ATTRAVERSO – COLUMN BY LETIZIA MERELLO (9)

Attraverso… on research

The life of a translator is just like Forrest Gump’s famous box of chocolates. The expression may certainly be trite and overused, but it is indisputably true, especially for those who like us at ASTW have made patent translation their workhorse.

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Image by Ilinca Roman from Unsplash

I won’t be offering chocolates from a box today, but I will be going hunting for berries. Don’t worry, I haven’t decided to answer the call of nature or go into hiding to escape the umpteenth mechanical text (indeed, sooner or later I knew I’d come to reveal my arch-enemy).

I’m actually working on a patent about a supplement based on plant extracts. At a certain point in the document I came across a detailed list of possible extracts that can be used for its formulation; the list has many different fruits, including a number ending with the suffix -berry. I have no problems confirming the MT output for the more common ones, such as blueberry, raspberry, strawberry… Oh, and here’s a fun fact: my surname Merello actually means strawberry in Genoese dialect.

It’s all going well until the list begins to take on an ever-increasing level of detail and I begin to know less and less names of the fruits: this is one of those cases where the machine translation is “lazy” and the translator’s inquisitiveness is essential. In general, when I translate pharmaceutical texts with many plant names, such as this one, I look up the scientific Latin name of the plants and use this to see if there’s a corresponding common name in Italian. If I’m lucky, I use the translation I found, otherwise I “settle” for the scientific name.

I like to spend time on research like this, and not just because I care about doing my job well: I often learn new things, discover brand-new points of view and also dispel common misconceptions. For example, did you know that “cranberry”, which is usually mirtillo rosso in Italian, is actually Oxycoccus, or mirtillo palustre, and that the real mirtillo rosso is actually “lingonberry” (or “cowberry”), belonging to the same family? I certainly didn’t: I just learned it today.

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Image by Ante Hamersmit from Unsplash

Don’t worry, I know this is all word geek stuff. But that makes me happy, as it means I’ve found the job that perfectly suits me. In fact, a translator’s work goes hand in hand with the continuous search for the perfect term and, as I said in the previous article, we can deal with incredibly varied topics in the same work day.

That’s why we’re about to publish some articles about the terminological resources we use most often… are you curious to find out what they are? Then you should keep an eye on the news section of our website! I’ll start by sharing this berry dictionary in Italian (with English translations of the names) which I found useful and quite complete, as well as perfectly in line with this article.

Writing this post made me recall our holidays as a child when we’d go to the mountains and how much I hated going on long walks… there were only two things that amused me: seeing gophers and finding wild strawberries. Perhaps the satisfaction of finding the right name for everything after a long search is just like enjoying the taste of a freshly picked wild strawberry.

Cover image: me drawn by Claudia Plescia.

English translation and adaptation by Sarah Schneider

research

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