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Actual Problems of Scientific-Technical Translation

To say that scientific-technical translation in Russia today is in depression is to say nothing. Though book shop shelves are crammed with various terribly expensive scientific-technical translated literature (especially on IT), the quality of these products is often found to be so confusing that the competent reader has to reconstruct mentally with the help of his or her own intuition the source text which was completely spoiled by the negligent translator.

Slapdash translation in technical sphere unfortunately becomes a customary standard. It happens mainly because clients usually strive for getting the certain translation quicker and cheaper and responsible-for-nothing translators working for peanuts have to churn out translations, thus turning quality into quantity.

Under such conditions accurate elaboration of new technical terminology is out of the question. Does a churn out translator who is always in a hurry have time for self-education or looking up in glossaries, encyclopedias, searching Internet for the Russian equivalents which are grammatically and etymologically correct? So non-existent cities, dukedoms, states appear; well-known names and last names are being distorted. Russian language, for example, acquired some terms from English ("zooming", "trashing", "interleaving", "provider", "outsourcing") even though there are existing Russian equivalents. Who knows, may be "computing", "recorder", "plug-in", "peering" and other senseless loan translations will appear in Russian.

But what is more terrible, as my colleagues from the Kazan regional department of the Translators Union of Russia I. Lihtenshtein, S. Muravyov and R.Tabeyev write in their article for "Mir perevoda" magazine, "even if the customer pays a high price, he will get the slapdash all the same, because he doesn't understand the difference between good and bad translation and a churn out translator isn't able to create something serious any more".

Translation of scientific-technical literature can be done professionally only by high-skilled technical specialists who know the application domain and its specific terminology very well, who know the foreign language and, what is the most important, who can articulate their ideas competently in the target language following the content and the style of the source text. And here we face the first problem – the search for good translators, because the experience of doing large-scale translation projects shows that at best we can find only 2 specialists who can translate really professionally out of 100 translators who are also confident in their translation skills.

Demand for good technical translators is always high, though their work is never appreciated. Publishing companies working with technical literature in translation in the USSR were paying 2-3.5 roubles for a standard typewritten page (28 double-spaced lines with 60 characters in each) as per model contract. The vast majority of translation agencies in modern Russia (often those who are represented by re-sellers) doesn't want (and sometimes simply can't afford due to barbarous taxes) to pay more than 160 roubles for the same standard page. Though, today the standard page turned either into 1800 characters or 250 words or even 300 words. Such unit of measure for translator's work as the author's sheet (40,000 symbols) now has fallen out of legislative control. The standard "10 days per author's sheet" doesn't exist either, and various translation agencies stopped to take the translator as the author of the literary work with all the ensuing consequences. Therefore, the second important problem is the culture of relationship between a powerless translator and an omnipotent employer regarding financial, moral, ethic, and legal aspects.

Today a technical translator has to do written translation under extremely strict conditions: to receive and send his work by e-mail, to work quickly, to guarantee the accuracy of terminology interpretation (which often turns out to be new), to struggle on his own through the jungle of non-contextual abbreviations, foreign denominations, unintelligible units of measure, and also to correct the text (as a rule, in a subjective manner) in accordance with customer's remarks after the examination of received translation. The employer usually sets terms at 5-8 pages per day, but demands at high quality translation, terminological correctness, and often – preservation of the source text format. It means that almost every ordered translation turns into an urgent work for the translator, however, clients don't want to pay for urgency and editing of "collective" translations as it was "in good old days", hence "hidden reserves" are brought into use at the expense of translators, whose work under the circumstances of absence of any quality standards can be easily declared to be improper by the client. Therefore setting effective and transparent criteria of technical translation quality and translators professional selection procedures are also important problems.

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