Posted by: sbilingual | July 16, 2012

How to deal with the gaps in professional translation

When we translate a text from one language into another, there are at least three situations that appear with frequency: perfect auditory and semantic match, semantic match (usually partial), and gap.

To exemplify the first situation, we use the words compilacao (Portuguese) and compilation (English).

To exemplify the second situation, we use the words bowel (English) and intestino (Portuguese).

To exemplify the third situation, we use the word honours in the sense found in the expression honours course.

Compilacao, as we read from (accessed by us on the 27th of June of 2012), may refer to a computer operation.

Supposing then that our origin-language text is about a programming language, say Clipper, talks about how to create an executable file from scratch, and the sentence we consider is ‘Na compilacao, voce deve se preocupar com as mensagens de erro’, we will be able to translate ‘Na compilacao’ into ‘In the compilation’, that is, we notice that we have a close-to-perfect match in the couple (compilacao; compilation). The elements of the couple present similarity in sound and sense that is impressive for the languages under consideration.

Intestino, as we read from (accessed by us on the 27th of June of 2012), means any of the parts of the digestive ‘tube’. Its perfect match would then be intestine, as we see in (accessed by us on the 27th of June of 2012). Our context is a general practitioner in Australia asking his patient ‘how is your bowel doing?’. In this context, (bowel; intestino) form a semantic match.

Honours course is supposed to be a course that differs from the usual undergraduate course by one component, which is the non-original research work, usually produced throughout a year by the student who then enjoys the privilege of dealing with their professor directly, frequently, and with no competition. Honours students enjoy the privilege of working one-on-one with their ‘chosen’ professor. The most complex part of such a work is writing a minor thesis about it.

Let’s assume, to facilitate conversation, that we speak about Brazilian Portuguese from now onwards.

Well, in Brazil, students are seen performing non-original research work at Primary School and, as surprising as this may sound, they are also seen writing minor theses about their research work since then.

We notice that life in first world nations is less competitive and less demanding in terms of work and study than life in the last world nations also from going deep into issues of this sort: It is frequently the case that academics in Brazil have to assess and mark individual non-original research work of dozens of students each semester. They also have to be available for doubts and informal assessments of their work if the students request that they do that, as incredible as it may seem, in a one-on-one basis, especially if we talk about ‘good establishments of teaching and learning’, such as the catholic schools.

What is then seen as special in the first-world cultures is actually very trivial in countries like Brazil.

Because of that, Brazil has no special name for an undergraduate course that includes a non-original research component (like rare, perhaps impossible, is the case of the undergraduate course that does not have it).

We then have to solve, once more, ‘the gap problem’: How do we point to the world reference for the word honours in the Portuguese language?

There are at least two possible solutions to the gap problem: Repeating the expression as it is, without translating, and creating a note (the so famous N.T.s) in the text to explain all, or writing the word curso in place of the expression honours course and creating a note in the text to explain all.

It then seems that having an N.T. in this situation is the only professional, therefore ethical, choice available.

To find out how Bilingual Resources Group can support your interpretation, translation and bilingual staffing needs, please call 504-253-0364 or visit


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