Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

The Translation of Scientific Literature from German into Spanish at the Turn of the 20th Century

Academic journal article Translation & Interpreting

The Translation of Scientific Literature from German into Spanish at the Turn of the 20th Century

Article excerpt

1. The 'heroic age' of German Science

This paper focuses on the results of scientific research published in German language in the last decades of the 19th century. As Magnus-Levy puts it, "The second half of the nineteenth century was the heroic age of German medicine, and of the other sciences as well" (1944, p. 331). Although they are usually associated with advances in the medical sciences, the truth is that most breakthrough discoveries at the time occurred in related fields such as microbiology, chemistry, radiology, physiology, genetics or botany, and not only by the hand of Germans but also of Swiss, Austrian or Czech scientists. To name but a few examples: Swiss biologist Johannes Friedrich Miescher isolated the nucleic acids in 1869. (1) Gregor Mendel (an Austrian friar born in 1822 in today's Czech Republic) is considered the founder of modern genetics. Theodor Schwann (1810-1882) developed the cell theory together with Matthias Schleiden. Nobel Laureate Robert Koch identified the causative agent (commonly referred to as Koch's bacillus) of tuberculosis in 1882. Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen produced the X-rays in 1895 (and was awarded the first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901 for it). These advances gave rise to new scientific disciplines such as genetics and biochemistry. Eduard Buchner, together with his bacteriologist brother Hans, took the first steps in the latter field, with the discovery of non-cellular fermentation (Eduard Buchner was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1907 for his biochemical investigations).

In this context, the aims of this paper are to locate and to describe--in terms of textual features and translation techniques--scientific articles published in German during the 19th century and translated into Spanish, at the time or afterwards. For this purpose, I shall focus on the fields of microbiology and biochemistry, since they group the most relevant discoveries of the time. The importance of the German language for the sciences in the period in question, and its repercussions in the Spanish context will also be examined.

2. Translating science: prior research

Scientific translation has recently drawn researchers' attention, as can be seen in the special issues published by Meta (Vandaele & Boulanger, 2016), The Translator (Olohan & Salama-Carr, 2011) or Annals of Science (Dietz, 2016). Traditionally paired with technical translation both in publications and in university syllabi, the translation of scientific texts now gains momentum on its own from a diachronic (history of science translation) and a synchronic (science nowadays) viewpoint. As Olohan (2018) points out, contributions on the translation of science range from the first practical guides in the 1960s-1980s to historiographical works such as Montgomery's (2000); case studies (Sanchez, 2014, 2011); collected works on specialised translation or more theoretical approaches; and specific studies on popular science or the dominance of English and its consequences. For the purpose of the present work, Montgomery and Sanchez are of special relevance, as are Olohan's reflections on the history of science and of translation (2014).

Montgomery provides a historiographical account of translations of scientific works from and into the classical languages as well as Persian, Hindu, Arabic or Japanese, among others. Throughout history, the status of translators has varied greatly; often, like the early translators of the eighth and early ninth centuries (Montgomery, 2000, p. 119), they were not really craft professionals and their methods were correspondingly diverse, with an at times flexible attitude towards the rendering of texts and terms (ibid.). Some acknowledge a surprising degree of intervention in translated texts, as in the case of Arab translator Thabit ibn Qurra, who in a foreword to Hunayn's Almagest confesses to: "commentary, summary, expansion of the text, explanation, simplification, explication for the sake of clearer understanding, correction, allusion, improvement, and revision. …

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