As they say, “Jack of all trades yet a master of none”. While some may try to deny the facts, this is often the reality of a translator, if not as a constant, then at least as a common state within their profession. Language is immeasurable, as is what we can do with it. That means the translator can receive texts of all kinds, and depending on their experience and training, they’ll be more or less qualified.
Let’s be honest: no-one can know everything. An audiovisual translator who is exposed to the digressions of a mad scientist won’t have studied molecular biology at university. The problem becomes bigger when, two episodes later – let’s say four working days later -, molecular biology makes a run for it because the mad scientist is singing the virtues of quantum physics over the Newtonian tradition. If the poor translator’s next project is a legal drama, this unsung hero could become someone who everyone wants on their Trivial Pursuit team.
The world is accelerating. Specialisations are soaring. Nowadays, general knowledge and internet access aren’t enough to, in professional terms, pretend that we speak the language of dozens of specialisations that we don’t know about. Not even keeping up-to-date with the news in technical, scientific and legal fields can guarantee outstanding knowledge in all their branches: for example, familiarisation with the vocabulary associated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), doesn’t imply the same level of knowledge of new cognitive-behavioural therapy strategies in treating depression. And that’s without leaving a field that is, in principle, as well enclosed as a mental illness can be.
THE AGE OF COLLABORATIVE KNOWLEDGE
The birth of Wikipedia, aside from the criticism it could receive if we decided to dig deeper, was a milestone in the history of knowledge. Expert minds in the most diverse fields would collaborate on a project of colossal dimensions so that anyone eager to learn could have the information about their area of study however and wherever they wanted. When knowledge grows and specialisations grow into smaller and more secretive branches, the person becomes unable to retain everything: only a network of experts can do so.
Nowadays, there doesn’t seem to be anything strange about that. However, it wasn’t until the proliferation of web 2.0 that this access to collaborative knowledge became possible thanks to technological advances and the participation of a large user base. Many of us would be unable to imagine the present without all the effects of this thirst to share what we know: open university courses, free courses with higher education content, the digitalisation of printed resources, the rise of outreach on platforms such as YouTube and the new wave of content creators are some examples. Maybe Minecraft and D&D won’t save the world from the evil that threatens it, but both can be considered specialisations as noble and complex as tailoring.
Going back to the start of this article, it’s no surprise that the translator finds themself in the position of having to imitate the speech of any expert in this vast labyrinth of specialities. In these cases, there’s often a single resource that can allow them to bridge the gaps in their knowledge: information given to them by specialists.
In the same way that science advances because experts have learned to recognise the ability to stand on the shoulders of giants, translators have learned to do the same. The diverse topics they work with and specialised knowledge have forced them to accept that no-one is smart enough to know everything. Therefore, let’s be intelligent: let’s trust those who know more than us.
This is where open glossaries come into play. Some months ago, we named the glossary as a cornerstone of translation, and now we’re naming the open glossary one of the most efficient resources to overcome specialisation obstacles. Open glossaries are monolingual or multilingual public tools that organisations, associations and individuals make available to users free of charge, in order to avoid misunderstandings and standardize the terminology used within a field. From the IMF’s Multilingual Terminology database to UNESCO’s Multilingual Thesaurus, as well as the University of York’s Glossary of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Terminology and the excellent IATE, all of these proposals have something in common.
Firstly, they aim to gather information about the terminology of a specific field. Although the fields included can vary depending on the resource, their ultimate aim is the same: to narrow down the definition or use of each term (monolingual resources) and establish its equivalent in other languages (multilingual resources) so that we’re all on the same page when it comes to the same words. The second shared factor, which is particularly relevant to translators, is the reliability of the sources. The person, commission or organisation in charge of creating a public glossary will always be a renowned expert on the matter, whose knowledge of the field of study is indisputable: a fast, confident and justified answer to everything that we could never find out ourselves.
A personalised list of the best-rated glossaries or those closest to our field of work can save us a lot of time and effort when translating, whether we’re dealing with a highly-specialised project or because in a general text, a few terms start to creep in that, without this help, could take us hours to work out. If you want to get started in this field, take a look at this amazing piece of work by InsideLoc with his list of specialised glossaries.
As a collective effort is required to meet the challenges of an ever-developing society, Gloss It wants to put in its two cents with a new tool: open glossaries. This function allows you to share your glossaries with anyone that you feel may need them. In addition, we’re proud to announce that we’re starting this journey alongside Pablo Mugüerza and his outstanding work in the creation of medical glossaries (in English and Spanish). In an increasingly complex cultural context, at Gloss It, we truly believe that strength comes in numbers.