntactic structure determines the need to transform it if required to ensure clear transfer of the meaning in the translation; and knowledge of special vocabulary and terms as well as being familiar with the subject of translation is a very important condition for making equivalent translation of technical texts.


1. Alekseeva I. Professional Training for Translators: a Textbook on Interpretation and Written Translation for Teachers and Translators. - Saint-Petersburg: Foreign Languages Institute, 2000.

2. Baakes, K., Key Issues of Syntax in the Special Languages of Science and Technology, Julius Groos Verlag, 1994.

3. Chung T.M., Identifying Technical Vocabulary, School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies, Victoria Uni versity, PO Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand, 2004.

4. Dillon, A. & C. McKnight. Towards a Classification of Text Types: a Repertory Grid Approach. International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, 1990.

5. Gauch, S. & Futrelle R. P. The Scientist’s Assistant: Structure-Based Navigation of Technical Texts. University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 1993.

6. Komissarov N. V., Translation Theory, Linguistics Aspects, Moscow, 1990.

7. Mastná E., The Nature of Scientific/Technical Texts From Viewpoint of Translation Studies, Zlin, Tomas Bata University, 2010.

8. Zethsen K. K., The Dogmas of Technical Translation - are They Still Valid? Hermes, 1999.

9. Zimina Y. Actual Division of the Sentence with the Notional Verbs as Link-Verbs in the Compound Nominal Double Predicate in Modern English, Moscow, 2013


Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №5 - 2013

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