What is the guide, in general, for translating scientific terms from English to other language? I know, of course, that we need a person who have good competence on the field containing that word. Nevertheless, that person mostly don't have good competence on linguistics. So, what is the guide for this situation? Please explain in detail. Thank you.

  • Is the term native English or borrowed from Latin or Greek? Also, to what language do u want to translate?
    – Anixx
    Oct 25, 2014 at 11:28
  • It's Chirality. It borrowed from Greek. I want to translate it to Vietnamese. But I want to ask in general.
    – Ooker
    Oct 25, 2014 at 11:30
  • In Russian it's хиральность, similar to English.
    – Anixx
    Oct 25, 2014 at 11:32
  • Sorry, I don't know Russian.
    – Ooker
    Oct 25, 2014 at 11:32
  • That's why I put the Russian word here so u to see it. U should check how Greek words usually rendered in Vietnamese.
    – Anixx
    Oct 25, 2014 at 11:34

1 Answer 1


In general, the translation of scientific terms is one of the greatest areas where a "normative procedure" is in place (some could argue it is a form of linguistic prescription). In the case of Vietnamese though, there is no central body for linguistic regulation similar to the Académie Française in the case of the French language. I believe that there is no official regulator in the case of the Vietnamese language at present.

However, when users of a language seek a source for language regulation, they may turn to a variety of sources. Monolingual dictionaries have always been the bastion of linguistic self-regulation in modern literate societies. With the rise of the Internet, certain websites have become major sources of such information.

Trust in a source's accuracy is a major factor for such sources, especially so in the scientific community. In modern science, with its emphasis on traceability, it is entirely possible for a translated paper to be the reference for a new scientific concept or finding in any language. However, a simple concept like chirality will be likely be part of more fundamental educational training, and perhaps its entry into the language might have pre-dated the first scientific papers in the language.

For such a case then, the new word has come into the language like any other new word in the language: as a loanword, or possibly a calque. A dictionary for the translator that specialises in a particular field may be a possibility. In Vietnamese, there is one such English-Vietnamese medical dictionary, which does employ the word "chiral" in Vietnamese:

  • trung tâm chiral: trung tâm của dyssymmetry trong một phân từ

For actual usage one can consult the wider Internet. There is a forum post dating from 2007 in Vietnamese, where "chiral" is used by default, but a gloss is given too.

  • Hai bàn tay của chúng ta có tính chiral (đối xứng bàn tay)

This looks like a calque: the components are the Sino-Vietnamese phrase "đối xứng" [對稱] meaning "symmetry", and the phrase "bàn tay" for "hand". This has also been used in Vietnamese Wikipedia:

  • Monosaccarit có bốn nguyên tử cacbon trở lên có thể chứa nhiều nguyên tử cacbon đối xứng bàn tay
  • Thanks for your effort, I really appreciate it. Sorry for the late respond. Actually, there is a different between "chiral" and "chirality" in mathematics. The "chiral symmetry" is đối xứng bàn tay but the "chirality" is not.
    – Ooker
    Oct 27, 2014 at 20:03

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