Monday, July 23, 2007

What is the use of Terminology?

Whether your company is large or small, its products and services would not be successful if you were not able to describe them. Tell the customer how the products are called, what they do, what makes them superior to competition and what feature is particularly noteworthy. Through their advertisers and merchandisers, companies therefore develop a specialized vocabulary, a jargon that is particular to the industry.

When regular hydraulic brakes were replaced by anti-lock brakes, automotive manufacturers used ABS as an acronym and informed customers started looking for ABS equipped cars. Other expressions appeared and disappeared quickly as this one acronym had staying power and was favoured by the customers.

Whether you are in the construction business or packaging food products, retailing or web design, you all have a jargon that is used daily to communicate with your customers and suppliers.

In bilingual Canada, there is a need for terminology in English and in French and a wise company ensures that it uses the correct terminology in both languages. If a specific device or component is called A by General Motors, B by Ford and C by Toyota, the customer will be confused. Additionally, if the word chosen is of a foreign origin to the reader, he/she will not remember it as well. That is what happened when the Service arm of General Motors used Goodwrench as part of their signage or logo. To the non-English speaker, Goodwrench was not easily understand and was often confused with Goodrich. Is that good?

Words have a life of their own and may change meaning in time and in different settings. It is therefore important when defining a word to provide a context, an example, and give the equivalent expression in the other language. A mechanic can use a lead to connect electrical components of an engine, but he will check on the presence of lead in the gasoline if the malfunctioning engine is run on lead-free gas. Two words, same spelling and two totally different meanings.

Does your translator use a standard, uniform terminology? What are the sources of this information and how reliable is it? If a word needs to be created, how does he go about it? It is not as simple a pulling rabbit out of a hat.

Some concepts are easily created in English but present a challenge in French. In some cases, it is the other way around. An experienced translator will perform the necessary research to find the best equivalent. In some cases, he will tell you that the task is impossible and that it would be better to use another tack. Take his advice; it will save you from problems later.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As you say, each industry has their own language, abbreviations and “slang”. Most terms are available in any of the industry magazines or websites.

A reasonable proficiency with their “language” helps opens doors to network with other executives within the company and makes those conversations much more productive and revealing.

Not knowing, or correctly using, those terms instantly labels you as an outsider, or worse, a newbie to the industry.

That presents a couple of problems in translating marketing communications:...

I did a series of ten brochure translations into Japanese, Korean, and Mandarin Chinese (among others) The Japanese sales people didn’t like them because they were translated (in Vancouver) at a university level, instead of a high school, or even public school level. Complain, complain, complain so the next major Asian tradeshow, the Japanese Sales Manager got to do his own translations. Needless to say it took twice the revisions and doubled the Japanese typesetting costs. Even if the sales people liked them, I had no way of knowing if their customers liked them (or our company) any better. I would have rather found a Japanese translator that could have done it professionally at a mid high-school level and not divert the Japanese Sales Manager. C'est la vie.