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Medical Translation Can Be Hard to Translate

When a translator specialises in medical document translation, he or she has a big challenge ahead, as a medical translation is never simple as there are word equivalents that need to be found that fit well with the source and targeted languages.  One of the biggest problems is at the word level and not so much finding grammatical equivalence but the precise meaning.

Problems with wording are some of the most difficult challenges in the translation of medical documents. Every word can be given a variety of meanings so it’s important the translator can choose exactly the right word. There are several types of meaning connected to many different words. These are:

● Propositional meaning
● Presupposed meaning
● Expressive meaning
● Evoked meaning

The propositional meaning is usually a clear-cut meaning of a word. The expressive meaning is that which emerges as a meaning over and above the propositional meaning. One specific example is the difference found between certain words like the word ‘smell’ and ‘reek’. These two words have almost the same propositional meanings but are not the same when the expressive meaning is used.

A presupposed meaning comes from collocation, e.g., the adjective ‘sturdy’ is found more when describing plants, animals and inanimate objects but not human beings. An evoked meaning is a related dialect or to register. A register is when the language is used for a particular interaction or situation, like when an adult talks to a child. Mona Baker, who is the author of a book called “In Other Words,” describes a bad translation found at the word level is due to a mismatch in any of the 4 types of meanings.

Fortunately, when certified document translation services are involved, the propositional meaning usually matches the pair of languages well when used for a medical translation. This is due to the fact that the anatomy of a human’s body and diseases don’t differ much throughout the world. A medical translation often trips up the translator when it comes to evoked meanings that do not match between the different languages. Also, medical translations often offer a mismatched presupposed meaning between languages due to collocations.

Different Registers Occur in Medical Translations

What helps to differentiate a medical translation from other types of technical translations when it comes to their difficulty is its use of multiple registers. In this field, some body parts and diseases are given one name in a more elevated medical register and they are given another in a lower (colloquial) register. A couple of examples of this include ‘thorax’ and ‘chest,’ and ‘pertussis’ and ‘whooping cough.’ A translator has to know which word to use to fit in with the audience of the translation.

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