Bilingva Translation and Interpreting


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Jun Ellison
Seki Technotron, USA

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Translating Computer Terminology

Computer terminology slang is perhaps one of the hardest to translate right. Not because of the difficulties in translating the words per se - there are dictionaries and glossaries for that - but because you have to understand clearly what audience the resulting translation is geared to.

Computer terminology is, for the most part, generated in English language, and is then widely adopted into other languages, wherein the words are adjusted using the rules of the adoptive language. So, the English root of the word is still clearly recognizable, but its target translation has become a used term in its own right. At the same time, there may exist an official equivalent word or an acronym in the native language that is sanctioned to be used in documents such as purchase orders, invoices, government contracts and other documents that can be subject to an official scrutiny or audit.

Now we have a dilemma: should we use a widely adopted slang term for the translation, or an official, less used acronym. The slang term would fit well with the technical crowd in documents related to the latest developments in the computer world, such as blog posts, magazine articles, newspaper stories and such. The use of an official acronym or native equivalent would stand out in the text as an out-of-place, inflexible, even obscure reference to certain readers who are not familiar with the official technical nomenclature used by the government.

On the other hand, the use of slang would be inappropriate for documents such as technical documentation, specifications, proposals in response to government RFPs, and many others, where, no matter how obtuse or archaic, the only sanctioned term to use is the one from the official glossaries.

Another problem with computer slang is that it tends to constantly change. The world of technology moves at an amazing pace, and so does the language. What was considered the norm just a few years ago would now evoke a puzzled look and a double-take from a reader or a listener. Translators have to stay on top of the jargon in order to produce translations that use relevant terminology and are easily understood by the target audience.

When doing technical translations it is always advisable to work with a translator, not only specializing in the field, but also living in the country of the translation destination, since even a native translator living abroad may not be up-to-date on the recent language trends in a specific country. A consultation from a native expert working in the particular field is also incredibly useful.

The story of a Winchester

Consider, for example, hard drives - a necessary component for many computers. Back in the days when they were developed at IBM, they had a nickname "Winchester", thanks to the internal spec calling for 30 Mbs of storage on each of the two platters they were to be manufactured with. 30-30 is a well-known Winchester rifle, and the nickname stayed. Later, it got adopted beyond the IBM's labs and became an everyday term for HDD acronym in the United States. Later it gradually became obsolete in the US and Western Europe, however gained a new life in the computer slang in Russia, as the influx of computer equipment flooded the Russian market.

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At the same time, Russian computer industry had its own acronym for hard drives, which it insisted on using. The acronym is very hard to pronounce, and is a very illustrative example of a bureaucratic approach to naming conventions. "НЖМД" acronym - "Hard Magnetic Disk Drive" was used in technical, educational and legal documents, yet "Winchester" was steadily gaining ground, and soon "НЖМД" was retired everywhere except for government bidding contracts.

A few years passed, and the term "Winchester" itself was getting phased out in favor of more technical yet simple direct translation of "Hard Drive" into Russian - "жесткий диск". Even more so, as the number of computer engineers fluently reading and speaking English has increased dramatically, the term "Hard Drive" has been transcribed into Cyrillic letters - "хард драйв" - and is now used freely within the engineering community. The use of the term assumes a certain level of qualification from the parties involved, and is permissible for use during interpreting. Still, for translation, we would recommend to stick to the translation "жесткий диск" for clarity.

The official acronym "НЖМД" survives to this day, and is advisable to use in the official documents related to governmental purchases, bids, technical specifications and such.