Introduction to SAE J1930: Bridging the Disconnect Between the Engineering, Authoring and Translation Communities Terminology translation jobs
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Introduction to SAE J1930: Bridging the Disconnect Between the Engineering, Authoring and Translation Communities

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Rick WoydeHave you ever wondered how companies develop names for the parts in your vehicle? How do you know if your translation for "engine coolant temperature sensor" is really correct? And what is DMPI an abbreviation for? Or MAF? And finally, do translators need to know the compound term for the HEMI acronym?

Today's vehicles are crammed with more technology than ever before: common rail diesel systems, drive-by-wire, SMG transmissions, vanos intake systems. Tomorrow's vehicles will have electronic parking brakes, adaptive safety systems and more sensors than an army of ants. So obviously, terminology is a huge challenge and key determiner of automotive translation quality.

How can translation customers and service providers keep up with these terminology challenges? Are there any tools out there that might help us work better with automotive terminology? Is there a common methodology used in developing automotive terminology? If so, how many of us know how to use it? And how are these names created anyway?

Actually, the answer to many of these questions is yes. Yes, there is a tool out there that can help you understand how terms like "engine coolant temperature sensor" are developed, which presumably could help you translate these terms more accurately. Yes, there is a methodology or formula used to develop some automotive terminology.

Terminology is the biggest determiner of service information quality.

Automotive terminology continues to grow at a dizzying pace. Translation managers and their service providers need more advanced terminology tools and processes in order to deliver quality translations.

Brand names are predominately found in marketing materials (Quattro, Northstar, 4XMOTION, Stabilitrac, SilentArmor Technology), consumer-focused web sites and owners' literature. Technical terminology [Engine Coolant Temperature Sensor, Electronic Throttle Control (ETC), Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Traction Control System (TCS)] remains at the heart of service information. In addition, you will find examples of brand names in service information and technical terms in consumer information.

As more and more managers come to understand the importance of translation memory, those tasked with terminology management are now focusing on the search for optimum processes, tools and best practices in implementation.

In fact, General Motors has studied its translation quality and learned that wrong term errors dominate the error types found in its service information.

As a result, GM has been able to focus its attention on terminology and how to effectively improve quality. It has found that improving terminology provides the most effective "bang for the buck," since it has shown the company where to focus its efforts in order to improve its translation quality.

Therefore, maybe the root of the challenge lies in a disconnect between the authoring environment and service provider translation activities. Today, more and more technical authors are working in some sort of "controlled" authoring environment, with guidelines and standards to help steer their processes and output. Yet their translation service providers remain unaware of, and unable to benefit from, those standards and guidelines.

SAE Recommended Practice J1930: Electrical/Electronic Systems Diagnostic Terms, Definitions, Abbreviations, and Acronyms

As electrical and electronic (E/E) systems on cars and trucks continue to grow in complexity, the number of terms, abbreviations and acronyms that describe various components of these systems is rapidly increasing. SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) Recommended Practice J1930 was created to bring some order to the proliferation of automotive E/E terminology. J1930 members are representatives of engineering firms and automotive companies. The scope of their work is limited to electrical and electronic systems and their diagnostic terms. Their core activities include naming objects and developing a methodology to use when creating new names, acronyms and abbreviations, and developing definitions for these new terms.

J1930's scope is limited to all light-duty gasoline and diesel passenger vehicles, and trucks and heavy-duty gasoline vehicles. It can be used to support diagnostic, service and repair manuals, bulletins and updates, training manuals, repair databases, underhood emission labels and emissions certification applications. Certain terms have already been in common use and are readily understood by manufacturers and technicians, but may not follow the J1930 methodology. To preserve their meaning, these terms have been included and identified with a footnote.

The objective of J1930 is

(1) to create a Glossary of Terms for Electrical/Electronic Systems Diagnostic Terms, Definitions, Abbreviations and Acronyms;

(2) to provide methodologies to develop and manage new terminology; and

(3) to standardize automotive service information to more accurately convey information to repair technicians.

Engine Coolant Temperature Sensor

So how are these terms developed? Object names are a combination of "Base Words" and "Modifiers" from a glossary of electrical/electronic terms.

Base Words are the most generic term in a name. It answers the question, "What is this object?" The base word does not include specific information about the function or the physical location of an object within a particular system.

Modifiers provide functional/application meaning, system differentiation, and location information. Modifiers usually express non-electrical ideas to describe base words.

Service Information to support a vehicle, which typically runs in the millions of words, is densely populated with these terms. The strings of compound words can create confusion and lead to translation errors (wrong meaning or wrong term for you J2450 users).

Maybe J1930 can be used to improve technical terminology translation quality.

While J1930 was not developed to specifically benefit the translation of service information, perhaps inadvertently it could. Could it help translators understand technical terminology better? Could we improve quality by understanding how the source words are developed?

Maybe J1930 could be used as part of a translator/proofreader training program. Translators and proofreaders could be trained to use the naming methodology to better understand a term and how to "reconstruct" it in another language, as shown below for Engine coolant temperature sensor.

Target Translation in Spanish: Sensor de temperatura del refrigerante del motor

Could translators produce more consistent translations using a defined methodology, instead of guessing at the term meaning and how the compound words are used? By standardizing naming conventions, could translators collaborate more effectively and efficiently? Would it leave only writing style as a differentiator or cause of translation variance?

Perhaps J1930 could even form a common basis from which terminologists, translators and proofreaders could evaluate technical terminology. By using the same tool, would terminology variances be reduced, as project participants reach the same target language conclusions? Could it help us manage glossaries better? Could we benefit by evaluating our glossaries for conformity to J1930?

Maybe J1930 could be used as a quality assurance asset. Conceivably, project participants could use it as a means to reference when a term is in question. Or perhaps it could add value as an intermediate or random "check" when questioning, reviewing and confirming technical terms.

And as a standard, maybe both service provider and client alike could more easily agree on using the same tool when managing technical terminology. Perhaps J1930 is a little-known bridge between the engineering and translation communities.

J1930 promotes standardization, which reduces costs and improves quality.

By now, most of us have experienced how standards help reduce costs and improve quality. Standards allow organizations to communicate identical requirements, reuse assets, specify final deliverables and measure performance. Quality standards allow service providers to benchmark their activities, train and provide feedback to project participants.

While easy to use, J1930 has a limited scope of terms to which it applies. Specifically, its scope is limited to electrical and electronic systems and their diagnostic terms. Therefore, J1930 is not a solution unto itself. It is merely part of a bigger process that can - from a service provider perspective - differentiate and add value. J1930 is already in use at automakers in the authoring process. Its objective to help improve the quality of service information and reduce costs by standardizing how these terms are created is consistent with the objectives of any quality translation process.

J1930 has a limited scope with increasing value.

Today, standards originate from different organizations and from different types of people who are unknowingly affecting each other. While J1930 is an SAE standard - not a "translation" standard per se - it is a standard that requires closer attention, since it may help bridge the disconnects between the engineering, authoring and translation communities.

As tomorrow's vehicles come loaded with even more electronic gadgets of every kind, J1930's value will continue to increase, as the majority of new technical terminology will fall under its domain. J1930 is an important automotive terminology tool, and perhaps combined with other tools and standards, it can help create a more effective translation process.

Rick Woyde is President of Detroit Translation Bureau, Inc. He can be reached at

Reprinted by permission from the Globalization Insider,
October 2005

Copyright the Localization Industry Standards Association
(Globalization Insider:, LISA:
and S.M.P. Marketing Sarl (SMP) 2005

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