Scholarly article on topic 'Aspects of Military-related Text Translation from English into Latvian'

Aspects of Military-related Text Translation from English into Latvian Academic research paper on "Civil engineering"

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{"Military-related texts" / "military terms" / "false friends" / borrowing / calque}

Abstract of research paper on Civil engineering, author of scientific article — Inese Kočote, Tatjana Smirnova

Abstract The paper aims to highlight some aspects of special text translation in English-Latvian language pair, to discuss some misconceptions associated with translation of military and military-related texts, to analyze specific competences a translator of these texts should possess as well as to illustrate potential translation challenges faced by student translators. Translating military and military-related texts, translators should develop not only advanced linguistic, but also comprehensive thematic competence to be able to deal with translation problems. Competence in translation of military-related texts may become a competitive advantage for student translators specializing in various fields of language for special purposes.

Academic research paper on topic "Aspects of Military-related Text Translation from English into Latvian"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 231 (2016) 107 - 113

International Conference; Meaning in Translation: Illusion of Precision, MTIP2016, 11-13 May

2016, Riga, Latvia

Aspects of military-related text translation from English into


Inese Kocote^*, Tatjana Smirnovab

abRiga Technical University, Faculty of E-Learning Technologies and Humanities, 1 Kronvalda Blvd., Riga, LV-1010, Latvia


The paper aims to highlight some aspects of special text translation in English-Latvian language pair, to discuss some misconceptions associated with translation of military and military-related texts, to analyze specific competences a translator of these texts should possess as well as to illustrate potential translation challenges faced by student translators. Translating military and military-related texts, translators should develop not only advanced linguistic, but also comprehensive thematic competence to be able to deal with translation problems. Competence in translation of military-related texts may become a competitive advantage for student translators specializing in various fields of language for special purposes.

© 2016 The Authors.PublishedbyElsevierLtd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the organizing committee of MTIP2016 Keywords: Military-related texts; military terms; false friends; borrowing; calque.

1. Introduction

Military texts have been traditionally seen as a very special type of texts composed, translated and disseminated by professionals among professionals. Nowadays, in view of the current geopolitical situation, there is a growing public concern about the issues of national and transnational security. Publicity ensured to military events, military education and training and to military missions by mass media, as well as awareness and interest policymakers take in the matters of funding, support, authority sharing and consequences of military operations have conditioned the growth of the volume of military-related discourse. It has led to dissemination of military terms and the elements of professional

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +37129361948. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Peer-review under responsibility of the organizing committee of MTIP2016 doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.09.078

military jargon into the publicist and news media as well as everyday communication, thus influencing the very nature of civil-military relations. One of the challenges associated with the influx of military terms into the public information space is potential misinterpretation and misuse of these lexical items by non-professionals, which may lead to ambiguity and communication failure.

Global security challenges and closer integration of pan-European and pan-Atlantic military structures have determined the growing need for semantically precise and pragmatically accurate translation of military documents, technical manuals, and regulations, as content precision and fidelity are the key concerns in translating military texts. Thus, there is an increasing demand for translators specializing in rendition of military texts, who not only have advanced thematic, terminological and intercultural competences, but also are aware of the current issues and trends on the global security scene. The main challenge translators have to face rendering the texts from a language with a well-established terminological practice into a language with developing terminological resources, as it is the case in the English-Latvian language pair, is the lack of equivalent terminology in the target language.

The paper aims to highlight some aspects of LSP (language for special purposes) text translation in English-Latvian language pair, to discuss some misconceptions associated with translation of non-classified military and military-related texts, to analyze specific competences a translator of military and military-related texts should possess as well as to illustrate potential translation challenges faced by student translators. The basis for the study consists of translation extracts from Infantry Platoon Tactics of the National Armed Forces and articles from the news media:,, newspaper "Diena ", magazine "Ilustreta Pasaules Vesture ". The analysis presented in the paper is based on the empirical observations and the experience of the authors in LSP translator training and the subject matter.

2. Military and military-related texts: On the interface between military community and general public

2.1. Military texts as a form of LSP texts

LSP texts are composed for a definite communicative purpose, which "is situated in a particular socio-cultural context, often closely linked to a particular professional discourse community" (Rogers, 2015, p. 28-32). These communicative purposes are closely related to functions performed by the text, the functions determine the form the texts take. These forms, according to Rogers, are known as genres. She further maintains, "LSP texts [...] are multidimensional artifacts, the relevant dimensions being communicative function (related to purpose), conventionalized form (genre), domain (sometimes hybrid) and language (or language variety)" (ibid, emphasis added). Military texts as a type of LSP texts are composed following relatively rigid genre conventions and they are envisaged for a specific audience, or professional discourse community, limited to military professionals. These texts are characterized by clarity and precision, they are also intentionally devoid of any expressiveness. Single, precise interpretation of a military text is of vital importance, that is why military texts are normally produced based on the univocity principle, i.e. in a way to avoid ambiguity and possibility for various interpretations.

Discussing the texts dedicated to military issues it is necessary to draw a line between military and military-related texts. Although military-related texts can be classified as a form of LSP text, they essentially differ from military texts with regard to genre dimension, sharing some features of domain and language dimensions. They can belong to a variety of genres, and can make use of a wider range of linguistic resources.

Military texts are written by professionals for professionals, who have sufficient level of thematic competence to interpret these texts according to the intentions of the sender of the message. At the same time, military-related texts aim at wider audiences with various levels of prior knowledge, thus they often provide additional information to facilitate processing of the encoded data. These texts published in mass media are sometimes produced by nonprofessionals, who are only superficially familiar with the subject matter, and who have no first-hand experience in dealing with military vocabulary.

These challenges demand addressing the issues of expertise and background knowledge of the readers as another important features distinguishing the types of texts in question. Bauman maintains (2013, p. 9), "LSP text reception is [...] a complex activity, in which the recipient can go far beyond the reception of the information contained in the LSP text. However, this requires an ability on their part to appropriately complement potentially incomplete information structures in the LSP text at hand with the help of their own background knowledge." The users with

insufficient background knowledge might misuse military terms, i.e. use them to refer to wrong cognates on the false premise that if certain lexical items have similar spelling and pronunciation, they denote the same concept. This phenomenon known as false friends (Nida, 1964, p. 160) may appear both within a definite language and in translation. In military LSP it is exactly the military-related texts that tend to be the main source of false fiends.

2.2. Military terminology

Military language, the language of army and warfare, is one of the most ancient forms of LSP, which has been developing rapidly along with the advance of military and defense technologies, restructuring of military forces, and design of new weapons. In the course of development, the use of military terminology has become the characteristic feature of both military and military-related texts. The latter apart from standardized terms often make use of military jargon and slang as an essential part of informal military-related communication. Overall, military language displays features of heterogeneity and hybridity, because national varieties of military language have adopted many internationalisms, i.e. lexical items of Latin, French, or German origin adapted phonologically, morphologically and semantically to the recipient languages used to denote the same concept (cf. Ivir, 1989, p. 139). At present, English has become the primary language of international communication in this field, thus many terms used in the national military languages are directly or indirectly borrowed from or through English.

As a controlled variety of language, terminology of any domain is developed to perform a range of predetermined functions, the main being representation of the conceptual system of a definite field of knowledge. Traditionally, terms are supposed to be concise, transparent, and stylistically neutral, they should exhibit the properties of mononymy and monosemy within a definite domain. Even though terms might lack some of these characteristics, monosemy, which means absence of ambiguity in a particular context, is the key feature that a term should possess. Ambiguity and misuse of military terms may have considerable adverse effects, therefore official military terminology "functions to narrow the potential meaning of particular words. [] attempts to foreclose as many interpretive options as possible in order to reduce the likelihood of error or misjudgement" (Chambers, 1999, p. 380). Thematically, terminology used in the field covers three major domains: (1) military equipment and facilities, (2) military procedures, and (3) military ranks.

However, it should be noted that not all items of professional vocabulary bear the same semantic load. Acronyms and abbreviations, an essential part of military language, which is initially aimed at facilitating communication and serving as the means of linguistic economy (cf. Liepina, 2011, p. 244), may potentially cause ambiguity in interpretation of the message both intra- and interlingually. Example 1 featuring a conversation between two officers illustrates that a message can be interpreted differently if it contains polysemic abbreviations:

(A): "I have been doing ORI all week long." (ORI: operational readiness inspection1)

(B): "The colonel wanted me to develop SOP for HQ procedures" (SOP: standard operating procedure2, HQ: headquarters)

Abbreviation SOP is highly context dependent and displays a high level of intradisciplinary and interdisciplinary polysemy. The dictionary Acronymfinder provides more than 100 definitions of SOP in a variety of fields, more than 30 variants in the field of military and government only (e.g. statement of purpose, service of process, senior officer present, Space Operations Squadron, etc.3). Another important feature is that acronyms and abbreviations in use in the British and U.S. Army can radically differ. For example, DS in the British Military English stands to denote a dressing station4, while in the US Military English it is used to refer to the rank of a Drill Sergeant5. It is important to note that the meaning of abbreviations may differ nor only with respect to the national variety of the English language,




4The British Army: A Pocket Guide, 2012-2013, p. 191


but also the type of service branch, which potentially may further complicate the process of interpretation and translation. For example, depending on the context of use, HN may denote the host nation or nitrogen mustard, a blister agent. Thus, the exact meaning can be elicited only considering the immediate context on the basis of certain background experience of the conversation participants.

Acronyms and abbreviations always pose a challenge if they have to be aligned across the languages. Discussing translation of LSP texts, Byrne stresses, "Acronyms and abbreviations can affect the clarity and accessibility of the text in much the same way as jargon" (Byrne, 2006, p. 86). If there is no access to a special multilingual dictionary of abbreviations, it might be a difficult task for a translator to produce an accurate and precise translation.

In this regard, Chambers (1999, p. 380) notes that three most distinct characteristics of the official military language are that "(it) tends to be a sanitized form of language, it emphasizes the expertise of those who use it, it contains a scientific notion of hierarchy." It is thus recommended that in order to translate military acronyms and abbreviations properly a translator lacking relevant background knowledge should seek for professional advice from a member of military personnel with the relevant expertise in the given field.

In Latvia, national variety of military LSP experienced rapid development in the 1990ies since Latvia re-established its independence, the next stage of development has been occurring ever since Latvia joined NATO in 2004. However, existing terminological resources are still not sufficient. The dictionaries of military terms are either relatively old, e.g. the dictionary that is still most widely used was issued in 1998, or are very concise, e.g. dictionary of NATO military terms (NATO militaro terminu vardnica) issued in 2004 contains only 1,700 entries. The Explanatory Dictionary of Military Concepts containing 15,300 entries was published in 2008 (Militaro jedzienu skaidrojosa vardnica, 2008), and it is the latest dictionary of military terms issued in Latvia.

The impact of English as a donor language for military terms remains very pronounced in Latvian. It is often manifested as proliferation of borrowings from English, at times these borrowings are not justified as national counterparts already exist, e.g. expectations - ekspektacijas (ceribas), eventually - eventuali (galu gala), controversially - kontroversali (pretrunigi), dehydration - dehidratacija (atudenosanas), consequences -konsekvences (sekas, rezultats), etc. (see Kula, 2007, p. 10 for discussion). Borrowing is not always the best strategy even if a national term to denote a specific concept does not exist, as eventually it may lead to appearance of false friends and term polysemy if a national equivalent is coined at a later stage. Focused and timely contribution to the development of terminology in the Latvian language is an urgent necessity of the present time.

3. Challenges in military-related text translation

A translator specializing in rendition of military and military-related texts should possess advanced level of thematic competence, i.e. should be familiar with military equipment and facilities, specifics of ranking, subordination, and military procedures, should have a general command of military jargon and slang, as well as should be aware of the general body of knowledge on warfare and army. Moreover, a highly professional military translator should also be familiar with terminology in the related fields, such as IT, economics, and politics, as well as has to keep up to date with the current issues concerning global security and military operations. However, in reality, a translator is often not a specialist in the field, and this raises a debate whether one should be highly specialized or only get a general understanding of the specifics of LSP translation and basic knowledge of several thematic fields. Although technical translation "is undoubtedly more restricted in range than aesthetic translation" (Pinchuck, 1977, p. 20), in addition to high level of linguistic competence LSP translators should develop socio-pragmatic or intercultural competence to ensure successful communication and accurate rendition of culture-sensitive information irrespective of the field they are majoring in. Introduction of the foundations of military translation into the course of LSP translation in such fields as technology or economics may help student translators develop a competitive advantage in the translation service market.

General approach to translation of military LSP texts still tends to be primarily source-oriented. The users of translated military texts look for faithfulness and terminological precisions. As a general rule, they show low degree of acceptability towards any form of pragmatic adaptation of the source texts.

Although content precision is the paramount concern of a translator dealing with translation of informative texts (cf. Reiss, 1989), excessive literariness can become a challenge. It may result in production of apparently 'foreign', reader unfriendly texts. Moreover, inability of a translator to decode contextual rather than literal meaning of certain

lexical items may lead to inaccurate translation and introduction of calques that do not communicate the meaning precisely and mislead the target readers. It may be illustrated with examples taken from the translation of Infantry Platoon Tactics commissioned by the Training Command of Latvian National Armed Forces. The translation was mainly produced by the English language teachers due to the lack of specialized military translators.

(ST) The company group is defined as a rifle company, or part of a company, with its headquarters and one or more combat attachments to its normal establishment. A company group could, therefore, range in size from a company with a MFC to a company supported by the full range of combat and combat support assets. The tactical doctrine described does not assume a task organization and considers the employment of the company and its likely combat support assets in high intensity warfare6.

(TT) Rotas vieniba tiek defineta ka strelnieku rota, vai rotas daja ar tas stäbu un vienu vai vairakam kaujas apaksvienibäm, kas piekomandetas vai atrodas tas pakjautiba. Rotas viemba tas skaitliskaja zina tadejadi var variet sakot ar rotu, kura ir minmeteju uguns vaditäjs (Mortar Fire Control), lidz pat rotai ar pilnu kaujas atbalstu un kaujas atbalsta lidzekliem. Si taktiska doktrina neaplüko kaujas uzdevuma organizesanu un pienem ka rota un tas iespejamie kaujas atbalsta resursi ir iesaistiti augstas intensitates karadarbiba.

The items that potentially pose translation challenges are marked in italic in the source text. The term rifle company is listed only in the specialized English-Latvian dictionaries (AAL,, whereas the term combat attachment is not included into any of the available online lexicographic resources in Latvian (; AkadTerm; Both terms if translated word-for-word would miscommunicate the intended message, it is particularly true about the item rifle company. A translator without relevant thematic competence would be inclined to translate the term by analogy to other compounds having company as a head - toy company, motor car company, etc. as a company that produces rifles. In the military context, however, it has an established equivalent strelnieku rota, the only adequate translation variant. In Latvian, the term headquarters can be translated as galvenä mitne (company headquarters), birojs (office), and stäbs (military headquarters). Thus translating the term a translator should choose the target language variant that is suitable in the given context. The same problem may occur if a translator relies on the background in economics translating such terms as assets and employment. Abbreviation MFC may have 15 meanings in the field of military and government7, so in order to render it precisely a translator cannot rely on a dictionary only, expert advice is necessary.

Excessive literariness is often exposed in word-for-word translation, which is particularly apparent in case of using calques as a method to align non-equivalent terms. The term soft skin vehicle, which denotes unprotected vehicles without armor8, does not have an equivalent in Latvian. In the draft version, it was calqued as mikstäs ädas transporta lidzekli (back translation: soft skin vehicles). In English, the component of meaning skin is used metaphorically to represent a protective layer on the vehicle, whereas in Latvian the term creates a rather comic effect. The inadequate translation was eliminated during the editing stage. Metaphoric component of the compound term was substituted by an element nebrunots (unarmored). The resulting term may be either nebrunota masina (unarmored vehicle) or viegli brunota masina (light armored vehicle), both variants being a lot more content-wise precise than the initially suggested calque.

Translation of the term grease pencil, a constituent in the set for the reconnaissance mission, is another example of unsuccessful calque. Grease pencil is a pencil made of grease and pigment9, wrapped in a piece of paper; it can be used for writing on any surface. If translated literally as tauku zimulis (grease pencil), the term is going to be obscure and ambiguous. The authors suggest substituting grease pencil with wax pencil or crayon in translation, the terms that do have equivalents in Latvian - vaska kritins.

Another example of word-for-word translation is the term sleeper cells, which denotes a cell of sleepers; a small unit serving as part of or as the nucleus of a larger political movement10. The item was translated literally into Latvian

6 Infantry Tactical Doctrine Volume 1, The Infantry Company Group. Pamphlet No.2 Infantry Company Group Tactics. Section 1, Aim 1-1.

7 http ://




as gulosas suninas (sleeping cells), which is neither transparent nor precise. The authors suggest a translation variant latentas teroristu grupas (latent terrorist groups), which is more accurate.

The following section features excerpts from translations of military-related texts produced by student translators majoring in translation of LSP texts, 12 students of the professional Bachelor study program "Technical Translation" implemented by the Institute of Applied Linguistics of Riga Technical University. Due to the lack of relevant thematic competence, inexperienced translators often resort to literariness while translating polysemic source terms, choosing a translation variant that is spelled or pronounced similarly in the target language rather than the variant that is accurate in a given context. This leads to proliferation of false friends and ambiguity in translation.

Dealing with items of non-equivalent vocabulary, the majority of students adopted foreignization strategy (cf. Venuti 1995), borrowing terms either directly (transcription) or indirectly by means of word-for-word translation (calque). The lexical item comfort food was frequently calqued as ediens komfortam (food for comfort, convenience), whereas in the military context a more precise translation is ediens spriedzes mazinasanai (food to reduce stress, pacify). Collocation drastic measures was frequently misinterpreted and translated by a false friend drastiskas darbibas (joyful measures), which in essence has the opposite meaning to the intended one - strong actions to reach the goals. The suggested translation variant is stingri pasakumi (strong measures). The lexical unit mission is another item of military jargon (cf. Zupan, Stefanic, 2014) that two student translators misinterpreted due to its polysemy. Instead of choosing a translation variant relevant in the military context, namely, kaujas uzdevums (combat order), the students chose an internationalism misija, which although may be used to denote a task or assignment, has too many meanings in the Latvian language to be unambiguous. In order to translate a text that contains new terms, students should consult an expert in the field to interpret it accurately. For example, a sentence "He does not have a safety clearance" translated using a regular English-Latvian Dictionary would not make sense, because the unit clearance is translated as distance, customs formalities, etc., but in the military context, it means access to sensitive or secret information (AAL).

As it has been mentioned, the faculty of a military translator is not limited to thematic competence. Advanced linguistic competence and relevant background knowledge concerning military activities are necessary to accurately decode military-related texts. Example 3 illustrates the case of inadequate representation of a pun. The article, apparently a translation from a source written in English, discusses General Lee. He was called the King of Spades, because he ordered his soldiers to take the spades and dig trenches.

1862.gada Roberts Edvards LI izdallja karavlriem lapstas un paveleja rakt ierakumus. Gan karavlri, gan prese izsmeja LI,

iesaucot vinu par King of Spades - Lapstu karali" (Magazine "Ilustreta Pasaules Vesture", August 2015 (91), 19).

The reference to King of Spades was translated literally representing only one meaning of the lexical item - spade as a tool for digging, losing the allusion to the game of cards. The author of the magazine article should have integrated this reference in the body of the text: King of Spades - Lapstu karalis (plka kungs). Even though the resulting target text is longer, the idea is expressed in a clear and straightforward manner; it is essential for the reader to grasp the meaning of the text.

4. Conclusions

Inaccurate translation of military texts can have adverse consequences, that is why the issues of relevant translator training are of utmost importance and should be addressed within both graduate and post-graduate translation programs. At present, no universities in Latvia offer translation programs majoring in military translation; military translators are trained by national armed forces and international military alliances in-house for their own needs. However, these translators do not deal with translation of military-related texts, which as a result are rendered by translators without relevant training in the field under discussion. If translated imprecisely, these texts become the medium through which the general public obtains inaccurate and even faulty information on the matters of great public interest. Thus, developing competence in translation of military-related texts may appear a competitive advantage for student translators specializing in various fields of language for special purposes.

Translating military and military-related texts, translators should develop not only advanced linguistic, but also comprehensive thematic competence to be able to deal with translation challenges, e.g. lack of equivalent terms. Direct

and indirect borrowing of non-equivalent pieces of vocabulary should be used with extreme caution as a solution to this problem. Excessive literariness may result in producing texts that are difficult to perceive, are not reader-friendly and accurate. Transcribed and calqued terms often appear as false friends in the target language, thus the main requirement set forth military and military-related texts, namely, content precision, is not met. Moreover, borrowing by transcription should be avoided if there is an appropriate lexical unit in the target language to foreclose opportunities for double reading of terminological units.


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