Spanish: revisión, French: révision. English equivalent?

For quite some time, I have been asking myself the above question. I have also asked myself what the appropriate English terms would be for, say, the French révision linguistique ou unilingue and révision comparative ou bilingue. Spanish has no problem using revisión lingüística (monolingüe) and revisión comparativa (bilingüe). In either Latin language, the generic term and the actions carried out are clear because of their accompanying adjectives. But what about English?

In an effort to give myself some peace of mind, I decided to look up both Latin-based terms in unilingual dictionaries. When I consulted the Spanish-language academy’s online dictionary, that of the RAE[1], and Quebec’s French-language terminological dictionary, that of the OQLF[2], I noticed that both definitions are identical. In a nutshell, revisión and révision are defined as the act of putting something under review for correction and rereading a text to make any necessary corrections, respectively.

So far, everything is clear. Things get a bit complicated when English comes into play. When I queried révision on OQLF’s website, I received the following result:

First record of four results.

First record of four results.

At the bottom of the terminological record, two English equivalents appear: copy editing and editing. And another terminological record shows the following English equivalent:

This is the second of four results I received.

This is the second of four results I received.

As you can see, the English equivalent is revision. The question is, what is the difference among the terms copy editing, editing, and revision?

Let’s start from the end. The online Collins Dictionary has three definitions for the term revision. Of the three, the third is of most interest for this entry: “a corrected or new version of a book, article, etc.” At the bottom of these definitions, Collins provides another definition that, apparently, is unique to British English: “To make a revision of something that is written or that has been decided means to make changes to it in order to improve it, make it more modern, or make it more suitable for a particular purpose.”[3]

If this definition applies only to British English, what term best suits an American or Canadian English context?

As one would expect, the definition presented to us is simply “the action of revising.” But Oxford has supplementary definitions according to the context. In literary circles, for instance, revision is defined as “the process of amending an earlier version (published or unpublished) of a work; or the newly amended text thus produced.”

If the above definitions are useful for the term revision, what is editing?

The online edition of The Free Dictionary defines the verb edit as follows: “to prepare (written material) for publication or presentation, as by correcting, revising, or adapting.” The noun editing has 12 thesaurus entries, including redaction, copy editing, revising, and rewriting. Given the above details, when English writers are dealing exclusively with an English text (as the definitions and entries seem to suggest), they are editing it. This action, then, is the equivalent of French révision linguistique and Spanish revisión lingüística.

What role do translators play in the editing process—if they do, that is?

Translators do more than just edit a text. They also have to compare the translated text to the source (original) document to ensure that the translation truly reflects the source author’s spirit. All translators need to be aware of mistranslations, commonly known in Spanish and French as contrasentidos, falsos sentidos, and contresens, faux-sens, respectively. (The former errors are characterized as translating the opposite of what the source text author intended; they can also be seen as “betraying” the author’s ideas. The latter errors do not betray the author, but they don’t accurately reproduce what was said in the source text.)

According to Termium, an online dictionary prepared by the federal government’s Translation Bureau, revision is equivalent to révision. Revision, therefore, is the same as the French révision comparative and the Spanish revisión comparativa. That said, when translators are working with, say, a Turkish text and they have to compare their respective translations with the Turkish, they are carrying out a revision of a text.

Lastly, what is copy editing?

Wikipedia defines copy editing as “the work that an editor does to improve the formatting, style, and accuracy of text.” The entry goes on to say that the term copy “refers to written or typewritten text for typesetting, printing, or publication,” and that copy editing is the penultimate editorial step undertaken before texts are proofread. In addition, copy editors are to ensure that spelling, grammar, and jargon are correct. If we were to carry out a back translation, copy editing would refer to the OQLF entry révision and the Spanish revisión. Copy editing can also refer to the French correction or édition, as well as Spanish corrección or edición. Oddly enough, the French and Spanish terms don’t seem to distinguish copy editing from editing or revision. This makes sense because, in the end, all edited and revised projects have to undergo the same copy editing procedures.

Now that I have taken the time to dissect French and Spanish terms from the various English equivalents, I now know how to present the services I offer potential clients: “I am a Spanish and French into English freelance translator who revises English translations and edits English texts. I offer English professional writing services upon request.” Come to think of it, copy editing intrigues me, too. The Globe and Mail and Maclean’s, here I come!


[1] RAE = Real Academia Española

[2] Grand dictionnaire terminologique de l’Office québécois de la langue française

[3] Collins Dictionary Online, 2013.


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