English-Spanish dictionary on nuclear technology.
by Vicente ABELLA. Translation by Mary C. BLACK.
As a translator from the field of nuclear technology, I was always fascinated by the fact that there was an English-Spanish dictionary on such an obscure field, a tool that has saved me countless searches and horrible brain-racking. Still, what fascinates me even more today is the fact that it is fully accessible and free of charge, the outcome of an arduous and altruistic effort by its authors. The English-Spanish Dictionary on Nuclear Technology was published by the Nuclear Forum for the first time in 1998 and underwent a revision and considerable expansion in its second edition from 2008, sponsored by Tecnatom and again the Nuclear Forum. Today I had the opportunity to interview Agustín Tanarro Onrubia, the author and son of the co-author of the dictionary, Agustín Tanarro Sanz, and ask him about his experience drawing up this glossary. I am grateful for his willingness to answer my questions and his friendliness and approachability. Below is the outcome of the interview.
Agustín, how did you get the idea of writing a bilingual dictionary on terms related to nuclear energy? What needs in the sector was it addressing?
My father is also a professional in the nuclear sector for over 35 years. He worked at CIEMAT (formerly the Nuclear Energy Board) and was the author of several technical books and the co-author of the dictionary. When he retired in 1986, he received several proposals to somehow keep his finger in the profession, such as by teaching classes in different Master’s programmes and graduate courses, as well as by helping to translate technical texts, primarily operational experience reports issued by international organisations like INPO and WANO.
At that time, I was finishing my degree at the Industrial School of Madrid and starting out as a professional at Tecnatom, where I just celebrated my 25th anniversary. I began to help my father with the translations and ended up working actively with him for 20 years.
As we were translating almost 1,000 of these reports, highly specific terms from the nuclear technology jargon kept appearing which we couldn’t find in the technical dictionaries. This often required us to research by inquiring with colleagues and renowned experts in different fields. In order to unify the results of this research, we gathered lists of “strange terms” that could help us in our translations.
When these lists began to become somewhat lengthy, we started wondering whether they might be useful for other people working in the different branches of nuclear technology, often with documentation in English. So, encouraged by the heads of the Nuclear Forum, we started working on the first edition of the dictionary, which the Nuclear Forum published in 1998.
After the first edition of the book, during the course of my career at Tecnatom, which I combined with translations, we continued to compile terms and revise the ones we had already had. This meant that the second edition of the book was almost twice the size as the first; it was sponsored by Tecnatom and the Nuclear Forum and was published in 2008, a few months before my father passed away.
Since then, even though I no longer translate and am now on my own, I still compile the terms and definitions that I find in my work in case one day I decide to issue a new edition.
What were your initial goals and what was the target audience of this bilingual, one-way dictionary? What fields of nuclear energy does it encompass (reactors, radiological protection, medicine, etc.)?
The goal was to take advantage of our translations to generate a reference book that might be helpful to as many people working in our field as possible. So we set the unquestionably ambitious goal of trying to cover all the different fields related to nuclear technology and similar disciplines in order to make the dictionary as comprehensive as possible. Obviously, since it is based on our professional experience, some fields are inevitably covered in greater depth than others.
With the same goal of helping as many people as possible and disseminating the dictionary as widely as possible, we decided to publish it via the Nuclear Forum, which distributes it free of charge to anyone who requests it and allowed it to be downloaded in PDF format through its website (http://www.foronuclear.org/es/publicaciones-y-documentacion/publicaciones/diccionario-tecnologia-nuclear-ingles) once there were no more paper copies left.
In terms of the electronic version of the book, I wanted to mention that it has the additional advantage of allowing inverse term searches (Spanish-English) using Acrobat’s search capacities, which contributed to our discarding the idea of expanding the dictionary with a Spanish-English version, since this did not bring Spanish-speaking readers any additional advantages.
As an expert in the subject matter of the dictionary and yet without any experience (or training) in the field of linguistics and terminology, what were the major challenges you faced while writing the dictionary?
In order to make the book useful, we always tried to make it as comprehensive as possible, often adding explanations of the terms along with their translations, and prioritising clarity over linguistic rigour. Unlike other similar books and products, such as the ones contained in the glossaries of the Spanish Nuclear Society, the Nuclear Safety Board and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the idea of our dictionary was, as I mentioned above, to be as comprehensive and practical as possible for professionals or students in fields related to nuclear technology. Our goal was never to serve as the basis of any technical, legislative or linguistic norm or regulation.
Given these premises, our lack of specific training in the field of linguistics did not prove to be a major obstacle, and in any event I think that the continuous cross-revisions of the book by both authors, the input from colleagues and ultimately the efforts of the editor made the book accurate enough to meet our initial goal of its serving as a practical reference tool.
What did you learn from that experience and what advice would you give as future technical dictionaries are being drawn up?
Even though we did not pursue extreme rigour in our definitions and glosses, the attempt to retain the right level of accuracy and technicality meant that we had to delve into many fields related to our own that do not strictly fall within it, which has given me a broader view of the multiple factors and disciplines associated with nuclear technology.
On the other hand, our experience taught us that this kind of undertaking requires constant efforts of compilation and research, gathering terms over the course of many years. Given our goals, it cannot be approached as an intensive undertaking for a limited period of time starting from scratch.