Translating for the Pharmaceutical Sector: What Registers of Language Are Involved?

Best practices

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When it comes to pharmaceutical translations, some specific factors need to be considered, one of which is the target audience. Indeed, a different vocabulary will be required for translations designed for an expert readership as opposed to texts on scientific subjects for the general public. So, what are the different language registers that apply in this context? And how does a translator approach this task? Read on to find out more.

The pharmaceutical sector: two types of language

In everyday life, we use different “registers” or levels of language. There is a formal register, an everyday register and finally an informal register. In pharmaceutical translation, we also find different language registers: a scientific register and a “consumer” register.

The scientific register is used in clinical studies and other documents or trials intended for doctors, pharmacists and other medical experts. The consumer register is used in information leaflets for therapeutic trials, package inserts for medicines or in press releases.

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Translating for experts and translating for consumers: what’s the difference?

Before a linguist can start translating a pharmaceutical text, he or she needs to know the target audience. Will it be read by medical experts? Or will the readers be consumers with no specialist knowledge of scientific terminology? Depending on the answers to these questions, the translator will adapt his or her working method (resources used) and vocabulary. For example, when translating Patient Reported Outcomes (PROs), it is essential to select the correct register to ensure the message is perfectly clear.

If the translator deems it necessary, he or she may decide to write out acronyms in full. Whereas in the case of a translation intended for a specialist readership, such explanations would be superfluous. Another example is the use of English terminology in texts in other languages: depending on the intended readership, the translator may retain these terms with no additional explanation or add clarification in the target language.

Another consideration when translating for “consumers” is “popularization” (adapting scientific data for a non-specialist audience) and the associated risks. The translator's challenge is to choose suitable vocabulary while ensuring that no essential information is inadvertently omitted.

In terms of actual working methods, the translator will use different terminology databases depending on whether the text is intended for an expert audience or a readership with no specialist knowledge of the subject area. The linguist may also use the same tools but carefully select the most appropriate terminology and expressions for the end readers of his or her work.

Pharmaceutical texts can therefore be translated not only from one language to another, but also from one language register to another. The translator must keep this in mind and deliver a text that is clear, understandable and, most importantly, perfectly adapted to the target readers’ level of scientific knowledge.

Acolad works with expert translators who specialize in the life sciences sector. If you have a life sciences translation project, please contact us - we would be happy to discuss it with you!