Interview with Anabel Borja Albi


Anabel Borja is a sworn translator appointed by the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and has worked as in-house and freelance translator for publishers, multinational companies, law firms, notaries and the Spanish Courts of Justice. Although originally trained as a linguist (BA in Anglo-German Studies, UV), she currently holds a PhD degree in Translation (UAB), a Master’s degree in Business Law (UV), a Postgraduate degree in University Training (UV) and a diploma in International Commerce (CEI). She is a Senior Lecturer in Legal Translation at the Universitat Jaume I, Castellón (Spain) a postgraduate lecturer in Legal Translation in different Spanish universities and coordinates the legal translation section of the GENTT Research Group. Her research interests include comparative analysis and classification of legal texts through the use of electronic corpora based on the concept of genre; genre convention analysis; contrastive textology and comparative Law for legal translation research; development of information resources for writers and translators of highly specialised texts, and specialised translation teaching strategies. Anabel has authored more than 80 academic works, has been invited to participate as a keynote speaker at a number of conferences and seminars on specialised translation, besides being actively involved in twenty Government‑funded research projects (project leader in five of them). She is presently involved with the creation of translation technology‑based spinoff companies (StartUJI).

Why is Terminology your passion? banner featuring Anabel Borja

1.     As a Legal Translation expert with ample experience in the field, what is your opinion on the widespread belief that legal translation is ‘impossible’?

I consider this to be an incorrect statement and proof of the same is that thousands of pages of legal texts are translated every day. These translations facilitate international legal relations, international commerce and underpin the development of international organisations and institutions, such as the EU. However, Legal Translation is not an easy task, which is why I have been developing a wide variety of resources over the past years for the practice and teaching of this discipline. Legal translation is my passion. I find it fascinating because it poses additional challenges to all the pre-existing difficulties in the complex field of specialised translation.

2.     Can you outline the pre-existing difficulties in specialised translation and what are the additional difficulties that one may encounter in legal translation?

The ultra‑specialisation processes present in our society imply that translators need to acquire expert knowledge and master specific terminology for each field of knowledge, sub‑specialisation, production sector, etc., which may even be company specific. Reality is therefore diverse, complex, dynamic and changing. The slogan, which my students hear from me repeatedly is “divide and rule”, i.e., breakup reality into appropriate sized fragments and approach them creatively, systematically and with a strategy adequate for the purpose.

Two examples will illustrate this. One relates to an engineering firm that uses own terminology to describe workflow, industrial processes, administrative procedures, organisational chart, final products, etc. We need more than mastery of technical translation here, i.e., application of strategies to obtain conceptual, terminological and textual information (characteristic to the firm) in record time, in order to produce coherent quality translations that comply with internal conventions. Hence, this is not just about collating and organising information but also about efficiently integrating (managing and updating) it into CAT tools linked to their appropriate document management system-DMS to optimise workflow.

The second example is about legal texts. The differences present between legal systems mean that: 1) legal equivalence is impossible to obtain in many cases; 2) one needs to seek different solutions depending on the legal system of the source text (the Articles of Association from Delaware (USA) are different from those from the U.K.) and 3) that the translator may need to resort to ad-hoc functional equivalence based on client, target audience and above all on the desired legal effect of the translation in the target country. This is obviously not easy but possible.

3.     You mentioned that you have dedicated time over the past years preparing resources to practice and teach specialised translation. Can you explain what these resources are?

My research contribution in the Gentt group, which works on the multilingual study of genres in professional settings, is to provide tools for linguistic mediators (specialised writers and translators) in order to facilitate their translation job. New global translation market demands in recent years have led our group to design an information management tool for highly specialised translators that explores how potential users (researchers and professional translators) can store, index, retrieve and reuse information more effectively. We believe that notions of textual genre, genre system and meta-genre can be very powerful tools to access and reuse the linguistic and extra-linguistic information that technical writers and translators need to manage specialised communication.

I am a practical person and therefore the research projects I participate in are geared towards seeking applied solutions to specific problems. Hence, the solutions presented have taken into account the end user’s (specialised translators or future translators) needs, habits and processese, and in particular, those of legal and medical translators (identified through quantitative and qualitative studies carried out by GENTT).

After analysing research results, we discovered that translators working in very specialised fields mentioned their main difficulty as access to reliable and centralised resources. They also mentioned losing much time searching the Internet for information that dictionaries did not provide (specialised nuances, differences in organisation of semantic fields, collocations, dialectal variants, abbreviations, genealogical conventions, terms missing in target language, etc.) or that resources were not updated to provide solutions.

4.     And one of the newest resources you have produced is the GENTT TransTools system (StartUJI). Can you tell us more about it?

As a result of the work carried out in recent years following this user-driven approach, we have developed the GENTT TransTools, an intelligent multilingual document management system with a two-fold approach: teaching specialised translation and professional practice of specialised translation.

Platforms nowadays contain modules related to legal, contractual, notarial and corporate genres on the one hand, and medical-legal genres and information for cancer patients, on the other hand. This project is under constant development and the team is currently involved with preparing modules for banking and finance, clinical testing protocols and academic documents. The objective is to progressively increase the number of disciplines and professional sectors by bearing in mind the needs of the professional translation market.

TransTools diagram

The GENTT TransTools system offers legal translators a range of linguistic and legal resources that facilitate the conceptual and terminological documentation process, making comparative analysis of specialised terms and concepts easier, and helping them to reuse existing translations more effectively. The contents collected or compiled so far are organised in five sections:

  • A Catalogue of documents which includes a list of documents used in each particular field and accompanied by an explanatory genre matrix.
  • A section called Conceptual Information, in which conceptual/contextual information on the field is presented in a contrastive manner. This section includes legislation on the specific subject matter of each module since we consider statutory law as one of the main sources of terminological information in many cases.
  • A set of specialised terminology and phraseology glossaries created by extracting terminology from the platform’s corpus of texts. All entries are accompanied by a definition (in monolingual glossaries), a possible equivalence in another language (in bilingual glossaries) and the context from which they have been extracted. Sources are always indicated.
  • A translators’ resources section, which includes a subsection for Bibliography and another for Links, with connections to useful web pages and portals for specialised translators.
  • But the most important contribution of this tool is the ad-hoc corpus of documents the team has compiled for each specialised domain, made up of monolingual corpora (Spanish and English) and bilingual corpora. It includes genuine documents (originals and translations) and forms or model documents. These corpora are the database for the tool’s integrated search facility, which covers all sections of the site and retrieves various types of results depending on the search criteria selected in the advanced search window.

JudGentt platform

5.     How have you managed to retrieve all the relevant documents?

The first TransTools module called JudGENTT was developed for court documents in four languages. This was a complicated task because there are huge differences between systems: the organisation of courts is different, legal documents differ from one country to another, crimes have very different semantic fields and sanctions have no equivalence. An added difficulty was that of obtaining prototype documents because the justice department was unwilling to supply them for confidentiality reasons. This difficulty was overcome thanks to collaboration from court translator colleagues and court clerks. The information was rendered anonymous prior to inclusion in the corpus; a harrowing task. A lot of suffering but worth the while, thanks to which a systematic work method was developed with well defined stages that can be applied with the appropriate adaptations to any field of knowledge:

  1. Concept map definition: illustrates the relationships between concepts and ideas in the particular domain or subdomain
  2. Field mapping (identification of specialised documents for each domain or subdomain)
  3. Corpus compilation (samples and authentic documents, text books, legislation, etc.)
  4. Genre analysis of the selection of genres
  5. Drafting of explanatory notes for each genre identified
  6. Corpus exploitation and terminology extraction
  7. Incorporation of data to the online platform.
  8. Testing, review and validation.

6.     What is the feedback you have received from users so far?

Only pilot trials have been performed so far with the tool within the new online learning environment, using a set of ad hoc teaching proposals that we designed. In particular, the proposals target three teaching scenarios: specialised EN-ES translation, EN-ES public services interpretation and EN-ES translation for specific purposes.

The pilot project to test the GENTT TransTools was carried out using a convenient sample from 7 Spanish universities during the second semester of the academic year 2016-17. The results show that the tool was very well received by the participating students and teachers. They expressed a high degree of satisfaction and interest in using the platform in the future, not only for training but also professionally.

Initial empirical data confirm that such platforms are a teaching-learning environment that offer many advantages: access to a corpus of specialised documents, centralisation of a huge number of resources for documentation, consultation of catalogues in specialised genres, fostering of collaborative learning, cloud access, etc. For us, the most important contribution by far is that we were able to demonstrate that the tool contributes to enhancing the documentation and strategic skills of future translators.

7.     What are your next research goals?

The final objective of the Gentt group is to continue to expand and improve the platform in an ongoing, dynamic manner, and to provide the professional T&I community with a thorough and systematic documentation system to produce quality specialised translation. In this sense, the pilot project results presented here have helped us to identify the improvements that need to go into the GENTT TransTools.

The IT architecture of the platforms needs renovation to adapt them to new applications and to our project demands. We will have to overhaul the IT architecture to include all utilities that have been added to the initial prototype, in order to facilitate easy replication of new platforms. The backend needs to be improved to make creation of new platforms easier and the front end also needs improving to make them more interactive so that users can incorporate own resources, in a controlled and supervised manner.

Glossaries need a thorough revision to give them structural coherence for which terminology experts from different fields will be roped in. Multilingual legal terminology is quite difficult to manage since unambiguous equivalence is not easy to come by. There are cases of zero equivalence, partial equivalence, cases where we need an explanatory note, situations where a loan is recommended, etc. All this information is difficult to organise in traditional glossaries.

8.     Can you briefly tell us about the start-up project that you have also recently developed?

Spanish universities receive millions in research funding from national and European institutions. In the case of social and human sciences, research results in the form of technology transfer to society from such projects is a rare event. Even though I am pro basic research because it contributes to progress in theoretical and humanistic knowledge, I nonetheless firmly believe that our studies should contribute to improving productivity of the professional sectors involved by boosting good practices and ethical behaviour.

Our team now has the research results in the form of know-how, as well as the IT developments and data base that comprise the start-up which is ready for launch. We are currently at the stage where we are studying how to reach the professional translators and improve collective work processes. The aim is to create a user community committed to quality specialised translation that will through their small license fee contributions (and expert know-how) cover the maintenance, updating, expansion and distribution costs of the TransTools platform.

9.     In your experience, is technology an enemy or an ally of translators?

Technology is undoubtedly our greatest ally. I cannot imagine translation without technology today in any of its stages: pre-translation, production and post-production. Translation is a complex process in which several skills are involved and we need to avoid repetitive tasks altogether. However, we are at this stage where we need to scrutinise the translator profile, in order to prevent an already existing practice: price reduction when working with TMs supplied by clients or agencies. The future translator has no choice but to increasingly use technologies that get sophisticated in time, in order to deliver a final top quality product. The new translator profile must include advanced technological competence, which will lead to new professional openings such as terminologists, writers and reviewers of specialised texts, TM reviewers, CAT engine creators and localisers, etc.

10.  Would you like to recommend a book, paper or project on Legal Translation/Terminology to our readers?

Besides the technology transfer project that I have directed, I have also participated in two other projects which were quite significant for me due to their impact on society and because they improved living conditions for the most disadvantaged. One was SOS-VICS, co-funded by the EU and led by Dr. Maribel del Pozo and the other was TIPp, led by Dr. Carmen Bestué and Dr. Mariana Orozco. In SOS-VICS («Speak Out for Support» – JUST/2011/JPEN/2912), the objective was to analyse interpretation in gender violence (GV) contexts, create specialised training resources for interpreters working in GV settings and contribute to raising awareness in those involved in assisting GV victims, on the need to only work only with professional specialised interpreters. In TIPp (Translation and Interpretation in criminal processes – FFI2014-55029-R), the project analysed recordings of interpreter aided oral hearings in court, from which quantitative empirical data were obtained. These indicated that on average about 54% of the information was not translated and contained serious translation mistakes (additions, incorrect meanings and omissions) that could influence the outcome of the court case. Interpreters were also found to express their own ideas, advise the accused or even warn them for about 45,5 times per hour.

In so far as my favourite authors in legal translation are concerned, these are numerous and it would be unfair to leave out any since they are all interesting from different points of views: corpus analysis, terminology, text genre, comparative law, etc. Nevertheless, I would wish to highlight the work of Enrique Alcaraz, who was my mentor and from whom I learned a lot.

About the interviewer

Doris Fernandes del PozoDoris Fernandes del Pozo (1989 Galicia, Spain). Doris holds a BA in Journalism, a BA in Translation and Interpreting and MA in Communication and Creative Industries. She has worked as conference and liaison interpreter and as a translator specialised in EU texts in Spain. She was the research assistant of the Speak Out for Support (SOS-VICS) project on interpreting with victims/survivors of gender-based violence. She is pursuing a PhD on the topic of media coverage of women trafficking cases at the University of Santiago de Compostela and has published research in the fields of interpreting and mass media, with a special focus on gender issues and public subsidies to the press. Doris was a Schuman Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the Directorate-General for Translation, European Parliament, from March to July 2017.

Post prepared by Pedro RamosTranslator, Social Media and Content Manager, Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg).