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The Translator: Science in Translation

10 October 2011

The Translator: Studies in Intercultural Communication
Volume 17, Number 2, 2011 

Special Issue: Science in Translation

Guest Editors: Maeve Olohan and Myriam Salama-CarrNow available to online subscribers


Despite the crucial role played by translation in the history of scientific ideas and the transmission of knowledge, historians of science have seldom been interested in the translation activity which enabled the spread of those ideas and exerted influence on structures and systems of knowledge. Translation scholars, too, have traditionally shown little interest in theorizing scientific translation. Recent conceptualizations of science as public culture, institution, narrative and rhetorical practice open the way for research on the translation of science to take conceptual and methodological inspiration from studies of discourse, rhetoric, the sociology of science, the history of science, the philosophy of science and other related fields.

This special issue of The Translator foregrounds the work of researchers, within or on the periphery of translation studies, who have begun to interrogate the representation of scientific knowledge through translation. Drawing on a wide range of disciplines and models, contributors engage with different perspectives and approaches to help promote the visibility of scientific translation and shed light on its complex relationship with power and the construction of knowledge.


Translating Science

Maeve Olohan and Myriam Salama-Carr, pp. 179-188

Research in translation has until quite recently tended to eschew the translation of scientific material as a possible site of critical inquiry, with the exception perhaps of popular science, despite the prevalence of scientific texts and their related fields in translation practice. Moreover, historical perspectives on the transmission of scientific knowledge have not generally acknowledged translation and its potential to generate epistemological, narrative and ideological shifts in the dissemination of scientific discourse. In contrast, social constructivist perspectives which account for human intervention and contingency in the representation of science promote an analysis of translated scientific material that focuses on issues of rhetoric, ideology and translator’s agency. Drawing on the sociology and history of science, the history of ideas as well as various frameworks for textual analysis, the contributors to this special issue engage with different perspectives and approaches to help promote the visibility of scientific translation and shed light on its complex relationship with power and the construction of knowledge.


The Scientific Revolution and Its Repercussions on the Translation of Technical Discourse

Karen Bennett, pp. 189-210

The Scientific Revolution of the 17th century not only revolutionized the English world view, it also brought about profound changes on the level of discourse. Through a process of grammatical metaphorization (Halliday and Martin 1993), primary experience was linguistically reconstrued to create a picture of a static objective universe from which all subjectivity was effectively removed. The Catholic cultures of Continental Europe were initially resistant to the scientific worldview, remaining loyal for political and religious reasons to the earlier humanistic model (Bennett 2007a, 2007b). Nevertheless, by the late 20th century, with the pressures of globalization, most had developed a scientific discourse of their own, essentially calqued from the English model. The fact that this discourse was borrowed however, rather than resulting from an internal process of evolution, has led to certain grammatical and rhetorical inconsistencies, which raise problems for translation. This paper discusses some of the technical issues besetting the English translator of Portuguese scientific texts, including difficulties related to nominalizations, impersonal verb structures and the intrusion of features from the traditional discourse. It also considers ethical and epistemological questions resulting from the process of linguistic colonization (Phillipson 1992, Pennycook 1994).


Translation of a Discipline: The Fate of Rankine’s Engineering Science in Early Meiji-era Japan 

Ruselle Mead, pp. 211-231

This paper examines the translation of the academic discipline of engineering from Britain to Japan in the early Meiji era (1868-1880). It argues that engineering, like other disciplines, is a discursive field shaped by the context in which it develops. British academic engineering was greatly influenced by W.J.M. Rankine, professor of engineering at the University of Glasgow, who delineated a discursive identity for the field by meeting the demands of both practising engineers and the academy. The resulting character of this discipline was but one of multiple possibilities, but it gained legitimacy, and ultimately orthodoxy. In Japan, there were a number of competing visions but Rankinian engineering eventually prevailed as it was granted privileged status by the Ministry of Public Works through the selection of Rankine’s protégé, Henry Dyer, as head of the Imperial College of Engineering, and later by the Ministry of Education through its selection of Rankine’s works for translation into Japanese. This paper demonstrates that the Rankinian vision was but one of multiple choices available in the early Meiji era. It also examines how Rankine’s engineering science became entrenched as orthodoxy in Japan and how translation reflects this process.


The Freedom of Expressing One’s Ideas: Translating La Mettrie

Lieve Jooken and Guy Rooryck, pp. 233-254

This paper discusses the English translation of one of the Enlightenment’s main works of materialist philosophy, Julien Offray de La Mettrie’s L’homme machine (1747). Radicalizing the mechanical metaphor that Descartes had applied to animals, La Mettrie’s work states that the human body and the human soul are instances of the same substance. This early emancipatory expression in favour of a scientific study of the human being took issue with the contemporary theological doxa, revealing the changes and mutations that were taking place in the field of knowledge. The English translation, Man a Machine, appeared in 1749. Drawing on the Bourdieuan concepts of field and habitus and the opposition between ethos and doxa (Maingueneau 2002), this article contextualizes the subversive impact of the original text and offers an analysis of its paratexts, including the reception of the translation in the British periodical press. This is followed by an examination of the translator’s textual interventions to reveal how the translation either makes the materialist claims of the original more explicit or polarizes its assumed communicative purpose vis-à-vis the doxa. While L’homme machine could only communicate its dissent in elusive terms, the translation highlights the polemical character of the text and communicates its radical ideas more forcefully to a nation that was considered the most liberal of its time.


Textual Evolution: The Translation of Louis Figuier’s La Terre avant le déluge

Richard Somerset, pp. 255-274

In 1863, the French popularizer of science Louis Figuier produced a work that would become a classic of popular science and open up the new field of palaeontology to a wide audience of non-specialists. Its success derived largely from the author’s capacity to deploy copious empirical information within an engaging and suggestive narrative framework. This narrative had strong ideological implications, its characteristic pattern of global progression broken by local discontinuities being compatible only with a scheme in which the course of nature was guided by providential design. However, the contemporary English translations of the work did not reproduce this outlook. While Figuier’s work remained an effective tool for the popularization of the discipline, the relationship between empirical fact and divine intervention was subtly changed in translation, the English version being more pious and less hostile to evolution than the French original. This paper presents an account of how Figuier’s translators achieved this shift in ideological orientation and explores their possible motivations for doing so.

Travelling Certainties: Darwin’s Doubts and Their Dutch Translations

Sonia Vandepitte, Liselotte Vandenbussche and Brecht Algoet, pp. 275-299

This article builds on Annie Brisset’s chapter ‘Clémence Royer, ou Darwin en colère’ (2002:173-203), in which she argues that Clémence Royer’s French translation (1861) of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859) was adapted to the French positivistic style, that Royer’s own voice was injected into the translation and that the French translation conveyed a higher degree of certainty than the English original. The comparative study presented here investigates whether two Dutch translations (Winkler 1860 and Hellemans 2000) show similar shifts in certainty or epistemic stance (Kärkkäinen 2003). Quantitative and qualitative analyses were conducted of Darwin’s chapter four on ‘Natural Selection’ and its two translations, focusing on a set of modal words and using an adapted version of Martin and White’s epistemic scale of ranking (2005). Comparisons between Darwin’s text and its translations reveal a positivistic voice, similar to Royer’s, in Winkler’s nineteenth-century translation but not in the contemporary translation by Hellemans. The findings are discussed in terms of target audiences, language-inherent characteristics and general translation tendencies.

Translational Behaviour at the Frontiers of Scientific Knowledge: A Multilingual Investigation into Popular Science Metaphor in Translation

Mark Shuttleworth, pp. 301-323

This study is based on an analysis of 1354 translated metaphor examples drawn from a corpus consisting of the official published translations into French, Italian, German, Russian and Polish of 62 Scientific American articles that appeared between January 2003 and July 2004. It investigates what happens to metaphor in scientific discourse when translated into another language, on both micro- and macro-levels. Since one of the main advantages of a data-rich multilingual study of this kind is that it can potentially produce results that allow us to draw conclusions about this aspect of scientific translation at a high level of generalization, particular attention is paid to tendencies that appear to be common to translators regardless of the target language. The study distinguishes between macro-level mappings and micro-level metaphorical expressions and examines individual mappings and clusters of mappings in the English source text and their renderings into all five languages. It adopts a bottom-up approach, in that all mappings and other high-level structures are posited on the basis of the metaphorical expressions identified rather than trying to fit the metaphorical expressions into a pre-determined framework of categories.

Translating Science: Contexts and Contests – On the Translation of a Misogynist Scientific Treatise in Early Twentieth-Century Spain

Dolores Sánchez, pp. 325-348

At the beginning of the 20th century, the well known German neurologist Möbius published an essay entitled Über den physiologischen Schwachsinn des Weibes (On the Physiological Mental Deficiency of Woman). In this scientific compendium, Möbius developed a theory to prove the mental inferiority of women. The essay achieved wide circulation at the time and in 1904 was released in Spain as La inferioridad mental de la mujer (The Mental Inferiority of Woman) by a major publishing house. The translator was the eminent writer Carmen de Burgos, known for her radical politics and feminism. The Spanish edition contains an extensive paratextual apparatus written by the translator herself. Informed by recent theoretical and methodological poststructuralist debates in translation studies, history of science, critical discourse analysis and feminist studies, this paper analyzes Carmen de Burgos’s paratext as an important site for elaborating the voice of the translator. It demonstrates that translation as a social practice is interwoven with the social and historical context in which it is framed.

Interaction in the Genre of Popular Science: Writer, Translator and Reader

Min-Hsiu Liao, pp. 349-368

Scientific texts are often treated as neutral and objective, and their translators are assumed to be invisible. This paper takes an opposing view and argues that the translator’s role in the process of communicating popular science is worthy of investigation. It first explores the notion of interaction in popular science texts, before operationalizing the concept of translation shift for the analysis of interactive features in source texts and their translations. The analysis uses a parallel corpus compiled from the Chinese and English editions of the popular science magazine Scientific American. Interactive features in the Chinese translations were found to occur much more frequently than in a Chinese reference corpus, and in some cases even more frequently than in the English source texts. The dominant trends identified in the corpus are discussed in terms of readers’ participation, writer-reader solidarity, and writer’s and translator’s presence in the text. The textual findings are further discussed against the background of popular science writings in the target culture and the views of editors and translators. The paper concludes by suggesting that the social responsibility assumed by translators and expected of them by society may explain their active participation in the process of interaction with target readers.

The Use of Glossing in Modern Original Scientific Writing in Arabic: An Influence of Translation?

Hala Sharkas, pp. 369-389

This study investigates the use of glossing in translated and original scientific texts in Arabic and the factors that motivate this use, given existing knowledge and linguistic gaps between Arabic and English. The form of glossing investigated is the insertion of foreign terms next to their target text counterparts. The study draws on a corpus of 10 translated and 15 original research articles taken from three publications. Statistical analysis of the occurrence of glossing was conducted, taking into consideration variables such as the types of glossed expressions, the ratios of glossed expressions to the total number of words in each text and the recurrence of the same gloss in each text. Results show that glosses of source language scientific terms are used frequently in translated and original texts in the corpus, although the ratios are smaller in original texts than in translated texts. Historical, educational, linguistic and practical factors that could explain such usage in original writings are discussed.

Register Shifts in Scientific and Technical Translation: A Corpus-in-Context Study

Monika Krein-Kühle, pp. 391-413

This article investigates register shifts in scientific and technical translation, addressing the question of how and to what extent specific features are governed and constrained by register aspects. It examines the translation-relevant items have and be when used as main verbs and their German translation solutions, drawing on a theoretical and methodological framework that takes due account of the context, i.e., the domain(s) underlying the text and reflected in it, and the situation in which the translations fulfill their communicative function in expert-to-expert communication. The data analyzed come from the scientific and technical translation part of the Cologne Specialized Translation Corpus, a high-quality translation corpus designed for translational research. The analysis reveals trends in translation solutions that can be of relevance in translation teaching, professional translation and translation quality assessment. The findings suggest that analyzing register shifts requires translation research to engage with the context, to take account of all textual and extra-textual aspects that trigger specific uses of language in a particular translation. The paper concludes with a call for greater emphasis on the quality of the translation product in corpus compilation, so that researchers may obtain more reliable results and a better understanding of the constrained nature of scientific and technical translation.

The Audio Description of Scientific Multimedia

Lidia Cámara and Eva Espasa, pp. 415-437

Multimedia documents are increasingly used to disseminate specialized scientific knowledge. They are addressed to, and accessed by, different audiences: experts, students (with differing degrees of specialization) and general audiences. This range of audiences and products can help to bridge the gap between scientific communities and the rest of the population. Multimedia documents convey verbal and non-verbal information through visual and acoustic channels. The multiplicity of codes and channels both helps the acquisition of knowledge and allows for the inclusion of different types of accessibility resources, such as audio description for the visually impaired (AD). This article focuses on audio description of dynamic images in non-fiction scientific genres, including documentaries and multimedia presentations. It discusses current research on images, scientific translation and accessibility, analyzes existing audio-described documentaries, and proposes alternatives that can improve visual accessibility to multimedia scientific texts in different formats.

Revisiting the Classics

Laying the Foundations for Scientific and Technical Translation

Monika Krein-Kühle, pp. 439-444

Review of Die Übersetzung naturwissenschaftlicher und technischer Literatur. Rudolf W. Jumpelt. Berlin-Schöneberg: Langenscheidt KG, 1961.

Book Reviews

Translating Science by David Wright, Reviewed by Martha Cheung, pp.  445-450
Traduire la science by Pascal Duris, Reviewed by Jean Peeters, pp. 451-453
Translating the World by Sundar Sarukkai, Reviewed by Ovidi Carbonell, pp. 453-458
《翻译地理学》(Translation Geography) by Xu Jianzhong, Reviewed by Li Xin, pp. 458-462
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