Terminology Glosses: Little liars, medicine inserts and intertextuality

Perhaps not so surprisingly, one of my favorite definitions of translation does not come from a translation studies essay, but from a book called Manuale di semiotica (Manual of Semiotics) printed in 2000. Its author, Ugo Volli, writes in Italian that each translation is “a complex semiotic work; it is a textual interpretation that puts not only two languages, but two cultures in communication.” From this standpoint, text analysis, which all of us in this field are so accustomed to, is only one of the facets of translation. Culture is equally important and cannot be ignored in any good translation. So much so that in the author’s view, “translation is a form of interpretation and textual elaboration that creates a new text, rather than a copy.”

Some words are indeed so rooted in a country’s culture that their origin seems to be lost in the wrinkles of time. Others may have ceased to exist in certain domains and only resurface sporadically in a different field or maybe, if their original meaning is lost, their sound echoes in polysemic words with a completely distinct meaning. This is where knowing how and when a word originated and how it is understood and interpreted in its culture of origin comes in handy for translators.

As an example, we can have a look at the Italian word bugiardino, which means little liar if we translate it literally, but whoever has stumbled upon it in a translation assignment from Italian knows how misleading its literal translation is. In reality, the bugiardino is the package insert that comes with the medications we buy and provides both additional information on the drug and instructions on how to use it. The word bugiardino itself is nowadays primarily used in the pharmaceutical universe with a figurative nuance, while the use of any of its potential cognates is limited to the semantic areas of their literal meaning.

So, how did we end up having a little liar help us use our drugs correctly? A quick etymological research can help us clarify this unknown. The Accademia della Crusca, the Italian society for scholars and Italian linguists and philologists, has a few hypotheses and hints on this. One among the others is that the word bugiardo (liar) was used ironically in central Italy for newspaper posters. By reducing the size to fit the medication boxes, they got to bugiardino (the suffix –ino indicates small). Although its meaning may be fairly intuitive and humorous to native speakers of Italian, its translation in other languages may be challenging. A search online for the ITA>ENG combination shows that Google Translate does not propose any equivalent for bugiardino in the singular, but does have leaflets for the plural. In Linguee, the term is skipped in one occasion and translated correctly in the other two occurrences, but with two different target language equivalents. IATE and TermsCafé.com do not find any matching entries, whereas ProZ provides the correct translation in its public glossaries.

Strictly speaking, bugiardino is a generic term that has not gone through a complete terminologization process. It has not become standardized enough in its language of specialty and, as such, it may not be included in every specialized dictionary. For a similar reason, various general Italian-English dictionaries may not mention it, because it is only used with reference to the pharmaceutical information.

Frequency is one of the criteria used for including, skipping or discarding a term from a termbase. In semiautomated term extraction, for instance, it is often possible to sort based on the most frequently used terms. The rationale behind this is that the more often a term occurs, the more it will be useful in the termbase. Personally, I often find myself disagreeing with this approach and bugiardino is a perfect instance of why. Researching the word bugiardino may require a long time and the use of different sources. Then, assuming that there is enough information available about the term, different translators may choose different equivalents to express it in their language. Having it in the termbase will save time and guarantee consistency in present as well as in future documents. For this reason, I am adding bugiardino to the pharmaceutical subject field of our ideal termbase.

As a student, one of my favorite topics was linguistics, a subject that has now evolved into linguistic anthropology. Within linguistics, one of the most fascinating ideas I came across was intertextuality. According to Julia Kristeva, intertextuality is “the process of transformation and re-elaboration through which the words of others are renewed and become our own.” One of the purposes of terminology management is to help companies and customers find their own unique voice through vocabulary. This objective is accomplished by keeping track of terminology, and proposing harmonized usage of terms across texts. The most visible benefit of managing terminology is the elimination of inconsistencies in the final message, but in terms of intertextuality it is much more than that. It is the provision of a context made of history, tradition, culture and vision; it is the harmonization of the input of every single contributor into one consistent style and the creation of a common, powerful voice, often representing an entire community. Bugiardino, in this sense, speaks to both text analysis and culture, and it is only one of the many examples we find daily in our work.