I blogged the other day about how a single text can often cover a range of specialist subject areas, and suggested that the whole idea of subject specialisation for translators may have been oversold.
When we are not being urged to specialise by subject area, translators are generally encouraged to find direct clients. There is usually an assumption that the two go hand in hand: that your client will be active in a particular sector and will generate texts in the associated specialist area.
But if the idea that individual texts can be categorised by subject area is often questionable, then the notion that clients will helpfully stick to their own chosen industries when producing copy strikes me as wishful thinking.
I do a lot of work for a large pharmaceutical company. This morning I’ve been despatching a batch of short texts for them. Here’s what I’ve done so far today:
- an email regarding malfunctioning public display systems
- a press release on an architectural prize
- an internal item about a professional seminar on coagulation therapy
- an internal item about a professional seminar on pharmaceutical technology
So, at least four different fields (IT, architecture, clinical medicine, medical technology) and three text types. What’s more, although all of these texts required me to decipher some technical content and identify the correct target language terminology, in every case the real challenge was more general: to work out the meaning of the source text (both technical and general) and to find the most elegant and culturally appropriate way of expressing the author’s message in English.
I sometimes worry that the focus on specialisation leads new (and not so new!) translators to assume that the biggest challenge of any text is to match the correct target language terminology with the source terms. Of course that’s important, but we shouldn’t allow it to obscure the often far more challenging ‘general’ issues of style and meaning that cut across specialisms.