A Few Words

Controlled Language: The Elements of an Efficient Translation Process

Posted by Agnieszka Ostrowska on Dec 3, 2014 5:45:00 PM

When it comes to writing, it’s best to keep things simple. Though natural language tends to be complex and sometimes ambiguous, written communication should be as clear and concise as possible. At least that is what America’s most influential writing style guide recommends. Strunk and White’s The Elements Strunk_and_Whiteof Style outlines a set of rules that promote plain English composition – and these rules couldn’t be more appropriate for pieces requiring translation.

Aligned with the fundamentals of the writing manual, there is a popular technique promoted by translation service providers known as Controlled Language (CL). By following a rule set similar to the one in the classic slim volume, CL teaches writers to write in a more direct and uniform way, which results in a much more efficient and cost-effective translation process.   

Aligned with the fundamentals of the writing manual, there is a popular technique promoted by translation service providers known as Controlled Language (CL). By following a rule set similar to the one in the classic slim volume, CL teaches writers to write in a more direct and uniform way, which results in a much more efficient and cost-effective translation process.    

What is Controlled Language?

The first CL was developed in the late 1920s by Charles Ogden. By simplifying grammar and using a vocabulary of only 850 words, Ogden created “Basic English” to help non-English speakers learn English in five weeks.

Not far from the original idea, today’s controlled language is a subset of a natural language, obtained by restricting the grammar and vocabulary to reduce or eliminate ambiguity, complexity, and confusion. A controlled language is governed by a more strict set of rules that encourage authors to write content that is easy to understand. Content that is easy to understand is also easy to translate, and therefore human translators and machine translation systems produce better results when translating controlled language text.

Removing Ambiguity

Natural language used in everyday communication tends to be so flexible that it can easily lead to confusing and ambiguous, yet grammatically correct, constructions. This can be especially true of technical writing. The addition of special vocabularies, writing styles, and complex grammar tends to render the text opaque not just to ordinary readers, but to experts as well. The obscurity of a text is amplified by the translation process, where ambiguities can lead to incorrect translations, more ambiguities, delays in the process, and an increase in cost.

The idea of controlled language is to counter the tendency of writers to use complex, confusing or overly-specialized language by promoting clear, consistent and concise writing and thus making translation more efficient.

Practical Examples

Controlled language rules are examples of the CLOUT™ rule set (Controlled Language Optimized for Uniform Translation). The most widely used controlled language today is “Simplified Technical English,” which was developed by the aircraft and defense industry to help create documents that are simple enough to understand for readers with limited command of the English language – and are ultimately easier to translate. Some examples of its rules are:

  • Limit each sentence to no more than 25 words
  • Restrict the length of noun cluster to be no more than 3 words
  • Paragraph limit of no more than 6 sentences
  • Avoid slang and jargon
  • Use “a / an” and “the” wherever possible
  • Use simple verb tenses (past, present and future)
  • Use active voice

Controlled languages differ from language to language as they stem from each natural language and its unique grammar. However, most of the rules outlined above can be applied to many languages to simplify text and reduce ambiguity.

What's in it for me?

Starting a translation with text written in a controlled language will significantly improve the quality and Controlled_Languagesturnaround time of a translation, while reducing the overall cost. In addition to a faster, better and smarter output, your technical writers will also become more efficient, as they improve their writing skills and begin to re-use previously written texts, cutting time from the entire process. CL will also limit the use of inconsistent terminology, encouraging reusability not only at the term level, but also at the phrase and sentence level.

CL has promoted efficiency in communications, which is why it is widely applied to highly-specialized content such as technical documentation, and part as of machine translation and mobile communication technologies. 

The benefits are as clear and simple as the rules of a CL.  Just as Strunk and White’s little book has made a big impact on writing, CL can make a positive impact on your translation process.  .

 

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