Thursday, April 21, 2011

Problems I had in translating "cluster bomb" into Interlingua

I had to spend between five and ten minutes before I could translate “cluster bomb” into Interlingua.

Dictionaries can be of little help with such phrases, for they commonly have as entries only sequences of letters with a single space after them, which we generally refer to as “words.”

So I started out by looking up “cluster” in the digital version of Gopsill’s dictionary. Here is what I got: “CLUSTER [n] (group) gruppo.”

Well, the word “gruppo” (group) was not very helpful to me. I don’t think that a good synymym for “cluster bomb” would be “group bomb.”

So I then looked up “cluster” in Jasu Lavin’s on-line dictionary. Here is what I got: “cluster (group) n gruppo…* (raceme) [Bot] (of fruit, flowers) n raceme… * ~ pine (sea pine, pinaster) n pinastro… * v gregar (se), gruppar (se).”

Well, this entry was a bit more detailed than the entry for “cluster” in Gopsill’s dictionary, but it still didn’t give me any good hints about how to translate “cluster bomb” into Interlingua.

At this point I had Google translate “cluster bomb” in Interlingua’s source languages in the Romance family.

Here is what I got for Spanish: “bombas de racimo.” Well, this did not look too helpful, though I could have used it word-for-word as a translation for “cluster bomb.” But the word “racimo” probably would not suggest the idea of cluster bombs very well to other Romance-language speakers.

So I then tried out the Italian translation. Here’s what I got “bombe a grappolo.” Well, this did not look much better than “bomba de racimo.”

Next I tried out the Portuguese translation. Here’s what I got: “bomba de fragmentação.
Now this looked very promsing. The English term “fragmentation bomb” could be an exact synonym for “cluster bomb” and, for all I know, may even have been used by others as a synonym for this kind of bomb.

Finally, I translated “cluster bomb” into French with Google’s translator. Here’s what I got: “bombe à fragmentation.”

Bingo! The Portuguese translation was just like the French translation, except that French prefers the preposition “à” for this kind of phrase instead of the Spanish or Portuguese “de.”

So I finally decided to translate “cluster bomb” into Interlingua with the phrase “bomba de fragmentation.”

(For those with some acquaintance with English and the Romance languages, “fragmentation” should be an immediately recognizable word, and that led naturally to the translation “bomba de fragmentation.”)

In the past, I have tried this technique in my efforts to translate other noun phrases similar to “cluster bomb” into Interlingua. At times I have not been successful, and occasionally I had to discard otherwise promising articles in Spanish Portuguese for adaptation into trilingual posts for “Interlingua multilingue.”

What I have just said here illustrates the limitation of even the best currently available dictionaries from English to Interlingua (and, for that matter, of bilingual dictionaries in general, even the ones that are full of phrase and sentence equivalents for some of their entries).

It also illustrates some of the problems of coming up with new terminology for Interlingua in general.

Interlingua, unfortunately, does not have a large speech community to work on these problems. In living languages with hundreds of thousands of native speakers, you have all of them grappling collectively with the problem of developing new terminology.

As they try to develop adequate vocabulary for new concepts, different native speakers of such languages throw out different terms. Some of them are not generally adopted. Others are. And if these new terms are adopted widely enough, eventually lexicographers start using them as entries for new editions of their dictionaries. And that is the way new vocabulary becomes established in a language having hundreds of thousands of native speakers.

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