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Computer Collocations and Computer Metaphors

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I. Topics and Aims

This article examines—from a linguistic point of view—the translation of some computer collocations which I consider typical, and analyze them in order to provide suitable translations in the TL (in this case, Romanian), because they generally play an important role in distinguishing meaning. This happens with computer terminology as well, in the sense that, when we are asked to give an account of the meaning of a term used in computing, say, blind, we instantly try to contextualize it in its most recurrent collocations, say, blind search, blind copy, blind key.

In doing this, I shall start with one of the broadly accepted definitions of collocation and try to make a proposal for collocation patterns that are often found in the language of computers. I will also try to present a matrix of computer collocations after touching upon some translation theory and to agree or disagree with some aspects regarding both the source and the target languages under discussion.

II. Definition and Attributes

As a rule, collocations are known to be:

  • expressions consisting of two or more words that are frequently used together and correspond to a conventional way of saying something, like in:
    • heavy rain
    • strong tea
    • run a program
    • commit treason
    • table of contents
  • and having the basic attributes of being:
    • domain-specialized
    • language-specific
    • culture-specific

III. Collocation-Patterns & Types in Computerese

Since the topic is tto vast to be fully covered here, the theoretical framework employed and to be further explored is the convergence of various modern translation theories with special reference to collocation patterns and their presence in the language of computers, by P. Newmark, C. Nord, D. Arnold, and others.

Therefore, I shall begin with a Newmark citation in which he states that "new collocations are particularly common in computer language"1, and, generally, they represent problems in translation because, if the computer terms cannot be given a "recognized translation"2, they must be transliterated or translated literally and an explanatory term must be added in order to be correctly understood by the user. We shall see that in computer language, collocations consist of computer lexical items, which enter mainly into often-used grammatical structures, viz.:

  • Adj. + N: hot link, cold link, warm boot, blind copy;
  • N + N: Web crawler, Web browser, Web page, Web host, home page, site address;
  • V + N: surf the Web, run a program, click search, return to home page;
  • N + Adv.: user-friendly

I would like to emphasize the fact that, as seen in the examples above, the noun Web often participates in the collocation patterns in the domain under discussion, that is, the computer technologies and software. Translating these collocations represents a tricky task, since it involves several steps like:

IV. Main Steps to Be Considered in Translating Computer Collocations

  • Considering the most acceptable collocations of any word;
  • Collocating appropriate adjective to nouns and adverbs to verbs;
  • Most appropriate ways of connecting nouns with verbs and verbs with nouns;
  • Rendering them into unusual but permissible collocations.

For instance, for the first collocation, hot link, I have to consider the fact that the adjective 'hot' may have two types of collocates, opening up more choices from concrete to abstract like:

V. Concrete versus Abstract Collocates of 'hot'

a) Concrete Collocates

  • 'temperature'
  • 'food'

b) Abstract Material Collocates

  • 'emotional states'
  • 'sexual feelings'
  • 'success'
  • 'immediacy'

The translator who has the necessary knowledge in working on computers will know that the adjective here indicates the immediacy of an action and not temperature.

VI. Familiarity with Procedures

For better rendering of the collocation under analysis, the translator's role consists of understanding the required technical tasks of the domain and, consequently, of correctly and diligently using the translation procedures.

  • The translator must be familiar with computer tasks and procedures;
  • If he had the necessary computer knowledge, then he would reject the hypothesis of translating the computer collocation 'hot link' literally into legătură fierbinte (Dicţionar de Calculatoare, TEORA, Ed. A II-a, Bucureşti, 2002, p.293);
  • Literal translation is unsatisfactory here because the exact meaning of hot link is not properly communicated;
  • On the one hand, it refers to a complex connection between two programs; on the other hand, it triggers an instant process, meaning that the user does not need to prepare something in advance or to follow more steps, because updating a file in one program takes place automatically and instantly when a corresponding file is changed in another program.
  • Finally, as, I stated before, one of the abstract material collocates of the word hot indicates 'immediacy'; therefore, legătură imediată/rapidă/directă (lit.: immediate/rapid/direct link) would best suit the context.

VII. Cold Link

The next collocation, which is the opposite of 'hot link,' refers to:

  • The electronic process between two programs, which no longer happens instantaneously and automatically, meaning that the user does need to manually perform the updates in each file;
  • Since the user is the one who performs the changes in both files, I suggest that legătură indirectă (lit.: indirect link) would better suit the context;
  • This analysis leads to the conclusion that some computer collocations cannot be given a word for word translation as neither can the ordinary, everyday collocations.

VIII. Blind

The adjective blind usually collocates with 'sight,' but it also have some unusual instances of co-ocurrence like:

  • objects: blind corner;
  • emotions: blind rage, blind panic;
  • abstract nouns: blind prejudice, blind faith, blind loyalty, blind obedience;
  • social events: blind date;
  • new technologies: blind copy

XI. The Secret Recipient

The computer collocation blind copy is similar to the common language 'blind corner' in the sense that, when the user wants to send the same message to several addressees without letting them know of his intention, he can type their e-mail addresses by using the blind copy field. This means that the others addressees' e-mail addresses are secret and confidential. Therefore,

blind copy
blind corner

point of similarity

the secret and the hidden

The Bcc field hides the recipients of the messages. The most suitable translation is copiere secretă/confidenţială(literally: secret/confidential copies).
However, the SL collocation is not translated by a TL collocation.

XII. Web-related Expressions

SL Collocation

TL Collocation

Literal TL → SL Translation

site address

adresă de Web

Web address

Web browser

program de vizualizare de date pe Web

program for viewing data on the Web

home page

pagină de start

start page

Web page

pagină de web

Web page

Web host

gazdă Web

Web host

Web crawler

program de căutare, indexare şi organizare a datelor

data searching, indexing and organizing program

The translation of Web-related collocations poses problems of metaphor translation and of non-equivalence because it preserves SL properties in the TL. Consequently, we have the SL collocations Web page, Web host translated as 'pagină (de) Web' and 'gazdă Web,' respectively. As seen, the base term Web, remains as such in the TL .

Much more difficult are the items Web crawler and Web browser. The former is to be found in Teora's Computer Dictionaries as 'program de greblare'3. I totally disagree with this unfortunate choice, because the TL verb 'a grebla' (to dig) does not optimally render the SL verb to crawl, which in this case means to search and organize data. However, the analysis of the noun crawler provides the TL paraphrase program de căutare, indexare şi organizare a datelor pe Web (lit: data searching, indexing and organizing program). A Web browser is not to be taken as 'un program de răsfoire' because the noun collocates not only with action verbs like 'to look for,' but also with verbs related to seeing. Hence, a more technical phrase would suit the TL context best: 'program de vizualizare de date/a datelor' (lit.: data viewing program)4.

XIV. Home Page and Material Collocates More Than One...

Home page is another interesting collocation because of the words and their unusual co-ocurrence. The noun 'home' usually collocates with the meaning of family institution, but it also enters into different collocates like: banking, music ('home key'5), alcoholic drinks ('home brew'6), food ('home fries'7), sporting events ('home run'), and computing. Since 'home' represents one of the most important and meaningful concepts for human beings, it could not fail to appear in the language of the Internet, because the latter represents a gigantic communicative link among users all over the world. Similarly, both source and target languages share the same connotations because home:

  • points to something important or essential through extension of meaning;
    pagină de bază (lit.: base page)
  • <>it can also refer to intimacy and privacy.
     pagină personală (lit.: personal page)
  • is our starting point to any course we take.
    pagină de start (lit.: start page)

I should add here that 'pagină de start' would be more suitable first because a home page may consist of many links to go to, and there is a single page of the same user named home page; secondly, home pages point to more and different owners, which means that 'pagini de bază/personale' do not express the exact meaning of the SL computer collocation, "Return to home page" because the user gets back form the exact place he starts browsing. When you browse the World Wide Web you'll see the term home page often. Think of a home page as the starting point of a website. Like the table of contents of a book or magazine, the home page usually provides an overview of what you'll find at the website. A site can have one page, many pages or a few long ones. If there is not a lot of information, the home page may be the only page. However, usually you will find at least a few other pages. As a conclusion, a possible correct translation of the statement: "Return to home page" would be "Înapoi la pagina de start".

XV. Equivalent Effect: "site address"

SL Collocator

TL Collocator

TL Meaning


1. aşezare, amplasament

position, location


2. sit

geographical position

At first glance, site address is difficult to translate because of the noun 'site,' which does not have the same equivalent effect on the TL Internet users because of the following reason:

  • The geographical location of a site would be on the Web.

Consequently, the perfect choice in translating this collocation is a blend between address and the location of the site, i.e., the Web. Therefore, site address becomes adresă de Web (lit.: Web address) in the TL. The collocation base Web stays as such in the TL. Other cases of non-equivalence in computerese are: driver, server, laptop, palmtop, etc.

XVI. Events and Metaphors on the Web

SL Metaphorical
Events on the Web

SL Noun Collocators

SL Connotation

1. surf

oceans, seas, waves

cruising at random

2. navigate on

 - " - 

 - " - 

3. crawl

slow speed

searching for data

The metaphorical events happening at the Web interface can be translated as 'căutare' pe Web based on the following analysis:

Surfing the Web is similar to navigating on the Web or crawling the Web when referring to Web users as performers of these activities. The first and second verbs usually collocate with nouns like 'ocean,' 'sea,' 'waves,' which in my opinion represent a starting point in the metaphorization so often used in connection with the Internet. The Web is no longer seen as belonging to a huge spider but to the ocean of ideas, information, and entertainment. Therefore, surfing the Web and navigating on the Web connote the idea of randomly cruising for fun and curiosity. Both verbs are synonyms and can not be rendered as 'navigare pe Internet' because it will mislead the users. The Internet, as we have already seen (in my previous e-paper: Internet and Cultural Concepts from a Translation Perspective), is different from the concept of Web, although they are wrongly used synonymously. In contrast, 'crawling the Web' means to search for certain data. Consequently, the TL 'căutare' best conveys the SL computer meaning.

To conclude, I want to emphasize the linguistic fact that, although Web seems to be a descriptive term for numerous computer concepts in both SL and TL, it can also be considered as a metaphorical hypernym of such lexical items like: crawlers, search engines, sites, pages, spiders, etc.

XVII. Final Remarks

Hoping to have addressed several questions raised in this paper, I would like to draw several conclusions:

  • Some computer collocations are culturally marked; therefore, the translator must consider marked traits of the source culture in order to decide how to translate them in the metatext or, whenever a textual translation is impossible, how to manage the loss.
  • Since they are domain-specialised, the translator's role is to possess the necessary knowledge in understanding the specific language used in computerese, and, therefore, to be aware of the description, function and the effect of a particular concept the it refers to.
  • On the other hand, the extensive use of metaphors in computing and the World Wide Web play a cognitive role because they are meant to clarify unknown concepts in the computer domain by appealing to our common knowledge of the world. As Nord holds, a metaphor is not to be necessarily translated into a metaphor and a simile into a simile. This principle would hold true if all languages and cultures were isomorphic, but we know this is not the case.


1. Shuttlework, Mark, Dictionary of Translation Studies, ST. Jerome Publishing, Manchester, UK, 1999.

2. Newmark, Peter, A Textbook of Translation, Prentice Hall, New York, 1998.

3. D. Arnold et al., Machine Translation: An Introductory Guide, Blackwell, Manchester & Oxford.

4. New Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford University Press, 2001.

5. Jodal, Endre Dicţionar de Tehnică de Calcul Englez-Roman, Editura Albastră, Cluj-Napoca, 1995.

6. Macmillan English Dictionary For Advanced Learners, Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2002.

7. Parlog, Hortensia şi Maria Teleagă Dicţionar de Colocaţii Nominale Englez—Roman, Ed. Mirton, Timişoara, 1999.

8. Dicţionar de Calculatoare, TEORA, Ed. A II-a, Bucureşti, 2002.

9. Dicţionar Enciclopedic, Cartier, 2002.

10. NORD, C. Text Analysis in Translation. Theory, Methodology, and Didactic Application of a Model for Translation-Oriented Text Analysis, translated from German by C. Nord e P. Sparrow, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1991.

1 A Textbook of Translation, Prentice Hall, New York, 1998, p.145

2 Idem., ibid.

3 Teora, p.152

4 Idem, ibid., p.630

5 New Oxford Dictionary of English, Oxford University Press, 2001, pp.876-877.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.



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