How to coin terms

A coined term or neologism is a common topic in terminology and refers to the creation of new terms when there is not an equivalent exact term in the target language. In some cases, the translator opts to describe a term; in other cases, the translator or terminologist talks to the expert or technical writer to come up with a new term. Terms not only are created but they also evolve into new terms. Therefore, in some fields keeping up with the growing number of new terms makes terminology management a must-do for many organizations. In the information technology, for example, “terms have some exceptional features: they tend to be lively and colourful, simple, fresh, playful, user-friendly and sometimes even humorous.” (Source: Insight into the Latest Computer and Internet Terminology, by Evelina Jaleniauskienė, Vilma Čičelytė). So, as you can imagine, the challenge of creating new terms is not an easy task.

In the latter article, the authors refer to Robert Dubuc’s four main methods to coin a term. Semantic change: You assign a new meaning to an existing term. Morphological change: You combine or delete lexical elements from a term to create a new one. Conversion: You change the grammatical class of an existing word. Borrowing: You borrow words from other languages. Begoña Soneira Beloso refers to borrowing as loanword neology and classifies loanwords into two main groups: necessity loanwords (collage or Art Nouveau) and luxury loanwords (patio or schloss). Read an abstract of her work “The Role of Loanwords in the Lexical Description of English for Architecture: a Corpus-based Study” here. Note: Robert Dubuc book is called “Manuel pratique de terminologie” and is not available online.

Klaus-Dirk Schmitz in his presentation “Terminology and Software Localization” lists and illlustrates ISO’s criteria for the selection and creation of terms (transparency, consistency, appropriateness, linguistic economy, derivability, linguistic correctness, and preference for native language). Also, read the ISO standard 704  for an official description of each criteria (link below).

Complementary readings:

1. ISO International Standard 704 Terminology Work – Principles and Methods.

2. Pavel’s term creation section talks about semantic and morphological change rules.

3. Wikipedia on word formation.

4. Bik Terminology has several posts on coining terms, with particular interest of blog on ISO 704.

5. Neologia e Terminologia, by Margarita Correia (in Portuguese only) talks about definition, characteristics, levels, types and mechanisms to create neologisms.

7. Towards a New Approach to the Study of Neology, by Teresa Cabré and Rogelio Nazar (2011) (advanced-level reading).

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