Differences between linguists and subject-matter experts in the medical translation practice: An empirical descriptive study with professional translators

Ana Muñoz-Miquel

Abstract

In the literature on medical translation, the question as to who translates (or should translate) medical texts has been largely discussed on the basis of the traditional linguists versus subject-matter experts opposition. Both scholars and professional translators have attempted to determine medical translators’ profile by making statements about the characteristics of translators with a linguistic background and those of translators with a scientific-medical one. These statements are generally based on intuition or personal experience rather than on empirical data which can be used to back up any kind of evaluation that may be made. This paper aims to bridge this gap by presenting the results of an empirical descriptive study which surveyed practicing medical translators. The survey included questions such as academic qualification, years of experience, customers, genres translated, main difficulties encountered, and degree of self-instruction received, among others. On the basis of these data, this paper approaches the medical translators’ profile and explores the main differences between translators with a linguistic background and translators with a scientific-medical one. The results show that some of the most substantial differences between them relate to the years of experience, difficulties encountered, documentation resources used, and training needs.

Keywords:
Publication history
Table of contents

One of the oldest types of translation is that which deals with medicine. Since ancient times, it has played a major role in the construction and dissemination of medical knowledge (Montalt Resurrecció 2010, 72). Nowadays, medical translation is crucial for the proper development of communication and knowledge in areas such as health care, patient education, health promotion, clinical research, drug development or medical practice, among others. Huge amounts of medical-healthcare information, which needs to be translated, are generated daily in a wide variety of contexts: international health organisations, pharmaceutical laboratories, medical publishers, research centres, hospitals, universities, health institutes, contract research organisations (CROs), etc. Thus job opportunities and career development possibilities for translators in the medical-healthcare field are considerable.

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