Terminology: Talking with the Pros: Interview with Rodolfo Maslias, Head of the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament

rodolfo maslias

Thank you, Rodolfo for this interview. It is an honour to have you as my first guest in this series of short interviews with experienced terminologists who can guide us on our journey in the terminology field. In parallel with your tasks in the European Parliament, you are teaching terminology at the University of Luxembourg and I cannot think of a better person to give us a perspective of terminology from an academic and a professional point of view.

What has been your most rewarding experience and what has been your biggest challenge both as a teacher and as a terminologist?

Having studied and dealt with languages for many years as translator at the European Parliament, I am inevitably a word lover. My other passion being culture, I am convinced and it is a personal mission for me to convincethat language is a fundamental cultural right. The very quick expansion of terminology becoming a science connected with the needs of multilingual globalised communication and with a presence in all institutional, industrial or academic activity makes terminology an ideal field for transmitting the passion of language and culture.

In general terms, how is terminology managed at TermCoord? Is there a systematic step-by-step process or do you handle terminology on a case-by-case basis? How many people are involved?

The European Union is the most multilingual institutional translation “machine” with 24 official languages and 552 language combinations. The European Parliament now has real legislative power making each translation an original legislative act. Linguistic consistency and terminological accuracy is now the pillar of quality work, not only for translators but also for drafters usually writing in a language other than their mother tongue.

Terminology is thus an inherent need of every EP political or administrative activity. Translators, interpreters and drafters constantly encounter terminological issues and they need to consult reliable resources. All our terminology work has as main tool the common EU terminology database IATE. Since terminology is a living being exactly as languages are, reliability of a database means constant updating and therefore this database that you from outside can only consult (and you are 3500 to do so every hour), IATE is for us in the EU Institutions an interactive platform, fed every day by all translators with some 300 new terms resulting from the research needed during translation.

Terminology is thus produced in the translation units in all institutions and the Terminology Coordination Unit coordinates, organizes and supports this work. In the Parliament, each translation unit appoints at least 2 (but up to 8) terminologists, who undertake terminology consolidation and validation at language level. They make our Terminology Network of more than 100 translators-terminologists coordinated by our team. TermCoord has 10 permanent staff members, one “rotating terminologist” seconded for 3 months from a translation unit and one coordinator of the (still internal) interinstitutional portal EurTerm. In the 6 years of its existence, TermCoord has had some 80 very high skilled trainees in the fields of terminology, communication and computational linguistics, which learn how to evolve in a public institution but also help us connecting with the constant evolution of the science of terminology.

The terminologist’s job description includes a long list of duties, but what would you say is his/her most important responsibility?

The responsibility of a terminologist in a public multilingual legislative institution is ensuring quality and linguistic consistency of translation. Keeping a huge database with more than 11 million terms updated and reliable needs advanced knowledge; from the basic philosophical distinction between concept and term to the practical know-how related to definition and referencing. This work needs a special skill that is fixed in the “terminology framework” of the EP and provided by special training that TermCoord offers tailor made to various groups, terminologists, translators, trainees, interpreters and drafters of legislative documents.

What is your recommendation for terminology beginners?

As I said before, terminology is becoming more and more a science per se but also an interdisciplinary need for any activity. All companies with a worldwide activity have or use huge translation services and have also a high standard terminology service and database. This offers very wide possibilities of training and acquiring advanced skills, a constantly increasing and easily accessible collection of resources, more simply said: a wonderful new world to explore touching the most fascinating aspects of our globalised world: multilingual communication, multicultural coexistence. So first step for a new terminologist is to see this task as a passionate adventure and challenge; and then to explore and use the best channels to acquire the deep knowledge of mining, producing and managing terminology combining all approaches, from the academic knowledge based approach using ontologies to the more terminographical one used for huge databases like IATE and the ones of other big international organizations and industries.

Some people might think that new technologies and tools will replace translators and terminologists. But, in your opinion, what is the future of terminology management? Should we consider it as a promising career path?

We, linguists, know better than anyone else that there will never be a machina sapiens. Especially for content like language that is constantly evolving and related to each thought of the human brain in so many different cultures, human will always teach the machine and will always select its output. So, the machine is not a competitor but a tool. And through the evolving research and IT evolution, it becomes a very useful tool. Translation and interpretation will partly be done in next future by or with the machine using huge combined translation memories. But a translation memory that only reproduces a former translation is a very dangerous threat for the quality of any translation if it is not combined with the terminological quality control. Therefore today in the CAT tools used by translators, also in the European Institutions, we integrate automatic term recognition from reliable terminological thesauri. Every technological effort to ease translation and to increase output is inevitably connected with an effort of terminological accuracy. All of us have tested various automatic term extractors, but in any development of such software, linguists are required to set every research criterion, even the purely statistical filters that do not deliver if they are not based on a linguistic logic.

We have to recognize that the humanistic values of studies worldwide are suffering because of the global trend to make everything a product in a world market. Also, easy travelling and communication have made multilingualism a rather common skill. So, competition for a translator or interpreter is becoming very difficult and jobs are getting more difficult to find all the time.

In every field of intellectual activity, a specialization is nowadays the only secret to succeed and to find a job. Terminology is an excellent choice for such a specialization for linguists, especially when it is combined with the necessary knowledge of software which is applied for the integration of terminology features in the expanding, new, and very multilingual trans-phrasing technology.

Thank you for a very interesting and useful insight into your world of terminology. No doubt this is a very exciting and evolving field. I am sure that this will encourage language specialists to see terminology management in a new light and, as you mentioned, as a way to specialize and provide added value to their clients and the organizations they work for.

The “how to” of terminology project planning

journeyThis is the first of a series of posts related to terminology project management. There are many aspects involved in terminology project planning and we need to talk about them in detail. This and future related posts will be organized under a separate page for ease of reference as they are published.

In order to better understand how a project is developed we have to explore the basics of project management. Every project, regardless of its nature (that is, whether it is a terminology or a construction project) shares essential characteristics and follow similar steps.

Our terminology project will be unique, that is, it will different from other projects, even other terminology projects. It will have specific objectives or goals to achieve, it will require resources (tools, money) and the preparation of budgets, it will be developed under a specific schedule, it will involve the participation of stakeholders (people who are affected by it) and, finally, it will include quality assessments.

In summary, a project is a process that includes a series of activities that will be carried out under a specific schedule to achieve an objective(s) taking into consideration time, costs, and resources.

There is certainly a risk involved because there will always be elements of uncertainty: We might start with a budget that could be reduced, we might have to work with people who are not fully committed to the project, or they might be issues that delay the original schedule. But a terminology project is an ongoing process, and we can always find ways to tackle these problems. You would probably reach your final goal, but that goal will also render a product: a termbase that will need constant updating and maintenance. That is why it is so important to start with the right foot and make sure that all steps are followed correctly.

A project is not the final destination, it is a journey. Your terminology project will probably be just one of many, but every one of them will be a continuous learning experience for which you will have to put in to practice your skills, apply the best methodology, and use the adequate tools (e.g. termbase) to plan, monitor, and deliver the expected benefits.

On a separate section in this blog I talk about the business case, that is, how to justify your terminology project, so I would suggest you check it out before we go any further. (Read it here)

So, hold on to your seats, as this will be a fun ride! And as you ride along, don’t forget that this is just the tip of the iceberg and that you can also deepen your knowledge by taking a MOOC (free online course) on project management which will give you a broader perspective of what to expect. Just go to http://www.mooc-list.com/, to search for your favorite MOOC.

Sources and further reading:

  1. Leadership Principles for Project Success by Thomas July. Read here.

MySMARTerms 4: The onomasiological and semasiological approaches

Try to pronounce these two terms without getting tongue twisted! Sometimes terms are created to make people think that knowledge is beyond their reach, but the truth is there is always an easier way to explain things. Unless you want to get a PhD in Linguistics, we don’t need to do the fancy talk.

Read more here.

Term Finder: resources galore!

Nowadays you can’t complain that you don’t have enough resources for your terminology work. I have 63 dictionaries, glossaries and search engines as well as 20 corpora (parallel texts) in my newly renamed section “Term Finder”.

I just added UNdata, to join the other UN sources included in my list: UN Term, UN-OG-Term, and UN Stats. Great sources from a great organization.

Make sure you visit often for updates and new additions!

A termbase: Is not about the terms! (The concept-oriented approach)

Well, yes, a termbase is a repository of terms, but the central issue of termbases revolves around the organization of concepts. We have to differentiate between terminology work (the extraction of terms from sources) and termbase design (how terms are organized based on concepts). Once you identify the concept you look for its term. That is what they call in semantics and lexicology the semasiological approach: The grouping of words based on their meaning, or the concept-oriented approach.

Termbase creation starts by concept (or conceptual) analysis to clarify the definition of each concept and its scope or boundaries and identify its main characteristics to isolate it from other concepts. To identify concepts for analysis we need a concept system to organize them by subject field, and this is achieved by designing a concept map: a graphic representation of concepts and their relationships. Concept maps may be as simple or as complex as you want them to be, depending on the amount of information you are working with and the level of complexity of the termbase you are designing. In the concept maps you connect terms to each other based on the whether they are broad or narrow concepts. Here are one simple and one complex concept maps:

concept map image

complex concept map








Concepts are structured in hierarchical (generic and partitive) or non-hierarchical (associative) relationships. Hierarchical relationships may be generic or partitive. In the generic hierarchy we find superordinate and subordinate concepts. The superordinate (also called generic or broader) concept is the general concept under which we have all the subordinate concepts that “inherit” characteristics from the superordinate concept (e.g. dog breeds: Labradors, bulldogs, Chihuahuas). Partitive hierarchy concepts are easy to identify because they are “part of” something (e.g. house, roof, door). In non-hierarchical or associative relationships, concepts do not share essential features, that is, they do not inherit characteristics (e.g. producer-product: bake-bread)

Concept analysis and mapping are very useful during termbase design because they help us come up with a clear structure for our termbase.

Sources and further reading:

  1. Pavel tutorial on hierarchies. Read here.
  2. Concept analysis. Read here.
  3. Wikipedia on semasiology.
  4. Semantic Relationships used in Controlled Vocabularies. Read here.
  5. Concept Systems for Terminological Analysis. Read here.
  6. The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them. Read here.

My blog has been nominated! ¡Gracias!

I am really excited about being nominated. Thank you so much for supporting my blog. I am really surprised that I have achieved so much in less than a month when I launched it. My hope is that as time goes by I will be able to provide more and more useful information.

You can still vote for my blog here:


MySmartTerm 2: Terminology, terminography, lexicology, lexicography

These concepts, all derived from applied linguistics, are usually subject to debate. The following descriptions may seem simplistic to the more experienced person, but my intention is to provide simple explanations and, if your curiosity is piqued, go to the more detailed sources below.

Terminology is the study of special-language words or phrases associated with particular areas of specialist knowledge (also called “language for specific purposes”, LSP). It is concept-based, which means that terminology work starts from the concept and then tries to find the terms. See MySmartTerm1 for more definitions of terminology and my section on Termbase for more details on the concept-based principle.

Terminography is concerned exclusively with compiling collections of the vocabulary of special languages. The outputs may be called terminology, specialized vocabulary, glossary, or termbase. Also the approach is descriptive but it can also be prescriptive (as it may be subject to standardization) particularly in scientific, technical and medical work where safety is a primary consideration.

Lexicology is the study of words, (also lexicon [a collection of lexemes] or vocabulary) also called “general purpose language”, GPL (not involving a specialist knowledge). Dictionaries, for example, are the main product of lexicology work, and you start with a term which may contain more than one concept.

Lexicography is the writing of the word in some concrete form, i.e. a dictionary. It is also called applied lexicology because it is the output of the lexicology process. Also, the approach is only descriptive, not prescriptive.

The treatment of synonyms , polysemes, homonyms is different in terminography and lexicography:

Terminography (e.g. glossary, termbase)
Lexicography (e.g. dictionary)
synonyms of the same subject field are grouped together (in the same entry in a termbase)
synonyms are presented separately scattered throughout the dictionary
polysemes and homonyms are presented separately (different entries) because they represent different concepts.
polysemes are presented in one entry (dictionary entry) and homonyms are presented as two headwords and grouped together

In terms of grammar, a dictionary (lexicology’s main output) may include any word, while a glossary or a termbase (terminology’s outputs) only include a specialized-language word or phrase.

Sources: An Introduction to Lexicography by D.P. Pattanayak; Terminography and Lexicography by Anja Drame (TermNet); The Importance of Terminology by the Department of Computing of the University of Surrey (UK), Lexicography by the Wikipedia.

Check out my new section “More Terminology Blogs”

I have only found three blogs on terminology so far but they are really good. Do you know of another one? I’m pretty sure there’s more out there Let me know!




New subsection “Sample Termbases”

Check out my new subsection on sample termbases. Go to the “Main Ingredients” menu, then “AnTermbase: What You Should Know”. You will find some sample termbases from Trados, DejaVu, and TermStar. 

MySMARTerm1: What is Terminology?

I thought about SMART terms while I was listening to a terminology webinar on the business case. I already knew the acronym*, but I thought it was a smart idea (pun intended!) to use it as terminology management is indeed a smart idea (Did I just say smart again?) because in the long run it saves time, money and energy. Smart, isn’t it? 🙂

My first SMART term, of course, had to be “terminology”. When you study terminology, a differentiation is always made in its definition as it refers to two concepts. (The definitions provided were taken from some of the major sources available):

As a study field:

1.   ISO 1087-1:2000 defines it as the “science studying the structure, formation, development, usage and management of terminologies in various subject fields”.

2. In the Glossary of Terms used in Terminology it is defined as “The study of terms, concepts, and their relationships.”

3. Pavel’s tutorial defines it as “the language discipline dedicated to the scientific study of the concepts and terms used in specialized languages.”

4. For TerminOrgs “it is the name of an academic and professional discipline associated with studying and managing terms. Considered a branch of linguistics, terminology is closely related to lexicology (defining words and creating dictionaries), but with a focus on concepts (analysis, definition, denotation) in special domains. The field of terminology typically supports content creation, translation and other forms of knowledge management.”

5. Birger Hjørland says that “Terminology (with capital T) is the study of terminology”.

6. UN’s Guidelines for terminology policies says “Terminology science is the subject field that investigates the structure, formation, development, usage and management of the terminologies in various subject fields, and that prepares the methodological foundation for many applications.”

7. If course, I had to include what the Wikipedia says: “Terminology is the study of terms and their use… Terminology is a discipline that studies, among other things, the development of such terms and their interrelationships within a culture… Terminology is a discipline that systematically studies the “labelling or designating of concepts” particular to one or more subject fields or domains of human activity.”

As an activity:

1. isocat.org defines it as a “set of designations belonging to one special language” (ISO 1087-1:2000). Same definition provided by IATE’s TermCoord in its glossary.

2. For TerminOrgs it is “a set of terms in a specialized area, such as “networking terminology” or “automobile manufacturing terminology”.

3. Pavel’s tutorial defines it as “the set of special words belonging to a science, an art, an author, or a social entity.”

4. Birger Hjørland says that “Terminology (with small t) is a technical vocabulary, i.e. a collection of terms, which has a certain coherence by the fact that the terms belong to a single subject area.”

5. I personally love it with someone defines terms in simple words, such as Silvia Cerella Bauer when she says in her ebook that it is “a vocabulary of words, terms and phrases that are used for a specific industry, organization, or field of study.”

As in any study field, you could always say more, but my intention is to give you just a few so that you get smarter about terminology.

*The SMART criteria are used when setting objectives. The acronym stands for specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-based.

Note: I will be saving these SMARTerms on a separate page, so you can see the list as they are published.

Trustworthiness of websites during term search

Termbase creation and updating requires a lot of research. When looking for terms on the Internet, be careful and ask yourself the following questions: Read More