Treatment of abbreviations and acronyms in medical translation
Acronyms and abbreviations, especially those derived from Latin, are one of the commonly used elements in written and oral medical translations. Many conditions, such as disease names, chemical compound names, or methods of treatment almost never appear in their original forms, as this would interfere with effective communication. The widespread popularity of abbreviations is undoubtedly due to the historical tradition of the language of medicine, as well as saving the time that they provide, which is so necessary in many medical emergencies. In addition, the reduction allows medical professionals to encode the true meaning of their expression, making the content inaccessible to the patient, which from time to time is desirable for ethical reasons.
Often, the desire to not use full terms leads to most medical texts that are generously strewn with abbreviated forms, often accompanied by no explanation at all. In many situations, they overshadow the meaning, being a source of gloom or ambiguity, even in one specialty, several different conditions can mean one acronym. In extreme cases, the abbreviated forms may be illegible, for example, handwritten prescriptions or specific to the author, being relevant only for the sake of one particular text. As specialized areas develop, the number of abbreviated forms invented annually is so great that a full renewal of the dictionary is doomed to failure, often leaving translators in perplexity.
Acronyms are used to describe a lexical enterprise created from one to several capitalized first letters. Brief forms should not be used in names, as there is no context available that would provide absolute clarity. Within the text, the general principle for medical translators is to determine the acronym for the first time when it is used, i.e. it is necessary to present the term in its full form with its acronym in parenthesis, and then use its short form.
Having the conviction that the presence of all capital letters is enough to indicate that the word is a shortened form, punctuations are avoided in modern practice, if the word is not taken from Latin. The medical interpreter must also remember that the definite article should never be placed either in front of the acronyms or before the initial abbreviations.
The style of writing acronyms requires special attention, it should be remembered that one does not need to end with a paragraph cluttered with unexplained capital letter combinations. Generally speaking, medical translators can face two possible situations. Acronyms are very often simply borrowed and accepted from the English language. They can be naturalized in the output languages, and this is a general procedure to leave the English acronym in translation, this is in the original. The most striking example is AIDS, which, being an abbreviation for English words, was fully integrated into other languages. In such cases, it is desirable to introduce the term in full form first, with the English acronym, preferably adding an unabridged italicized English form.
A different procedure is required if the acronym has its equivalent in the output language. In such cases, the original textual acronym should be switched to the target text one.
It is worth noting that for interlinguistic standardization it would be convenient to include English unabbreviated and short names in footnotes, or in parentheses.
The decision whether to adhere to the original acronym or change it to adapt to the target culture will depend on the competence of the medical translator, experience, specialized knowledge and persistence in the study, which conditions are established equivalents in the literature of special discipline.
Despite the obvious retreat of Latin from medical terminology in the 20th century, medical workers, communicating in national languages, also used international Latin-Greek terms. Even though English has largely become the new lingua franca of medical communication, the privileged terminology of Latin is still unchanged. Strictly speaking, there are three most important cases of terminology in which it plays a major role: anatomical nomenclature, the terminology of clinical medicine and pharmaceutical Latin.
The third area in which Latin has been preserved to a really large extent is pharmacology and especially a prescription-related letter.
Latin abbreviations, compared with acronyms, are much less likely to create ambiguity. The main obstacle in their processing, the search for their unabridged form, which is very often unclear and difficult to detect.
Since medical terminology in European languages is based on an essentially Latin nomenclature, it should not come as a surprise that words of Latin origin are also subject to contraction processes.
In the clinical letter, in addition to the obvious use of jargon, traditional Latin terms are still widely present. Such texts are also full of abbreviations.