Aspects of Scientific Translation. English into Arabic Translation as a Case Study.
It is unquestionable that EnglishArabic scientific translation is increasingly becoming a topic of much concern and importance today. Oil on the Arab side and technology on the Western side contribute to this importance. This paper highlights the problems that are likely to be encountered in EnglishArabic scientific translation and tries to establish certain possible factors which may finally lead to a theory of this sort of translation. It also identifies certain differences that exist between scientific texts and literary ones. The paper also proposes a model for EnglishArabic scientific translation in further attempts driving at a more extensive study.
science and technology develop, new English words used to
express new concepts, techniques and inventions come into
existence. These words have developed more rapidly during
the last decades that dictionaries can by no means trigger
of. This development has brought to Arabic serious linguistic
problems of expressing this everexpanding wave of
newlyfounded concepts and techniques for which no
equivalents in Arabic exist. But while coinage, borrowing,
transliteration and other means of transfer made for a huge
bulk of English scientific terminology, translating of full
technical texts from English into Arabic still poses a major
intellectual challenge (Nida,1964:223).
It is interesting to note that Nida (ibid.) has, in his discourse on scientific translation, pointed to this challenge. He said:
If, however, the translation of scientific texts
from one language to another participating in modern cultural
development is not too difficult, it is not surprising that
the converse is true- that translating scientific material
from a modern Indo-European language into a language largely
outside the reach of Western science is extremely difficult.
This is one of the really pressing problems confronting
According to London Institute of Linguistics, to be a scientific translator one should have:
1. broad knowledge of the subject-matter of the text to be translated;
2. a well-developed imagination that enables the translator to visualize the equipment or process being described;
3. intelligence, to be able to fill in the missing links in the original text;
4. a sense of discrimination, to be able to choose the most suitable equivalent term from the literature of the field or from dictionaries;
5. the ability to use ones owns language with clarity, conciseness and precision; and
6. practical experience in translating from related fields. In short, to be technical translator one must be a scientist, or engineer, a linguist and a writer (cf. Gasagrade, 1954: 335-40; Giles, 1995; Latfipour, 1996).
Out of the six requirements listed above, the first
deserves special consideration because it bears on the early
attempts to found a theory of translation advocating that
the text whether literary or scientific should be dealt
with according to the way language is used in them (Adams,
1967: 87). This means that it is a theory which goes back
to the old epistemological controversy over the objective
and the subjective sides of reality, and which may imply,
when extended to language varieties, a dichotomy between
science and literature. According to
The points of contrast mentioned above side with Ilyas (1989: 109) who describes the nature of scientific texts as follows:
In scientific works, subject-matter takes priority over the style of the linguistic medium which aims at expressing facts, experiments, hypothesis, etc. The reader of such scientific works does not read it for any sensuous pleasure which a reader of literary work usually seeks, but he is after the information it contains. All that is required in fact is that of verbal accuracy and lucidity of expression. This is applicable to the translators language as well. Scientific words differ from ordinary and literary words since they do not accumulate emotional associations and implications. This explains why the translation of a scientific work is supposed to be more direct, freer from alternatives, and much less artistic than the other kinds of prose. The language of scientific and technical language is characterized by impersonal style, simpler syntax, use of acronyms, and clarity.
This distinction has one significant implication for the translator of scientific texts: he has to possess some knowledge of the subject-matter of the text he is working on, over the rest of the pre-requisites which he shares with translators of other text types.Furthermore, this distinction is useful in so far as it is conjoined to possible leading factors for a theory of scientific translation because most of the literature on translation has given extensive consideration to literary texts ending with specific rules and theories and establishing relevant terminology of literary translation. The word deviation for instance, expresses one of the frequent concepts in the description of literary texts where deviation rarely occurs in scientific ones. By this we mean the deviation from the linguistic norms flourishing in poetry and prose, the quality which scientific texts often lack. However, certain rules which are applicable to theories of literary translation can be safely applied to scientific translation in general and to English-Arabic scientific translation in particular.
In this respect, we have to mention that Arabic, despite its adherence to prescriptive and conventional rules, can - in certain cases- provide for English word-for-word equivalence by different ways such as coinage, borrowing and transliteration by forcing into its paradigmatic moulds English words such as the substantive; so words like faylasuf for philosopher; jiyulujiya for geology; istatiki for static etc found their way uninterrupted into Arabic. Beeston (1970: 115) says to this effect:
The need for a large new vocabulary dealing with technological and scientific matters is, however, the least interesting feature of the new lexical development; more fascinating, though more elusive, is the evolution of new words for intellectual concepts.
However, a part from the cultural gap, the problem of scientific translation from English into Arabic remains mostly a matter of understanding and representing the techniques, the processes, and the details which science and technology involve. In this regard, Farghal and Shunnaq (1999:210) state that the major problem facing translators at present is terminology standardization and dissemination in the sphere of science and technology. When it comes to Arabic, they continue, scientific discourse is a translation activity, as Arabic is usually a target language, and creation and reasoning are done in another language.
requirements for competence in scientific translation can
be further expanded and detailed by the following
model of the processes involved in this type of translation:
As far as English-Arabic scientific translation is concerned, the procedures mentioned in the suggested model (the model itself can be obtained from the Author note by TranslationDirectory.com) can be used to analyze the code of English scientific texts. They mainly depend on the successful handling of the linguistic elements of both English and Arabic including grammar, lexicon, and field-related registers. They also harbor translating competence, which includes structurization, contextualization, mastery over programs of expression in both English and Arabic, and knowledge of the alternative standards of equivalence. Moreover, the model necessitates the ability to transfer linguistic and translating competencies to areas reserved for comparison and imagination. Subsequently, corresponding structural and lexical elements are identified and assigned functions in the sorting process within compensatory strategies resulting in an almost perfect mental representation which, when textualized and normalized, ends up in an accurately-translated Arabic product. We also have to emphasize that in scientific texts there will be no motive on the translators side to create additional impressionistic or aesthetic effects beyond that of simple information transmission.
The above description necessitates the identification of the characteristics of the scientific register on which this model operates. These characteristics are briefly discussed in the following section.
Generally speaking, the technical use of language manifests itself in several ways. The most obvious one is non-deviation from ordinary grammar, logically and argumentative progression. This may entail the adherence to items that are conventionally used. There is no insertion, substitution, or permutation (cf. van Dijk, 1976; Bell,1991; Ghassib,1996). There is no blocking or stopping to the automatic processing. In contrast to their literary counterparts, scientific texts underline the information content without bothering about features that are characteristic of poetic texts, such as rhyme, and connotative or symbolic meaning. Let alone other aesthetically features, which Schmidt (1971: 59) has defined as polyfunctionality.
We also notice that most of the elements in scientific texts are not unexpected. One might even define the meaning of these texts according to the actual use of items to refer to things in the real world or to the extension as contrasted to the potential meaning of things as they are perceived, conceived, or represented in terms other than their actual appearance and/or function by the perceiving man, or to the intention of their producers (Weinrich, 1976: 14).
For the purpose of more vivid characterization of these texts, we shall mention some major ones of these features by referring to Bakr-Serex (1997: 54-7):
First, this register is characterized by the logical order of utterances with clear indication of their interrelations and interdependence.
Second, it flourishes the use of terms specific to each given branch of science; in modern science; however, there is a tendency to exchange terms between various branches of science.
Third, another characteristic feature of this register is the frequent use of specific sentence-patterns, usually the Postulatory, the Argumentative and the Formulative patterns. The impersonality of this type of writing can be revealed in the frequent use of passive voice constructions with which scientific experiments are generally described.
Fourth, one more observable feature of the scientific register is the use quotations, references, and foot-notes in accord with the main requirement of this register, i.e. the logical coherence of the ideas expressed.
Finally, science does not have its own syntax only, but also its own terminology. And we have already hinted at the importance of the familiarity with this terminology resting on a solid foundation of previously acquired knowledge on behalf of the translator. Therefore, it is not the language itself which is special, but certain words or their symbols.
Having these characteristic features of the scientific register in mind, we feel that we are in a good position to identify the areas of contrast between scientific texts and other types of texts.
By setting off scientific against the literary translation, their characteristics and the problems that are likely to be encountered in each, become more salient as illustrated below.
In scientific texts we have an end in view and the means necessarily remains within the general conceptual framework within which the end is defined. That is, the scientific context has a content which is concerned with the horizontal structure of the world while the literary context has a content which is concerned with the vertical structure of the world.
Thus, on the one hand, we shall have a vertical relation between height and depth while, on the other hand, we shall have a horizontal relation between width and breadth. The first relation testifies to the relative merits of artists and poets, whereas the second one signifies the merits of scientists and technologists. The product of poets is essentially a product of height and depth which has either been brought down or lifted up so as to fit into the width and breadth of life itself, that is acquiring a horizontal dimension; while the product of scientists lacks the intuitive complexity and wealth of experience characteristic of poets. This product is therefore, essentially conceived as a horizontal line corresponding to a photographic representation of the world (Blankenburg, 1982: 35-47).
speak within the familiar and concrete realities of everyday
life. If they are to move, their movement is almost
always towards the accomplishment of a new horizon or new
perspectives that always remain within the horizontal structure
of the concrete, tangible and objective reality.
These demarcation lines between vertical and horizontal dimensions suggest another area of investigation and comparisons. We can now expand the previous columns (p.3) of differences between science and literature so as to include more important language details:
Since scientific texts rarely contain idiomatic or culture-bound expressions, the type of equivalence most common in their translation is the formal equivalence which focuses attention on the message content itself rather than its form. Nida (1964: 223) highlights this aspect of scientific translation as follows:This level of language, experientially is lifeless, is linguistically very manipulatable. For to the extent that language can be separated from the unique qualities of experience and can be made a kind of linguistic mathematics, its units can easily be arranged and re-arranged with little interference from the cultural context.
It emerges from the above-mentioned comparison between English and Arabic, which drastically lack scientific and technical terminology, suffers an irreversible process of disintegration through diglossia, and harbors scanty abbreviations, acronyms, formulae and registers. But since science and technology create situational features which involve new concepts, techniques, and processes that can be imitated and imagined, it is binding for Arab translators to coin equivalent terminology and develop corresponding programs of expression which Arabic morphology and flexible word order can provide. However, theoretical possibilities may in many cases fall short of practical application and this is very much the case with English technical translating into Modern Standard Arabic today.
- It becomes obvious from the discussion we presented so far that the act of scientific translation is sometimes guided by certain strategies. One of these strategies accounts for the systematic differences between the two languages concerned. Another depends on the type of language used in any individual text. Both these strategies are applicable in translating English scientific texts into Arabic.
Another point is that Arabic, in its current situation,
does gravely lack a frame-of-reference in the scientific
and literature, and what is available of translated literature
to this effect in Arabic is rather scanty and harbours gaps
that are likely to multiply since initiative has not been
taken by the Arabs to adopt and sustain a large-scale translating
process in this particular.
- Finally, in this situation which is rather difficult if not entirely hopeless, it seems imperative for the Arabs to start a serious and large scale process of Arabization. Yet, this process cannot be affected overnight. It necessitates an exceptionally high energy, good-will and objective thinking on the Arabs, part to span and assimilate what the west has spanned and assimilated since the Renaissance.
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