What language do we speak?

By Adriana Adarve – Owner of Adarve Translations

I don’t know about you, but I do get all confused, and even lost most of the time, when it comes to the many acronyms used in the United States. I keep asking myself, are we losing our capacity to speak full sentences with full words?

Acronym SoupOne day, while doing my master’s studies, I was at the lab and was trying to set up a reaction for one of my experiments. This reaction required a noble gas environment, and the best way to provide it was by using such gas in the enclosed vessel where the reaction was to take place. I set everything up, and connected the noble gas hose to the reaction vessel input. Nothing happened. No gas was flowing into the vessel. The reading on the manifold showed zero gas flow. Puzzled, I asked my professor what was happening. He pointed to the gas tank and said, “It is empty. Do you see this? It is letting you know the gas tank is empty.” I looked at where the professor was pointing, and sure enough, there were two letters printed on it with a black marker, MT. When I looked back at the professor, he smiled and said, “em…ti: —empty!! The tank is empty!”

Okay, I can laugh at this now, but believe me, it was not fun at all at the time! Not being Anglo-Saxon and coming from a culture where abbreviations (a shortened form of a word or phrase.), initialisms (an abbreviation consisting of initial letters pronounced separately [e.g., CPU]) and acronyms (an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word [e.g., ASCII, NASA]) are not commonly used in everyday communication, I was pretty much at a loss of how people could communicate with letters that did not actually form a full word.

So, how about, “Please make sure to talk to your doctor about your loved one’s FTD.” Or, “During the GSW celebrations, hundreds of people…” Or, “The GSWs enjoyed a full visit to the MMDA last Friday.” Or, “The CDC recommends you stay home for at least…”

I could go on and on with examples, but my main point is that while acronyms and abbreviations, and their uses, are clearly defined, I have observed that there is an ever growing tendency to make them up for any and all sorts of purposes, up to the point where a lot of people have started speaking and/or writing in this kind of ‘language’ seemingly assuming that everybody else will understand what they are saying, when, in fact, the opposite is much more probable, and even true.

Acronym TalkWhile acronyms are widely used in the English language, especially in the technical and scientific fields, where their meanings are definitely understood by professionals in these fields, it is important to bear in mind that the same is not necessarily true with the rest of the population. In other words, if a medical doctor is speaking with a colleague about a specific medical case or patient, it is normal and actually expected that each one of them understands what the other is saying, even if using acronyms and abbreviations in more than half of their conversation.  But, to expect that any given doctor using acronyms and abbreviations in his/her communication with a member of his/her patient’s family be understood by said family member, would be similar to expecting that same doctor to understand what a person speaking a totally foreign language could be telling him or her.

Another case in point has to do with the translation of words that have been written acronym-style. As I have just discussed above, while this is a growing tendency in the English language, the corresponding translation of such term in acronym-style as well is not always possible in other languages. Spanish is one of such languages.

While acronyms and initialisms are also commonly used in Spanish in the scientific and technical fields, they are not as commonly used in any other fields as they are in the English language, people preferring to speak full words and full sentences in order to be completely understood on what they are trying to convey.

This being said, after office hours, would you prefer your brain to stay in office/lab mode and continue talking away in acronym-style, whether the rest of us mortals can understand you or not, or would you much rather join the hordes of full-words-full-sentences-speaking-people and communicate as we used to do not that many, many years ago?

As far as I am concerned, next time I see you I’ll be using full words, full sentences, and enjoy being fully understood by you!

All the best,

Adriana Adarve, Asheville, NC

Adriana Adarve - Adarve TranslationsAbout the Author: Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as multi-cultural. 

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Published by Adriana Adarve

I’m Adriana Adarve, a multilingual, plurilingual, multicultural and pluricultural English to Spanish freelance translator. My primary interests—besides my passion for languages—are in science, chemistry, and medicine. That is the reason why I concentrate on medical, scientific and technical translations. I am also passionate about cultural diversity, which means that my translations always take into account my clients’ culture, as well as that of the audience for which the translations are intended.


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