Identifying your terms – A word from the experts

One of the major issues that we face is trying to figure out what terms to include in our glossary or termbase. So I thought it might be helpful to gather some expert advice.

First off is terminologist Kara Warburton who says that we should “include terms that translators actually need and basically just about anything that can drive quality, consistency, and productivity in the translation process.” In her view, the terms that you need to include for the use of translators are not strictly terms from a scientific or technical point of view, it can be words from the general lexicon. “Any piece of text that:

  • Can embed in longer TM segments
  • Should not be translated
  • Has more than one possible translation
  • Has more than one possible meaning (homographs)
  • Has a company-specific meaning, usage, importance, or desired translation
  • Has a risk-associated significance (marketing, legal, safety, etc.)”

Tom Imhof from localix.bix says that data that you may store in a termbase is varied: From brand- or industry-specific terms, acronyms and abbreviations, slogans, preferred terms, new term candidates, confirmed terms, frequently-used terms, forbidden or outdated terms, and, as recommended by K. Warburton, terms that should not be translated, such as product or brand names.

Terminologist Barbara Inge Karsch recommends to exclude words that do not represent a concept (that is, there is no meaning behind them and therefore might be ambiguous). For example, marketing terms sometimes don’t have concepts behind them and you can’t define them very well and if you are dealing with large teams you might create a lot of confusion.

She suggests that technical terminology that belongs to a subject field has to be documented. Terms that represent general concepts and names that represent individual concepts (that is, they only exist once in the world) are usually included. Terms may refer, for example, to different types of “windows”, and a name may also refer to “Windows”, Microsoft’s operating system. You may include, for instance, product names, organization names, and company names.

Dr. Inge Karsch explains that freelancers have an advantage because they own their termbases and have some leeway in terms of making decisions on what to include. You can even document terms that you really have a hard time typing, for example, the German term “Kraftfahrzeug-Haftpflichtversicherung” (referred to auto insurance). In her translation career, she had to deal a lot with terms like this and it was very useful when she could just copy them from the termbase when she was working.

Of course, don’t include all the terms that are hard to type, just the ones that you decide you need and add them under a special category. Actually some terminologists with a more purist approach would not include this type of terms, but from a practical point of view, you as a freelance translator who manages your own termbase are the one who ultimately makes the decisions to get the most out of your TMS, even if it´s just a typing help.

Dr. Inge Karsch further explains that as long as you follow terminology best practices and ISO standards you should be OK, because you never know what you might want to do with your database down the road. You might join a team and share your termbase with them or with a colleague. It´s critical in databases that we apply standards and we follow them.

Finally, terminologist Uwe Muegge puts it simply: “I tell my students that terms are the words that clients particularly care about. As a service provider, you want to make sure that you are using the client’s preferred terms within and across projects, and you want to do that as efficiently as possible.”

Sources and further reading:

Cabré Castellví, M. Teresa. Theories of terminology. Their description, prescription, and explanation. How do we recognize terminological units?

Training for technical translators. An interview with Uwe Muegge.

Imhof Tom. Terminology Management and SDL Multiterm.

Marklund, Åsa. Translation of Technical Terms. A study of translation strategies when translating terminology in the field of hydropower generation. 2011

Mihwa Chung, Teresa; Nation, Paul. Identifying technical vocabulary. 2003

Warburton, Kara. “Getting value out of your Excel glossaries”.

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