Since the 15th century, the invention of the printing press, the rise of telecommunications and the arrival of the digital era have facilitated the transmission of knowledge, both at a national level and at an international level. This has made it possible to develop increasing specialization and for technical translation to appear. Schools and research groups are created, and new scientific and technological fields and subdisciplines are developed at a heightened and almost dizzying pace today. As a result, the need for increasingly specialized communication has risen and there are new concepts requiring new names, which means that there’s a need to create technical or specialized vocabulary.
Scientific translators have had a huge impact on the creation of specialized vocabulary by creating terms and importing them from other languages. Over time, many of these have entered common use. Some examples are Germanisms in the field of war (war, glove, helmet, spur, shell) or to chemistry (cobalt, wolfram, quartz, nickel), Gallicisms in the field of fashion (batiste, beige, boutique, corset, gabardine), wine (bouquet, champagne, sommelier), gastronomy (chef, menu, gourmet, ham, fillet, croquette, soufflé, entrecôte, crepe) and tourism (souvenir, tour, hotel) and the countless Anglicisms in fields such as computing or finance.
What’s more, it’s worth pointing out that international relations, both political and cultural as well as economic, have intensified, thanks to modern means of transport by air, sea and land. International trade involves overcoming language barriers, which is why technical translation has become one of the translation specialties most in demand.
Technical language is a subset of language, with partial matches to common language but with specific uses for a certain area. Some linguistic features of this language are objectivity: in general, this type of text has an informative or explanatory function; but above all, texts must be objective and clear. Technical terms must be precise so that we can quickly associate the term with the reality it describes, thus avoiding any ambiguity.
Terminological consistency: within a certain piece of text, terminological consistency must always be maintained. This means that, even if we can’t quite decide on whether to use one term or another, what we mustn’t do is switch between them throughout the text, as this will only cause confusion among readers. It can happen that a term doesn’t have an equivalent one in the target language, which means that the translator will have to search for an alternative to address the issue. This may involve using a loanword, neologism or—if all else fails—attempt to provide an explanation of the term. In any case, it must be a sound solution that cannot be taken lightly, as technical language is quite strict and it is not a good idea to have an abundance of terms that are wrong or that lead to confusion. There are bodies that regulate products and services at a national level and at an international level (AENOR, ISO, etc.) where we can find references to terms that can be very useful when translating a text, or also in documentation work.
Accuracy: the use of unnecessary words that make the text sound more pretentious and even confusing must be avoided.
Logical style: generally speaking, the way in which texts are drafted varies depending on the language involved. This is why one of the translator’s tasks is deciding which is the appropriate manner to draft a text in a certain language: whether to use the active or passive voice, whether to use the formal or informal address, etc.
Despite the existence of general guidelines on how to create technical documentation, they are still relatively unknown, which is why modern machine translation technologies have had little impact on technical writing. We are positive that the great benefits they can bring will soon make companies aware of the need to optimize texts for their subsequent translation, whether by computer-assisted translation systems or professional translators.