A Translator's Reference Needs: Dictionaries or Parallel Texts?

Ian A. Williams
University of Cantabria (Spain)

This paper examines how far consulting dictionaries and references cited in the bibliography can solve the problems raised by standardized and non-standardized terms in the translation of medical research reports from Spanish into English. Analysis of two translations representing different types of report (clinical and experimental) showed that use of three references offered greater certainty than using three specialized dictionaries: 71% and 51 % of items were found by the two methods, respectively. A combined method improved coverage to between 85% and 90%, and could guarantee acceptability for 95% of the items. As instances of parallel texts, references provided more and better information than dictionaries, especially at the higher sentence and text levels, as well as giving insight into stylistic aspects of lexical choice for the genre.

Table of contents

"The nearest and most lovingly consulted books on my shelves are dictionaries" (Apley 1976). The same is true for translators. It has been pointed out that two-thirds of translation problems involve dictionary consultation, which is, therefore, an important factor in the search for translation replacements (Hartmann 1989: 16). However, the interests of lexicographers and the needs of translators often seem at odds with each other and mutual distrust can be the result (Hartmann 1989: 11). Thus, Newmark (1979), in his general hints on procedure in medical translation, warned: "Never accept a bilingual or multilingual dictionary as an authority". He advised checking all unfamiliar words in two or three monolingual dictionaries in each language. This procedure, though sound, is time-consuming.

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