What follows is based on a paper published by Adrian NĂZNEAN, Teaching Assistant at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in Tîrgu Mureş, Romania.
Abstract: The aim of the study carried out by Adrian Naznean was to investigate and compare medical articles published in English journals written by native and non-native speakers of English. The analysis of the corpus revealed different types of medical translation mistakes, both grammar and lexical ones, which frequently occur in articles written by Romanian authors and which may hinder the understanding of the content. The conclusions of the study are aimed at the work of medical translators in improving their translations.
In order to carry out the research, articles in the study were chosen from the following journals:
- Acta Medica Marisiensis
- Revista română de medicină de laborator (impact factor 0.097)
- Romanian journal of morphology and embryology (impact factor 0.523)
- Endocrine Pathology (impact factor 1.600)
- Histopathology (impact factor 2.857)
- Virchows Archiv (impact factor 2.676).
The selected articles covered topics in histopathology. Regarding the structure of biomedical articles, most of them conform to the IMRAD structure, namely: Introduction, Materials and methods, Results and Discussion.
As far as the structure of medical articles is concerned, Romanian articles seem to conform to the IMRAD style. However, unlike the English articles, Romanian ones often carry a separate section entitled Conclusion. Regardless of the structure, what is most striking in the articles of the first three journals, published in Romania, is the diversity and types of mistakes encountered.
The problems that the study into the corpus revealed could be listed as follows:
- lack of the definite article
- wrong choice of words
- word order
- passive voice
Regarding the lack of the definite article, the reason lies in the fact that Romanian words (nouns, adjectives) are inflected, unlike the ones in English, where the definite article is a separate determiner preceding the word. Instances of missing articles include post-determination, a case in which the presence of the English “the” is compulsory. An example is the following case: “ well – differentiated adenocarcinoma of colon”.
Another problem seems to be that of the wrong choice of words in the medical translation. Sometimes authors/ translators mistakenly use an adjective instead of an adverb or vice versa, a singular determiner with a plural noun, the wrong adjective or preposition, etc. Some such examples include the following medical translation mistakes: a frequently diagnosis, few information, poorer prognostic, five years survival rates, etc.
In this category of wrong choice of words, the following cases could also be listed. The word casuistry in English differs in meaning from the Romanian cazuistică, although some Romanian authors/translators of Romanian articles use it to mean the database of clinical cases. Similarly, the word affirmation is used to substitute statement as in “this affirmation supports the hypothesis”. It is unnecessary to emphasize the difference in meaning of the two words.
Prepositions are sometimes mistakenly used in medical translations involving the Romanian language. It is the frequent case of similar with and similar to. The indecision of the author/translator stems from the fact that both prepositions are used with the adjective throughout the same article.
Other medical translation mistakes that occur in articles published in English and Romanian journals include inexistent words such as membranar instead of membranous, or rarely used plurals like criterions.
Word order flexibility in English is mainly used in cases of emphasis, as literary devices, or omissions in conditional sentences. From this point of view, Romanian is incomparably more flexible. Regarding problems with word order in medical translations, the pattern seems to be that of adverbs or adverbial phrases: “The complexity of atherosclerotic disease, with aspects still not completely understood, with a negative impact on the health of the population, brings constantly this topic to the attention of researchers and clinicians”.
Passive voice is frequently used in scientific writing in order to describe processes, procedures, stages in research. Its impersonal tone is more suitable for such instances than active voice. Overexploiting the use of the passive however can result in descriptions that resemble those of a textbook and is a common contributor to medical translation mistakes. Passive voice structures built on a Romanian pattern are incorrect and totally unacceptable: “It was suggested the possible role of antibodies and auto-antigens in early atherosclerosis and in this context the participation of immunological factors in early human hypertension it has been reported”.
From the point of view of tenses, Romanian may have less strict rules than English. However, mistakes as the following ones are unacceptable: “are commonly used for ten years”, “had underwent” or “the clinical manifestations are depending upon the size of the tumor”.
Regarding inconsistency, the study revealed cases which might also be categorized as the wrong choice of word, inconsistency in spelling or, possibly, the indecision of the author of the target text to be consistent in the choices they make. Some such cases are the use of – ic/ – ical adjectives. One such example is the pair of histopathologic/histopathological. Of the two, only the latter one is correct, yet, both of them were recorded in one of the articles included in the study. Another such situation is the above-mentioned case of compared to / with.
The influence and position of American English in the field of science prevails. While American spelling is doubtlessly more simplified than the British one, authors/translators should be consistent throughout the same medical translation when it comes to words such as tumour and tumor, optimise or optimize.
If so many types of mistakes occur in articles written/translated by Romanian speakers of English, it is due to the fact that, on the one hand, journals published in Romania accept poor quality papers, while, on the other hand, it is obvious that such articles do not undergo revision and editing.
Oftentimes it may be the case of the researchers themselves who perform the medical translation, or supposedly produce the text in English. If, however, it is translators who make such medical translation mistakes, their work can be dismissed as completely inappropriate. This brings up the problem of who should perform such medical translations, the medical professional with some knowledge of the target language or the translator with insufficient knowledge in the field of medicine. As Jo Ann Cahn states “a professional translator (…) with medical knowledge is probably better than a dilettante doctor with some linguistics knowledge” (cited in Fischbach 1998:73). Translators should take greater responsibility and also do macro-editing in order to ensure that the text is coherent and cohesive.
If such articles or translations were thoroughly revised, medical translation mistakes such as the above mentioned would simply be removed in the revision process. Unfortunately, probably due to the number of articles an editor has to deal with, to time constraints, to strict deadlines, such articles escape revision and are published with the mistakes of the authors/ translators. Heavy editing and revising would considerably improve the readability and quality of such articles and medical translations.