Differences between technical and scientific translation

Published on 27/09/2021

The terms technical translation and scientific translation are often used as synonym. It’s true that there is a certain connection between the two modalities.

In order to differentiate between the two, I will begin by establishing the difference between the technical and scientific fields.

1. What is the difference between technics and science?

It is obvious that the two terms are closely related.

Science could therefore be said to refer to the body of knowledge obtained through a mixture of observation and reasoning, which can be tested by experimentation.

On the other hand, technics refers rather to the practical procedures associated with science that require, in almost all cases, certain skills or abilities.

The combination of both concepts results in technology, or applied science. UNESCO publishes science reports in which those two fields are analysed thoroughly.

2. What is the difference between technical translation and scientific translation?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the use of these two terms is quite confusing. In this way, two confusing paths are generated. In this approach, one may think that they are either the same thing or refer to totally different realities.

And none is completely true, because although they are independent concepts, they are closely related.

One might think that the translation of technical documents refers exclusively to the translation of user manuals, technical texts, etc., while scientific translation deals exclusively with medical-pharmaceutical documents.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. Although they do not share the exact same characteristics, both disciplines cannot be completely separated, since both can be found in all areas of science and technology.

As I said at the beginning, these two disciplines are closely related and interconnected.

2.1 Differences between scientific language and technical language

We can say that technical language and scientific language are mainly differentiated by their intentionality, the target audience, the field in which they originate, and the type of text.

On the one hand, it is scientists who develop scientific language, originating in educational and research settings. It is a universal language that uses English as lingua franca. It is mainly characterised by the use of a high, academic and theoretical register, with one main function: to transmit knowledge or new findings in a precise way.

The main text types are:

  • Trials
  • Scientific articles
  • Treaties
  • Textbooks

Its general target audience is the scientific and academic community (which explains the number of technical terms), and, in the case of , an educated general public, who are presumed to have some knowledge of the subject, without needing to be experts in it.

On the other hand, we find technical language, developed by technicians, mainly in the industrial field. It tends to use a register closer to the general language, with a greater presence of regional varieties or localisms, and its function is mainly practical, i.e. to teach or instruct.

In the translation of technical documents we find different degrees of technicality, depending on the purpose of the original text. Some examples for most frequent documents that are translated are:

  • Patents
  • Manuals
  • Technical instructions
  • Online support
  • Technical data sheets

In addition, as these are often technical product documents, it is not uncommon for sales intentionality to be added. Good examples of this are marketing materials such as brochures, catalogues and websites.

The target audience for these types of documents will depend entirely on the intentionality of the document. Thus, depending on their intentionality, the target audience may, in this case, be more or less specialised. Of course, the register and language used will be adapted to the target audience.

Moreover, to speak simply of "technical language" is a bit of an understatement, since there are multiple channels through which we communicate (oral, written, visual...), so it would be more correct to speak of technical communication.

3. Who can carry out the translation of technical and scientific documents?

Due to the highly specialised nature of the specific terminology used in this type of documents, we recommend to request the services of a translation company with a team of technical translators specialised in different fields.

Technical documents require, as I mentioned earlier, translators who are experts in the terminology associated with a given subject area in order to avoid errors associated with unfamiliarity.

Using a qualified professional guarantees the highest quality in your translation.

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