Help on the Web from les vraies amies in Translation Services

by Barbara Black

Translation/StaffThe staff of Translation Services, at your service. From left, Lise Brault, Ghislaine Daoust, Dina Azuelos, intern Christophe Ryneczko and secretary/receptionist Christiane Arlaud.

Translation Services has created a Web site that will be a boon to many people at the university who have to wrestle with terms and titles in both French and English.

Their Terminology Data-base/Banque de terminologie -- translation -- has 2,660 entries so far dealing with job designations, titles and descriptive phrases peculiar to the university milieu, and especially to Concordia.

Dina Azuelos, who was in charge of the project, explained in an interview that every enterprise has its own jargon. Not only do universities have a specialized vocabulary, but each university develops its own variations.

In the course of their work, translators rely on specific definitions and equivalents that they have built up to supplement their dictionaries. Azuelos said that these were accumulated on index cards until the department entered the computer age about 10 years ago.

"We got Filemaker Pro, and our first thought was for our own internal needs," she said. "We transferred all our cards to the computer, and networked it in our department. After that, we made it available to the freelancers who work for us."

The breakthrough came when they decided to open it up to everyone by putting it on the Web. They have made it interactive by including an e-mail address, so that users can suggest corrections and additions. Luke Andrews (Marketing Communications) did the graphic design, and Eric Katchan (IITS) constructed the search function.

There are many loose ends left untied, Azuelos said, because it's in the nature of translation. A word in one language may have many meanings in the other, depending on the context.

In the 21 references for academic, for example, we find academic record (dossier scolaire), academic regulations (règlements pédagogiques), academic services (service de soutien aux professeurs et aux étudiants, with a question mark), and academic staff representative (représentant du corps professoral). Another example is officer, for which there are 39 entries -- so far.

The English terminology used at universities has some notorious ambiguities. "Faculty" is used to mean both the teachers and a large academic unit. (Concordia has been capitalizing the word where it applies to the unit, but in other universities and the media, readers have to rely on the context.) Another example is "chair," which can mean the head of a department or a single post, as in, the Chair of Hindu Studies.

Translators are sensitive to faux amis (false friends), words that look the same but have different meanings; three common ones are the French assister (to attend), sensible (sensitive) and supporter (to put up with). A related problem is anglicisms in French, which Azuelos says reached its highwater mark about 20 years ago, but has now been beaten back with the help of made-in-Quebec glossaries and other reference works.

However, a problem can arise when accuracy butts heads with common usage. A recent ad placed by the university for a fundraising officer was translated, accurately, as agent, campagne de financement, but some of the queries that came in were about finance. The ad had to be re-run using the literal translation of fundraising, levée de fonds, a phrase that would not be found in a standard French dictionary.

The problem that really bedevils the translators, however, is job titles. Azuelos recalled spending the better part of a day looking for an accurate translation of "director of academic technology and services," because only by understanding the duties of the post could she devise a good French equivalent. Another example: "instructional technology," "academic technology," and "educational technology" are all used at Concordia by different units, and all apparently describe the same activities.

All across the university, people are struggling with translation problems. Azuelos says that she and her colleagues, Lise Brault and Ghislaine Daoust, get about 10 calls a day. Now that the translation database is up on the Web, they hope to expand their capacity to help us. They only wish that they could come up with a good translation for that buzzword of the '90s, "empowerment."

Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.