Technical dictionaries. Behind the scenes.

Translation Mary C. BLACK.

Dear colleagues,

I would like to make a comment on behalf of the proTECT project before the translation of the most popular post from May to welcome Mary Black as the translator of the posts into English. You didn’t think we’d ignore the more international language of all, did you? Check out the equipo page to get to know Mary better.

So now I’ll leave you to the most popular post from last month (thanks for my part).

Òscar Aznar Alemany

Translation Coordinator


Òscar Aznar is a former classmate in the Translation and Interpretation Faculty at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. In fact, we actually worked on the same team in some classes. Interestingly, he combined his studies in Translation and Interpretation with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry. After graduating, we lost track of each other for a while. When I heard from him again he told me that was working on developing a chemistry dictionary. I thought that it would be interesting to discuss this project since I had never considered entering the profession of translation in this way. Instead, I had chosen the more traditional pathway: working as a freelance for direct clients and agencies. So in this entry, Òscar will tell us about his experience in this project so we can learn a bit more about the world of developing specialised dictionaries. But before anything else, here is a brief introduction that will help you to understand his answers a little better:

Òscar Aznar Alemany holds a degree in chemistry (Universitat de Barcelona, UB) and is a translator in the combinations EN, PT > CA, ES (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, UAB), who furthered his specialisation with a Master’s in Chemical Analysis (UB) and another Master’s in Linguistic Correction in Catalan (UAB). He combines English teaching with language projects such as volunteering to translate subtitles for TED (, professionally correcting doctoral theses and partnering with TERMCAT (the terminology centre of the Catalan language).

Your choice is fairly unusual. What motivated you to simultaneously study chemistry and translation?

I had always been equally interested in the pure sciences and languages. In my mind, they seemed like two similar phenomena: natural systems (as opposed to artificial ones) governed by implicit rules that can be deduced. They were games of decoding and coding. At first I enrolled in chemistry because it is easier to get language training outside the university than training in the experimental sciences. Still, when I passed the first cycle of my Bachelor’s degree, a friend in Translation and Interpretation told me about access to the second cycle in her degree, and I couldn’t let the chance to get university training in a field that I loved slip by.

When you finished both degrees, what were your professional expectations? Was working on developing the dictionary your first job as a professional? How did it come about?

I was hoping to have a steady half-time job in a laboratory so that I could earn enough to live and spend the other half of the day translating and proofreading scientific and technical texts. In practice, I replaced the laboratory with English classes because the timetable is more clearly defined (in the laboratory sometimes it depends on the experiment, and you have to get there early or leave late), plus I think that today there are many scientists but a shortage of language professionals on those fields. The first job I had was correcting a pair of doctoral theses and a Master’s project for classmates in the Department of Analytical Chemistry at the university. After that, I sent my CV to TERMCAT more out of curiosity than any clear goal, and they hired me. I worked on the first phase of the update of Enciclopèdia Catalana’s Diccionari enciclopèdic de medicina, and when we finished that they picked me to get the chemistry dictionary up and running.

What was the title of the project (or dictionary) and how many people were involved in envisioning it? What was each person’s job or how was the work divided?

Surprisingly, the name of the project is simply Diccionari de química. Many people have participated in the project at some point; I’d guess thirty or more. When writing it, experts in each topic within chemistry into which the dictionary was divided wrote the terms and their definitions in Catalan, in addition to the names in Spanish and English. During the thematic revision, other experts had to review the scientific content. This was then followed by a second linguistic revision carried out by TERMCAT terminology experts and a final revision by the project leaders.

How long did the project last?

Let’s just say the dictionary is a longstanding project. I started with the project in late 2011, so I can only conjecture. Writing a single area can take from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, or even three or four, depending on its length and how much time the writer can spend on it. Since most of the writers are university professors, it can take twice or three times as long. The thematic revision was where the project got stuck since some experts wavered in their commitment to the project and many areas were left unrevised. I know that in 2007 one of the revised parts underwent the linguistic revision, but not much more. Since the authors, university professors, had plenty of work due to this country’s wonderful allocation of resources, there was no pressure to move forward, and at the same time TERMCAT was involved in many other projects as well. That is, until a motivated, responsible guy trained in chemistry and language (who is attractive to boot !), appeared on the scene. So they assigned me both the thematic and the linguistic revisions at the same time with the goal of turning the two-month job for ten people into a twenty-month job for one. There was no hurry, and that way the result was more homogenous.

You’ve told me that the dictionary has never been published because of a lack of financing. What are the exact reasons this project has been paralysed? Can anything be done to change them?

TERMCAT is a public organisation that deals with many projects, and each year it has less and less money to allocate to each of them. This project is not high-priority, not even for its authors (since they’ve got enough work with their own projects), so it’s on the waiting list. A more tightly managed government or wealthy patron would be welcome ! Right now there may be a year of work left.

What will happen with all the work done so far if the project isn’t completed?

For the time being, there are plans to complete it, so no one has asked this question as far as I know. Since the revision is being done by thematic areas, I imagine that specific mini-dictionaries could be published. And all the terms can always be added to TERMCAT’s public database.

Do you know if this happens a lot?

Unfortunately, it seems that it happens constantly in any job today.

What is the job status of the team? What are your future plans? Are you considering the possibility of continuing to work in both fields?

Over these past two years, the team has consisted of a TERMCAT supervisor and myself. She is still working on other dictionaries, while I have taken advantage of my well-earned break to dabble in online training and to do everything we never get a chance do because of a “lack of time”. I’m thinking about doing a specific Master’s in scientific translation or writing a bestseller and living on the royalties . But actually, I’m not sure. I tend to improvise, but my intention is to keep working in scientific language.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would love to talk about Doctor Who and Downton Abbey, but somehow I don’t think they fit in with the topic…

I’d forgotten your sense of humour, Òscar . Thanks so much for this interview with the proTECT project! I’m sure it’s going to inspire lots of interest.




About proTECT project

iniciativa en pro del acercamiento entre técnicos y traductores especializados y en busca de la calidad técnica y lingüística óptimas de la documentación que generan. Si quieres colaborar, puntual o habitualmente, ponte en contacto con nosotros en


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