Conversion in English computer terminology: Factors affecting English–Spanish translation

José R. Belda Medina

Computer terminology has recently become very influential in languages other than English. One of the major problems affecting Spanish translation in this field derives from the high flexibility of English towards conversion, the process whereby a term belonging to a specific grammatical category can be used with different syntactic functions without requiring change in its form. Although no agreement exists on the definition and extent of conversion, this process poses some important problems for the Spanish translation. This paper intends to analyze and classify the most important types of conversion in English computer terminology and describe the major problems affecting the Spanish translation.

Table of contents

Computer terminology has acquired great importance in all languages due to the recent expansion of personal computers and the Internet, as pointed out by Barry (1991), Adell (1995), Guerrero Ramos (1995), Yates (1996), Gutiérrez Rodilla (1998), Cebrián (1998), Ramonet (1998), Shortis (2000), Alcaraz (2000) and Yus (2001), among other authors. The number of terms created to express new concepts related to this field is constantly increasing in English, since new machines and programs are invented continuously and distributed worldwide. As a result, countries with languages other than English have to struggle regularly with computer terms in order to find a suitable and popular version [ p. 318 ]in their own word stock, which is not easy to do, as attested by Hahn (1992), Cassen (1998) and Jiménez Serrano (1998). One of the major problems affecting the translation of computer terms derives from the high flexibility of the English language towards conversion, “the process by which a word belonging to one word class gets used as part of another word class without the addition of an affix” (Chalker and Weiner 1994: 95–96), or in other words, the process whereby a word belonging to a certain grammatical category, i.e. a noun or verb, is used with a syntactic function typical of other categories without requiring any change in its form. In fact, the history of the English language shows a marked tendency towards word formation by converting nouns into verbs, adjectives into nouns, verbs into nouns, etc. This process has been studied closely and described by linguists such as Matthews (1974), Adams (1973), Bauer (1983) and, more recently, Hockett (1994), Stekauer (1996) and Buck (1997). In fact, Bauer emphasizes the importance of conversion in the history of the English lexis:

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