The Essentials of Consistent Terminology in Academic and Professional Translation

Consistent Terminology

When translating large-scale projects, documents that are part of a recurring project, or working within academic or legal parameters, consistent terminology becomes increasingly essential. Not only does consistent use of terms increase accuracy and congruency, but it is a key element in the reduction of revisions and corrections during editing.

Consistency is of critical importance in scientific texts, especially in targeted fields. For example, Stuart Crampin is a geophysicist who wrote in his book “Suggestions for a Consistent Terminology for Seismic Anisotropy”, “Seismic anisotropy is an unfamiliar concept to many geophysicists and the use of misleading and ambiguous terminology has made it more difficult to understand. I suggest here a consistent terminology in which simple expressions have specific meanings similar to their colloquial meanings.”

To paraphrase Crampin, even experts in specific fields want clear, concise, and consistent terminology. It is one thing to write at an advanced level, but it is another to come across verbose, overly complicated, and inconsistent. This is frustrating for readers in your source language, it can be disastrous for your target audience if not effectively corrected during translation.

The Importance of One-to-one Correspondence

Lexical congruency, or making sure terms mean the same thing throughout your text, often starts by maintaining one-to-one correspondence. Interestingly, one-to-one correspondence means several things, and each one is quite important in the world of translation.

  • Initially, once you use a term to represent a concept, do not change your label. For example, once you call the things on your computer keyboard “keys” do not refer to them as “buttons” later on. The word for key and button are going to be different in the target language and it could lead to confusion, especially if the target language does not have the linguistic flexibility that English does.
  • One-to-one correspondence applies to phrases as well as terms. If you refer to your “television remote” in one section of the document, do not call it “the remote control for the television” later on.
  • Verbs also require one-to-one correspondence. Since so many languages have very specific verb rules and conjugations, it is essential that there is a consistent use of verbs and verb phrases when referring to actions that need to be performed. For example, “click” should not be replaced by “click on”, if you want readers to “right click”, “hold”, “drag”, or “press”, then use these verbs consistently and exclusively for the specified actions.
  • A fourth area addressed by one-to-one correspondence is the use of homophones. Once a word is used in a certain way, only use it that way in the rest of the text. For example, once the word “run” is used to refer to a presidential campaign (during his run for office), do not use run in other contexts, rather choose a synonym.
  • The fifth way one-to-one correspondence comes into play is in the relationship between the source and target document. This type of literal translation is not going to take place in every type of document, and if fact should not. In most documents, you want your terms localized and not translated literally; however, in many legal, contractual, medical, or scientific texts, a literal translation is critical. In this case, you need to be able to underline a word in the source text, go to the target text, and be able to underline the exact same word (granted, in translated form).

Other Areas Where Consistency is Critical

In addition to one-to-one correspondence, there are a number of areas that can lead to terrible results if consistency is not maintained in your text.

  • Definitions should be exact and never vary. This is especially true in contracts, patents, and the like. If there are conflicting terms or definitions on one of these documents, they could be invalidated or challenged in court.
  • Product names should remain the same throughout your text. This is true for the names of your categories and headings as well. The simpler you can make document navigation, the better.
  • Be sure you understand the international standards; incongruity is not always apparent. When translating documents, it is imperative that there is consistency between the intent of the term and the local variation. For example, in the world of international education, first grade and first standard are not the same. They are one year apart, and this influences all subsequent grades and standards.

Consistent terminology will not only make your academic and business texts more accurate and efficient, but by preparing source documents which are written in this way, you can save a plethora of time and money on translation services. Remember, term congruency is not just important within a document, but within all subsequent correspondence relating to the original source text.

This post is written by Robert Stitt, a content writer with Ulatus.

Share your thoughts