In defense of language study



I would like to say ‘amen’ to the remarks by Frank T. Manheim in the September issue of EOS. Not only is more than half the world literature in the earth sciences published in Russian, but a good part of that is in monograph form (perhaps 60% of it) and thus not picked up by the translations of leading journals.

As Dr. Manheim pointed out, those who can utilize the Russian literature directly have a distinct advantage over those who cannot. But there is an even more compelling reason why we need a ‘critical mass of prominent workers’ who can handle Russian, one which he only hinted at: Where else can we find potential translators of highly technical material? For translations will always be needed, and too few people understand that technical translation differs from other forms in that a sound grasp of the subject is of paramount importance. The English-speaking scientist with a fair reading knowledge of Russian (or any other foreign language) can turn out much more accurate translations than one who may be thoroughly bilingual but is not familiar with the subject. Even when a technical term is included in the available bilingual dictionaries, it takes a certain amount of familiarity with the subject to know which of several definitions offered is the correct one in a given context; and at the rate that all the sciences are progressing, even the best of dictionaries cannot possibly keep completely up to date.