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High-Tech Translation in the Information Age

Heather Leighton
(Terminology Update, Volume 33, Number 2, 2000, page 17)

The "Information Age" is upon us and while we may know something about high-tech innovations available to the consumer, most of us are probably oblivious to the technological advances which are rapidly transforming big business and industry.

The high-tech industry is moving quickly to provide new and emerging markets with access to all of the latest technological innovations. One of the most lucrative markets is Latin America. In the race to get there first, high-tech companies have invested heavily in the translation industry to ensure that their products are translated into Spanish and Portuguese. In a field where change is unending, the high-tech translator faces the daily challenge of not only trying to keep abreast of the new technology intended for the consumer, big business and industry, but also of finding accurate and user-friendly terminology to express the increasingly complex and abstract concepts of the high-tech world.

The Information Age has also provided the translator with the Internet, an invaluable research tool which far exceeds the capabilities of traditional reference sources. One unfortunate drawback of this amazing tool is the abundance of unreliable information which it makes available. Terminology is a prime example. It has been well documented that terms, particularly high-tech terms, are often borrowed directly from English, creating new terminology which often does not exist in the target language. In English-Spanish translation, this phenomenon is called "Spanglish" in reference to words borrowed from English and combined with a Spanish prefix or suffix, or both. An example is "escanear," the Spanish equivalent sometimes used for the English term "to scan." The existence of "Spanglish" not only gives rise to questionable translations, but is also a concrete illustration of the predominance of the English language in the high-tech field.

Recently, a Spanish translator who works for a local software corporation informed me of the methodology adopted by the company to avoid the use of "Spanglish." She indicated that the terms for products are first coined at the company’s head office and later added to the corporate terminology database. If a particular equivalent is not in the database, translators will often consult reliable websites such as TERMIUM®, Eurodicautum or the International Telecommunication Union. The websites of corporate competitors also give translators valuable insight into new terminology as well as the terms to avoid. When the company is involved in a partner project, its translators are encouraged to use the official terminology of the partner company. If the term remains an enigma even after extensive research, only then will the company propose a new term.

What methods does the company employ to create new terms when all other avenues have been exhausted? The translator explained to me that neologisms are often created in the high-tech field by examining the key characteristics of the concept in question. She gave me the example of the term "thesaurus" which is a word-processing feature in the software that her company markets. Pointing and clicking on the "thesaurus" arrow gives access to a drop-down menu of synonyms (called sinónimos) that the end user can choose from. The Spanish translation of "thesaurus" poses a problem since it is a word that designates two different concepts: thesaurus and treasure. In order to avoid this ambiguity, terminologists and translators choose a key characteristic of the concept as a suitable term. In this particular case, sinónimos was chosen instead of tesoro. Translators and terminologists refer to this as a motivated term: a term which represents an essential characteristic of the concept.

Translators must come to an agreement before a term is entered into the corporate terminology database—a measure required in order to control the number of quasi-synonyms or terms used for one specific concept. When a reasonably good translation is found but some doubt still persists, the English term is included in brackets next to the translation. As a last resort, when no suitable term can be found, the English term is used and italicized. Although this particular strategy may cause many translators to shake their heads, in the private industry the end user is what counts. If the translator thinks that the translation may lead to ambiguity or any other comprehension difficulties, then proposing the original English term is the safest solution.

There is also a tendency to use words that appear similar to their English counterparts rather than terms which simply match the concepts. An example that immediately comes to mind is "hacer clic," which means "to click," while a correct match for the concept is "presionar" or "pulsar." Most translators will agree that this tendency exists for safety reasons. People in general feel more comfortable using a term that somehow looks similar, rather than using a word that that has no visual likeness. "Spanglish" seems to be a step just beyond that.

The following is a list of common "Spanglish" terms found on the Internet. While they bear a close resemblance to the English term, they are either not officially approved by the Real Academia Española de la Lengua or may designate a very different concept. But who is to say what will be accepted a few years down the road? The rapid development of a new high-tech jargon is the result of the telecommunications boom in North America, and as high-tech companies successfully move into new markets, so too will many Spanish anglicized terms. Once people start getting used to seeing and using "Spanglish," they may one day simply accept it as technical Spanish jargon.

List of common "Spanglish" terms found on the Internet
boot (v.) botar autoarrancar, iniciar, arrancar
check (v.) chequear comprobar, verificar, revisar
click (v.) cliquear pulsar, presionar, hacer clic
command comando orden, mandato
correctness correctitud corrección
decode (v.) decodificar, descodificar descifrar
(by) default defecto predefinido, predeterminado, prefijado
display (v.) displayar, displayear mostrar
embedded embebido empotrado, encastrado, inmerso
emphasize (v.) enfatizar recalcar, subrayar, resaltar
enter (v.) entrar introducir, poner, aceptar
indent (v.) indentar sangrar
initialize (v.) inicializar iniciar
mandatory mandatorio obligado
nominate (v.) nominar designar, proponer
range rango campo, dominio