Thursday, October 31, 2013

ATA54 Session Preview: Achieving a Synthesis

Matthew Schlecht will be presenting "Achieving a Synthesis: How Scientific / Technical Translation Resembles and Differs from Organic Chemical Synthesis" (ST-5, Friday 11:30am-12:30pm). From the abstract:

Both organic synthesis in chemistry and the technical translation field employ processes of assembling components into a defined whole. Both require years of experience and training. Organic synthesis is represented by a universal symbolism that is mutually intelligible to chemists who don't share a common language. Commonalities across languages exist for scientific and technical translation that are absent in other areas of translation. This session will cover multiple languages and examines how these processes are similar, yet different. Can the areas of scientific/technical translation and organic chemical synthesis learn valuable lessons from each other?.

With this presentation, I want to show some similarities (and differences) in how professionals work in the ostensibly quite different fields of translation and organic chemical synthesis. The processes of creating a translation and creating a synthesis utilize similar skills: parsing and analysis, making strategic decisions, exploiting familiarity with components and tools, the transmutation, then fine-tuning and polishing.

Being language professionals, we all “know” what translation is and how it is done, while few in the translation field might know what synthesis is and how it is done. I hope to provide some insight into this at a level that can be appreciated by a general audience.

A chemical synthesis is a plan that details how to prepare a target structure from available components or starting materials, and utilizing known, modified, or novel methods or steps. Both processes are shown schematically below, with the example of a chemical synthesis of the human hormone prostaglandin E1, and the example of the translation of an abstract from a medical case study from Japanese into English:

The example on the right is taken from JA>EN translation, but other examples presented will draw on translation into English from German, Spanish, and French. The synthesis scheme shows what is referred to as a retrosynthetic (reverse-direction strategy) approach to prostaglandin E1, in very broad strokes with no details. This symbolic rendering of molecular structures serves as a lingua franca among synthetic chemists. Chemists from China, Germany, Japan, Iceland, Argentina, Russia, or the US could all look at the scheme on the left and understand what is meant, even if they shared no common language.

In addition, computational tools are making inroads into chemical synthesis as they are in translation, and I will touch in a general way on the similarities (and differences) in how these tools function, and how they are accepted in their respective professional communities.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Roundup of SciTech Division Events at ATA54

Here’s a roundup of the SciTech division events at this year’s annual conference.

Science & Technology Division Brewery Site Tour
Wednesday, November 6 • 2:00pm • Registration and payment required
Please join members of our group for a plant tour of the Blue Star Brewing Company. A tasting and light appetizers will be provided.
Cost: $25.00 per person (includes tax and gratuity).
For details and to reserve your place on the tour, preferably by November 4, contact Karen Tkaczyk at

Division Open House
Wednesday, November 6 • 7:00pm – 8:00pm • Open to registered attendees
Meet and mingle with your fellow Division members and newcomers. If you are not a member, come learn about these professional interest groups and the information and networking opportunities they provide. A variety of desserts and coffee will be available.

Science and Technology Division Annual Meeting
Friday, November 8 • 12:30pm – 1:00pm

Followed by a pay-as-you-go informal group lunch for all those who wish to join us once the meeting ends. Lunch venue to be announced.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

ATA54 Session Preview: Going All-In

Christos Floros will be presenting Going "All-In" (ST-9, Saturday 2:30pm-3:30pm). The brief description from the conference website reads:

The increased demand for online gambling products in many languages has opened a very lucrative market for translators. This session will focus on some techniques for translating terminology related to gambling. Attendees will be given an overview of the various casino games and types of sports betting, tips on tackling jargon, as well as leads on where to find potential clients.

Christos notes on his presentation:
“When introducing myself to colleagues at past ATA conferences, everyone was a bit baffled when I mentioned that I translate gambling content texts. Most translators have mixed emotions about this field: they either believe it’s too simple (it’s not) or too difficult (it’s not, if you have the right experience). I guess this presentation is the ideal opportunity for me to show that gambling translation is not as strange or difficult as my fellow translators believe.

My audience is the technical translator who is curious about this translation field. I will try to explain what gambling translation is about, why it is a good idea for translators to break into this market (the global casino and betting industry has a net worth of over $125 billion) and how they can do so. In the process, I will offer examples on jargon and terminology and answer questions on gambling and/or translating gambling texts. The topic is very wide anyway, so I won’t be able to cover everything in an hour, but I’ll be glad if the attendees have a more positive opinion about the gambling translation market and hopefully I might even convince a few of them to pursue this specialization.”

Monday, October 7, 2013

Looking Forward to ATA54: Science and Technology Division Distinguished Speaker

This year’s Distinguished Speaker is John Moffitt, whose CV includes about 50 years of experience in the oil business. Although he’s an industry veteran and is usually surrounded by oil and gas experts, he’s also very experienced talking to groups who don’t have advanced backgrounds in science and engineering. I was fortunate to meet him in person recently at a local ATA event, and found him to be an energetic, down-to-earth speaker.
John will be presenting an Action-Packed Tour of a Modern Offshore DrillingOperation (ST-2, Thursday, 2:30pm–3:30pm). The brief description from the conference website reads:
“The speaker will discuss the types of hardware designed for use on modern oil exploration rigs, from the crown to the sub-sea. Attendees will learn about the variety and sizes of large steel robots that now do much of the heavy lifting on modern drilling rigs. Development and application will also be discussed. Questions will be encouraged.”
His talk in San Antonio will cover the offshore rig from birth to death. He’s currently managing a group of engineering working on the end of a rig’s life cycle.
When I met him, John had very interesting stories to tell about the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. He can describe how a series of oversights, mistakes, and poor planning culminated in one bad decision by one person, which ultimately killed 11 people and destroyed a multi-million-dollar drilling rig. When you hear him speak, you’ll immediately know he’s excited about his subject.
John will also be presenting Earth Extinction Events: History and Future (ST-4, Friday, 10:00am–11:00am):
“Let's take a look at the very big picture of Earth's past three orbits around the Milky Way-and even go a bit into the future. Many are familiar with the theories associated with Earth's most recent extinction events, but few are aware that the planet's past is filled with a far more complex pattern of extinction events and probabilities. The speaker, a geologist and astrophysicist, will examine paleogeography and astrophysics in the context of our complex solar system. Learn how life on Earth has been significantly affected by the geometry and violence in a very crowded solar neighborhood.”

Clearly, John has an impressively broad scope of knowledge. You can tell from the way he speaks that he sees the big picture, taking a trans-disciplinary approach to studying the natural world. Both of his sessions are sure to provide new insight to beginners and experts alike.