Any language interpretors here?

@ Robert

Du hast ein großes Schnitzel gekocht und ich brauche viele Zeit, um es zu essen. I will just discuss the posibility of translating and interpreting technical science stuff in this post and will get onto the actual feasability of it on the other thread when I get some time.

"How do you think such talks are handled by the UN? :wink:

I have worked for the UNIDO quite a few times and believe me, they have some pretty technical talks there too."

I doubt genuinely technical talks in the way I mean it are given at the UN. It may be technical for the audience who does not have the expertise of the scientist who is speaking, but for the scientist it is probably babytalk. The language they use in presentations to non-specialists is always going to be simplified, even in applications for things like funding and I suspect also patents.

Are you sure you are able to tell the difference between a simplified review talk given by a scientist for the sake of non-specialists and a technical talk given by a scientist about his or her latest results to a group of specialists? People outside of the sciences generally have very little idea of what read science looks like. For example, my mum was shocked when I gave her a copy of my phd thesis and she found equations in it!

“You are confusing things here. First of all, I don’t think it will take you months or years to learn specific words.”

It will when the only way you can learn those words is by reading, and understanding, huge amounts of technical literature and by having endless numbers of conversations with experts in the field. The really technical vocabulary that gets used by experts in their field cannot be found in dictionaries. There are dictionaries of physics terms, but these are very general. A lot of the time, a term that might have a specific meaning to the general scientific community has a very special meaning to a set of experts. A lot of the time, a term might have an obvious meaning that is in fact wrong. People will often be working within the subject for a long time before they realise that the term has a funny meaning. How would an interpreter preparing for a conference do it when they don’t even know which terms have peculiar meanings in particular fields? Such terms will generally not be used by specialists when talking to non-specialists but they will be used heavily in any technical science talk.

“However, I think you extremely overestimate the “uniqueness” of your field of expertise and grossly underestimate the qualifications of trained translators.”

I think you are extremely underestimating the uniqueness of fields of expertise.

I am not saying that real technical science talks cannot be interpreted reliably, I don’t know. I am just saying I have never seen it done and am not convinced that it can be done reliably enough. When I say reliable enough, I mean more reliable than a non-native speaker who is not at a really high level of English saying it themselves. I’ll take your word for it that simplified talks given to non-specialists can be interpreted.

It is clear that translating science, even the stuff of the most technical nature is possible. As I said on the other thread, there are some journals in physics that publish papers that are not in English and have them translated. This is especially so in Russia. I don’t know how reliable the translations are since I don’t think I have ever read one. I will ask a Russian I know about it when I see him.

Regarding the proof reading, I proof read a lot of stuff because I am here and am only one of two people who can. If I was not here, almost all of the stuff that I proof read would not be proof read. It is not a necessary step. I do it as a favour to people. It has nothing to do with my job. I am not being paid to do it. My proof reading other people’s stuff is in no way an extra expence for the university. I am sure it is an expense for the journals, and maybe even a big one, but you can’t compare the expense of proof reading a paper written in English to check the English with the expenses they would pay translating the article into 10 languages, but I will discuss this in another post.

ad Colin: (…) It may be technical for the audience who does not have the expertise of the scientist who is speaking, but for the scientist it is probably babytalk. …Are you sure you are able to tell the difference between a simplified review talk given by a scientist for the sake of non-specialists and a technical talk given by a scientist about his or her latest results to a group of specialists? (…)

With all due respect, Colin, and you know I like you, this is about as arrogant as one can get. You need to get off your high “scientific” horse. So, in your mind there is the “scientists” on one hand and all those oh so ignorant laymen on the other hand who are so inferior to the “scientific species” you seem to belong to that we don’t even realize how limited our understanding of the world is.

(…) I doubt genuinely technical talks in the way I mean it are given at the UN. (…)

Clearly you have never attended any of the meetings of scientific committees of the UN.

(…) …People outside of the sciences generally have very little idea of what read science looks like. For example, my mum was shocked when I gave her a copy of my phd thesis and she found equations in it! (…)

First of all, as wonderful a person as your mother probably is (and I have no idea about her educational background), I very much doubt she qualifies as a benchmark for the rest of non-scientists in this world.

Secondly, you use the term “scientists” and “sciences” as if you were talking about a homogenous group of people or field. How do you define a scientist? Does a university degree make you a member of this supposedly elite group or is it the ridiculous point system that makes people climb up the ladder in your “world of sciences” based on the number of “scientific articles” they publish?

(…) …This is especially so in Russia. I don’t know how reliable the translations are since I don’t think I have ever read one. I will ask a Russian I know about it when I see him. (…)

You seem to think very highly of “scientists” and yet you constantly question the quality of the work of other people who, like trained translators, can be experts in their fields as well. So, you think if you “ask a Russian you know” this is going to be enough to judge the work of a translator?

Well, I’ll have a look at some of your work and ask a teacher I know to have a look at it so he can tell me how accurate your work is :wink:

(…) …It is not a necessary step. I do it as a favour to people. (…)

If you think it is not a necessary step you have no idea of what real proof-reading is about. Anybody who is serious about what he does has his work proof-read by a colleague (even if he writes stuff in his own native tongue) before he publishes it. This should be a minimum standard even in the realm of astronomy.

That you do your proof-reading as a favour to others may actually be true.

(…) How would an interpreter preparing for a conference do it when they don’t even know which terms have peculiar meanings in particular fields? Such terms will generally not be used by specialists when talking to non-specialists but they will be used heavily in any technical science talk. (…)

First of all you keep making assumptions and secondly there is one major flaw with your line of argumentation. You seem to be suggesting that only people of your “own kind” can understand what you say because of some peculiar meanings that you seem to attach to specific technical terms. I don’t think that is the case and you are not the first scientist I have met in my life.

Science is first and foremost about knowledge and the value of knowledge lies in its capacity to be transferred. If you fail to do that properly, then shame on you, you ever so clever people.

What are you guys? An elite group of necromancers? Gee, I’ve heard of scientists living in an ivory tower but you seem to be out of this world…

Ah, Colin, I’m glad I don’t suffer from high blood pressure because if I did you would have made my pressure rise faster than a rocket gets off its base :wink:

(…) …check the English with the expenses they would pay translating the article into 10 languages, (…)

That is true and about the only thing I agree with you in your post. Translations are indeed expensive, no doubt about that.

And, just for the record, I still think you are a very likeable person and quite a funny one on top of that. But you seem to base many of your views on an incredible amount of assumptions.

I’m sure you are doing a fine job in whatever your field of expertise is (people who know what you do would not have invited you to come to Vienna if that were not the case), but in my opinion you need to get a broader view of things. You are not a “chosen people” as much as some scientists might think they are and you are not “out of this world” either. Get your feet on the ground again, Mr. Science :slight_smile:

P.S. And, of course, there is a chance that I did not grasp the actual meaning of what you wrote because, while you undoubtedly “simplified” your post to make it intellectually accessible for such poor laymen like me, your explanations might still have been way above what is within my reach and if that should be the case, I admit I don’t really mind :slight_smile:

Nichts für ungut, du bist ein lieber Kerl, aber manchmal glaub ich, mich tritt ein Pferd, wenn aus dir der “Wissenschaftler” spricht :slight_smile:

“With all due respect, Colin, and you know I like you, this is about as arrogant as one can get.”

I was wondering when I would first be called arrogant. It’s an accusation that’s so common it’s boring. When I wrote that a talk “may be technical for the audience who does not have the expertise of the scientist who is speaking, but for the scientist it is probably babytalk”, I was writing a very simple and well known fact. I know from my own experience that when I speak with somebody who does not share the same specialty as me that I must speak in a very simple way, explaining things I have known for years and find simple, and avoid basically all specialised words. When I speak to somebody who has no experience with physics, I have to basically throw out all of the vocabulary I have learned in the last ten years and assume nothing about what they know. The same would be true for a biologist who was speaking to me about their work. I sit through many technical talks by people who work in fields that are slightly different to my own and usually understand nothing they say. If I watch a talk about the physics of lasers, which I have had to do quite a few times, it is like it is in a different language.

I also was not distinguishing between scientists and non-scientists here. The “audience who does not have the expertise of the scientist who is speaking” could easily be, and usually is, an audience of other scientists. My concentration in all of these posts on the natural sciences is simply a result of this being what I know about.

When I asked you if you are sure you are able to tell the difference between a simplified review talk given by a scientist for the sake of non-specialists and a technical talk given by a scientist about his or her latest results to a group of specialists, I ask you this based on my own experience, not arrogance. Even when I started as a phd student, after doing my masters, basically all astrophysics I heard sounded the same. The simplified reviews where most of the technical discussion was left out sounded exactly the same to me as the highly technical discussions. This is probably still the case for me when it comes to other areas of physics and other sciences.

The irony is that I am continually told that I must be some sort of super genius or whatever by people I meet who then almost always go on to tell me that they could never understand any of what I do, to which I always reply that it’s complete nonsense and that one does not need to be a super genius to do astrophysics and they can understand what I do if they put in the time. Then when I write something as banal as what I wrote in the previous posts, I am called arrogant.

“You need to get off your high “scientific” horse.”

z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z (that’s the sound of me sleeping)

“So, in your mind there is the “scientists” on one hand and all those oh so ignorant laymen on the other hand who are so inferior to the “scientific species” you seem to belong to that we don’t even realize how limited our understanding of the world is.”

My posts and your interpretation of them have long since parted company.

“First of all, as wonderful a person as your mother probably is (and I have no idea about her educational background), I very much doubt she qualifies as a benchmark for the rest of non-scientists in this world.”

That was just one example to illustrate my point, not to prove it. The general public’s understanding of what scientists do and how science works is terrible. Who is to blame for this is an interesting question.

“Secondly, you use the term “scientists” and “sciences” as if you were talking about a homogenous group of people or field.”

No I don’t.

“How do you define a scientist? Does a university degree make you a member of this supposedly elite group or is it the ridiculous point system that makes people climb up the ladder in your “world of sciences” based on the number of “scientific articles” they publish?”

I never said it was an elite group. I am defining scientists here in the normal way, i.e. somebody who does research into one of the sciences. I have also explained several times that I am talking about the natural sciences.

“So, you think if you “ask a Russian you know” this is going to be enough to judge the work of a translator?”

Well, I will ask the Russian I know who has, for political purposes mainly, published some of his work in Russian journals. This person is at a level of English that is indistinguishable from a native speaker, putting aside his strong accent. I will ask him if he thinks the translations of the articles he published in Russian, if indeed they have been translated, are accurate (if he has bothered to read them). I think he will be able to determine quite well if they are accurate and does not have to know anything about translating.

“You seem to be suggesting that only people of your “own kind” can understand what you say because of some peculiar meanings that you seem to attach to specific technical terms.”

Exactly! Of course it is easy enough to explain to somebody the peculiar meaning a common technical term, or the normal meaning of an uncommon technical term. My argument is that it would be very hard for an interpreter to learn these peculiar meanings or uncommon technical terms. There are no dictionaries or lists or anything that describe them, and they can’t be picked up simply by looking over a few papers. Maybe it can be done, as I said in the last post, I don’t know.

“I’ve heard of scientists living in an ivory tower but you seem to be out of this world……”

Back to sleep again. Z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z.

@ Robert

…aaaaand when I said the bit about the proof reading not being a necessary step, all I was saying is that in my instutute, it is not necessary for me to proof read somebody’s paper before it is submitted to the journals. This is because the group of people who wrote the paper are usually perfectly able to write good English, and most of their mistakes will be caught by the journal anyway. I don’t know what you thought I meant.

“When I wrote that a talk “may be technical for the audience who does not have the expertise of the scientist who is speaking, but for the scientist it is probably babytalk”, I was writing a very simple and well known fact.”

I wholeheartedly disagree. Your experience is directly contrary to my own. I am glad that while I occasionally saw this attitude among scientists at UCSD, it definitely wasn’t the norm. Perhaps UK physicists just aren’t as well educated as their American counterparts, but the latter generally didn’t hold to the idea that one couldn’t understand research from some other specialty. It is quite necessary, in fact, for many: the latest work by plasma physicists might be relevant to someone working in particle physics or vice-versa. At research conferences or symposia, where the researchers were hardly “talking down,” you could easily find someone listening to a presentation outside of his specialty and nonetheless demonstrating a very good understanding via his questions. I went to a research presentation on warped geometry work done by a string theorist (imagine that, a physicist presenting research in mathematics!) and saw condensed matter physicists and even chemists there.

Yes, virtually everyone specialized in something specific, but they also didn’t delude themselves with the idea that specialization meant more than it did. If the research papers they published in physics journals weren’t understandable by scientists outside their specialty, they wouldn’t be much more than useless. Not to mention that much of the most interesting research going on crosses into multiple specialties… If one intends his research to be read only by a closed group, then he doesn’t deserve to have grant money wasted on him…

I have never said that one scientist cannot understand the research of another specialty. Of course a chemist can learn about a difficult physics topic and gain a pretty good understanding of it. However, this takes a lot of study and cannot be done simply by listening to a few talks at a conference. If a chemist who has never studied string theory listened to a talk about string theory aimed at an audience of experts in string theory, this chemist will understand nothing of it.

"If the research papers they published in physics journals weren’t understandable by scientists outside their specialty, they wouldn’t be much more than useless. "

This is not true. Most research papers are only written for and only useful for the people working within one specialty.

“If one intends his research to be read only by a closed group, then he doesn’t deserve to have grant money wasted on him…”

Nonsense.

“This is not true. Most research papers are only written for and only useful for the people working within one specialty.”

This will be news to most physicists I know. Also to my friends in engineering or applied research who turn those research papers into useful technology.

“Nonsense.”

Why is it nonsense to suggest we don’t waste money on research that isn’t useful to anybody but the very researchers themselves?

You are certainly right when you say that “much of the most interesting research going on crosses into multiple specialties” and this is an important point. I think most scientists will agree that we concentrate way too much on our own specialties and do not do enough interdiciplinary work. However, we concentrate on our specialties for good reasons. Our specialties are all full of really difficult unsolved problems to be solved and often require really detailed and specific technical skills to be learned. These things can often only be done by working full time on one subject. I think a good mixture of people working very hard on one particular project or area and people who have multiple specialties or try to apply what they know to problems outside of their own specialty is very healthy. At the moment, we probably have too much of the former and too little of the latter.

“Our specialties are all full of really difficult unsolved problems to be solved and often require really detailed and specific technical skills to be learned. These things can often only be done by working full time on one subject.”

I totally agree (in fact, I pretty much agree with that entire post). I think, however, that having detailed and specific technical skills is one thing, and being able to read and understand research is another. The latter doesn’t necessarily require the former. I’ve really only worked in one specific area of research – where I was a research assistant – but I can understand (and needed to understand for that research) journal papers from a few other specialties. Put me in front of a particle accelerator and I won’t know how to operate it, but I can read the paper someone else produced out of it…

ad Colin: (…)
Back to sleep again. Z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z z. (…)

I think you should have gotten more sleep before you wrote your earlier posts. Now on top of being arrogant you also act in a very childish way, oh, my, maybe it is just very “scientific” and you forgot to “dumb it down” for ordinary earthlings.

As for the rest of your post, well, you might actually just have found a cure for insomnia.

@Colin: “…I was wondering when I would first be called arrogant. It’s an accusation that’s so common it’s boring…”

Mmm…if that’s something you get a lot from people…na ja…könnte es nicht sein, sie haben ein kleines Bisschen Recht?

(Remember: I’m speaking here as someone who is himself a cheerfully self-confessed “Arschloch”! :-D)

Arrogant? Probably.
Childish? Certainly!
Arschloch? Always.

And so painfully naive.

That may be so, but I notice that most of the people on the other thread who have expressed opinions about how science should work and what scientists should do have no experience with any of the sciences and know nothing about them.

(…) …what scientists should do have no experience with any of the sciences and know nothing about them. (…)

And I know at least one person who seems to know next to nothing about translating and interpreting but holds very strong views on both of these professions too.

@ Robert

Could you tell us which very strong views you think I hold?

ad Colin: (…) Could you tell us which very strong views you think I hold? (…)

I trust people can read your posts themselves (which are full of assumptions along the lines of only “baby talk” being accessible to interpreters etc.) and I don’t want to bore you again with my comments.

I agree with Colin that understanding scientific papers relating to a specific field of study is usually out of reach of people who have not spent a lot of time working in that field, or a closely related one, themselves.

I think that scientists need to be able to communicate about their research with people who work outside their field. This is quite different from publishing details of their research in peer-reviewed scientific journals, which exist to share research results with fellow scientists.

ad Ginkgo58: (…) …that understanding scientific papers relating to a specific field of study is usually out of reach of people who have not spent a lot of time working in that field, or a closely related one, themselves. (…)

I agree too but that was not really the issue here, I think. I tried to explain how you can still interpret something accurately and correctly while not being able to comprehend every single detail of the underlying scientific logic.

Interpreters will not always be able to verify if what a scientist whose presentation they interpret says is correct or not. There are many assignments I don’t accept because I feel that under the circumstances given I cannot provide for a good translation/interpretation. Me not being able to do so, however, does not mean that it is not possible.

Colin mostly argued along the line that he practically excluded the possibility of having a scientific presentation translated/interpreted correctly unless the scientist “dumbed it down” to what he called baby talk.

And that is simply not true. My friend is a medical doctor and works at a research institute. I sometimes translate studies carried out by medical scientists. Some of these studies are published in magazines that are peer-reviewed scientific journals as well.

I can assure you, these people don’t “dumb down” their articles. These texts are not published in the yellow press or your usual Sunday morning paper but in magazines intended for experts.

While I’m not a medical expert myself, I have many years of experience translating similar texts and, most importantly, I closely cooperate with my clients, i. e. medical experts who can provide me with the kind of support and information I need in case my dictionaries, my own experience and my research on the Internet turn out to be insufficient to provide for an accurate translation.

These articles are translated into German if the people who have published them in English need to apply for a grant in Austria. Our government will not accept papers that are written in English and I think this is a good thing. So, there is a basic need for translation here as well.

A trained and experienced translator (especially those who have also studied natural sciences in addition to their training as translators/interpreters) can certainly provide for a correct translation if he is supported by a network of other experts. This is how translating and interpreting at a high level works and I don’t think Colin has been aware of this when he was making his comments.

@Robert

When it comes to legal and political stuff, do you use the “Dietl Lorenz Wörterbuch”?

(I have Band II of the DL on my bookshelves - even if I only ever used it once!)