Translating Science

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Just as being well-acquainted with the law serves in legal translation, or having experience in healthcare ensures a better translation of a medical document, it’s imperative that those translating scientific research are well-versed in not only the source and target language, but also the relevant scientific field.

Because the lingua franca of science is English, any non-native speaker will need their work translated if they want to reach a larger audience. However, translating scientific research is difficult and costly; esoteric terminology, paper structure, and specific syntax are just some of the things that make it so. A good example of mistranslation that occurred with research reports written in Arabic on treatments for male infertility. The procedure of making sperm from bone marrow stem cells, when translated, came to mean that women would no longer need men to reproduce. Even the term ‘bone marrow,’ phrased in Arabic as ‘the brain of the bones,’ was mistranslated as ‘bones of the brain.’ A more widely-known translation blunder occurred in the 19th century when Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli described lines on Mars’ surface as ‘canali.’ The word in Italian means ‘channels,’ but was mistranslated as ‘canals,’ which of course do no occur naturally, leading people to believe that there was indeed extraterrestrial life on Mars. There’s an element of comedy in both of these examples, but they should not undermine the importance of accuracy in translation, especially when it comes to scientific work, which calls for precision and should leave no room for interpretation.

The following article addresses this problem in addition to offering some solutions:

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