Military Translation

Military language has developed through centuries. The documentation of military history begins with the confrontation between Sumer (current Iraq) and Elam (current Iran) c.2700 BCE near the modern Basra, and includes such records as the Hebrew Bible. Since then military sphere has developed tremendously, and even nowadays military terminology and language structure is growing day by day. A military translator has to keep up with the pace of changes. The content of the terminology of modern military and defense technology is not permanent. It is constantly changing. Various terms evolve due to the rearrangement of military force, appearance of new types of armament and military technique, new methods of warfare.

The formation of military terms is carried out in accordance with the rules of English word-building: morphological, with affixation (racketeer, maneuverability, missilery), word formation (warhead, nuclear-powered), conversion (to mortar, to officer), abbreviation (radar, FRBA), lexico-semantic shift changes (to land originally was used to denote disembarking on land, now it means carrying out landing on any (including water) surface), borrowings from other languages (maneuver, coup d’état, aide de camp, bunker).

Military translation is a very specific discipline. It sometimes requires a detailed knowledge of military science, hierarchical structures in the army. At times a translator has to deal with an audience composed of people of diverse military, educational and cultural background. Therefore, he has to take it into consideration and be understandable and multicultural. Moreover, a military translator should have a huge sense of responsibility. Sometimes an erroneous translation of one word can lead to a lack of understanding, even a fatal misunderstanding. Wrong translation of military technical manuals can lead to weapon misuse. Therefore, a military translator should be careful and proficient, and he has often to be specialized in technical and even legal issues.

Thorough knowledge of military terminology is a must for a military translator. All military texts abound in specific military and technical terms, abbreviations and idioms. Many of these terms and definitions can be diverse, i.e. they can have a huge variety of interpretations, depending on the context. (For example, in the case of the words unit and command: Unit:1) any military element whose structure is prescribed by a competent authority. 2) An organization title or a subdivision of a group in a task force, etc. Command: 1) The authority that a commander in armed forces exercises over subordinates by virtue of rank. 2) An order given by a commander, 3) A unit/units, an organization or an area under the command of an individual, etc)

Armies have differences. The latter are mostly observed in rank names. (eg. the British rank field marshal. Some nations use the title of marshal instead, while some might use field marshal general). NATO has agreed on common standards for translating of the ranks in its document STANAG 2116.

There can also be a case, when there is a necessity of translating idiomatic military expressions and slang. In this case one has to rely on a dictionary, as well as his own skills. A sentence like ,,Drilled sergeants have smoked (or dogged) the recruit”, can give a headache to a translator not being used to military jargon, otherwise who would have thought that a ,,donkey kick” would mean the bottom section of PRC-25/77 radio antenna?

Military abbreviations are another challenge for a translator, and a huge challenge. There is a whole ocean of abbreviations and one can get lost in it. However, if you work in a specific field, it would be helpful to know those of that concrete field. Various dictionaries of military abbreviations can help.

Apart from a vast terminology, there is also one feature characteristic of military translation: its accuracy and laconism in the absence of figurative and emotional expression. It does require experience and skills as well as profound knowledge of one’s native language. A translator should be aware of the organizational structure of the armies of the relevant foreign states, their strategy and tactics, armaments and defense technique.

Due to the internalization and global character of some military trainings and operations, it is important that military knowledge (as well as the military language) does not retire its own shell. The military field requires knowledge of world military structures. Therefore, proficient translation in this field is quite important. Apart from modern literature, it is also useful to have classic books of warfare translated in one’s language, as these masterpieces provide the history of the development of modern military arts and can even be a contribution to modern tactics.

For an overview of our translation expertise, visit our technical translation service page.

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