As globalization continues throughout the world, the translation of scientific documents (and in particular, those for the medical and pharmaceutical fields) is faced with a series of challenges. One of the most notable characteristics of medical language during the last few decades of the twentieth century was the complete domination of English as the sole international language for medicine. It appears that this current scientific monolingualism is a phenomenon that is both recognized and accepted by the scientific community and society in general. Indeed, regular reading of medical articles in English is modifying the manner in which the medical professionals across the world express themselves in their native languages.
This is the case because research, concepts, ideas, and arguments are determined by international journals published in English—whose editorial boards consist of 75% of authors who are native English speakers. Nowadays, scientific language in Spanish, for example, is to a large extent the result of translations from English. This is easy to demonstrate: bibliographic references of these articles are often times from sources written in English.
The influence of English on medical Spanish is evident in the growing use of Anglicisms, which include words such as borderline, by-pass, doping, feedback, relax, scanner, screening, shock, spray, and test. However, its effect is much greater than this alone, affecting the language in terms of spellings representing their English original (e.g. amfetamina, colorectal, halucinación, proteina), vocabulary favoring words closer to their English translation (e.g. confusing urgencia with emergencia or plaga and peste) and syntax (abuse of the passive voice, apposition of nouns, elimination of the article at the beginning of a sentence, abuse of the indefinite article, etc.).
In Spanish, for example, the word severo is used in contexts where traditionally the word grave should be used, influenced by the former’s English ex-false friend “severe.” When it comes to coining a term in Spanish to translate the English term “beta-blocker” (which is not yet included in the Royal Spanish Academy’s dictionary), it is not logical nor useful to employ direct calques (that is, loan translations) such as beta-bloqueador or betabloqueador without having previously analyzed other synonyms in detail, such as bloqueador beta or betabloqueante, which are more clear and correct. Nevertheless, the first of these are the most common versions seen, not only in translations, but also in articles originally written in Spanish.
We translators must therefore pay particular attention when dealing with medical texts. If the source is in English, we must remember that, sometimes, the “correct” translation may not be the ideal translation, as professionals who have access to the translated material utilize the term in English or, in its place, neologisms such as those mentioned previously. If the source is in Spanish, it is important to recognize those terms that have lost their original meaning (e.g. severo) and are instead used with the same meaning as their ex-false friend in English.
It is clear, then, that in order to produce a high quality and useful translation in scientific fields, it is of utmost importance to keep up to date on new discoveries and modifications to specific terminology.