Differences Between Scientific Translation And Technical Translation

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Written by: pTranslate Contributors

INDUSTRY INSIGHTS | TRANSLATION

It is a common mistake to categorize Scientific Translation and Technical Translation into 1 single group. Or worse, some people use them interchangeably. For the sake of simplicity, these two can be grouped together, but when getting into the real work of translating these documents, the differences will slowly arise.

Differentiating these terms is not of great concern to the client, though. All the client has to do is choosing the right topic of their document when placing the order.

However, as a translator, it is extremely important to make the distinction. Not to “know”, but to approach the translation with the right mindset. The scientific translation project requires a type of language that is relatively distinct from that of technical translation project.

In this article, we will explore the major differences between the 2 and explain how translators can take into account these differences when tackling such projects.

scientific translation vs technical translation

1) Similarities between Scientific Translation and Technical Translation

Admittedly, both of these branches all deal with information based on the work of scientists, to a varying degree.

Scientific Translation and Technical Translation all contain specialized terminology and distinctive text format that even the layman can easily recognize. Translators can also acknowledge this feature, but what makes them stand out is their ability to recognize which structures and format were used, as well as the subtle differences between the concepts used in the text.

The topic of both branches deal with complicated scientific topics, and require a great deal of education and experience to properly understand and translate.

All of these surface-level similarities are easy to spot. Once one get their hands into the projects can they really explore the differences between the two.

2) Differences Between Scientific Translation and Technical Translation

One of the easiest ways to distinguish these 2 terms is to look at the words “scientific” and “technical”.

Scientific can be defined as “knowledge ascertained by observation and experiment, critically tested, systemized and brought under general principles”

Technical can be defined as “the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes”.

So, from these 2 definitions, it is easy to see that “scientific” deals with pure, theoretical knowledge while “technical” deals with the application of those knowledge.

In other words, “technical” means “applied science”, while “scientific” refers to science in itself.

Therefore, when translating a scientific paper that explains the concept of electromotive forces and the behavior of electricity through the use of formulae, hypothesis, calculations, we are performing “Scientific Translation”.

However, when translating an installation guide for an electrical motor, we are performing “Technical Translation”.

Both documents refer to the general topic of electricity, but the former is more theoretical and conceptual in nature, while the latter is about how to apply those theories into creating something that can provide value.

So why is it important to make this distinction?

Making such distinction is crucial because each type of document has a different readership, which calls for a different style of translation.

It is obvious that in the Scientific document, the writer must use a sophisticated type of language to fully express the ideas they have in mind. The Target Audience is Physics professors, Physics university undergraduates, or anyone with a fair level of education in the field. Calculations and mathematical symbols written as Greek letters are used in high frequency to represent the concept.

On the other hand, in the Installation Guide, the write must use clear, concise, simple language, as the readers are now probably young to middle-aged people who might or might not know Physics terminology. They don’t need to know the reasoning or the story behind the creation of the motor. They need to know how to install and run it properly, and troubleshoot it in case something goes wrong.

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3) How To Translate Scientific Documents vs. Technical Documents

Scientific Documents’ characteristics:

  • Conceptually more difficult to grasp, comprehend, and translate
  • Require a more abstract style
  • Sometimes they can even include a literary tone to ensure that abstract and intangible concepts can be conveyed more effectively
  • A wider range of language is used
  • There are considerably more standardized terms that are accepted in the community. These terms can easily be looked up.

So, to translate them, you need to:

  • Prepare a wide range of references and sources of scientific terminology
  • Have a decent education in the field to understand the basic concepts
  • Understand the structures of academic texts
  • Treat Scientific Translation as Literary Translation, as there will be a lot of comparisons and allegories used to explain challenging concepts
  • Translate with a formal tone

Technical Documents’ characteristics:

  • Simple, straight to the point
  • Unambiguous, concise, and sometimes even quite unentertaining
  • There is a blend of scientific and general language. This is also known as “workshop language”.
  • Less regulated, less literary, sometimes informal
  • Aims to provide readers with practical knowledge

So, to translate them, translators should:

  • Prepare a basic understanding of concepts in the field
  • Acknowledge the level of education the readers have on the topic and prepare suitable terminology
  • Write in simple terms. Avoid difficult, unambiguous words. 
  • Translate accurately, but try to use “actionable” words, which means words that are tangible and depict a real action

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Conclusion

Despite their differences, scientific and technical translation are 2 interchangeable terms in the Translation community due to their relatively similar topic. However, by acknowledging the readership of each type, translators should have an easier time preparing the vocabulary and execute the project with a more appropriate style.

Feel free to share in the comment section your experience and tips in performing Scentific and Technical translation. Opinions and thoughts are welcomed!

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